At 3:00 am Saturday morning, Colin woke me to say goodbye as he was walking out the door to head to the airport. Declan had been up through the night at 10:00 and 2:00. I didn’t know it then, but he would be awake for the day at 5:30. This, my friends, is how I began my 141 hour stint of single parentdom. I’ve been lucky so far this year. It’s mid-June and this six day trip to China is the first time Colin has had to travel for work this year. Last year included trips to Norway, Scotland, Canada, Malaysia, Dubai, a couple of trips to both London and Rio de Janeiro, and one three day jaunt to Austin when Declan was only three weeks old. This year has been a cakewalk in comparison. Colin loves his job and so do I. We have a lot more time together in the evenings and on the weekends. He also enjoys the travel. I, however, do not enjoy that part. But then I’m the one who gets to stay home with a three year old and an 8 month old. 🙂 It’s hard work. We have no family nearby to drop in on and our friends live busy lives, too. All of this means that by the time Colin gets home, I’m exhausted and in serious need of some adult conversation. That being said, it is possible to survive and to do so with a smile. Below are some ways to keep on keeping on when you’re all alone with the little ones!
If you are like me, you will dread the day for a week in advance. That’s okay. It’s normal. But you should also know that you will survive. You will be busy all day and you will be tired of doing everything that has to be done by yourself. It will not be the most fun time of your life. Accept that. But it will be okay. The sun comes up and the sun sets and once it does it six or seven times, your partner will be home and you can rest. Just set out with the attitude that everything is under control and that you can handle any mishaps and then you will.
Prepare the Children
Once the kids are old enough, let Dad (or Mom if she’s traveling) explain that he’s going away for a few days. This seems like a no-brainer, but when they’re still babies, they don’t really care as long as their primary caregiver is still around. When they start to get a little older, however, they really get it and they don’t want to be blindsided. For Ian, it wasn’t until he was a little over two that he grasped the concept that Daddy was away and that he hadn’t been coming home every day. We made the mistake of not really telling him what was going to happen. Colin told him goodbye, but Ian thought he was just leaving to go to work as usual. After a couple of days without Daddy coming home, Ian was seriously stressed out about it. We quickly learned that he was now old enough to understand what was happening and that we needed to have the conversation so that he would be prepared. No sneaking off during the middle of the night or leaving for a normal workday. For us, the best way to handle it has been to tell Ian that Daddy’s going to be gone for a few days, make sure he understands that he won’t be home for bedtime every night, and then go out for ice cream or something similar to soften the blow…lol. This one is so important. Nothing will make a week at home with the kids more miserable than having one crying and begging for Daddy the whole time.
Clean the House
For me, a big part of Colin leaving is that I need to start with a clean house. It doesn’t have to be spotless, but at least neat. When I’m the one doing all of the meals, laundry, dishes, diapers, naptimes, story times, and bedtimes, there’s little time left to actually clean anything. So I try to make sure it’s picked up and clean before he leaves. Then when he’s gone, I’m just in maintenance mode. The dishes go in the dishwasher and I try to pick up as we go through the day. This way, when the kids finally go to bed, I can relax. I’m not running around trying to pick up and put away and I can put my feet up for some much needed downtime.
If it is possible, try to Skype or FaceTime with the traveling parent every day; at least a phone call. We have had some situations where this is difficult due to the extreme time differences and conflicting schedules, but it has always been very important for Ian to get to talk to Colin every day. I think for him, it lets him know that Daddy is still around and he is coming back. On the few occasions that we’ve missed a call with Daddy, Ian has really suffered and the day has ended in tears. It is a comfort to him to see his Daddy.
While we’re on the subject of Skype, let me just say that another fantastic way to pass the time is to Skype with family and friends. Let the kids talk to grandparents or other family members. It’s fun for them and it also provides some conversation with someone over the age of three. This is a very big deal in my house and we Skype or FaceTime with someone daily while Daddy is gone. The three of us love each other, but the day is always much more enjoyable if we can bring someone else into it!
Don’t wear yourself out trying to plan outings every day, but make sure that you don’t stay inside the whole time your spouse is away. I know that sometimes the thought of taking small children on an outing alone can be daunting, especially if there’s more than one. Ian’s at an age where he enjoys running away from me. That’s the best when it’s just me with the two of them. However, it’s important to get out and about. If you sit at home alone the whole time, the walls will close in and everyone will end up cranky. Decide wisely what you are going to do and go do it. This can be something as simple as going for a walk or running errands, but know your children and their tendencies. For me, my boys do pretty well with grocery shopping, so I try to save that for a day when Daddy’s away. It gets us all out of the house and it passes a few hours of the day. I would, however, never take them to the museum, a place where I know Ian would run away from me and I would be left chasing him with Declan on my hip. That’s a trip that is better with two adults around.
Spend Time With Friends
Plan something with friends. For me, this means trying to plan something with a friend who also has children. Whether it’s just dinner, playing at the park, or taking the kids somewhere, it means that I have some time to chat with another adult while the kids are occupied playing. It gives me a chance to relax a bit and it gives the kids a chance to see a smiling face other than my own. Best of all, it breaks up the day and almost always ensures a successful nap or bedtime.
When it’s just the three of us around, we all tend to get a little bored. After a few days of building castles, forts, and super highways, Ian wants to do something new. At the same time, I need to take care of Declan and get a few things done and it’s just hard to be everywhere all at once. So I have a list of activities that Ian enjoys and if he is starting to get bored (which always means trouble around here), I just pull one out. For example, he loves to take bubble baths in “Mommy and Daddy’s big bath tub.” This is a great activity because I can run the water and get him settled in the bath and then I have some time to put the laundry away or give Declan a bottle. I have to stay nearby and keep checking on him, but I don’t have to be as hands-on. He’ll stay in there for a good hour if I’ll let him, so that’s a big plus. He also loves to finger paint. Again, I just get him started at the kitchen table and I am free to clean, cook, or whatever. It’s a win-win. For a list of fun activities to do with your toddler, click here!
Relax the Rules if Necessary
My final piece of advice is to relax the rules if necessary. Having only one parent at home when they typically have two can be an adjustment for little ones. They sometimes have to wait longer than normal for the attention or help they need and they often just miss Daddy (or Mommy, etc). I have found that it’s best to relax a bit on some things. For example, we don’t sit around and watch TV all day, but I also don’t adhere as strictly to our typical rule of only getting one hour of media time each day. If he gets a few extra minutes during these days, it isn’t going to hurt him. Also, I stick to our routines, but sometimes the schedule is moved up a little. We typically go upstairs to start bath, story, and bedtime at 7:20. When Colin is gone, we still follow the same routine, but we start at 7:00. These things all take longer when it’s just me, and if I started at the normal time, then by the time everyone was ready for bed it would be later than usual and someone would be melting down already. One word of caution, though; get back to normal as soon as Daddy gets home. New habits are easily started and before you know it those rules that were once so important for your household are no more.
So there you go. I am by no means an expert and I’m not sure if any of the actual experts would agree with any of these tips, but they are the things that have helped me survive the long stretches of time when it’s just me and the kids. I hope they help some of you, too. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again; single parents of happy, well-adjusted kids deserve a lot of credit. It is hard work! Kudos to all of you! As for me, just 4 ½ more days to go!