Today’s post is about solo parenting, an area that I don’t have longevity in yet, but have been 100% immersed in the past year as a military spouse. My parenting goal is always to be peaceful, despite my circumstances.
I knew before becoming a mom that I was signing up for the solo parenting gig. We actually planned our first child during a time when my husband didn’t have to leave for work, so for the first year I never had to deal. I guess I was trying to procrastinate my fate.
Then my son turned two, formed a bunch of opinions on how to conduct his day, and I found myself riding solo more times than not.
Some days are so challenging. I promise myself that I will not have a second child so to not ruin the one I already have because I feel mentally stretched thin.
Most of the time I wake up in the morning, looking half ghost half skeleton. I often wonder if my face looks this way because I stopped using those fancy anti-aging creams and switched to 100% natural skincare routine, or if it’s just all the pressure from parenting by myself.
Astonishingly, I have discovered that solo parenting has two faces. One side can be remarkably exhausting to the point where you feel like your soul is being sucked out from your chest.
Yea, I really feel this way from time to time.
The other side though, well, it is full of love, hope, adventure, and companionship. I wouldn’t trade the alone time I get with my son for the world.
I hope to give you insight on what it is like as a solo parent and tangible tips to make it easier. Overall, the most important part of surviving this is a positive mindset and be utterly self-aware.
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Solo Parenting Tips to Thrive When Your Spouse is Away
Before we get into it, I just wanted to put a disclaimer out there. The focus of this article is tips and tricks to maintain positive emotional health for both yourself and your kids when one parent is away.
As of right now, and Lord willing never, I can’t speak about how to raise a child as a single parent.
I believe that every loving parent will rise up to the task they face. Many of these suggestions may help if that is your situation.
There is a very real chance that could actually be me one day with the nature of my husband’s job and I shudder just thinking about it. I can’t begin to fathom all that goes into that task.
Alas, on to the meat and potatoes…
1. Design your day in blocks
You’ve done it before in high school.
Let’s face it, when it comes to getting through anything that drags on like a busy day with kids, take it in bite sizes.
A day in the life with my toddler looks a little like this.
- 7 am – wake up slowly
- 8 am – make breakfast together
- 9 am – play while I clean up breakfast or watch a short show
- 9:30 am – get ready for the day
Late Morning through Early Afternoon shift
- 10 am – Head out for an activity (more ideas for activities later in this post)
- 12 pm – Head back home for lunch or eat a packed lunch out and then head back home
- 1 pm – independent play
- 2 pm – nap or quiet time in their room for at least 2 hours (you need this!)
- 4-5 pm – wake up, independent play/read books/help with dinner
- 6 pm – watch movie/play together/go for evening walk
- 7 pm – bath
- 7:30-8 pm bedtime routine and all kids go to bed
I always look forward to our outing in block one because it changes the scenery and gives me a break from entertaining my son.
Those last two blocks contain a break from the kids during nap time/bedtime.
Certainly, if you have more than one kids or kids of different ages it can be much harder to design a day that work for everyone.
The key to blocking your day is to have something structured and something relaxing in each one.
Sticking to routines work and make things simpler when you are tired. They provide stability in the midst of a beloved parent’s absence.
It’s important to be flexible. Sometimes you won’t feel like keeping the routine and that’s ok! We definitely don’t do it everyday.
And a synchronized nap schedule may not work out every day, but KEEP explaining this concept and reinforcing the quiet time rule until it sticks.
2. Plan ahead for fun adventures
It’s super tempting, especially when you are exhausted, to just stay home and not have to deal with all the logistics of toting kids around by yourself. Some days it makes sense to stay home.
But let’s not forget what a privilege it is to be the one that gets to hang out with these cute little humans. Don’t let them stop you from living fully. That’s why it’s so important to take care of yourself so you can! More on this later!
Whenever my husband is away for an extended period, I often plan something super special to look forward too.
We have taken road trips together and stayed the night in cool hotels with pools. I try to mix things up whenever things turn into a drag. Life is too short to sit around wallowing in misery and repetitive drudgery.
I still stand by what I said about routines but ultimately, in order to thrive when your partner is away, you have to have fun!
To maximize the fun potential of your own city, I recommend finding local facebook pages and following them so you can get updated on festivals and fun events.
Another thing to do is look on iMaps and find chunks of green. If there is a state park or large area of nature in our city, we go explore it! Being outside is good for your health and for the soul.
Some days we go for hikes and I carry him in the backpack or push him in our adventure stroller while I listen to a podcast.
We go to museums.
We go to the movies.
Hit up play places with wifi so I can, you guessed it, work on this blog while he plays with new toys.
If you have followed my instagram I stared a series called adventures with two year olds where I featured some of the stuff we do together.
It’s ok to have fun with your kids and stretch them to get out of their comfort zone. The more you do this the better they will get at it and you will have yourself a little buddy to adventure with while your partner is away.
The last thing I will say on this topic is that it WILL get tough when you take little kids on long trips or to things like fairs and theme parks by yourself. There will be moments where you are completely spent but you still have to load them up in the car, drive a long way home, feed them, bath them, and put them to bed all by yourself.
You will get through it mama!
The next day, just stay home and recover. Do crafts, watch movies, and read books until your tired heart is content!
The kids will be happy to do so without a fuss because they need to recover too.
Mixing things up is where it’s at when it comes to solo parenting.
3. Stop feeling guilty about TV time
When I was pregnant with my son I read this really great book called Brain Rules for Babies and it talked about how TV was detrimental for development before the age of two years old.
We tried our darndest to limit TV but some days I just NEEDED it. To be completely honest, my son has been watching TV his entire life.
I try my best to limit it to only an hour a day maximum.
But some days…well I’m not a perfect parent.
I used to feel so guilty about this and worry that my son would develop ADD. And while I don’t recommend lots of TV, my son has been learning and focusing just fine.
We make sure to spend lots of time chatting, reading books, doing focus activities like coloring, and make plenty of time for free play.
Ultimately, he is developing really well despite my overuse of the TV when I am solo parenting.
I wanted to add this part in because even though it isn’t one of my best tips, I think that as long as you are being a calm, patient, loving parent, a little extra TV isn’t going to ruin your kids.
Yelling at them because you are stretched too thin is much, much worse. So stop feeling guilty about the TV!
4. Take care of your own health
Being a solo parent requires stamina. Where do you get that from?
For some it is sheer will power but there are definitely ways to optimize your energy so you can shine as a solo parent.
The goal is to be a parent that not only keeps the kids alive but actively engages with them.
It all starts with taking care of your health.
Eat healthy foods.
In a previous post I wrote about the best foods for pregnancy but really these are just the best foods for life in case you need some good ideas on where to start diet-wise.
Exercise as much as possible.
You can include the kids in your exercise. I find the easiest thing to do is a bodyweight high intensity interval workout at the park while my son plays.
Limit the days you indulge in happy hour.
If you didn’t just push the back button out of sheer disgust, here’s my reasoning…
Wine is so tempting not JUST because it relaxes you after it absorbs into your bloodstream, the sole act of drinking it makes you just breathe a little easier.
That’s why it is so easy to slip into the cup-of-joe-in-the-morning-five-pm-glass-of-wine -to-get-through-the-day routine.
The thing is, alcohol disturbs your REM sleep so you won’t get the rest you need for the day at hand.
I had become an expert at hangover remedies because who can really drink just one glass of wine when your kids never stop talking?
Right now I am in the midst of a month long work trip and so far, I haven’t drank a single night since my husband left. I made the decision to do this ahead of time to see if it makes a difference.
I can honestly say I am much happier from this decision the majority of the day.
Around that 4-6 pm hour, I still really want a glass of wine, but I get through it by reminding myself how crappy I will likely feel and how it will ruin the next day. I just keep saying this over and over until the urge passes and sometimes I brew a cup of tea.
I am making myself sound like an alcoholic here, but I know a lot of moms fall into this trap so I wanted to be honest with my readers.
A plus side of this is you may drop some LBS and look a little cuter for your hubby when he gets home!
5. Recruit help way ahead of time
If you know your spouse is going away for a long time, set childcare help up ahead of time. The biggest mistake you will make is waiting until the last second when you are already pulling your hair out.
Some cheap ways to get childcare help include:
- Swapping care with a friend in the same situation
- Scheduling periodic visits with family
- Using military base hourly drop in care (it’s only $5 an hour)
- Get a trustworthy roommate during deployment and give them cheap/free rent in exchange for help with the kids
- Join a gym that has childcare
I enrolled my son in preschool two days a week for four hours and it was the best decision for my sanity.
6. Lay down with your kids for naps
The hardest part about solo parenting is the lack of breaks.
So when your kids decide to skip a nap it can be really hard on your mental health.
One thing I have found very helpful is to take the time to lay with my son until he falls asleep.
It’s very comforting to children to have their parent sleep with them and this will increase the chance they will actually sleep. This also forces you to slow down and recuperate.
Then you can slip out and enjoy a nice quiet break!
7. Get involved with a community
Before your partner leaves, take some time to think about who is in your community.
It may be your neighbors or some close friends. It may be a book club or a mom’s group.
For me it’s some of my fellow military spouses!
Either way, have some local people in mind you can call upon in case an emergency happens.
Solo parenting will have many ups and downs but keep your mindset positive.
That old saying “kids will be kids” can never feel more true then when you are managing them alone.
It is their job to act like kids and your job to keep it together. This brutal truth I say to you from experience.
There are moments when I think to myself, how in the world could this kid be any more illogical? I just want to help him and he is fighting me at every move.
Overcoming incessant frustration with a gentle demeanor will etch your parenting success in stone.
Acknowledge your internal anger at the situation but do not let it control you.
You are a kind, sweet soul who is capable of channeling positive energy in the midst of a storm.
Your kids deserve this from you. They will flourish in this not-so-ideal situation if you can do the mental work it takes to remain calm and peaceful despite their behavior.
If you are reading this and feel alone and overwhelmed, leave me a comment or write me an email. I am here for you and I respond to each comment individually.
I want to help you be your best when you are riding dirty with them kids!