This is a picture is from Day 5. The fifth day of the hubs being out of town for work recently.
My dear neighbor had asked me that afternoon, “What are you cooking for dinner?”
“Um, cereal? Cereal is about all I’ve got in me.”
We were fine, really. This is not a complaint about the trip, which was great for Jake. I have no room to complain, because trips away are infrequent in our house. Often when they happen, I am blessed to have my mom or sister visit. Even as I share this, I completely get the fact that my set up is pretty fantastic.
But I realized, on about Day 4, that I was making a mental list of little nuggets of wisdom I had collected to share with anyone else who was facing a couple of days of parenting solo until their spouse got back. Just as quickly, I realized there are a few friends who could write an entire book about temporary solo parenting (TSP).
I called my friend Angela who parents like a champ while her Air Force husband is frequently sent out on short term assignments called TDY. Her words of wisdom made me spit out my cereal laughing. My friend LeAnn survives the occasional business trip away with hilarious texts and the genius to have a babysitter at the ready. My friend Alyson is superhero mom who parents her three young kiddos while her husband is deployed out of the country for months at a time. Over holidays. Holy. Cow.
I collected some of our best practices (read:survival tactics) here.
An important note: this advice is not about single parenting. In my book, single parents are in a rock star category all by themselves with strength, patience and fierce love that leaves me in awe. Truly, in awe. Single parents can tell their own story (and perhaps we would all do well to ASK more single parents to tell their story, to further our sense of appreciation at how they do it so well)
This is about solo parenting when you are used to having a partner. I think that’s why it takes us a day or two to figure out why we are so annoyed/tired/frustrated and counting down the minutes until our spouse comes home. Because, when it comes down to it, we get used to the pattern of functioning as a dynamic duo, a partnership. And when one partner is out for a few days, the best thing you can do is . . .
1. Expect to ask the question, “Why is there water on this floor?” at least three times a day. Because there will be water. And it will be in a place water should not be. Let’s just assume it’s water, and no one will judge you when you throw a t-shirt over it to mop it up. But you need to know that your little one will take whatever container can hold water – his hands, a random cup, a plastic Mickey Mouse boat – and HURL that water just to see it splash. He will then run to another area of the house, so that you walk in hours later and step directly in the puddle. In socks. These puddles will appear ONLY during times when you are late, trying to find something else or the blessed darlings are already dancing on your last nerve.
2. Know that Non-sequiturs are your FRIENDS! You do not have to present logically arranged reasons for what will happen next or why you need things to move right along. You do not have to make sense. You have to get stuff DONE. If that means you make up random reasons that do not have any logic about them, who cares. For example, when I explained to my preschooler that we need to hurry, hurry and get our pants on and stop arguing so we can ride in the black car to school (his preferred vehicle) it does not matter that this is a non-sequitur and that the car will still run if you are straightening out the curves with it because you are late for the 100th time. It gets the underwear on, sister!
3. Routine, Routine, Routine . . . When your spouse is home, you might let the weekly routine slide. You live a little, and it’s fine because there are two of you to tag team the morning and nighttime chaos. However, when it is just you, do as Alyson says: Stick to the Routine! Rarely deviate. Having something run like clockwork makes a difference. Sure, random things come up. But do your absolute best to keep Monday-Friday fairly low-key so bedtimes and wake-ups keep the rhythm going.
4. Know that Something will break. Something household, something necessary to your sanity. It will break and there will be a brief period of sobbing (either from you or the toddler) Just mentally prepare yourself for this inevitability. Have someone you can call who either knows how to A) fix things or B) tell you you will be fine without it.
4. Get the paper plates. This one is a little controversial but makes sense for survival: Alyson says “Save the Earth” when Poppa is home . . . Save Mama’s sanity when he’s gone. Use paper plates/cups when you need to. Without another set of hands to help load/unload the dishwasher two or three times a day, this little trick saves time. Clean-up is easy – and this cuts the dishwasher duties.
5. Let the clock work for you! Remember – if they are little, they can’t tell time yet. When I don’t have to wait for my spouse to get home for dinner, we eat at the earliest time possible. And you know what comes after dinner time . . . bath and glorious BEDTIME. Thanks be to God and bless all the clocks!
6. Remember you are one person and not two. LeAnn says to remember you are doing what two people usually do. You have to readjust your expectations of yourself. “I can’t do what would normally get done— I can’t lie down with both boys at the same time. There’s not two of me. I can’t make dad appear in time for bedtime stories.”
7. Expect all The Feels. Feelings are not just for grownups. Children will be sad; they will get angry. They will feel frustrated that you’re the one still there and not your spouse. LeAnn says to “try (and it’s hard) not to get my feelings hurt or angry but to join them.” The truth is, you miss your spouse, too.
5. Become very comfortable in your “big girl panties.” Most days, you just have to put on your big girl panties and deal with whatever life throws at you. During a deployment, Alyson says she has learned to rely on herself because so many friends are going through their own set of challenges, too.
6. Laugh. Why complain when you can laugh? You might as well try to find the humor in the crazy chaos. My friends say at least once a day they think to themselves, “I can’t make this @!!?! up!”
7. Forgive yourself and start again tomorrow. The reality is, laundry doesn’t always get done as quickly as you might like. When it is clean, it often ends up piled on the bed. Alyson advises, “Sometimes the toothpaste globs stay in the sink for a week. Sometimes the kids eat cereal for dinner. Sometimes I lose my Jesus and threaten to throw away Every. Single. Toy. In our house if someone doesn’t pick them up NOW! Sometimes reading homework gets read on the way to school. Sometimes a kid might go to school without shoes on (#truestory). But I have to constantly remind myself that I’m doing the best I can under the situation I’m currently in.”
So, to recap . . .
Breathe deep. Forgive.
Buy extra paper towels. And more than enough cereal.
You’ll be fine. Thank God for bedtime. For the rest it brings and the new mornings that come.