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Are you parenting alone while your partner is away? Read on to discover some tips and tricks to make things easier when it’s time to solo parent.
My husband was out-of-town on business trips for 127 days last year.
Obviously some people have it worse. They might have a spouse who’s deployed or not have a partner at all. I’m grateful for the 238 days I do have with my husband because solo parenting can really suck.
(Solo parenting, by the way, differs from single parenting because you have a partner to provide some emotional and financial support even though they aren’t physically present.)
Over the years, I’ve spent hundreds of days parenting solo, and I’ve developed some strategies for helping things to go more smoothly.
Here are my top ten strategies for making solo parenting suck a little less:
We don’t live close to any family, and sometimes I have to get creative about finding another set of hands. If you’re solo parenting, don’t be afraid to ask for help from family, friends, neighbors, or professionals.
Once, a neighbor picked up supplies for me and dropped them on my front porch when my 4-year-old was too sick to leave the house with me to get them ourselves. Another neighbor watched my boys for a few minutes when my babysitter overslept and I had an appointment I just couldn’t miss. I am grateful for my ‘village’ all the time, but never more than when my partner is away.
Find a way to communicate as a family regularly
Work schedules, time zone differences, and kid routines can wreak havoc on regular communication, leaving the family feeling disconnected. Snapping and sending a quick picture or writing a brief text can help keep the traveling parent in the loop.
We love FaceTime dates, too. We keep them low pressure by quickly showing off a LEGO tower the kiddos just built, or by checking in while they eat their cereal.
Find creative ways for the kids to communicate on their own schedule
We often have trouble with the kids flaking out during FaceTime calls that happen in the middle of a favorite game, at night when they’re overtired, or in the morning when they’re still waking up.
To combat the problem of the parents being ready to talk when the kids weren’t, we invested in a couple of Toymail talkies. These neat little guys look like stuffed animals, but they hide a little messaging system inside. Using a set of three simple buttons, kids can select a contact (who’s been pre-approved by the parent), record a quick message, send the message to the contact, and hear the response.
Learn more about this cute little guy here.
It’s been really great for my kids to be able to send an “I love you” when they’re lying in bed at night about to fall asleep without having to ask me to write a text, take a picture, or try to get Daddy on the phone. If a FaceTime or phone call has to be abandoned because the kids just aren’t into it at that moment, the kids will still have a way to communicate later that day.
Do the things you want to do
When my husband is away, I make the best of the time by doing some of the things I want to do but don’t always make time for when he’s around.
It might be something productive like sorting through toys we need to purge. It could also be something fun like reading a new novel, spending some extra time on my guitar practice, taking a bubble bath, or binge-watching a show I know he wouldn’t care about.
I get a major sense of accomplishment from tackling the things on my to-do list, and I’m always glad to have some special treats to enjoy when my husband isn’t here.
Simplify your meals (and everything else)
When Daddy’s in town, dinners tend to be made-from-scratch, meat-and-potatoes kind of dishes. When my husband is gone, dinner might be a simple tuna salad sandwich (he hates tuna and the kids love it) with some cut veggies on the side. We make Friday night pizzas with English muffins and sauce from a jar rather than the homemade sauce and dough I make every week when everyone is home.
Think about the few things your kids love that also happen to be easy. (I’m sure there are at least a couple of meals in there.) Make those. Over and over. Simplify meals, and any of the other stuff you do regularly, as much as possible.
Realize you will likely have some extra discipline issues
Kids aren’t always great at expressing their emotions. “I’m sad Daddy is away” could be expressed as:
- “I’m going to punch my brother in the face.”
- “I will sit here and refuse to put on my shoes until you are so late that you might as well stay home.”
- “I think I’ll color all over the back of your couch.”
In short, you might notice more…challenging behavior than usual. My friend Mary, who solo parents frequently, has noticed this phenomenon, with her girls. She sends a note to her daughters’ teachers when her husband is traveling. In the note, she warns the teachers that her kids might act like shitheads. She also asks that the teachers keep her posted on any problems at school.
To make this time a little easier for everyone:
- Try to give your kids the benefit of the doubt.
- Make some time for extra snuggles.
- Tell the kids that you miss your spouse, too .
- Point out the fun things you get to do when your co-parent is away.
- Plan a special outing from time-to-time for a treat. Bonus points if it’s someplace you’d enjoy, too.
Be extra kind to yourself (and to your partner)
Just like the kids, you’re probably feeling sad, lonely, and overwhelmed. Whether you drink a glass of wine, repeat an affirmation, or allow yourself a good cry, think of small ways to be kind to yourself while you’re in the trenches.
It’s also easy to feel jealous of the person who is away, even if that person is deployed or working insanely-long days. Remember that your partner is probably tired and lonely, too. (And try not to be too envious that they can go to the bathroom alone, sleep without a toddler climbing into bed, and eat a meal all by themselves.)
Make extra time with friends
Yes, I know you’re thinking about hibernating in your jammies as a family until your partner gets back. Consider adding in some extra friend time, though. It helps everyone feel less lonely, sad, and stressed.
When my husband travels, we often invite other families over for dinner and a playdate—especially other moms who are parenting solo. It’s a great opportunity for the kids to have fun and for the moms to get a little kvetching time.
Make it a party
Does this break in the family routine allow you to do any easy and fun stuff that you wouldn’t normally do with your kids? We like to shake things up at mealtimes by having a picnic, eating early to allow time for a board game tournament, or watching a movie during dinner.
We’ll make bedtime fun by staying up a little later than normal, adding glow sticks to our bathwater and bathing in the dark, or having a mom and kids slumber party in the boys’ room.
Find any excuse you can to celebrate.
Lower your standards
As a recovering perfectionist, this one is tough for me, but it’s vitally important. When you don’t have a spouse to hand off to, you shouldn’t expect to maintain “business as usual.” Period.
Maybe you’re used to sweeping your floor everyday, eating homemade organic foods, and keeping the kids away from all screens. It’s time to let that shit go.
Decide what you’ll suck at. Know that something in your current routine will have to give. You’re better off choosing which ball to drop than trying to keep them all in the air and letting each one smack you in the face as it falls.
Everything won’t get done the way it would if there were two people at home, and that’s ok. Make like Elsa and “Let It Go”.
Mama, you can absolutely handle this solo parenting thing. The key to success is the same key you should be using all the time: be intentional. Look for ways to make life simpler, more efficient, and more joyful, and you can’t lose.
YOU GOT THIS.