Whether you are facing deployments, a business trip, or your spouse had to take a job out of state being a married single parent is a tough job. I have several friends lately who are struggling because their spouses have either gone or are going away on business. So after eleven years of deployments, training, Army schools, and annual training that usually lasted between 2-4 weeks I thought I would share what helped us get through those times when Daddy was away from home.
1. Create little trips. This can be as simple as going to the zoo, a children's museum, or visitng Grandma and Grandpa for a weekend. These little trips keep you busy driving and the kids busy and excited. It sounds like a lot of work, but trust me, it is worth it and helps the time pass faster.
2. Make Friday night a special night. I started this trend after Sarah moved in with us. Because Chris works second shift, it means I am pretty much a single parent all day and every day when he works on the weekends. So to make the end of the school week more exciting I tried to fix a meal that the girls would enjoy. I would fix frozen pizza, spaghetti or something they asked for and sometimes I let Sarah have a friend sleep over. We usually rented a movie or pulled out a $5 movie I'd found at Wal-Mart. Add sleeping bags and pillows and voila! You have a quiet but exciting Friday evening at home. This is especially helpful if you are struggling financially.
3. If your spouse is gone for a significant amount of time, find something that is just for you and the kids. While Chris was deployed in 2009-2010 I invested in some good music. Anything from Wicked to Taylor Swift to Skillet and the girls and I would go to Dairy Queen, grab a little treat for them and a drink for me (food that is high in fat makes for a very sick and icky Mommy) and we would explore the Kansas countryside with ice cream, music blasting, and a drive exploring new places and new things. We went to Great Bend one weekend to visit church, one day I let the girls play hooky and we drove to Lindsberg, KS - a great little town that has Swedish roots and origins.
4. Don't be afraid to be spontaneous. Some of the neatest things the girls and I did came from us spontaneously deciding we needed to get out of town. In October 2009 I awoke (after about 3 or 4 hours of sleep I should add) and knew we needed to go to Nampa, Idaho. At the time I didn't understand it, but I went with it and spent Monday preparing the van (oil change, tire check purchasing snacks and food for the road and drinks), and Sarah did laundry and we packed up the van that night and left early Tuesday morning. Yes, it made for a long 10 days, since I don't really rest well anywhere but my own bed, but it was worth it. We got to spoil Grandma and Grandpa, play around with some cousins, and see some neat things about Idaho.
5. It's okay to a little shy about going out a lot. The more children you have the more this is true. Being a single parent is tough, especially when you are used to having an extra set of hands. We missed a lot of church and didn't do anything super huge. When Chris is gone I would NEVER, EVER consider going to DisneyWorld. Especially not when Elizabeth was younger. As the girls get older, that is less likely to be the case, but for now this Momma doesn't do large crowds, large gatherings, or anything where I have to watch more than one child alone without Chris. It is a recipe for disaster.
6. One a month if not more often hire a babysitter and go get a pedicure, go out on a lunch date with girlfriends, or see a movie alone. Chris tried to tell me that getting a pedicure every six weeks was frivilous and I didn't need to do it. I asked him if he wanted the girls alive when he got home from Iraq and Kuwait. Of course, he answered yes, so I told him I did it to help relieve the stress of being a single parent and it helped me remain a calmer person. I also got a massage a few times while he was gone. It really helped me keep my blood pressure lower.
7. It's okay to have a mini-meltdown. I don't mean go crazy and beat the tar out of your children - that is never okay. However, it's okay to send them to their room so you can sit down and have a good cry, call a girlfriend and kvetch, or just scream in the shower if you need to. I found that if I rented a movie that was sure to make me cry, it opened the flood gates and once I had the gate opened it freed me to cry and release the stress the way I needed to. However, I do not recommend this tactic if you are going somewhere shortly. I usually choose after bedtime.
8. It's okay to cut the kids a little more slack than normal. Do dinner in reverse so they eat dessert first and then their meal. Let them stay up a little later than normal on a school night. You are the primary disciplinarian while your spouse is gone and it is very easy for our children to decide we are just mean ogre's to be mean. We know this isn't true, but when you are a kid and Mommy or Daddy has to be the bad guy all of the time it's easy to begin to feel that way. This gives you a break AND it lets your child know you are not the big bad meanie they think you are.
9. Write your spouse notes and stick them in his/her rucksack or suitcase for them to find later. It keeps the romance alive AND it helps they look forward to coming home.
10. Find a project for YOU to work on. Losing weight, reading all 100 classic works of literature, or taking up pottery, something to keep you busy. This is especially needed when you are a stay at home mom.
I hope this helps those who are struggling and those facing new challenges of being a single parent.