I am a situationally single parent-- I know I'm really blessed because I do have the emotional support from my husband, but he's gone A LOT. I am a SAHM so I don't have to juggle the demands of working too, thankfully.
My twins are 9 mo old and I have a 4 year old and 3 year old too so they keep me really busy. I feel the same way you do about not being able to keep up on everything, especially at the end of the day when all I want to do is sit and be still for a few seconds.
I realized something had to change when it hit me that the only meals I eat sitting down were went I went through the drive through and ate in the car on my way to the next "thing" we were doing. That didn't work for me. So here's what is working for me now:
-I joined a gym that offers childcare. Included in my monthly fee is childcare for all of my kids, up to 2 hours a day. If I drop them off at 9:17, you can bet I will be picking them up at 11:17. I use every minute of that 2 hours, even if 45 minutes of it is spent taking a long hot shower and actually doing my hair and makeup
2 hours a day, 4 to 5 times a week is a lot of time to take, but it makes me a better mom by giving me a break and I feel healthy, live healthier and I have so much more energy to deal with the every day demands now.
- I set goals. I have a loose "to do" list every day of random things that need to get done in addition to the everyday stuff. Those are my goals. Sometimes it's something like clean out the fridge other days it's something like make spaghetti sauce to freeze. That's in addition to the non negotiable things are laundry and having a clean kitchen.
- I have a system for cleaning. I try to do one room a day so nothing gets out of control. This can be surprisingly hard with 4 kids interrupting all the time but is so much easier than doing the entire house at once.
- I have the older 2 "help". They are in charge of picking up their toys. Often, I have to make a game of it but they have to do it. "Games" we play include: Racing against a timer, playing the "color game" where I yell out a color and they have to find everything that color and put it away. I'll do the same with types of toys (Find all of the cars! Find all of the play food! Find all of the crayons!). Sometimes we'll do an "easter egg hunt" and I'll hide eggs w/ stickers or coins in them through the mess and they have to pick up the mess to get to the eggs. When they are done cleaning they get to open their eggs and put the coins in their bank and make a picture with the stickers. Also, for some reason if I give them both a wet paper towel and tell them to "clean" the toys, they'll sit there and do that and put them away. I tell them there's germs all over and they have to get rid of them.
They also love to dust and move the lighter furniture and big toys out of the way while I vacuum. They are great at putting away the silverware and plastic cups/plates and clearing the table for dinner. I also taught them how to fold simple laundry-- and even if they don't do it right, at least they are quiet and not fighting while I'm getting it done.
- We have a routine. I think this is the most important aspect of all. Our routine is flexible (I don't have set times for craft time vs. playdough time) but I keep things as consistent as possible. Errands are all done on the same day if possible, cleaning is done at the same time if possible, park time is done at the same time, etc... but bed time is non negotiable, they HAVE to be in bed by 8, or I lose my mind and they end up tired and cranky the next day.
- Diet is key!! You have to eat and eat well to have the energy and stamina to do all you need to do. Try to cut out junk and sugars if you eat those. Drink more fluids, eat more veggies, allow yourself a small treat at the end of the day. Keep your kids well fed and hydrated. I've found that if my older kids have food dyes or HFCS they are a nightmare. So we don't have anything with them in our home. They don't get sugary stuff either. I feed them something every couple of hours to keep their blood sugar consistent to avoid meltdowns.
- Cook in advance, if possible. I invested in a chest freezer. Best decision I've made in a long time. I always have homemade spaghetti sauce, chili, grilled chicken breasts cut into strips to use w/ pasta and salad, chicken broth, shredded chicken, veggies to steam... there are SO many nights I don't have time to cook or feel like cooking so I can just grab something out of the freezer instead of going out to eat. Saves lots of time, and money.
- When we go places, expectations are set in the car. The older 2 are old enough to understand that if they don't listen or if they act up, we're done. I also won't go anywhere if I know they are tired or hungry to avoid melt downs. Grocery shopping can be a nightmare and to help avoid those meltdowns, the older 2 get a list of foods they need to find and then each one gets a job. For instance, one kid will hold the produce bag while I put the produce in or if it's hearty produce, the older kid will put the produce in the bag while the younger one holds it. I constantly point foods out to them and we talk about what is healthy and what isn't, what would be a good choice to make and what wouldn't... as long as I keep them engaged and involved, we can remain tantrum free. When they were younger they got a "snack bag" with a small treat in it-- like a race car or something. I'd put a snack they had to eat slowly (like cheerios and raisins or small crackers and dried fruit) into a bag and they would stay occupied in the stroller or cart and then play with their treat. Some call this bribery, I don't care
It worked and they were quiet lol!
I don't know if any of this helps. If I think of anything later, I'll add to it.
Big hugs and be sure to take some time to do something for you today!
ETA: I also start the day with a clean kitchen and empty dishwasher. I clean the kitchen before I go to bed and run the dishwasher while we sleep and unload it first thing in the morning. I put the dishes from the day in the dishwasher as we use them so there isn't a huge pile of dishes to do at the end of the day. A clean kitchen makes me very happy and feel peaceful-- probably because I spend 80% of my day there