So, maybe I’ve mentioned it before? Once or twice? Ok, possibly 1,367 times; my husband has a job that sees him travel a fair bit. Sometimes long haul, sometimes closer to home. Things get plonked in his diary, sometimes at short notice. And thank goodness, as those things have single handedly paid the bills for much longer than expected given our baby needed heart surgery at the time when I was due back to work…However, I digress.
Elodie was weeks old when his first trip came around and to be honest I am not 100% sure I was with it. She scared me, the responsibility felt mega, I felt so under qualified in something that was meant to be so natural and my god I felt alone, especially with no family help. Relaxing felt like a dream, floating a million miles away as I incessantly watched her breathe, as I tried and failed to keep on top of the washing, dishes, everything.
But we got through it. The longest stint I’ve done alone has been 17 days.
She’s now 18 months and what with her unexpected heart surgery a few months back, my anxiety and neediness has really peaked, which I am trying to get on top of. At times I have probably been a monster to be around as hubby tries to work from home, prepping for an upcoming trip, my heart sinking once the cases start being packed, signalling the start of going it alone. Well, alone with a toddler sized plus one. And a dog.
I’ve tried to think back in my life to see if I actually own a real issue with being left alone, but nothing comes to mind. And actually, I’ve always been super happy in my own company, a pretty independent lass. So I just pin it all up as anxiety, which my GP certifies. However, I do always need to remind myself that it is NEVER as bad as my stupid fucking brain concludes it will be. I often look back on the weeks of just her and I as some of the fondest memories because yes, it is beyond messy and super mental and overwhelming but using some of the tactics below has really started to ease the situation a bit. And with every stint of solo-ing, my confidence grows.
Now I am back to work and Elodie is with an absolute gem of a childminder two days a week who I literally couldn’t be happier with, and neither could baby (I’ll write a separate post on that shortly because that was another HUGE milestone to consolidate in my head, arrange, trial and jump into), I now have a few goes of doing the drop offs and pickups and everything all on my own under my belt too.
The unexpected toughest bit is often when hubby returns. He’s knackered, I’m knackered. Both need rest, neither can really get it. I think Steph Douglas has spoken about the disruption of the other half returning home after a stint away before so I know I’m not alone in this.
I wrote most of this piece as we came to the end of a big developmental leap for Elodie where she had been the clingiest I’ve ever known. It was also when she was still doing two naps a day, we’re now down to one. So some suggestions therefore are based on her leap based neediness and my attempts to try and free up my lower limbs to move around the house without her koala-cubbing it around my leg.
Also. Solo parenting is NOT single parenting
I am very aware that 17 days is nothing compared to a lot of other families where one partner might work away for months at a time. And of course to any single parent out there, doing every single day and night shift. Facing the constant unknown of what’s next, making all the decisions sometimes in the blink of an eye if the situation demands. Powering through it. I just don’t know how. You are the rockstars, truly.
Importantly, before I go on, I am acutely aware that the odd bit of solo parenting is NOT, I repeat NOT, the same as single parenting. Got that? If you know a single parent, whatever age the kid(s) are, offer a hand. Perhaps a marigold laden couple, to do the washing up.
First thing’s first, leave your expectations at the stairgate.
The BEST, the only way to get through it is to loosen up on those expectations. You know the ones…
‘Tomorrow I am going to: have a shower/prep a meal/do some yoga, sort ALL the washing out, book the dog into the vets, phone mum, clean the bathroom, sort a pile of charity shop stuff out, make a coffee, do some writing, clear up the dog poo, do a grocery order, hoover WHILE SHE NAPS…..
….THEN we will do lunch – I’ll rustle up something really nutritious and amazing for her (read: something I planned and wrote down the night before as otherwise I cannot relax) and then given her amazing nap this morning we’ll go for a walk/to the park/to the supermarket/to see mum and dad/run some errands and get home in time for a potential second nap, if she fancies one. Or she can happily do one in the car perhaps….
….THEN we’ll have a play in the garden, maybe we’ll walk the dog and I will find many moments in time where I manage to keep the house clean and tidy so that when we’ve completed mission dinner, bath and bed I will come down to a calm space for me to sit in for a moment while I make myself a quick and nutritious dinner around 8pm with a nice glass of wine to toast myself before lighting a relaxing candle.’
Silly mummy. Her nap(s) could:
a) be non existent, especially if she’s toying with the idea of dropping one for good or she’s teething, or it’s too hot or SOMETHING ELSE
b) be 30 mins short. She might not do a second nap. She might wake up with a new tooth pushing its way through her little gums which is creating MERRY PISSING HELL for her. You’re out of sweet potatoes which screws the nutritious lunch.
And then you know what happens? She naps for 2.5 hours but you were too scared to start any of the above as SHE COULD WAKE UP AT ANY TIME AND I’M THE ONLY ADULT IN THE PREMISES TO SEE TO HER. And you didn’t dry your hair in that whole time so you look like a fucking demented person so you’re not ready to face the world anyway.
However, sometimes things do go to plan or there was no plan at all but things all fell into place by some sort of bloody cherry topped miracle and the world is full of wonder and you’re pretty sure people you pass in the street are going to high five you any minute now for rocking the shit out of the day. But alas, no one notices, obvs. Which is a shame and a frequent sigh inducer when you’re doing things alone. You would love a little ‘well done’. Just a small one. Even just a whisper of one or one that comes out with a snotty sneeze… ‘keep going mumma…’
So what’s a solo parent supposed to do?
Here are some things I have done, but I am still learning and will gladly accept tips because reminder: no one knows what they are doing, not really. Some days we cry and can’t wait for bedtime, some days we have a little more energy and we should be wearing a cape, woe betide anyone who gets in our way. That’s right…’woe betide’.
At the 18 month mark though, things are so much easier. All ways round. If she’s not in a leap or teething or ill or SOMETHING ELSE, then she will happily go through the kitchen cupboards pulling out saucepans and tupperware til her strong little heart’s content while I whizz about clearing and wiping and prepping things.
Someone once said to me that it doesn’t get easier as they get older, it gets different. I think it’s a mash up of the two though. Some things are definitely easier…and then you see her climbing up on to a chair she couldn’t reach just 5 minutes ago and now she can and time stands still as you bound into action to be there if she falls…but so as not to alarm her so that she falls. Oh god.
Anyway, here it is. Some ways in which I cope. Sort of. Sometimes.
Make breakfast at dinner time
If your small one has the same-ish grub for breakkie each morning like mine does, is it one you could make the night before and pop in the fridge? While Elodie is making an absolute tip of her high chair, chomping on the final dregs of her dinner, I whip a bowl out and start making her breakfast of soaked oats; oats, milk, chopped fruit, chia seeds, cinnamon. DONE. I cover it and put it in the fridge. And in that moment, I am invincible.
Save the ‘fun’ chores up
Are there any chores that your little one loves to get involved in? I used to use her nap times to do all of those, like put the washing on, emptying shopping bags of groceries etc. But Elodie bloody loves these so sometimes I save some up for when she’s awake and needs entertaining. Especially if it’s raining outside and we are largely stuck in for the foreseeable. Or if the mounds of dirty washing are literally toppling over I’ll of course put one wash on while she naps but leave it in the machine for her to help pull out afterwards. She’s actually becoming quite useful with some chores – lolling.
Set up future situations ahead of time
Like, bath and bed time. When she’s napping I might – if I remember – think about the craziness of what’s to come later that day and make sure her toothbrush is clean from the morning brush, that we have a clean towel and a wash cloth in the bathroom and some clean PJs on my bed to wrestle her into after said bath. Just those little things can make a big difference.
Get used to evening showers
Sometimes I forgo the morning shower so dreamily desired because she’s woken up and is chanting ‘mamamamamama’, has thrown her bunny out of the cot and I need to get downstairs to feed the dog, let him out for a wee, heat her milk up…and maybe go for a wee myself? If she ends up doing a morning nap I could and sometimes shower then but sometimes that feels too late and I just want to get on with things instead (read: make a coffee the size of my head). Also though, evening showers are kinda delicious in their own little way. If done immediately after baby has gone down for the night, you get yourself in your PJs/dressing gown and just lounge the shit out of the evening (once you’ve cleaned everything, made yourself dinner etc etc etc ETC ETC ETC ETC). Or just before bed where you have a lovely hot shower and then get straight into bed and it’s glorious.
Things in cupboards are fun aren’t they?
We have a few kitchen cupboards left un-babyproofed and although in some ways that’s annoying, it is a great source of entrainment for the small person. Pulling everything out, suitably spreading them all over the kitchen floor. And now, new to this week, clambering IN to the cupboards and sitting on a shelf with a look that says ‘and what of it?’
Confuse – sorry, stimulate – them
Baffle your little cherub by changing things round overnight. I moved some toys from her playroom to the front room and vice versa and this kept her amused for approximately 12 more minutes the next day before she needed to cling to my leg again (we were in a leap, it was clingy craziness which you have to just go with. They need you).
Also don’t throw shoe boxes, egg boxes, junk mail away immediately. These are priceless ‘toys’ that you can drop on the floor for a few minutes grace before they are boring and you emptying the dishwasher is much more fun.
Don’t make plans
The amount of times I’ve said to my mum and dad that I’ll ‘pop round Thursday when she wakes from her nap’ and then she does a mammoth one and by the time I’ve got out the door and contemplated the amount of time i’d actually be able to spend with the folks before it’s near her friggin’ dinner time, added to the thought of constantly rushing around which appeals to me as much as a steak sandwich (don’t eat meat do I), well, I just have to make my excuses and cancel. Which makes me feel guilty.
Instead…call on the day, when you’re already sort of ready to leave and say ‘fancy a visit?’ and make their day that way 🙂
Ok, stay with me. Sometimes if all things align, baby is well, you’ve got some oomph, then making plans can be just the trick. A morning out, an afternoon out, a full day trip. Whatever feels right, achievable and without all the expectation of it going perfectly. If you can hit the notes on a day like that you will feel like Mariah Carey at Christmas time.
Give daddy/your partner some ways to help prior to their departure
Get daddy to take some ownership of food making before he goes – John whizzed up a sweet potato chilli before he went away last time and we froze it as an option for one of babies meals.
Cheat on the things that make you super stressed
Cheat on things that you know cause you extra stress when you’re alone and it’s all. too. much. Mine is toddler food prep and nutrition. So on the really hard days, the ones where you cannot believe you’re still able to keep your head upright, I go to my trusty friends Tilda Rice and Mr Organic pasta sauce for her lunches/dinners. AND THAT’S OK. I’ll mix some steamed fish and veg in with them and dinner my sweet little lady, is served.
Agree some time off, ahead of time
One thing I need in my life just now is to KNOW when I might get a break. I need that shit in my diary. And this is something him indoors and I really need to get better at. I guess it sort of acts like a light at the end of the tunnel if you know that after a stint of solo parenting there will be a day/half a day/30 mins. Agree it. Schedule it. Stick to it.
I think that’s it for now.
Bottom line is, it can be hard. It can be utterly gruelling. And unless someone else has done it, they just won’t get it. It might be hard for them to imagine just how draining and tiring it can be. It can’t be that bad right? But, it is. It can be. As is the way with parenting, some days are relatively easy and others are brutal. And you need rest too. You are important, your happiness is ultimately their happiness.