Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Chime In: "Occasional" Single Parenting

Read my "Reflections" post here.

The following is a list of a few of the strategies I implemented during my week of solo parenting that I felt like made the week easier on myself and the boys. If you find yourself in the boat of "occasional" single parent, maybe you'll find them useful. What has worked for you? Feel free to chime in with your own tips in the comments!
  1. Lower your expectations. I mean that you should lower your expectations of yourself, not your kids. Of course my kids are still expected to obey, to talk respectfully, to be kind and get along with each other. Those expectations don't change just because Rusty is gone for a few days. But I'm the kind of person who normally has unreasonable expectations of herself, especially as it relates to how much I'll be able to get done in a certain time period. It doesn't matter if it's an afternoon, a weekend, a week, or an entire summer -- I typically have much more on my to-do list than I'm able to accomplish. This time, I decided that my major objective was just to survive the week! I tried to arrange my days so that I wasn't doing more than one major chore or errand per day -- whether that was the laundry or the shopping or taking Ben to the clinic for his shots or making cookies with the boys. I also assigned myself one big project that I worked on in the evenings after the kids were in bed. This helped me focus my time, but wasn't too overwhelming.
  2. Take time for you. This goes along with the first point. Of course taking time for yourself is always important, but I think it's especially important when parenting solo. I had my big project to work on, but I also gave myself permission to do some things just for pure enjoyment -- I read, I took naps, I wrote in my journal, and I watched the first two "Twilight" movies, which I had never seen before (I tried to pick something I knew Rusty probably wouldn't want to watch with me!). 
  3. Relax your standards. Again, this kind of goes along with #1. And of course, this would look different depending on the person. For us, it meant that my kids got a lot more "screen time" than they normally do. Alex spent an exorbitant amount of time playing Mario Kart on the Wii -- but hey, he was happy, he wasn't whining or pestering his brothers, and he can't play the Wii at our house right now because we don't have one, so I didn't feel bad about it. Stephen played lots of games on my iPod. And they both watched a short (30-minute) video each night before they went to bed while I was downstairs giving Benjamin his bottle. We also had a movie night one night with a longer movie and popcorn.
  4. Keep a basic routine. We all know routines are important for children. Stephen especially seems to need the structure that a routine provides, but even Alex does better when he knows what to expect from the day. My kids are small, so our daily routine revolves around mealtimes and sleep schedules. We have breakfast and get ready for the day; I do school with Alex while Benjamin is napping; we have lunch; the little boys take naps; we have dinner; we get ready for bed. I tried to keep to this same basic routine during the week that Rusty was away with a few minor modifications. When something is out of whack in a kid's life (i.e. one parent is away from home for an extended time), keeping a basic routine provides stability and security.
  5. Don't fight the mealtime battle. For some people, this might mean taking the kids out for Happy Meals or ordering pizza every night. For me, taking 3 small children out to eat all by myself is more stressful than preparing something at home. But when planning my menu for the week, I chose simple meals that I knew the boys liked -- things like tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches, spaghetti, and homemade macaroni and cheese. We ate a lot of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, a lot of fresh fruit, and we had cereal for breakfast nearly every morning! Although I don't want to only cook their favorites all the time, I wanted mealtime this week to be as peaceful as possible, and for the most part, it was!
  6. Accept help from others. I would be remiss not to mention that one reason the week was so easy on me was because of Elsa. Elsa works for my sister in the mornings while Julie is at work. She watches Enoch and does some cleaning around the house. I told her that I would be happy to pay her for the week if she just wanted to keep her same schedule (remember, we were staying at my sister's house, but they had already left on furlough). So Elsa came about 7:30 each morning and left around 11:30. Just 4 hours, but they made such a difference! Not only did she do most of the cleaning (like bathrooms and floors and such), but she played with the boys, did some mending for me, and provided some needed adult conversation -- and the opportunity to practice my Spanish since she doesn't speak much English! When I had to go to the store or take Ben to the clinic for his shots, she stayed with the kids. I was so thankful to have her around every day. One of the "perks" to living in a 3rd world country is the affordability of household help. If you live in the States, then you probably can't afford a maid (I know I never could), but you might have friends or family members who want to help you out when you're on your own. Don't try to be Super Woman -- take them up on the offer!
  7. Have fun and enjoy your kids. I made a conscious effort to do this all week, and it made such a difference. I really tried to be more of a "yes" mom. "Yes, I will play Mouse Trap with you after dinner, even though that game makes me want to set my hair on fire." "Yes, I will play hopscotch with you." "Yes, I will blow bubbles with you." "Yes, I will play Mario Kart with you." "Yes, we can buy those animal crackers." "Yes, we can have ice-cream sundaes again after supper." "Yes, I will read that book to you again, and you can ask me the same 1,000 questions you asked me the last time we read it." "Yes, you can have a drink of water... and another kiss... and a song... even though I know you're really just stalling." I tried to savor the little moments -- of sitting outside on the swing together, of giving Ben his bottle in the comfy recliner, of their sweet hugs and silly conversations and imaginative play. And although I don't necessarily enjoy the experience of single parenting, I find as I look back, that the week itself actually was very enjoyable!
I'm no expert, and I would love to hear from others who occasionally have to go it alone, especially since I'll be doing this a lot more in the months and years to come. What works for you and what doesn't? Leave your thoughts in the comments.

Me and my 3

1 comment:

  1. Well done, Laura! Great advice for all parents :) Choosing to relax and choosing to lower expectations on my own daily tasks are attitudes I'm still learning to employ--single parenting or not. There are no regrets for time spent with games, books, nonsensical conversations and laughter with my kiddos. I do carry a few (million:)) regrets for wasted anxiety over cluttered living rooms and a messy kitchen. I applaud the DELIBERATE choices you made to be present.
    The nighttime routine was always my Waterloo when single parenting--one way I found to re-claim that precious time was my 30 minute Mommy Break, just before dinner. For me it was about 5:30pm. I would set up a video, put toddlers in play pens, give kids book baskets(idea taken from Diane Stephens:)) pull out drawing supplies--whatever would guarantee the most stillness for my four Cashlings. Then I would retreat behind my shut bedroom door for 30 full minutes of not-deciding, not-negotiating, not-listening, not-planning, not-talking Mommy reprieve. OF COURSE, I was interrupted :) but whatever moments of stillness I got, at that time of day, blessed all of us.
    Those are my two-cents :) Blessings to you, Laura. You have a beautiful family and I am so proud of you.