As a mom of young toddlers when I would get the ping notification that my husband added another work trip to the shared digital family calendar my gut would sink. I dreaded his weekend meeting trips, or weeks away at school for coursework, he also leads mission trips and has evening meetings that mean he often misses supper and bedtime with the girls. I dreaded and feared these times I call “sometimes single parenting”, but over the years have learned a few tips that have made them so much better. I fully expect as my girls get older these times will get even easier but here is how I stay sane now with two at the ages of 3.5 and 1.5.
- Give it a Name. We all know words hold a lot of power. They can change our perspective and give positive notes to otherwise unfun situations, so early on I decided to call our time without daddy: “Girl’s Night” or “Girl’s Week” when it’s longer. I would tell the girls that even though daddy was gone we were going to have a great time and do lots of fun things, they caught on RIGHT away. Pancakes for supper was one of the first, but we celebrated our time together doing lots of things that felt out of the ordinary. Even just putting a special twist on daily tasks at these early ages works, so a little effort and creativity goes a long way. I envision as the girls get older we will be doing more and more things and hope that they can come to see this as a special bonding time we have together.
- Make Meals Easy. Take-out, breakfast for dinner, and snack lunch are my go to meal plans when I have the kids on my own. (snack lunch | noun: pretty much exactly what it sounds like. It’s a plate full of random assortments of no-cook foods like cheese sticks, raw veggies, yogurt, cottage cheese, crackers, pb+j toast. Options are endless… the key is quick). I’ve even been known to use paper plates so cleanup is a breeze. Once I realized how easy my kids were to please and that I didn’t even need to always serve them a warm meal, my level of stress went way down.
- Get Out! When everyone is going stir crazy and tempers shorten, I know it’s time to leave the house for a mini adventure. Having to pack up, buckle up, and keep two young toddler safe seems like a daunting task, but we always come back in a better mood. We like to check out free local places like the library, parks, or just inviting ourselves into the living rooms of friends. We are out of the baby bottles and blow-outs phase so the diaper bag is more just an outing bag where I stash an extra diaper + wipe and an easy shelf stable snack (often animal crackers). It’s always ready to go so I can just grab the kids and go.
- Don’t Wait for Offers. Friends and family are great at letting us know they are there to help, but don’t wait for them to suggest dates and times. Ask and invite the help. This was probably my hardest lesson to learn and one that I continue to remind myself to do. I’m not super mom and sometimes I just need a break, so remove the shame and just ask for that help when you need it. If my husband is gone for a week or more I always try to schedule at least one day or night off either with a babysitter or family member to watch the kids.
- Shop the Dollar Spot. Sometimes you just need a good distraction to help get through the day. I love to stop in at the dollar store to stock up on a few new craft supplies, puzzles, and stickers… walk the aisles, you might be surprised what would be considered a treasure to a toddler. The novelty is that they are new and if I get creative this small investment will give my little hours of entertainment. I’m not advocating buying things just for the sake of buying them or filling your home with cheap unuseful things, but as an inexpensive way to imagine, play and be creative.
- No Shame & Find Your Pace. Lastly and probably the most important for me was to remove the shame of taking an easier route. Being a sometimes single parent is super hard and gives me so much perspective on those doing it full time. I had so much guilt over not feeding my kids the best homemade meals (guess what! take-out CAN be healthy and snack lunch (ref #2) is often healthier than whatever I would have cooked anyway). And I had guilt over turning on Netflix or calling in extra help when I needed a break. *common girl, get over yourself* When that shame broke I could focus on keeping the pace slower, enjoying each moment, and all that other cheesy good stuff I didn’t even believe was possible prior to being forced to find a better way.
Getting over my own too-high expectations has been the best blessing that came out of a time I used to dread. Learning these tips and skills as a sometimes single mom has made me a better, more relaxed mom both when I’m on my own and when John is home, and it has built up my confidence as a parent.
Whether your partner is gone often, takes occasional meetings and trips, has one big trip per year, or are a full time single parent I think that these tips can be useful. I’d love to hear and share any ideas you have on what has worked best to keep you sane.