Tips to get you through (and maybe even help you enjoy?) your next “independent parenting” experience.
A little over a year ago I spent some time getting all flouncy and dramatic about caring for our then three-year-old son (JR) all by myself while my husband (Ross) was off gallivanting in Chicago1 for five days.
Now that I’ve managed to get a few more solo parenting stints under my belt–and now that JR isn’t three–I no longer experience an overwhelming sense of doom as I watch an upcoming trip tick closer and closer on my husband’s GCal. Over time I’ve carefully honed my solo parenting modus operandi to minimize feelings of dread,2 maximize parental sanity, and even have some sweet moments with my son. Here’s what works best for me–and feel free to share your tips and tricks while you’re here.
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Stock up on pre-trip alone time
Take a nap. Go for a run. Sit by yourself in Chipotle and destroy a burrito while staring out the window for 20 minutes.3 Whatever, I don’t care, just do something that doesn’t involve anyone’s needs but your own, at least for a little while. But preferably for a long while, if you can swing it. You’re allowed and don’t let anyone tell you different.
Pick one thing to not care about
Parenting, working, and taking care of your house sometimes feels like too much even when you’ve got a partner to help carry the load; obviously things are going to seem especially overwhelming (or, in my case, desperately panicky) when you’re one man down. Cut those feelings off at the pass by making a point to choose a task/chore/element of your daily life to “let go of” before the solo parenting even begins. Most recently for me, it was cleaning. For Ross’s next trip, I’m planning on giving minimal shits about meals.4 Trust me on this one: it feels much better to strategically blow something off than to try to do All The Things and fail miserably.
Last week, just before this latest trip, a friend of mine–a dear, wonderful, saintly friend–offered to have JR sleepover at her house so I could get a break. At first I hesitated.
“Oh, well, Ross isn’t going to be gone that long. I’m sure we’ll be fine,” I hemmed and hawed.
Luckily she kept insisting, and I eventually stopped being a complete idiot.
Parents should always heed the whole “Don’t be a hero” concept, but they should do so in earnest when facing multiple days of independent child wrangling. If someone5 offers to watch your kid(s) or invites your whole brood over for dinner, ACCEPT, for Pete’s sake. It doesn’t mean you’re weak or incapable. It means you are 1) smart and 2) blessed to have people in your life who want to help lighten your load.
Bend the rules a little
The morning routine is sacred in our house. A pocket chart tacked on JR’s wall guides him through his morning tasks, each of which must be completed before he comes in our room or heads downstairs to play.6 My husband is the early riser, so it falls on him to be The Enforcer and make sure JR stays on track with his AM to-dos.
As for me…well, it takes me a good 45 minutes to really wake up and another 20 minutes to reclaim my ability to formulate words. And then another 15 for those words to be suitable for a child’s ears.
So, for the sake of everyone’s sanity, I fudge the morning routine a bit when flying solo. Instead of getting right down to business the second his feet hit the floor, JR climbs into bed with me, cuddles up, and we chat–just long enough to ease me gently into the Land of the Living. While it does make the rest of the morning a bit more rushed, I need that sweet time with him in the morning if I’m going to be solely responsible for him (and all of his quirks and typical preschooler behavior) for the rest of the day. Plus, it also gives me the chance to sit and smell his inexplicably delicious head for a while–something he probably won’t let me do for much longer.
Treat yo self
Tip #1 was about preparation; this one is about maintenance. If you feel yourself unraveling, do what you’ve got to do to get back on track. Or if things are going well, celebrate, dammit!7 In my case, both of these scenarios typically involve eating obscene amounts of guacamole and/or watching episode after episode of Gilmore Girls, but you do you, girl/guy.
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- OK, he was actually at a conference most of the time, but whenever I thought about what he might be up to, it was always a montage from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. ↩
- I’d love to say that I’ve reached a point where I feel genuine excitement over the prospect of serious one-on-one time with my son, but I’m just not. Sure, excitement is there, but caring for a child on your own is HARD. The dread is going to happen. The sooner you embrace it, the sooner you can shake it off. ↩
- This is my prefered pre-trip ritual. I’d invite you to join me sometime but NO THIS IS MY TIME AND MY BURRITO JUST GO AWAY. ↩
- Having cereal for dinner never killed anyone. In fact, it makes everyone really, really happy. ↩
- If you know and trust the person, of course. Don’t go handing your kid off to random people; it’s frowned upon. ↩
- I realize that some of you might find this approach too rigid, but we’ve found that it just has to be that way for us. If JR gets absorbed in a task before dressing, brushing his teeth, etc., it’s just not going to happen–at least not without a lot of yelling (us) and overly dramatic flopping around the house (him…and also me, but behind his back). ↩
- Oh, Tom Haverford. ↩