It’s 8:30pm, and I’m exhausted.
I just went through the bedtime routine with my two boys. Kisses and hugs, lots of “I love you’s” and “I need to go now, good night”.
I sit on my couch, aching feet, tired eyes, mushy brain, and full heart. My kids have run me through the wringer today.
It’s Saturday, but it might as well be Tuesday because every day feels like groundhog day right now. Just the same thing every. single. day.
There’s no one to pass the torch onto. No one to back me up. No one to give me relief from the constant noise and requests.
You see, I’m solo parenting.
My husband is gone for a few months and I’m doing this parenting thing on my own.
Since my husband is in the military, I don’t live near family and don’t have a large, local support system of family and friends. Often times, I feel very alone when he’s gone.
Part of me wants to crater, fall apart, sink down in the hardship of taking care of two boys on my own, without reprieve, and who would blame me? But instead, I choose to embrace it, “lean in”, and enjoy this time on my own.
Someone recently asked me “how do you do it? It seems so hard.” She then went onto say that her husband does so much and she can’t imagine not having him there to help.
I sigh and say, “Oh mine too, and it can be hard when he’s not here, but what other choice do I have? You just HAVE to do it”.
I was talking to my mother about this recently and she said, “oh honey, you do have other choices, they just aren’t choices you’re choosing. You could choose to be miserable. You could choose to fall apart and feel bad about your current life choices. And some people do make that choice.”
She’s right, and I have made those choices in the past. They are easy choices to make. It’s easy to just buckle down and survive the days without really enjoying this time with my kids. It’s easy to get angry at my husband and feel frustrated at my life.
But I want something different, I don’t want to just survive when I’m solo parenting, I want to THRIVE!
Here’s a few things I do and think about when I’m solo parenting
It’s Hard On The Kids Too
I miss my husband and I have moments when I am sad and frustrated.
My kids also miss their Daddy and they feel the difference in me and the current structure of our family. At the beginning there were moments when they, like me, didn’t handle life very well and we’d all fall apart.
I knew that things would adjust and that we’ll find our new normal without Daddy being home, and we did.
I had to stop daily and remind myself that this too shall pass and that I needed to look beyond my children’s anger and sadness and see hurting little boys who needs me to be kind and understanding.
But, in the same breath, I have to be kind and understanding of myself too.
Be Kind To Myself
Most of the time, we are thriving and my boys and I are having fun and coping, but there are still tough moments.
There are moments when I’m so tired and I can’t muster up the patience for my children. There are moments when all I need are a few minutes of quiet without someone using me as a jungle gym.
Moments where I yell.
Life is just tough right now so I’m not always at my best.
I choose to not dwell on those moments though, but to learn from them. I will not take up residence and live in my guilt, I will move on.
We all need a little grace these days, including myself.
Be Kind To My Husband
This is one of the most difficult lessons I have learned over my 10 year marriage to man who gets to travel the world without me.
I have to remind myself that my husband is working while he is away. Yes, he is usually in the middle east, but not always. There are times when he’s been in Hawaii or in some far off exotic land (like South Africa, Malta, or Belgium). It’s hard, oh so hard when your husband is seeing all these great places and I’m stuck at home.
But, he’s not on vacation. He is working. He did not choose to go, or where he would go, it’s just part of his job. The job that he loves that financially supports our family so that I can stay home and do the job that I love.
I have had times when I wanted to resent him for leaving me with all the chaos while he gets to jet off somewhere else.
He gets to go out to eat without wrangling children, sleep through the night in a hotel room without being woken up at all hours of the night. While I’m here having sleepless nights and doing all the work.
It’s easy to get stuck in the mind frame that “he’s off doing whatever he wants while I’m stuck here doing it ALL”.
This can be terrible for a marriage and can cause such resentment and anger.
Reminding myself that he is working and misses me like crazy too, helps to keep my jealousy from rearing it’s ugly head.
I know that my husband would much rather be in his own bed instead of a hotel, spending time with his wife and kids instead of coworkers.
I know that he’d rather be here for the birthday parties, preschool graduations, and the daily hugs and kisses.
This quote from a reader sums it up nicely: “When it’s gets hard I remember HE is away from me and the kids missing out on all the little (and sometimes big things), so I really have it easy…”
Make Housework and Dinnertime Easier
A friend of mine, who’s husband went away before mine did, told me that she planned on cooking the same thing pretty much every week while he was away.
I thought to myself “no way!” that’s boring and I’m not a fan of only cooking kid friendly foods.
Here I am, a few months into this and I’m cooking the same foods every week.
Friends, it’s just not wort the battle.
When my husband is home, I love preparing meals that the two of us like and then making sure that there’s a few things on the plate that my kids will for sure eat, in case they don’t like it. But now that he’s gone, there’s no way I’m cooking a big meal that I’m not sure my kids will eat. It’s just not worth the effort or the battle.
I have taken a similar philosophy on housework.
I am usually the type of person that folds and puts away laundry straight out of the dryer. My kitchen is clean before I go to bed. I like a clean house and work to keep it that way.
Well…that doesn’t always happen when I’m on my own.
There’s clutter on my counters, crumbs on my floor, and laundry sitting in the dryer for days.
Yes, it bothers me. But sometimes I can only do so much.
Every few days I go through and clear the clutter and wipe everything down, but I don’t bother doing it every day.
And you know what? That’s okay. There’s no one else here who cares about the messy house, but me.
Sitting down after a long day with a glass of wine, has to take priority sometimes.
Get Help With The Kids
One of the hardest parts of solo parenting is the sheer lack of alone time. Since I stay at home, I always have my kids with me. Always.
Because of that, self-care is harder. There are no pedicures, no haircuts, no girls nights, no shopping, no just doing nothing. Everything involves the kids.
Being in constant parenting mode without any breaks can wear down the strongest Mama.
Over the years, I’ve found different ways to find that much needed alone time that give me a break from the consistent parenting.
The best thing I have ever done was share babysitting duties with my friends. One week I watched her children for a morning, and the next week she watched mine. We both got a few hours to ourselves every other week. It’s free and it’s a lifesaver!
I’ve hired a sweet girl in the neighborhood to hang out with my kids and be my Mother’s Helper. She came over a few times a week and plays with my boys so I can get some stuff done around the house. I’m there in case anything happens, but they aren’t running to me every time they need something. They love her, and so do I.
I use a service at my church called Parent’s Morning Out. I sign my kids up one or two mornings during the week and they get to spend 3 hours in the care of the church nursery staff. I get to run errands, eat chocolate, and do whatever I want during those few hours, and my kids get to play and learn. win-win. Look around at your local churches and see if they have a similar program.
There are also drop-in daycares that are similar to my church program, but aren’t affiliated with a church. My sister-in-law uses one and she says it’s a lifesaver.
I found a good babysitter. My book club meets once a month and I love it. It’s the only guaranteed time when I get to sit with a glass of wine, no kids, and chat with my friends. I didn’t want to miss it. So, I found a babysitter to stay with my boys so I could go. It’s the best money I think I’ve spent while solo parenting.
Keep Routines but Add Something Special
Routines are important while solo parenting. They keep things working smoothly.
But when I’m solo parenting, I love to add in some special things to the mix.
Saturday’s become pure fun days. It’s no work, all play. Every Tuesday we have Taco Tuesday and we go out to eat on Sundays.
I’ve also started allowing my 5 year old to crawl into bed with me in the middle of the night.
We’ve never been co-sleepers and this is the first time in his life that he’s asked or been allowed to come in our bed.
He knows that once Dad is home, it’s no longer allowed, but for now, we’re both enjoying it.
A Few More Tips
I asked on my Facebook page about how other parents survive while solo parenting and there were so many great tips.
- My husband is also in the military and used to travel a lot for work. I didn’t have any friends nearby and my biggest problem was feeling isolated. If he was gone for several weeks I would make sure we took lots of outings, to story time at the library, to the park, to a museum, walks around downtown, etc. Just being out of the house and staying busy really helped pass the time without feeling like we were just waiting for him to come home. Also, extra long bath time for the kids and a glass of wine for you after they’re in bed always helps.
- Face Timing really saves us, when hubby is working out of town! Even just a few minutes of seeing Daddy’s face makes her happy!
Even so, we have good days and bad days…but it always feels like the bad days drag on FOREVER!!!
- Stick to your schedule. Bedtime is bedtime! That way he knows when to call or face time… or be ready to anyway. Get a list of shows ready that you’ve been dying to see!
- Have fun dinners! My husband isn’t into breakfast for dinner. So when he’s gone we do that one night.
- Peanut butter and jelly for dinner.
- Plan fun things to do with the kids to keep busy! They will love the special time with mom! (As much as they will miss their Dad) And don’t be afraid to ask for help! Maybe invite friends or family over for dinner or a movie night so you won’t feel lonely when the kiddos go to bed!
- One of my biggest struggles is the 5-8 time when I am trying to make dinner and get kids ready for bed, and into bed. So, in the past I have moved our main meal to the afternoon, 1-2 ish. Then we clean up and play, start baths and do bedtime.
- Have him replace all the fire alarm batteries before he goes so you don’t have to wake up at 1am when it’s going off and not be able to reach it, even with the ladder. That was our night last night… scared me to death and I felt so helpless.
- Menu planning, accepting you can’t do it all yourself, accepting help and not being too proud!
- We have a routine and stick to it. I have also found that we get so into our routines without dad home, that when he does come home we have to adjust back, which can also be as hard as adjusting to when he is gone.
So tell me, how do you cope? Anything that I’ve missed?
DISCLAIMER: Before you send me hate mail about my term “solo parenting”, please know that I use it not to be the same as single parenting, and I am not discounting all the hard work that single parents do. I was raised by a single mom and I know that my experience is not the same as single parenting. Please remember that we all have struggles and I support all parents, no matter how they parent or what their life circumstances are. I do not allow any sort of judgment towards other parents on this blog, so if you leave a comment, please be respectful. Please read my follow up post about this. My Life Is Harder Than Yours, Get Over It!