Hats off to all the single parents out there. Seriously. To anyone who manages their kids on their own for extended periods of time. I have massive respect for you.
Usually, there are two people on the adult team in my house, but not always. When my second baby was about five months and my older boy two and a half, I spent a couple of months parenting alone while my husband was away Monday to Saturday.
There were certain things that ensured the survival of my sanity. Here are 10 things that can make life easier when you're on your own... and one thing that definitely doesn't.
Ensure there is always an escape hatch. An auntie, a grandmother, a friend to call on when the going gets tough. You may not need them as much as you think, but it is hugely comforting to know that you can always bundle the kids into the car and abandon them have them spend quality time at grandma's if things get difficult.
Allow the dust to settle. Let go.... of expectations of a clean house, clean clothes, on you or on the babies. Who am I kidding- this advice applies even where there are two of you tackling the housework at all times. My three year old asked me recently "But where does all the dust come from?". Where indeed my boy...
Make a countdown calendar to count down to when Daddy is home. I had a little string of cards; one for each day and attached a photo of the person visiting/activity happening on that day. Confession. This one was more for me than for the boy- it probably works better when the small person's understanding of time is more evolved than 'yesterday= everything in the past' and 'soon= everything else'. Some people have jellybean jars, so the little one gets to eat a jellybean every day and when they're all gone, then Daddy is home that day. (I didn't do this- I was saving the jellybeans for the potty training, but they still didn't work, so I probably should have eaten them myself.)
Remember who you are. Do something that is about you, your separate identity, someplace without the kids. For me, this was yoga teaching. On a Tuesday evening, my mother in law came over and I taught a pregnancy yoga class. It was a break from mothering and it gave me back a sense of myself for an hour or two. And I could smile to myself when the mamas-to-be complained that they weren't getting enough sleep. Think you can't get comfortable in your bed now? Hah! Try having a small human kick you repeatedly in the face instead of inside the belly.
Screw the grocery shopping. I read some advice from a child psychologist on shopping with small kids? Don't do it if you can at all can avoid it! Got it. I didn't need much convincing. Hurrah for online grocery shopping! No more walking the aisles pushing a trolley while baby cries and two-year-old tries to fill the trolley with cakes. No more relying on the kindness of strangers to unload your trolley, pack your shopping bags and push trolley to the car (Yes, some wonderful fairy performed this kindness for me.. I hope I remember to do the same one day).
Simplify everything. For me, that meant only planning one activity/outing any day. It meant cooking the same dinners in rotation, which in turn meant buying the same groceries every week. Easy peasy shopping list. It meant organizing the spaces in the house so that fresh nappies and a change of clothes were always within easy reach.
Make friends with your slow cooker/crockpot. To avoid crazy hour. You know, that hour before dinner when everyone is ravenous and you're trying to cut onions while baby is in the carrier and your two-year-old hangs off your leg telling you he wants you to play with him NOW and he HATES whatever it is you're preparing. Baby didn't want milk before you started to cook but does now is writhing and squirming in the sling and starting to cry and you wish you could go lock yourself in the bathroom while someone else makes dinner. A slow cooker. Stick it all in there in the morning and hours later it's almost like someone else made dinner. I swear.
Seek out social contact. Invite yourself to the neighbor's for coffee. Go to the mum and baby group (no invite needed) . Make extra dinner so you have an excuse to ask your mother in law over on her way home from work (no invite really needed, but it's only decent to give her dinner in exchange for her yoga-babysitting duties). Go to another mum and baby group. Ditch the babies once and while and make it just a mom's group. With wine preferably, dinner optional.
Virtual contact. Where would you be without the yummy mummy WhatsApp groups to discuss toddler tantrums, potty training and whether it's okay that your kids haven't had a bath in weeks. Then there's the family WhatsApp group for amusing memes and bewilderment at the number of emojis your mother is familiar with . And a dizzying array of mum/parent groups on Facebook, where you can bond over cloth nappies, sleep training, gin..whatever takes your fancy.
Chocolate. Sure, a little wine helps too. So do green smoothies, vitamins, and coffee in the morning. But keep the chocolate stocks up (and hidden from the children) and spirits will remain high.
And the thing to avoid?
Potty training Some things are a two-person job. Making a baby, for example, figuring out how to get the squirming baby into the baby carrier that first time. And dealing with a tired two-year-old, with an underpants full of poo while a baby wails in the next room. Definitely, a two-person job.
The only exception to this rule being if the one person is your spouse returned from their absence and they're looking for brownie points.
Then you can leave them to it while you enjoy more of number 10.
Any tips to share for parenting alone while a partner is away? I'd love to hear from you!