I’m married to an extremely competent man. He is a full participant in parenting, housework, cleaning, and cooking. We share the load pretty equally, which means that when I’m doing the solo parenting thing, his presence is very sorely missed.
He is a pilot and flight instructor which means that while he doesn’t travel as much as being in the airlines, he has still ended up being out of town more than most people I know.
He has flown long-distance trips for training purposes (like that one time he left on a 5-day trip to another country in a small plane and I, home with a toddler and newborn, came down with an awful and severe bout of mastitis an hour after he took off), ferried airplanes between Canada and Florida a week before Christmas, gone to California (10 days) or Alabama (6 days) for specialized aerobatic training, and traveled around the country filming aviation safety videos on a federal grant.
Yup, I’m a pilot’s wife, and I’m pretty used to it by now.
Our kids are 3, 5, and 7 now so it’s a bajillion times easier now than it was when they were basically all babies or toddlers at the same time, but I definitely know that the ample experience in solo parenting that I’ve had over the years has contributed that ease and rhythm I enjoy now.
Thankfully, I’ve figured out some tricks and hacks for making life easier when he is away. I’m the type of person that sometimes finds new situations difficult and stressful at first, but after gaining some experience actually doing it and figuring out what works, it feels like a total breeze.
I just needed to find my rhythm, and thankfully, I found mine with solo parenting a few years back.
(Please note that I’m using ‘solo parenting’ to refer to a family where there are two parents and one is temporarily away. Single parenting is not something that I could knowledgeably comment on. Single parents have my utmost respect for the work they do every single day!)
Ten Solo Parenting Tips
1. Plan meals ahead, especially the first night
Even if you’re not a regular meal planner, I HIGHLY advise you to at least scribble down each night’s dinner plan on a scrap of paper, and stick it to the fridge. (I highly recommend Plan to Eat – an online menu planning tool that makes this task way easier!)
If you make a big dinner the day before and save leftovers for you and the kids for Night #1, you’ll be your own hero. Day 1 and you’re rocking it already.
2. Grocery shop the day before
When he makes his travel plans, plan to have a few hours alone at the grocery store the day before to shop and strategize (and enjoy the peace and quiet).
Make sure you’re stocked for the meals and snacks you’ll require while your partner is away unless you enjoy hauling your kids to the store and breaking up fights over who gets to push the conveyer belt button while the teenage checkout boy looks on awkwardly.
3. Pace yourself, mentally
I have found that my patience tends to last exactly as long he is scheduled to be away, and on the last day, I need extra reminders to keep being a patient and gentle mama, even when the kids are melting down and behaving all wonky because they miss Daddy, too.
Because I know I’ll be struggling near the end, I try to really pace myself and be extra careful at the beginning, similar to running a marathon.
One little trick that helps me to do this is to have some kind of visual countdown – a calendar, or whatever. I like to use sticky notes on the bathroom mirror – one for each day, with “8 days left” and “7 days left” etc.
4. Pick your battles
Now is NOT the time to be starting a brand-new discipline initiative for that issue that’s been bugging you for months. It’s important to remember that the kids are likely feeling off-kilter too, and instead of cracking down on them, a hefty dose of graciousness and understanding all around is best until everyone’s under one roof again.
5. Plan special outings
I’m very much an introvert, and typically love nothing more than to stay home where I’m comfortable and cozy. However, even I find a few well-timed outings to be of excellent help when I’m in a solo parenting stretch.
It can be a quick visit to the neighbourhood library, or it can be an all-day journey to a museum in the city. The point isn’t to do something super expensive or even to spend all of your time on the go.
The point is simply to have a few special things planned throughout so as to avoid having it feel like one big monotonous, never-ending day.
Some of our favourites are the library, the dollar store, the free fast-food indoor play place if the weather’s bad, or a park if the weather is good. We’ve also enjoyed going to the zoo in the past when we had memberships. Your kids will be especially happy if it’s an outing that is somewhat new or irregular.
6. Have late-night rewards for yourself
I cannot stress this enough: be SURE to have some end-of-day treats for each evening after the kids are in bed and you fall into an exhausted heap on the couch. After another full day of being both mom and dad, the reward will feel oh-so-good.
Word to the wise: don’t stock up on a ton of junk food that you don’t normally eat, or you’ll just end up feeling gross by the time your partner returns.
Last time I was solo, I had some of these amazing potato chips (they use avocado oil instead of the bad vegetable or soy oils!) on hand, I baked myself a pan of gluten-free brownies to hide, and I had a few bottles of kombucha to savour. Those were my treats, and it was perfect! I’ve also indulged in a small container of this salted caramel ice cream that’s at least made with real cream, eggs, and sugar, and it was beyond yum. (It’s a Canadian brand.)
Other self-care rituals are helpful here, too. Your treat doesn’t have to be food!
Other ideas include indulgent candlelit baths, a purchase of a favourite TV show on itunes (I recently binged on Parenthood when hubby was in Alabama in January), or a really good novel that you’ve been saving. (This is the latest couldn’t-put-it-down novel that I devoured. If I had been reading this one while hubby was away I may not have even noticed he was gone, lol.)
7. Go to bed early
I kicked my stay-up-too-late habit last winter, and it has been life-changing. But I’ll be the first to admit that solo parenting stints can be some of the most dangerous temptations when it comes to pushing my bedtime because you’re on duty 24/7 while solo, and that’s mentally exhausting – especially if you’re an HSP introvert like me.
My advice: be SUPER vigilant about getting enough rest and going to sleep on time. Solo parenting is tough enough – you don’t need to do it with bleary eyes and a short fuse.
8. Reduce your expectations
No, you might not be able to keep up with everything that you normally do. Your evenings may get cut short because you have to get the kids to bed on your own, then come down and do the kitchen clean-up by yourself, too. By the time that all happens you might be too exhausted to start folding laundry. Such is life.
You may have to just make sure you have the essentials covered, and then let go of the rest temporarily.
9. Ask for help
In the last eight years that we’ve had kids, we’ve lived nearly half of those years in another city or province from our families. While we had family nearby, I asked for help from them when hubs was away. I’d go to my parents’ for dinner, or they’d come over for dinner and help with bedtime.
Now that we live in a city that’s 4 hours from our families, we ask for help from our church family or neighbours.
I would encourage you to reach out to your church family, especially if you’re solo parenting with really young kids and feel super overwhelmed. Go to a pastor or leader and just be honest with your situation and your overwhelm, and ask if there’s anyone who might want to offer you a bit of company or relief, or maybe even a meal or two. It’s daunting, but if you’re desperate it could be a total lifesaver. It’s a great ministry opportunity that they’ll hopefully jump at.
10. Compromise carefully
This last tip is brought to you by years of hard-earned wisdom. When you grocery shop, you’ll be tempted to stock up on a lot of quick and easy foods for convenience’ sake. Go for it! (But…)
I encourage you to think carefully about what kinds of compromises to your normal standard of eating that you can make without making yourself feel sick and blah in the process.
Some of my go-to’s are a bag of organic gluten-free cereal, some nitrate-free hotdogs, and some cheese strings. (My kids are weirdly obsessed with cheese strings, which I begrudgingly allow for solo stints.)
Bring home a bouquet of inexpensive flowers to brighten up your space while your partner’s away. A pop of beauty does wonders for the weary soul.
Does your spouse travel frequently for work? What tips do you have?
This post is brought to you in partnership with Plan to Eat because eating at home should be easier, especially when you’re flying solo! Thanks, PTE!