One of the many efforts to “keep them busy!”. A Valentine’s Day cake made by the author and her three sous chefs.
When’s the dad’s away, the mom will… survive
Throughout fall, my husband and I were waiting for official word that he’d have to take a work trip to Europe. He doesn’t take these trips often, but when he does, they’re not short — and not easy for me, the mom of three very young children.
We knew it would be a short amount of time between finding out he’d leave and him actually leaving. Halfway through January, we were given about 10 days to prepare for his 3-week adventure (which got extended to 5 weeks!). And by prepare, I mean stock up on groceries, frantically search for craft projects to keep the kids busy, have a date or two, make time for family fun… it’s a lot of stuff to cram into a short timeframe.
I’m no expert in solo parenting, but my husband has spent about four total months away over the last three years, so here are some tips on how to survive — maybe even thrive! — while solo parenting.
Don’t downplay it
I know other couples have spent more time apart than my husband and I. I know his job isn’t particularly dangerous (he’s on industrial job sites, not a warzone). It could be so much worse, but the reality is, it still sucks. Life is not a competition for who suffers more. If your partner is taking a night away and it’s your first time holding the fort down alone, it’s not fair to say you have it easy because your cousin’s friend Jody in Colorado Springs spent 10 whole months parenting solo while her husband was deployed to the Middle East. You’re allowed to be frustrated.
Fun the heck out of your kids
I always stock up on stickers, coloring books, new crayons or markers, “busy books” which have a cartoon-based book with a playmat and figurines — anything you can stash away until you need a quiet chunk of time. A new activity for us was making slime. I know, I know, I’m super late to the trend. But it’s really fun and easy, and minimally messy as long as your recipe works out well. You can put glitter in it, food coloring, googly eyes, or beads. Sure, our carpet has gained a few new bright colored stains, and maybe I woke up with slime in my hair once, but it was worth it for some peace and quiet.
I’m not good at this. It’s hard for me to step out of my comfort zone and visit with friends I don’t know super well, or host playdates because my kids are busy little folks who tend to scare parents of tame children away. Well, I had to let that go and give it a shot. And it went super well. Have people over whenever you can. Even if they don’t feed you, talking to a person without checking their diaper, wiping their nose, or asking them to use their inside voice is really refreshing.
Roll with the punches
Clean when you can, if you feel like it. Don’t hold yourself to some ridiculous standard of domestic perfection or let yourself feel like you’re awful at solo parenting because you simply don’t have the energy to pick up again. Or load the dishwasher before bed. Maybe you end up rewashing the same load of laundry a few times. Give yourself a break! I do that regardless of whether or not I’m solo parenting.
Adjusting my cooking to suit myself and three kids instead of the usual family of 5 was really hard for me. Having little ones reject your cooking without a partner there to enjoy the meal with you makes cooking seem even less worthwhile. I tried some new, “fun” dinners, like pizza crescent rolls. I bought some frozen-in-a-bag things that weren’t the height of nutritional content, but at least I wasn’t investing lots of time and energy into something they might not eat. Lots of sandwiches and pots of macaroni and cheese were had. It wasn’t ideal, but they were fed.
Binge on something new
Once, my husband was in a remote part of Canada for a month. I dedicated that time to watching the entire series of Keeping Up With The Kardashians. I’d never seen it before, and he wasn’t there to roll his eyes or commandeer the remote control. It entertained the heck out of me. This trip, I was a bit more refined and rewatched The Crown on Netflix. That one’s extra fun because it’s historically based, so as you watch, you can research what really happened, or how much the characters really look like who they’re based on, and basically fact check the storyline. Lemme tell you what, it’s a great way to detox from seemingly endless amounts of cartoons and remember that you’re an adult.