Do you do the solo-parenting two step? It goes something like two steps forward, 5 steps back… at least, that’s how it feels when you’re in the thick of it.
Solo-parenting is a tough gig. You’re on call 24/7. You eat on the run. Your hair-do is more like a hair-don’t. Your eyes look a lot like the lemur’s eyes above. And your kids’ bedtime gets moved forward 30 minutes every additional day that you’re on your own.
If something goes wrong, you have to fix it (and let me tell you, if there’s ever a time when something will go wrong, it’s when you’re on your own with four kids!). If someone spews through the night, you’re the nurse (even if you’re also spewing). If something breaks, you’re the repairer. You’re also the cook, cleaner, washer, bather, hairbrusher, shoe-lace tier, clothes ironer and lunch packer. And that’s all before 8am!
As with anything though, there are things you can do to prepare yourself for your solo-parenting stint. If you want to hit the ground running, and give your self every chance at success*, give my 5 hacks a try!
* I use the word ‘success’ loosely – if you come out of your time of solo-parenting with your sanity intact and children that have been fed at least once a day, you’re a winner in my eyes!
Plan! Plan! Plan!
After you’ve finished your manicure and painted your nails that perfect shade of pink, sit down and plan out exactly what you want/have to do for the entire time you are parenting on your own. Get a calendar and write everything down so you can see it all in front of you. Know exactly where you have to be and when, for every. single. day. Plan your outings. Plan your days at home. Plan your rest times. Plan the kids’ bathtime. Plan when you need to leave to get to that appointment on time. Plan exactly what you will eat – breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. Are you getting my drift?
Removing as much decision-making as possible from your day will significantly ease the burden you will feel when you’re in the midst of it. In my opinion you can never over-plan, but you sure can under-plan. Once you’ve done it a few times you will figure out how in-depth you need to be to make your solo-parenting life easier, but if you’re just giving this a go for the first time, PLAN IT ALL.
Prepare all your meals before your partner leaves.
This one has been a game-changer for me, because if there’s a time when you are guaranteed to run out of gas for your stove, it will be on your fifth day of solo-parenting when you’ve got a tired, teething baby on your hip, a frypan full of half-cooked sausages and three, screaming, hungry kids asking when dinner will be ready (ask me how I know). If there is a time of day that will cause you to tear your hair out, it’s that period between 5pm and bedtime. It’s not called ‘the witching hour’ for nothing.
Make life as easy as possible for yourself (and everyone else in your family) by removing one of the more stressful and least enjoyable activities of the day – the daily grind of cooking dinner. Set aside half a day before your partner leaves for food prepping. Cook meals that can be frozen and reheated on the day – things like soup, spaghetti Bolognese, shepherd’s pie, curries and tagines are all great options, but pick things that your kids will eat because now is NOT the time to teach little Johnny to eat what’s in front of him. Use the time that you would normally spend preparing your nightly meal to read your kids a story, play Lego or let them have a play in the bath. Also try to use some of the extra time you have up your sleeve to allow for a leisurely mealtime.
Get out of the house.
You might think your life will be easier during your period of solo-parenting if you just stay at home the whole time, but you’d be wrong. Without a doubt, you and your kids will end up with cabin fever, and that, my friend, is a very, very bad thing. (Picture a high school party gone wrong, except take out the drunk teenagers, add in hyperactive toddlers, times it by ten and you’ll have some idea of what it will be like to be a parent in that situation.)
Mix things up and go out for a morning or an afternoon, or even just an hour. Wear your kids out! Don’t set your sights too high though – for example, I don’t do the beach on my own with four kids. Know your limits and stay within them. My favourite ‘get out of the house’ trips include the library, indoor playgrounds (like what you find at McDonald’s or Bunnings), local parks with playgrounds, going out for a cuppa and a donut at the local shopping centre, and kid-friendly exercise classes.
Phone a friend.
Phoning a friend is good. Phoning a friend while eating cake is even better. When my husband travels for work we usually speak to him at least once a day, and usually just before the kids head to bed. It’s an important time for the kids because they miss their Dad, and having a talk to him helps to settle and secure them during a time when they feel a little shaky. But it’s also important for me because it gives me an opportunity to debrief.
In the event that your partner is unable to be contacted while away, make a point of both you and your kids having a conversation with another adult at least once each day. Call someone who won’t mind you having a vent. Dealing with kid stuff all day every day is exhausting. Situations can escalate quickly and minor things become major issues when you feel overwhelmed, so it really helps if the person you’re talking to is understanding, but also someone who can remind you that when you are able to take a step back things won’t be as bad as they seem right now.
Don’t stay up late.
Whether it’s because no one likes going to bed on their own, or because I just want a few moments of peace and quiet once the littles have gone to sleep, as soon as I start a solo-parenting stint I suddenly become a night owl. Before I know it, it’s 11.30pm and I haven’t even had a shower yet! Don’t do it! You need to be well-rested in order to be on your game all day long. Give yourself a fighting chance by getting to bed at a reasonable hour. Future You will thank Past You for it!
So these are my top 5 solo-parenting tips! And here’s a summary in infographic format (because I’m a little obsessed with infographics at the mo’).
I hope my hacks help you, whether you are just starting out on this solo-parenting job or a seasoned professional. Having just come out of another stint (my fourth since having my fourth child), can I just add how important it is not to sweat the small stuff..? Remember to breathe, and just focus on getting through each day. Don’t worry about tomorrow, or things that have gone wrong. If you get your kid to school late every single day, at least you got them to school. If you fed them takeaway every night, at least they were fed.
Are you a regular solo-parenter? I’d love to hear your top tips (both for myself and to share with other readers!) so leave your thoughts in a comment below!