I’m writing this four days into what’s proving to be a long week of being home alone with my 3 boys, whilst my partner is away with work in Hong Kong. And I’m feeling tired and slightly emotional about the whole thing, which you may gather from the moany tone of this post!
He’s working hard, undoubtedly, but also enjoying the luxuries of flying kid free, chowing down on fancy client dinners and luxuriating in uninterrupted sleep. I’m not at all jealous, of course. When he texted me from the plane on the way there, to say he was just starting on the champagne, had ordered his dinner and was flicking through the film options, I have to admit that a few tears may have been shed. It didn’t help that I was battling through teatime with tired and whingy kids and had been up 4 times the previous night with a teething baby.
My partner works pretty long hours, and is away from home a fair bit, so I’m home alone with our boys for big chunks of time. I’m the one dragging us through all the highs and lows that come with having 3 kids and one tired and overworked Mum at home, who is running around in circles trying to juggle all the balls and desperately hoping to not drop one. This current trip means I’m in charge of negotiating 7 bath and bedtimes (x 3 boys), more mealtimes than I can begin to count, and have hundreds of hours of solo adulting to do. Ugh.
It feels appropriate to state the obvious here – full time solo parents are real life superheroes. Enough said. Hopefully this post doesn’t come across as a whingy self-entitled moan about how poor little me has been left in sole care of my own kids. Rather I hope it’s helpful to other parents who are struggling their way through occasional solo parenting, or about to embark on some.
Many of my friends have partners or husbands who work away. One friend with two girls was home alone whilst her husband was working at the other end of the country for 4 days a week for several years; another friend with a new baby has a husband who works with clients in a handful of countries around the world, so is away for a week to 10 days most months. I know my situation is not that unusual at all, but I think it’s the combination of the young ages of the boys and the fact that there’s three of them that makes it so bloody hard! I do have a friend expecting baby number 3 whose husband works away regularly – it’ll be good to have someone in the same situation as me to share my angst with!
When my partner is around I look forward to the evenings and weekends because I can hand over some of the adult stuff to him to do. When he’s here, bathtime is his thing. I leave the 4 of them to it, whilst I run around the house like a crazy thing trying to clear some of the boys’ debris, stick a load of washing on, clean the kitchen, that type of thing, in order that when the kids are in bed I can actually enjoy my evening rather than doing housework.
The first time my partner was away for a week, I found myself trying to multi task to the extreme – loading the dishwasher with one hand at the same time as stirring the dinner on the hob with the other, whilst the bath was running upstairs, the older two were wrestling, and the baby was sat on the kitchen worktop perilously close to the edge, watching the mayhem unfold in front of him. Craziness!
I’ve learnt a little from those dark early days, so I thought I’d share my tips on getting through, and not just surviving, but smashing the solo parent thing:
• If you are a bit of an emotional wreck like me, and who isn’t after having kids, right, then there will be tears, a fair bit of swearing under your breath, more than one scream of sheer frustration, and perhaps feelings of wanting to run away and escape. This is all totally understandable, and doesn’t make you a bad Mum. This just makes you normal and human.
• Preparation – this is key! Car filled with petrol, check, fridge fully stocked with food, yep. Got all the essentials – nappies, baby wipes, loo roll, peanut butter, bananas, chocolate, wine, gin. Sorted. And Calpol. Because no sensible person does this solo parenting thing without ALL the drugs.
• Ask for help when you need it, and have back up help just in case that first person falls through. Don’t struggle on alone in silence – you can only look after your kids if you look after yourself too. Get your schedule of kids’ activities sorted in advance, and call in your support crew to help with drop offs and pick ups where needed.
• Confide in friends who will listen and understand and won’t dramatize things, leading to you feeling more anxious. There’s friends, and actually if I’m being totally honest, some family members too, who I avoid seeing when I’m solo parenting, because their regular life dramas just add to my sense of feeling overwhelmed and I come away from seeing them feeling worse and more knackered.
• When feeling overwhelmed, take baby steps to get through each day and break down the time into smaller chunks. Just getting through the next mealtime, bathtime and bedtime can feel like a great achievement when you are tired and struggling and dreading the next week on your own. Instead of trying to tackle all the housework in one evening, for example, focus on one room, and shut the other doors so you won’t have to look at the mess, or just leave it all to sort out when your errant other half returns. Or get a cleaner, haha!
• Get out of the house – no mad crazy missions to IKEA with 3 kids in tow, cos that’s never going to end well, but a trip to the park and tea in the café, so you are out of the house, seeing other adults, plus no cooking and no dishes to sort at home – bonus! My regular toddler groups are a bit of a life saver as I know there will always be a friendly face, a cup of tea and a biscuit, and it fills out a morning which may otherwise be spent stewing at home.
• Be kind to yourself, and allow for less structure. A few days, or even a week, of easy, straight from the freezer dinners that you know the kids will eat is totally fine, and better than the alternative of slaving at the hot stove with the baby balanced on one hip, only for the kids to pick and moan their way through your lovingly prepared vegetable bake.
• Pick your battles wisely. First to go from my regular structure – ironing of any sort, insisting homework is done on time, and nagging the kids to tidy their rooms. Those are all battles which can recommence once my wingman is back from his business trip and we can do the good cop / bad cop routine on the kids. One thing I refuse to let slide is bedtime. My kids are very early risers, so if they are up before 6am EVERY. SINGLE. DAY, then damn right they are all out of my sight by 7pm. Experience tells me that they’ll be up at the crack of dawn whatever time they go to bed, so I insist I have the evenings to myself to drink wine, eat dry cereal for dinner and watch trashy TV.
• Take time for yourself – even if it’s something as simple as taking a long soak in the bath when the kids are asleep, some yoga in your front room, or killing a few brain cells watching some reality TV. Whatever your wind down activity is, make sure you find the time to refuel and recharge your body and mind before the next day’s challenges.
• Leave anything that’s too difficult – not to say that the absent partner is like a knight in shining armour arriving home on his trusty steed to save the damsel in distress. Just that its totally not worth the stress of trying to sort out a broken household appliance, for example. Dishwasher broken – get some paper plates to use. Washer broken – ask a friend to do a load of washing for you. That kind of thing. Same goes with behaviour and discipline. My kids love to push the boundaries when Dad’s away as they know I’m the soft one. I’m not going to start cracking down on testing behaviour when I’m home alone, making us all miserable. It’s just not worth it in my book.
• Take the time to plan a fun and easy outing with the kids for you all to enjoy together – a day trip to a park to include lunch, fairground rides and ice cream for example, or a visit to a National Trust site where the kids can scramble through woods or explore a castle. Whatever it is that the kids and you can enjoy together and can be a happy memory of the time you spent together.
• As above, but this time just for you for when you are back to a full complement of parents. Drinks with friends, a massage, a shopping trip with no kids in sight. Whatever it is that appeals to you the most. And make sure that it actually happens. I’m terrible for making plans and then ditching them because I’m too tired from a week of grafting. Those drinks will happen this Saturday night, mark my words!
When I was chatting to a friend about this blog post, she pointed out to me that there are actually some benefits to having a partner who works away – there’s one less person to clean up after and cook for in my house, for example. Less washing to pick up from the side of the wash basket and drop into the actual basket (a task which seems beyond all the males in my house), less used towels to take off beds and get dried. Plus no one to judge how early I want to go to bed, or how many spoonsful of peanut butter I munch my way through in an evening. I know I have issues.
Plus, when it’s just you and your smalls against the world, there’s a real sense of achievement at making it through the day and the week. I always feel like an independent and strong super-Mum, albeit a very sleep deprived and slightly delirious one. We all survived, no scrap that; we flourished, we blossomed, we made it. Now if I could have a large glass of wine and a long sleep, thank you very much!
Alison is a UK based (via a year living the expat life in Chicago), sleep deprived Mum of 3 boys, 9, 4 and 1 who blogs about food, nutrition and Mum stuff. She is passionate about feeding her always hungry boys with as much home-cooked healthy food as possible. 9 out of 10 times, when she asks the kids what they want for tea, they say “dippy egg, please”, hence Alison’s blog name, ‘dippyeggplease’
She has a Diploma in Nutrition with a special interest in children’s nutrition, but putting theory into practice isn’t always easy when you are tired from feeding the baby all night, your 4 year old is demanding Coco Pops for dinner, and your 9 year old vegetarian son has decided he has an aversion to most vegetables.
Her loves, apart from her boys and partner, are travelling (this year the family have visited Spain and Germany, and have trips to Switzerland and France planned), working out early in the morning before the madness of the day starts, and relaxing with friends and plenty of wine!