It’s funny, you know, how things sometimes don’t turn out exactly the way you imagine they will. That’s certainly happened a time or two in my life! Today I am sharing my story of being a “solo parent” and giving my best tips to get through it with most of your sanity in tact! First of all, to be clear, I use the term solo parent, because I am not, nor do I know the experiences of any single parents. While I believe there is some similarity in certain struggles, I recognize the difference and do not intend on minimizing those hardships faced by single parents. To me, a solo parent is a partnered parent who holds a vast majority in mental load/responsibility as well as physical care of a child or children while their partner is away from the home for extended periods.
Before having Arthur I spent lots of time imagining what our little family unit would look like. Because my husband works shift work, I thought we would alternate days and evenings spending most of our free time together. Sharing parenting duties, household responsibilities and the mental load that comes with family life. I even imagined doing the famous tag team hand off when dad gets home from work after a crazy day with a wild toddler! My expectations, like most when first becoming a parent, didn’t quite hit the mark of reality, though. Boy, where have I heard about this before?!
The fact of the matter is, solo parenting is HARD WORK! Parenting a tiny human is really designed to be a team sport, and when on player is absent, the other is forced to play even harder to make up the difference. Dealing with inconsistant schedules and sometimes unpredictable comings and goings by a partner/parent is rough, so here are my best suggestions for surviving the chaos!
1. MANAGE EXPECTATIONS: Umm, duh lady! I know I know. This is much easier said than done, but 90% of my struggle with parenting solo is that I had expected things to go differently! I assumed Taylor would be home, or that Arthurbear wouldn’t choose the grocery story to express his misdirected frustrations at me, or that poor box of noodles! Open communication, including asking questions and maybe even taking notes can help keep things in check, being prepared for the unexpected can really reduce stress in this situation! One of the biggest and most helpful shifts for me was when I accepted and owned the role of solo parent. I manage all parts of child related scheduling and shuttling. School, sports, doctor, dentist, visits with family, birthday parties, special activities etc. If Taylor can be there, wonderful, even more fun, but if he can’t, that’s ok because I’ve got it covered! Once I realized I was capable of handling it on my own, my mindset shifted and everything felt more manageable and less like a dreaded chore. I focused on what I could accomplish and not the areas I wasn’t getting help. Simple, but VERY effective.
2. SELF CARE, SELF CARE, SELF CARE!: I’m not going to cause your eyes to roll by saying things like “You can’t pour from an empty cup” and “you must put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others” and “taking care of yourself doesn’t mean me first, it means me too!”…. but see how I snuck those all in there for you to read anyway?! BECAUSE THEY’RE TRUE! Hey! I can hear you groaning from here, but this is important, maybe the most important. Burn out is a real risk, and taking on the role of two people the majority of the time speeds up that process exponentially. A relaxing bath, painting your nails, reading a good book with a glass of wine, whatever floats your boat, just make sure to schedule in time to do things that make YOU feel recharged! Make yourself a priority! Kid free time, if that relaxes you, is gold! Take a break whenever you can, even if it takes a little more effort to organize, it will be worth while!
3. RALLY THE TROOPS: Having family or friends that treat you like family close by is the most obvious choice to help out when things feel overwhelming, but that’s not a luxury everyone has! If Grandpa, Grandma or your trusted neighbour Sally aren’t available to lend a hand, you may have to think outside the box. There is NO shame in using creative means to build your own support network, or what I like to call “The Village!”. Casual, or regular childcare (think drop in and part time preschool programs) is not only a great way to get some respite during the day time hours, but a cool place to meet quality child care providers who may agree to moonlight as your babysitter for some extra pocket cash! Also, if you are a military family, in Canada the MFRC is your best friend! I desperately wish we lived closer to ours! They provide invaluable supports! And maybe, unlike me, chillin’ with your villain.. er.. I mean precious little sweetie pie 24/7, is exactly what the Dr. ordered to survive the solo days… in that case, look at ways to make this easier. Hiring a house keeper, ordering a meal service (take out, or one like Hello Fresh!) or paying someone to do lawn care or snow removal are simple suggestions that can be budgeted for carefully and provide value to your family! Find your village and don’t be afraid or ashamed to lean into them! That is what they are there for!
4. RELAX THE RULES: I understand why routines and schedules are recommended for young children, especially by parents who suffer the consequences of a missed nap, or too late snack! However, I personally find the “rules” too regimented to maintain all on my own. I end up stressing myself out, I’m worn out and grouchy resulting in a distressed, grouchy kid… que ugly cycle of whining and fighting with the 5 year old. So, when Daddy is away… Mama and BabyBear play! We watch tv together over our supper eaten at the coffee table! We stay up late, we eat more treats, watch more screens, and my favourite, (and I think Arthur’s too, if I asked him) we have a sleep over in my bed! These are all things that when Taylor is home, we limit or avoid, but are really special and fun for our solo time together! It took adjusting my perspective and lowering my expectations (like a lot!) to make me feel good about this one, but it’s so fun, and helps things feel less rough. Bending the rules changes up the mundane and helps pass the time as well!
5.ENJOY THOSE 2 PARENT HOUSEHOLD DAYS: One of the greatest perks of solo parenting, is the time when your partner is not at work and can devote their time and attention to your family again! In our house that usually means plastic bricks are scattered everywhere, and our basement is filled with Arthur and Dad LEGO creations! I appreciate those little things so much more because they don’t get to happen just any time. Things like watching Taylor be just the best dad to Arthur, the chance to sleep in, somebody ELSE cooking us lunch or supper! It’s the best, and never taken for granted because it is a rare treat! I absolutely live for the times we go on family outings even just to the store! It feels extra special because all time Arthur spends with his dad is quality time!
If at the end of the day everyone is alive, and in one piece… I did my job. Some days, I just kill it! I feel like SuperMum, and like I can take on the world! Other times I lay in bed and cry at night. I feel like Bear and I just fought all day, I failed left, right, and centre and who’s bright idea was it for me to be left alone with this kid all the time?! I’m tired. I’m lonely. I’m tired……You get it. But we keep plugging along because that’s what we have to do, and you know what, it ain’t all that bad! I hope that if you find yourself in the midst of solo parenting that you find some of my suggestions helpful! Let’s keep the conversation going in the comments and tell me your best tools for the tough solo parenting moments!