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How to Keep Them Alive: Surviving Solo Parenting

January 20, 2022

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I'm a healthcare momma who burned out, big time, and now I teach working moms to create the life of their dreams. I love leopard print, tequila, and my morning routine. My mission? To help moms stop feeling frazzled and start living a life of fulfillment, leaning into the joy of the journey, not just the destination!

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STINTS OF SOLO PARENTING

Parenting is hard. It’s a TON of work. The hours are terrible and the pay is pitiful. The benefits are incredible, but sometimes they suck. 

Now, compound that work of parenting, of being responsible for all the needs and some of the wants of the humans you are raising – and do it alone. Oh mylanta! 

Today we are going to dig into solo parenting – what to do to survive your stint as the only responsible adult for what feels like miles and miles – from adjusting your expectations to recruiting some help, sticking to the routines and sprinkling in some magical memories – I’m sharing my best tips to turn the slog of solo parenting into… well, slightly less of a slog. Satisfaction – not guaranteed. I’ll let you in on a little secret – I am not a great solo parent. I’m not that fun. I get stressed out. I get in my own head and often I’m literally counting the minutes until bedtime. Dan, however, doesn’t seem phased by three-on-one bedtime at all and if I’m being completely honest, it kind of drives me crazy. 

It only feels right to take a moment to bow down at the feet of those of you who are doing this parenting thing solo – day in and day out – to the single parents in the room – you are the true saints, the greatest of all time, and my own personal brand of hero. 

OK – so here’s where I’m coming from. Dan is getting back to the point with work where, post-pandemic, travel is starting to pick up yet again. He works for a company that has folks all over the world and in his current role that sometimes calls for trips to places both inside and outside the United States. These trips range in duration from 4 days to 14 days. At one point, when I was pregnant with Rae, Dan was traveling what felt like every day, but it really was a 2 week trip about every 4-6 weeks. Regardless, while shuffling our normal schedule, two little ones in daycare and managing my massively pregnant belly and frequent visits to the OB and Maternal Fetal Medicine – to say that I felt overwhelmed as a huge understatement. 

Here’s what’s helped me when Dan is away: 

LOWERING MY EXPECTATIONS 

I’m SO not joking. Five books before bedtime, baths every night and a balanced meal that included three vegetables and a whole grain on a weeknight where I was in the OR, Colb had karate and Archer was teething? Nope, Not. Even. Close.

This can be hard for us as mothers, but sometimes the circumstances mean we have to look at the week or month ahead, the stretch of time where wwe will be the only adult and choose what we are and equally as importantly are NOT going to let get to us. What things are non-negotiable priorities and what things are we A-OK with letting slide?

Here’s the key – once you decide that something isn’t necessary, isn’t happening or just isn’t a priority during this time – let it go. There’s no use beating yourself up over it. 

Speaking of being the only adult…

GETTING SOME FREAKING HELP

Whether it’s hiring a true babysitter so you can attend book club (or even hide in your bedroom listening to an audiobook while folding laundry), having a mothers helper come for dinner, bath and bedtime a couple of nights, or recruiting your mother-in-law for some weekend reinforcements – it’s OK, neigh, it’s necessary to get some help. 

Tell your friends with similar aged kids that your spouse is traveling and that if they will bring the chick fil A, the wine, or just a nice, long hug, you will promise to have your kids tire their kids out for a mid-week dinner. 

Order meal delivery, grocery delivery, use grub hub and instacart, outsource the lawn, the errands, and any transportation that you can. 

During those 14-day trips when Dan was in Europe I would unabashedly invite myself to friends houses for play dates or see if anyone could join us for pizza and movies on a Saturday afternoon. The weekends in the middle of that stretch were the hardest for me mentally – I’d slogged through one week and had an entire week to go – it was like an optical illusion where the week that passed seemed like a tiny portion of the trip and the upcoming week stretched out of my like something out of a county fair fun house,  the closer I got to Dan being home, the further away it seemed. 

Oh my goodness, I don’t sleep well when Dan isn’t here, so for me it’s been crucial to PRIORITIZE REST in his absence. 

I would go to bed early, try to sneak in naps when the kids were napping, and I have, a time or two, bribed them with a movie and popcorn to catch a cat nap on the couch with kids in various states of dress snuggling and frolicking about. 

I am a different human being when I get rest. I can regulate my emotions, think clearer and I’m SO much less likely to cry. If this is true for you, prioritize sleep second only to eating and keeping the kids alive. Trust me, you’ll feel better in the morning – turn off the Netflix – it’s only going to make you more and more tired. 

As best as I could, despite things being out of whack, I tried my best to STICK TO THE ESTABLISHED SCHEDULE.

Kiddos crave the predictability of routine – so we did our very best to stick to the schedule for things like bedtime, nap time, bedtime and morning routines so that, all things being equal, even though Daddy wasn’t there to alternate nights of bedtime stories and tucking in, those things were still happening consistently and at the same time. 

I, too, crave that predictability – so I stuck to my morning routine of getting up before the kids, doing my journaling, my reading, my work on things like recording this episode, and my workout. There’s a caveat here – give yourself grace – simply by the nature of your partner being way you have wayyyyy less margin than you normally do. Be committed to the routine but be flexible with adjustments, expect the unexpected and give yourself grace if it doesn’t happen or it’s abbreviated. Keep showing up for yourself and prioritize your routines and making sure your basic needs are being met as best you can! 

I TRUSTED MY GUT… but tried not to freak ALL the way out.

Here is one of my most embarrassing experiences of motherhood. I was a brand new mom. I’m talking right off the showroom floor, less than 10 miles on my tires from the ride home from the hospital… brand, spanking, new mom. Colby was a couple of weeks old and Dan had to head to Chicago (or somewhere in the midwest-ish middle area of the country). We are less than 4 hours into our stint just the two of us and I find myself looking over my shoulder wondering who the adult is – like who is the parent that I can reference for if I don’t know the answer and what to do in a situation? 

Seriously – they just let you leave the hospital with this tiny human – there’s no aptitude test or anything. Tests? I’m great at tests. Give me alll the tests. I’ll pass your test and prove my competency to you AND to me and then and only then should you consider trusting the life of another human being to me. No test – no confidence – no objective demonstration of my competence… 

So, we are 4 hours into our journey and headed to bed. I go to change Colbys (cloth) diaper and it’s dry. Wait.. what?! It’s DRY! 

In the matter of 10 seconds, Colby is laying there, looking at me expectantly, waiting for me to change his diaper and zip up his little monkey footie pajamas and I’ve gone all the way down the rabbit hole.

The diatribe in my mind sounded something like this… 

Oh my God! He’s dry.

He’s dehydrated!

He isn’t drinking enough?

Is he?

Is he getting enough milk?

How’s his latch?

How the heck should I know how his latch is?

Do I call the pediatrician?

I’m going to need to get him admitted to the hospital!

Who will watch the dogs!

How will they get an IV into his teeny tiny veins?

Oh my God, Tracy – you are left alone with this kid for 4 hours and he already needs to be hosp….

And Colby promptly peed into his own eye. 

He looked at my like… W.T.F, Mom! Why would you let me do that?

Meanwhile I’m thinking… WTF, Colby?! Why would you scare me like that? 

So… there’s an example of what NOT to do when left alone with your humans… but you should also trust your gut. That intuition that lives deep inside of you, sink in and know that it’s there when and if you need it! 

MAKE IT MAGIC

I did my best to MAKE IT MAGIC – this is honestly the one I struggled the most with. To be completely transparent… I had a really bad attitude for some of the trips Dan took. I was expecting it to suck. My mindset was, quite frankly, terrible.

I do my best to come up with things that we only do when Daddy is traveling – little treats and things that we work on – maybe a welcome home art project or we read special books that Daddy got us on his last trip. 

For trips longer than 5 days we do a calendar count down where each kiddo gets to mark off a day at a time, counting down the days until Dan arrives back home – not only does this decrease the amount of times I have to answer the question… “How many days until Dad is home?” Again and again… it gives the kids some ownership and understanding that YES, Dad is coming home and if you want to know when, go check out the calendar. 

Before we implemented the calendar, Colby asked me a question that still, to this day, brings tears of laugher to my eyes when I think about it. It’s 2018 and Dan is 10 days into a 14-day trip. Colb is asking every day – is Dad coming home today? Today? Today? Is it today? I’m telling him no, 7-days, 6-days… still 6-days… still 6-days, 4-days, etc. 

He asks me to tell him again where Daddy is and to show him on our globe where Germany is. I show him, we talk about airplanes and how Dan got there and what he might be up to right now. Colby looks me straight in the eye and asks… is Daddy in prison!? 

Gulp. Gasp. Nope, bud. Not that I know of! When I talked to Dad last he was most certainly a free man! 

I still laugh at the way that he said it – like he caught me red-handed trying to cover up a short stint in the clink (is that even a thing that people say about prison)? With a fictional business trip to Germany. Hilarious.

Just goes to show that, even with the best of intentions and setting expectations, trying to explain where that travelling spouse is, sometimes kids misunderstand us! 

On that note – don’t take like too seriously – remember to laugh and enjoy things, even when you are stressed out and dreading bedtime! 

Parenting in-and-of-itself is so challenging and shouldering the load solo can be a heavy burden. My hope is that you are able to prioritize your own mental and physical health, stick to the routine as much as possible, be lighthearted and keep an open mind, decide what doesn’t matter and work to get some support in your corner. You got this! 

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Helping you to be fulfilled as a mother & have more time and money than you know what to do with!

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Tracy Bingaman

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