Single parents don’t get the credit–or the help–they deserve.
This thought crosses my mind each time I am faced with another round of solo parenting. Let me be clear: solo parenting is not the same as single parenting. I am extremely fortunate to have a very committed and helpful partner who is not only a great dad but also an awesome human being (my husband is also my first editor, so I think my bases are covered with that praise). However, work prevents him from being present as much as we would like.
At least once a month, his position with the Army Reserves sends him out of town for the weekend. And that is on top of the two-three weeks in the summer, countless conference calls, and miscellaneous office tasks that keep him out of the house or otherwise engaged. Oh, and his admirable work ethic at his “regular” job means that when there’s a big project, we often don’t know when he’ll be home–sometimes well after bedtime.
So, needless to say, that’s a lot of dinners, baths, and bedtimes that I get to take on by myself…after doing all the other things required to keep tiny humans alive throughout the day. Anyone whose spouse works in an equally busy or unpredictable field–medicine, first response, food service, etc.–knows how exhausting being the only parent on duty can be.
Again, it’s NOT the same as single parenting, which presents its own obvious challenges. (Seriously, these moms and dads need ALL our support.) And I don’t mean to complain. Parenting–at least, if you’re doing it right–is hard for everyone. I just want to acknowledge the special circumstances that require a parent to have to go it alone for a while.
I certainly don’t have it all figured out, and of course I feel tired and resentful at times, but I’ve been solo parenting fairly regularly since we became parents, and I’ve got to say that it does get easier. I can’t help but laugh when a friend remarks, “I just don’t know how you do it.” Well, my friends, like anything else, you do what you have to do.
In fact, I received my first lessons in solo parenting years before I even became a parent. My husband was active duty military at the time and facing a multiple-month deployment overseas. I was determined to make the best of the situation and kept myself busy with work and friends and even tap dancing class.
But that was nothing compared to the heroics of some of my friends whose husbands were in the same unit. These moms kept it together AND kept their households running without missing a beat. In fact, one friend–who had three kids under four at the time–made a point to invite me to her house to dinner every few weeks because she was worried about me being alone. I’m almost embarrassed that I wasn’t more helpful to these moms. But I just didn’t know.
I know now, though. While my husband hasn’t had to travel longer than a few weeks at a time (yet), there are definitely some tactics I employ to survive the time on my own. First of all, I’m not ashamed to admit that I lower my expectations and standards for just about everything, like a clean house and home-cooked meals. I may be a perfectionist at times, but I also know the importance of offering myself grace.
My girls are old enough now to understand that sometimes Dad has to go to “Army work.” Rather than miss him the whole time, I flip the narrative and turn it into “Girls Weekend.” We try to do fun stuff to keep busy, particularly things that my husband isn’t interested in. For instance, at least one night we have breakfast for dinner. While my husband isn’t a fan, the girls love it, and it’s a super-easy meal. We also take advantage of all the kid-friendly activities around town and try to spend time with friends.
Another sanity-saver is early bedtime. Mama doesn’t mess around. I have spent the entire day with these people without a break, so there is no prolonging story time or extra play time in the bath. Efficiency is key when I know I have Netflix, an adult beverage, and a basket of laundry waiting for me (woo hoo, Friday night!).
I also don’t hesitate to call in reinforcements. I don’t have family in town, but I always schedule a visit home when my husband has training in the summertime. Not only do I get some much needed help, but it’s also nice to have a prolonged visit with plenty of time to spend with friends and family not centered around the hustle and bustle of the holidays.
For those shorter trips during the school year, I’ve started taking time for myself (and not feeling guilty about it). We belong to a babysitting co-op, and while I used to take in more sits while my husband was gone, I now more frequently take advantage of other people watching my kids so I don’t have to miss exercise class or book club. Wow, I sound like a super-exciting person and not at all boring.
Since it doesn’t appear that my solo parenting gigs are going to end any time soon, I am always on the look-out for ways to make the time pass more quickly and less stressfully.