A Day in the Life of a Working Single Parent in Tokyo

This post is inspired by K, who runs the resourceful blog “Tiny Tot in Tokyo” and did a post about their day here, and also by Pippa, who wrote about her day in this post here.

In case you are new to the blog, I am raising two boys in Tokyo. J is 9 years old and is a 4th grader at a local international school, and K is 1 year old and goes to a government daycare. I work full time as an applied machine learning researcher to provide for them.

Morning Routine

On a typical day, my alarm goes off at 6:15am. Snoozing is not an option. I wake up and my first task is to make a lunch box (bento) for J, as their school provides lunch only on Thursdays. Deciding what to make was the hardest part, but now I make the same thing for each day of the week. Mondays are croquette-based bentos, Tuesdays I make sandwiches, Wednesdays gyoza-based, .. you get the idea.

If I’m lucky, I can finish making the bento before K wakes up. Before I got a TV, it was really hard to keep him away from the kitchen area while I made the bento, and I sometimes carried him on my back because he wanted to see and do everything I was doing. Now if he wakes up before 7, I let him watch TV for 20 minutes while I finish the bento prep.

Next, I wake J up a few minutes to 7, which is not easy. He is not a morning kid but hates being late. I give him breakfast – usually toast bread, eggs, sausages and a cup of milk. Other times, it will be rice with fish flakes, or corn flakes. Then I direct him to brush his teeth, wash his face and carry his school bag and water bottle. He’s usually out of the door by 7:20, 7:30am latest. He takes public transport to school and goes by himself.

Once J leaves, I turn my full attention to K. Usually, he wakes up by 7am but if he isn’t up by the time J leaves, I take this small window to make myself a cup of tea or coffee and catch up on social media or do Wordle if I am working from home. If I am going to the office, I get my lunch box and bag ready at this time. If he is already up, I turn off the TV, change his diaper and pajamas, and feed him breakfast.

Then I get K’s daycare bag ready – a change of clothes, diapers, socks and a pair of bibs. I write in his daily log what time he slept, ate, pooped, his mood and temperature that morning, and a little comment – for example – “he enjoyed eating salad last night”, “he loves the very hungry caterpillar book”, “he is very genky as usual”.

By 8, he is cleaned up and ready for daycare drop off. If I am going to the office, I will brush my teeth, change and get ready and leave with him by 8:15am latest (taking out the garbage at the same time, of course). After dropping him off at daycare, I can get to the office by 9am.

Since returning to work in May from maternity leave, I have been working from home and going to the office once or twice a month. I don’t mind going to the office for the change of scenery, but that is 2 hours lost to commuting each day (plus the extra energy).

Since I am working from home, I prefer dropping K off closer to 9am. So from 8:00 to 8:30, it’s playtime with him. We drive our toy cars, play with duplo blocks and read books. Sometimes I will clean up a bit. Getting K out of the door is easy, he loves going out. The best thing about the daycare is that it’s 2 minutes away from our apartment. By 9am I am back in the house (or at work) and at my desk, ready to start my work day, having already put in 3 hours of housework and child care!

Work Day: 9 to 5

In the first couple of months after resuming work, I was doing it all – housework, childcare, my job, grocery shopping, life planning – with no help whatsoever. It was overwhelming to say the least. From mid-July, I learned about the home helper program from my city and applied for it, and now someone comes thrice a week for two hours each time. They vacuum, wipe floors, do laundry, fold and put away clean clothes, do the dishes and sometimes cook. I’ll blog more about it later.

So in those first months, after dropping K off at daycare, I would rush to vacuum, do the laundry, dishes etc while checking work emails and planning my day. Now I can ignore it or do the minimum for half an hour or so – this would be my commuting time. (For the evening commuting hour – I do grocery shopping and prep for dinner.)

I wish my home office looked like this. It is so chaotic right now, I am actually working at the dining table instead.

My work varies depending on the project I am assigned. But there are a lot of meetings, and of course, a lot of Powerpoint slides. Sometimes I have to read research papers, reports and use cases. Other times, I have to write code to prove my idea, or build and test machine learning models using Jupyter Notebooks. Then make Powerpoint slides to report my results at the next meeting.

I am not going to lie, I experienced a lot of brain fog at the beginning of my return to the office, due to all the sleep deprivation and the physical labour involved in childcare. It is only recently that I feel more focused and alert.

This is my actual book corner and I wish the rest of the house was this tidy.

I take a lunch break from 12:00 – 13:00, but to be honest I am always eating throughout the day. I may do a quick grocery run to the Gyomu Super that’s just a couple of minutes away by bike. More often than not, lunch will be what’s left over from making J’s bento boxes.

J’s school ends at 3-3:20pm, and he usually gets home by 4pm. He’ll typically find me in meetings – have I complained enough about meetings? – and will quietly get the phone and start playing games. On Mondays and Thursdays, he’ll go to football and basketball practice, respectively. It’s so sad that I hardly ever get time to watch him play, due to meetings.

Generally, the work day ends at 5pm. But sometimes meetings spill over, past 6pm. I usually excuse myself at 5pm if I am at the office and 5:30pm if I am working from home. My team understands that I have young children.

Evening Routine

After work, I’ll pick Kai up from daycare and then start making dinner (sometimes I’ll buy some forgotten ingredients on the way back). I typically make something simple, like stir fry pork, Japanese beef curry, cream stew, Chinese stir-fried rice (chahan), chicken stew, grilled fish, and/or salad… to eat with rice. Sometimes I make pasta or yaki soba but there is always rice in the rice cooker. Last evening, for example, dinner was stir-fried pork, avocado, spinach and rice.

Since the home helpers start coming, it’s nice to come home to a tidy, clean house (that’s reduced to chaos in minutes).

We eat dinner between 6 and 7pm. Then J will get started on his homework while I give K his shower – and for efficiency – I will shower too. In colder months, we take baths after showering but in summer we make do with the shower only – Japanese people who take nightly baths must be horrified reading this.

After our shower, K will play while I do some cleaning up if he lets me. The helpers don’t come daily – just three times a week – so I still have to do housework the rest of the time. We might watch some Cocomelon while J takes his shower. Then around 8pm, I will put K to bed, or just before 9pm, if he had a long nap at daycare. I will also check my personal emails at this time, check any communication from the kids’ schools – always with the leaflets – and any snail mail that I got that day. I’ll also check my work laptop for any urgent messages (there are usually none but sometimes I needed to submit something by end of the day and I forgot) or send some emails (rarely) before shutting down my laptop. Rarely do I do any work at night after the kids sleep, but sometimes a solution will come to you and you want to try it out right away, you know?

By 9pm, the kids are usually asleep or in bed. Once in a while, I go to bed at 9pm too but most of the time, I will switch on Netflix and enjoy some me-time after putting on rice and cleaning some more. (By the way, do not watch Me Time on Netflix, it is a stupidly boring movie that I watched so you don’t have to. If you must watch a movie, I recommend Green Book and The Power of the Dog). It would be nice to read or blog at this time, but I am almost always too tired to use my brain. TV requires the least energy. Even the shows I watch don’t have complicated plots. I like good shows with still filming – like Better Call Saul, The Crown, Ozark- and small town dramas like Sweet Magnolias, Virgin River… but my favorite are fantasy shows like The Witcher.

I turn in at 11pm or later. I have no problems falling asleep. K will wake up 2-3 times a night, but a quick breastfeeding session puts him back to sleep. We have a loft bed in the bedroom, similar to but not as fancy-looking as the one below. J sleeps on the top bunk and K sleeps on the mattress below. I sleep on a separate futon in the room, but by morning either K is on my futon or I’m on his mattress.

Loft bed

Then the alarm goes off at 6:15am and we do it all over again.

Weekends

My alarm is set for 7:30am on weekends, but I usually wake up at whatever time K does. After cleaning up and breakfast, instead of going to daycare, we’ll go to the park or the pool or somewhere like the jidoukan (children’s hall) to play. If I’m feeling lazy, we’ll watch cartoons and just play in the house, but then in the afternoon we must go out – K gets cranky if he doesn’t get outside time.

J and K at the park

We usually come back from the park around 11-12 for lunch, followed by a nap for K while J plays video games or watches animations on Netflix. I will plan weekend meals, then plan the necessary grocery shopping, do laundry, vacuum, cook etc before we go out for afternoon play.

After coming back from afternoon play, the weekend evening routine is similar to the weekday one.

In Conclusion

My life is busy and I have no free time, but I am fulfilled and happy.

Would I be working right now if I didn’t have to? Of course not. I want to be a housewife/trust fund baby/heiress in my next life. I want to do what I like in the hours that the kids are away at school. Like taking walks, doing bicycle rides, going to the spa, writing at a coffee shop, meeting my friends for lunchtime cocktails, going jogging.. the list is long.

What does your typical day look like?

This entry was posted in Blog, Life in Japan, Motherhood and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to A Day in the Life of a Working Single Parent in Tokyo

  1. bndeda says:

    Wow! Such a busy schedule!! I could never be able to manage all that! My weekday schedule is pretty simple. Wake up, get ready, go to work, work,work,work, go back home, order takeout, eat, watch youtube videos, sleep. I can’t imagine adding a routine for two kids into it. You are doing a great job! So proud of you. I am glad you get some help now.

    Like

    • SK says:

      Thank you. When you have no kids, you can come home to relax after work. But with kids, you come home to more work, but they grow up so soon. J is pretty much independent but I have to remind him to shower, brush his teeth, do his homework… otherwise he’ll just play video games or watch TV the whole time.

      Like

  2. EK13 says:

    Thank you for sharing. You certainly have your hands full, but I can also appreciate you saying how fulfiled you are with it all. You are doing an amazing job.

    Like

  3. Pingback: 14 Months of Maternity Leave (and Childcare Leave) | Savvy Kenya in Japan

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