My partner has a tradition of taking his son on a spring break trip from long before I arrived in their lives. Each year they go someplace adventurous and inappropriate for a small child, so Bean and I stay home. When Bean was 3 months old they went to a remote village up the Amazon river in Peru. Last year they went to Madagascar. This year they extended the trip a couple of extra days and climbed Mount Roraima in Venezuela.
Each year that week alone surprises me in some way. The first year I was just surprised that we both survived. The second year I was surprised at my own confidence as a parent – how far I had come in a year! This year my surprise was how all-consuming the task of parenting a toddler on my own really was.
Solo parenting is not single parenting. When I’m solo parenting, I’m individually keeping up a life (and household) that usually contains four people, three of whom are grown. We have a good-sized house with a good-sized yard. We have a social life, pets, responsibilities. Most importantly, we have two involved parents who trade off in-home and out-of-home responsibilities. If I were a single parent, I would streamline and simplify life for myself. I’d get rid of the cats, I’d cook less from scratch, I’d move to a smaller house with a postage-stamp yard. But when I’m solo parenting for a short stretch I can’t offload all that. I just try to keep it together.
Here are some survival skills I’ve learned in the last three years of solo-parenting for short stretches. Whether your partner travels for business regularly or is just taking a solo trip for a long weekend, something in this list is bound to help you cope at home!
Plan activities for both you and the kids, spaced evenly across the days you will be on your own. My very hardest solo-parenting days happen when I have a whole day with no plan. Even going to the grocery store can be an adventure! Bean and I went to the pet food store to visit the cats one day and have been making the rounds of feed stores to see the new baby chicks. We went to the gym (yoga for me, trampoline in the daycare for her), the park, for long drives. Get yourselves out of the house!
Plan some time off for yourself. Schedule a sitter or an extra day of preschool or daycare. Call in favors from the grandparents, aunties and from other moms if you have to. Schedule this time in advance if you can.
Use your down time to totally relax. I thought I’d be working on house projects and spending time writing while Bean was at daycare this week but in reality I was laying on the couch reading books because that’s all the energy I could muster. Let yourself recharge in any way you need to.
Reduce Your Expectations
Parenting solo is way more exhausting than you’d expect, even when you are used to being home all day with a kid already. Give yourself permission to not accomplish much beyond keeping the kids safe and fed and relatively happy. We watched many more videos than usual and I had to tell myself over and over again that that was OK.
I made what I thought was a very reasonable list of 6 projects to accomplish while I was alone and in fact accomplished only one of them. I thought I’d have all these quiet evenings after Bean went to bed, but in reality I just tidied up the house, put out our clothes for the next day, and then crashed. Every night.
Make it Easier
Reduce your responsibilities as much as you can. I scheduled our housecleaner to come right in the middle of the week and I only did minimal cleaning otherwise. I enlisted Bean to help feed the cats in the morning (usually her dad’s job) so I could get my coffee made and consumed each morning. I only took out the trash when it was overflowing and the mail was only collected every couple of days. I think I did laundry once. We ate a lot of take-out food and leftovers for dinner.
Leave the non-essential chores undone – you can catch up later!
Roll With It
Life is going to happen. Unexpected things will come up and you are the only person here to deal with them. Last week I had to deal with a bacterial eye infection that necessitated a trip to urgent care and 4-times-daily eye drops, a sick caregiver, Bean waking in the night several nights, an unexplained itchy rash all over her body and then me coming down with a cold. I could tell a whole sob story about my week and indeed I had a few low moments. But instead I focused on staying positive and solution-oriented. My girl needed me to have it together so I just stepped up and worked it out. Get help when you need to: My mom ran to the grocery store for Benadryl at 10pm after a panicked text message from me the night of the rash!
Deal with the moment at hand and then move on. Tomorrow is another day.
One of the surprises on that first spring break trip was how very lonely I was. I’m home alone-but-for-the-baby all day and didn’t realize how much I look forward to adult conversation in the evening! Over this last week I scheduled more time with friends than usual so I’d have people to talk to who can speak in complete sentences. Our close friends knew I was home alone for a few days, and it was great to have some of them check in with me just to say hi.
Keep in Touch
When LHM travels we communicate in any way that we can, even when he’s in an opposite time zone. We exchange text messages, emails, and arrange FaceTime calls. This was even more important this year as Bean was really missing her daddy and very sad. I was surprised at how much his absence impacted her. A couple of times she was awake in the night crying for him and had more separation anxiety than usual during the day. It helped to talk about him a lot, make things for him, and for me to tell her over and over how much he missed and loves her. We were able to do video calls twice and I think it really helped. He also emailed us photos of himself and a small bear she sent with him.
Before your partner leaves, talk about the best ways to connect during the absence. Prepare your kids, even little ones, by talking about what will be happening. And remember to send your partner updates on what’s happening at home, especially those little mundane but beautiful moments! Remember he is missing you and the kids as much as you are missing him.
Plan to Reconnect
I think this is the most important tip and also the easiest to overlook. Make sure to schedule some time for just you and your partner to reconnect a few days after he gets back. I like to schedule a date night for the weekend after the end of a trip, after he’s had time to get back in our time zone and we’ve already covered all the catch-up news. It is easy to fall into resentment about all the fun he’s off having while you are at home slaving away. Make time to hear about his trip (especially the not-so-fun bits) and also tell him about your week.
Clear the air between you and get back in the groove of co-parenting as soon as you can.
Do you have a partner who travels, either regularly or occasionally? If you have other solo-parent coping strategies to recommend, please share them in the comments!