I feel like there should be a secret society of women who have a husband travel. A place where we can commiserate, share ideas, maybe even arrange play dates. Since I’m not yet aware of a place, I’ll start with writing down some tips that have worked well for me when I’m solo parenting. My hope is that you can benefit if your husband travels too.
My husband was out of town this week for work. As my little guy would say, “Daddy’s at Seattle.” (Read that to yourself in a cute little chipmunk voice to get the full effect.) So, this is fresh in my mind. While he was out of town, we all got colds. My 3-year-old was up at all hours of the night on multiple nights in the week because he couldn’t breathe so well. Poor little guy! Needless to say, I didn’t sleep as much as I’d hoped to. I’ll admit, when I don’t sleep, I get crabby. Life feels harder. That was tricky during an already all-consuming time. I tell you this only to communicate – I get it! It.is.so.hard. Being the solo parent is draining. If your husband travels a lot, my heart goes out to you. I have lots of ideas for ways you can plan ahead and how you can have a smoother time when he is gone. Read on for more.
I will tell you my general philosophy and then get into some practical tips.
Guiding principle #1: limit the things you HAVE to do. It may take all your energy just to take care of the basics during this time, so allow yourself that grace. Don’t put pressure on yourself in any area. If something can wait until life is back to normal, let it wait. Stock up on all the things you’ll need before you are solo parenting so you don’t need to make a surprise diaper run or you don’t suddenly discover you’re out of laundry detergent. Speaking of laundry, get caught up with as many clean clothes ready as you can ahead of time.
Guiding principle #2: plan for the worst but expect the best. You may have the sweetest little angels in the world, and yet the unexpected still tends to happen when solo parenting is going on. Case in point, my child threw his shoe, it hit a picture, the picture fell and glass shattered all over. Now, that’s not something I could have planned for, but it is an example of the crazy stuff that sometimes can and does happen to rattle you. I will say that when kids are getting less attention, they may act out more. This means that daily parenting can feel harder. Know that and plan for it! Plan with extra support and help in case you don’t get sleep for multiple nights. Plan for more help than you think you’ll need so you’re covered.
If you have a few weeks before the trip: think about routines that can be tightened up or adjusted to make life easier with just one parent. For example, if you have 2 parents in two different rooms for bedtime, transition to a bedtime routine that involves both kids in one room with one parent. (For the stories part.) If your toddler is right on the edge of learning how to put on their own pants or put on their own shoes, practice those skills so they can have more independence later. The more your kids can do for themselves, the better off you will be. Start to enforce nap times or quiet times each afternoon. This will be a sanity saver later on. Make it a pattern now.
Plan ahead. Before your husband goes out of town, think about your daily routine and the things he normally does. Make a plan for how you can accomplish those things. For example, you may have to do pick up and drop off, perhaps for school and/or also daycare.
Do you need support to make mornings happen? Think about who you could reach out to. If you head to work after drop-offs, give your leader a heads up that you may be in a bit later during this time. Allow for margin. If you say you’ll be in at 8:30, you will stress and rush and may yell when your child refuses to get dressed. Alternatively, if you say you’ll be in at 9, you have some breathing room to keep your cool when that same child doesn’t want to cooperate. You may find mornings go smoother if you wake up a bit early and get yourself fully ready first, and then get your kids up.
Or perhaps bedtime is the toughest time of day. Can you put a plan in place to handle it or do you need someone to help you? Be realistic about what you can handle, given your family’s circumstances. Ask for help. It honors others when we open up and admit we need their help.
Right before the trip, give yourself some extra time to fill up your emotional bucket with self-care. You’re going to need all the reserves you can get.
Ask for prayers from others for during the time of solo parenting. Prayers for you to have patience, prayers for your kids to listen, prayers for everyone to sleep well.
During the trip
Inevitably kids will want all your attention when you’re trying to make dinner. My goal is to limit how much actual cooking I do while they are home because it just doesn’t work so well with one parent. Try to prepare as much as you can ahead of time. Have a plan for each night and have the groceries already purchased or being delivered.
- If your child takes lunches to school, let them have hot lunch more often during this time.
- If you take lunches to work, consider eating out a bit more than normal. Or bringing a can of healthy soup or an easy salad each day (for example – lunchmeat turkey, lettuce, sunflower seeds, and dressing). Something with minimal preparation needed.
- Make a double batch of something in the crockpot and then eat leftovers for a few days.
- Allow yourself to make really simple dinners like pre-cooked chicken sausage with a side of veggies and hummus. Easy is the goal.
- Make a bunch of taco meat before the trip begins. Then warm up tacos on a few nights. Easy tacos would just be tortillas, meat, salsa, cheese (pre-shredded) and sour cream. Bonus points if you add lettuce (prewashed).
- Getting a rotisserie chicken can be a great way to eat for multiple dinners with minimal work. The first night have it hot with a side of green beans. The second night you can have it mixed with BBQ sauce and on buns with a simple veggie on the side. Leftovers can be eaten for lunches or frozen for another time.
- Consider buying a bagged meal that can just be sauteed for the preparation.
- Pre-prep or buy a frozen lasagna to bake and then eat leftovers of.
- Let yourself relax a bit on healthy eating standards. For example, if you don’t eat enough carbs during the day, but you’re under a lot of stress, you will eat #allthethings at night. Try for healthy carbs through your day (like sprouted bread or mini carrots) to help you withstand the stress chocolate cravings at night.
- Invite someone to join you for dinner a few of the nights. This will be one more person for your kids to engage with so you can have an easier time making dinner and cleaning up after dinner. Also, it is good for all of you to have another person around to interact with. It will help you save some energy on that night to get through to bedtime.
A few more ideas that work well for us
Breaks – Being the sole caregiver for kids takes a lot of energy. Build in at least a few times that you can take a break. For example, ask a babysitter to come over for the evening in the middle of the trip. Ask a family friend to watch the kids another night while you go out for coffee (wine) or have some alone time. If your kids go to daycare, see if they can stay for an extra hour one or two of the nights. Plan ahead for these things so that you know you have a break coming when it feels like too much.
Housekeeping – I find that if we keep the house picked up, it helps us all be in a better mood. Each day, try to keep up on the basics. For example, loading the dishwasher and having the kids pick up their toys.
For weekends or if you’re home with kids all day- Bring them to an indoor playground a few times so they can run free and you can relax. Take advantage of going to the gym that has childcare – see if you can get a guest pass if you don’t have a membership. Arrange play dates with other families. See if you can have a friend watch your kids for the day, or part of the day, and then you can take their kids on a day when your husband is back in town.
Screen time – letting your kids watch TV can be one more way to get a break. We tend to watch a bit more TV when it’s just me and the kids. I will say though to be careful with this one. You have to see what works best in your family. My kids tend to misbehave more if I let them watch too much TV. It’s a balance.
Connection with Daddy – We like to video chat with my husband when he’s out of town. It can be a challenge with timezones, but we’ve been known to fit it in at odd times. It all depends on where he is in the world. Google has a free app called hangouts and you can video chat on it for free over wifi. My kids miss their Dad less when they get to see him over video chat about once a day. It helps them to stay connected to him. We all miss him a bit less when we get to talk to him and tell him about our days.
Damage control – sometimes when my kids are acting out it’s because they need more attention and/or cuddles. Though it may feel counterintuitive when you feel like yelling, the best fix can be to pull your kids in your lap, snuggle, and read a few books. This helps them with their need for touch and they are getting your undivided attention. It can go a long way to fix bad behavior.
Take care of you – What things restore your soul? Plan to do those on the times that the kids are in bed or you have a planned break. In order for you to keep going each day, you have to ensure you’re taking care of yourself too. Some self-care activities to consider: meeting a friend, reading, prayer time, coloring in an adult coloring book, going for a walk, watching a movie. Spend a few minutes each day feeling gratitude for the things that are going well, to keep your spirits up. Make sure you go to bed early so you get rest even if your kids are up in the middle of the night.
When all else fails – if you’ve reached the end of your rope and no help is in sight, tell the kids you’re having a party. Tell them they have to go to bed really nicely if you have the party. Get them in their PJs, go through the McDonald’s drive-through for happy meals, let them eat them on a blanket in the living room and pop in a movie. Relax. Breathe. Pray for the energy to keep going. Enjoy yourself watching the movie or do something for you.
I hope these tips were helpful. Know that you’ve got this. You will get through it. It’s okay and expected and needed to ask for help. When your husband gets home, allow yourself a nice long break to recuperate. You deserve it.
You did it.
What are your favorite tips for surviving when solo parenting? Want more ideas on solo parenting, as well as encouragement, ideas on self-care and on simplifying life? Join us in our supportive Facebook Community to keep the conversation going!