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If you’re here reading this post, you can likely relate to one of these two scenarios: you are planning for the fact that you are going to be solo parenting soon or you’re in the depth of solo parenting and searching for ways to thrive, not simply survive. In either case, you’re in the right place & you are in good, well-versed and experienced hands.
I have been a military significant other / spouse for nearly 10 years now. That means, I know what it’s like to be in a long distance relationship, spend more time away from my spouse than I do with him, and find myself questioning, often, why I am alone all the time.
The truth is, it was hard before we had a child. Now that we have a nearly 3 year old, time apart is astronomically more challenging: physically, emotionally, mentally & even spiritually. We’ve done everything from a week or two of solo parenting, to a full 8 months apart.
Solo parenting is not for the faint of heart, in fact, I think it takes brave and strong souls to do it.
I also think there’s this mindset we put ourselves in – that we need to “survive” seasons of solo parenting. Trust me, I’ve been there. Thinking I needed to “just get through this next 3 months” and then all would be okay.
But guess what, there was another season of solo parenting that came, and another. I found myself living in a space of looking forward so much I forgot to thrive in my current season.
(Believe it or not – I am now solo parenting for 2 months as I type this post.)
Now that you know a little of my story (don’t worry, there’s lots more juicy details in the following words) let’s talk about practical ways you can thrive during seasons of solo parenting.
By the way…I don’t believe we should ever be alone as parents – whether our partner is gone or otherwise – I think community is vital.
If this resonates with you & you are seeking a community of parents that totally gets it, I encourage you to head into my free Parenting with Literature facebook group and connect with other intentional parents.
But first, what is Solo Parenting?
Let’s get something out of the way quickly, the definition of solo parenting. Solo parenting is when both parents are typically actively involved in the child’s life or children’s lives, but for whatever reason are absent for a given period of time. The parent that has been “left behind”, so to speak, with the children is the solo parent.
You may be solo parenting if:
- Your spouse has a job that calls them to be gone for multiple days (or weeks, or months) at a time and you are the sole parent responsible in the home during that time.
- The other parent (who again, is still actively involved in the parenting dynamic) is not staying at the home and your children are with you.
- You are on “vacation” without the other parent present*
*I put “vacation” in quotes because really, does that sound relaxing to you?!
So, the key difference between a solo parent and a single parent is that both parents are still present in the child’s life, both parents have equal say in the child rearing (more or less depending on your family’s dynamic) and one parent is just temporarily out of the picture.
Single parenting & solo parenting have their own set of unique challenges. I can’t at all speak to single parenting, so that is not something I will discuss here.
Why is Solo Parenting so Dang Hard?
There are so many reasons solo parenting sucks. They all come back to one main issue: you are doing it alone. Your spouse or the other parent isn’t there to hand things off to when you’re losing your mind. Yet, at the same time, the other parent still gets a say despite not being there.
It’s a hard balance – on the one hand you’re physically there in the thick of it – and it takes every ounce of strength not to tell the other parent “well if YOU were here…” and yet, most of the time, they can’t be.
So you’re doing it alone. Your kids are all wonky because their other parent isn’t around. And most days you’re trying to just get through to bedtime. But let’s dig in…how, even with all of this hardship, can we make these solo parenting seasons glorious and something we embrace instead of endure?
The 9 Practical Ways to THRIVE during Seasons of Solo Parenting
1. Mindset and Perspective Shift
I put this way to thrive during seasons of solo parenting first because frankly, this is at the core of all of the other methods. If you have a negative perspective about solo parenting, I guarantee none of my techniques will help your thrive.
You have to accept your current season. My Spiritual mentor, Entrice Rowe, reminded me recently that during these times of solo parenting, I have the choice to either have the mindset to survive or to thrive.
I can choose to wake up every day & wallow in the sadness that is loneliness. I can choose to allow myself to crumble when my daughter throws her 15th tantrum. I can choose to call my husband and say “you should be here”.
Or I can choose to look at this as a gift. I can choose to believe that I have been uniquely gifted the skills to be married to a United States Marine, who loves his country and has been called to service.
I can choose to believe that, hell, maybe I was made for this. That I was made to support my spouse. That I was called to serve my daughter as her primary parent multiple times a year so we can connect. I have a choice to show my daughter that I am a strong and powerful parent, and show her what it is like to give my whole heart and effort every day, even when it’s hard and even when I am alone.
So yes, it is all about perspective and mindset. You can’t start thriving if you haven’t really accepted and embraced where you are in life and your current situation.
2. Planning activities & fun things ahead of time
For me personally, weekends are the hardest. During the week my daughter goes to preschool (see point number 4 for more on that) so I can work. So weekdays are still different without my husband home, but we manage. The weekends though are just this 48 hour stretch of time where I know I need to be on my game when I am solo parenting.
Nothing is work than waking up on a Saturday morning with not even a sliver of a clue about what you’ll do that day – especially when you’re solo parenting because you know that means you’re going it alone, AND you’re unprepared.
I don’t think you need to plan out every minute of every hour, but having a general idea of big things you might do that day will help give the day some structure (and we need structure when we solo parent because it’s easy to let the day get lost to cartoons or…ahem…6 episodes of Project Runway with no one holding you accountable!).
The structure & plan is good for you and for the kids. With planned activities, you have something to let the little ones get excited about (and if they’re missing their other parent, it’s a good way to keep them distracted and positive).
Some “big ticket” activities I like to do with my daughter (ones that take a few hours of the day, get us out of the house, or otherwise are just plain fun) include:
- Going to the park
- Going on a walk or a bike ride
- Going to the outlet mall, grabbing a pretzel and walking around
- Going to the beach
- Playing a board game
- Getting out art supplies and doing a project together (ps: if you’re lacking creativity in the art department, grab a book and let your kids create the characters of the book with scissors and glue).
- Go to an indoor playground
- Take a weekend trip and visit family or friends, even if they’re a few hours away
- Have a family movie night
3. Utilizing your books and resources to help you parent
I have 0% doubt that during your season of solo parenting, there will be hard issues that come up with your children. Depending on the age this could be anywhere from potty training, hitting, disrespect, friend problems, separation anxiety about the absent parent, and so on.
I believe we shouldn’t parent alone. I believe even when we don’t have our partner with us to help, we always have the power of literature at our disposal. Our intentional bookshelf is there for the good times and the bad. For us to lean on when we have nothing left to give (ps: if you don’t know what an intentional bookshelf is, go here and listen to Episode 6 of the Addison Reads Audio Blog).
For whatever reason, our children sometimes listen to anyone but us. We can tell our kids 15 times not to do something, but when that one stranger mentions it, or a teacher at school brings it up, they listen. Books are that 3rd party that can reinforce something you might not be getting through to your child with.
When you’re on your own solo parenting, that 3rd party can really come in handy. So connect with your kids through books, choose books from your main home library that will help them while their parent is gone. Choose books that will teach them kindness and understanding so they will have empathy for you as the parent. Use this as an opportunity to get in touch with your kids & their emotional needs.
4. Hire a babysitter so you can take a stinking break
My daughter goes to preschool Monday – Friday so I have a consistent “babysitter” where I get time alone – but most of that time is spent working. However, on days when I can, I take off early and just do something for me.
Sometimes that means running errands baby free (example: when I am solo parenting I do all my grocery shopping and high priority errand running on Monday. I know my daughter and I will both be happier if I don’t have to lug her around the grocery store).
Other times that means taking a self care day (go get your hair done, watch a movie, have coffee with a friend). You need time away from the kids and when you’re solo parenting this is probably more important than ever. That space that you normally can anticipate when your partner is around and available to take the load when things get tough isn’t there.
Don’t wait until you’re breaking. Don’t wait until you’re so tired you accidentally put a laundry pack in the dishwasher and have bubbles all over the floor (true story) to ask for help as a solo parent.
Be proactive and take care of yourself. You can’t be a good solo parent if you’re only at 50%.
5. Embrace your local & virtual tribes
Alright introverts & nay-sayers stop shaking your head because I know what you’re thinking – I don’t wanna. I want to do this on my own & I don’t want to talk to people about it.
But you can’t. You can’t thrive like that. I am an introvert, through and through. I need my alone time. I love being by myself, but I still need some adult interaction from time to time. I work from home also, so I hardly ever speak to adults in real life.
You don’t need a million people in your corner while you’re solo parenting, if you want that then find it. But you do need at least one solid person you can rely on. What are you supposed to do if there’s an emergency? It’s not only a way to thrive mentally & emotionally, it’s just plain smart.
If your family is like ours – we move around a lot as a military family – so often we will be transplanted to a new home and then my husband has to leave for an extended period of time. When that happens, I know no one so my local tribe is slim to none.
That’s where having a virtual tribe helps, too. We have so many ways to stay connected to people so there’s no excuse in not getting help through the phone, messaging or facetime from friends and family that love you.
Ditch your pride and call a friend to cry. There are going to be hard moments and you can’t bottle it up (lesson learned. Trust me. I’ve tried).
6. Involve the other parent when you can
Before we get too far into this tip I need to address the very obvious elephant in the room – the other parent is. not. here.
What that means is when we are solo parenting we have to stay far away from words and phrases like:
“If you were here it wouldn’t be this way”
“My day is so hard but if I had your help…”
“You wouldn’t understand because you aren’t here”
Those are obvious things, but saying them only serves to hurt the person that is away (who more likely than not doesn’t have a choice in being away from the family).
While we are so busy in the throes of solo parenting it can be hard to see the other person’s perspective. I can tell you from personal experience & real conversations I have had time and time again with my husband that although we do have probably the hardest job as solo parents, it’s also not easy for the parent that is away.
They feel hopeless, they miss the kids, they miss you (in most cases!). So, the question really is, how can be make them feel involved when they aren’t physically here?
Since we have done this for a while I have compiled so many tips for you:
- Send pictures, videos, letters (if possible) as much as you can there can never be too many photos of your kids being adorable sent to the parent that doesn’t get to experience those everyday moments.
- Have the other parent send photos and videos to stay connected. Facetime is awesome but sometimes connections don’t always work or the places the other parent has traveled to doesn’t allow for that, so a recorded video that can be played for the kids does just as well.
My husband will record videos for my daughter and we watch them on replay. Swoon!
- Have virtual reading sessions where the other parent has a children’s book with them & reads on camera to the kids (I wrote a whole post about this on Homebound but Hopeful detailing step by step how to host a virtual reading session).
- Let them help with key parenting decisions and feel involved in the process. While you might not want to call during every melt down, it can be helpful to still get feedback and follow through from the other parent. It does wonders when AJ is misbehaving and my husband gets on the phone with her and encourages her to make better choices.
7. Seize the opportunity for one on one connection
Our family is really big into intentional family time. That said, we spend massive amounts of time together when we are all home. When my husband is away, I deeply miss our interconnection and all of our family being together for our special moments.
However, in the spirit of embracing the season of solo parenting & thriving in it I have chosen to look at it as a gift – the opportunity for one on one connection with my daughter.
We have girl time, we make inside jokes, we hug each other when we’re sad that daddy is gone (seriously, she held me when I cried recently) and we work on our relationship.
Sure, I miss the times we are all together like crazy, but since we can’t have them now, why not spend this time going deep with my daughter, just the two of us.
Here are some ways you can connect one on one with your kids while you are solo parenting:
- Watch their favorite movie (no cell phones!)
- Play a boardgame together
- Talk with them about missing your partner
- Let them stay up past their bedtime or have a slumber party in your room
8. Spend time in the quiet of your own thoughts & work on self improvement
We live in a world of noise, and sometimes even our spouse or partner can contribute to that if we’re not careful. While we may miss their company, the season of solo parenting really gives you the opportunity to dig deep into yourself and your own thoughts and self improvement.
For me personally, this happens after bedtime at night. If my husband were home we’d do bedtime as a family and then he and I would connect after our daughter is asleep in her room.
But when I am in a season of solo parenting, my nights are completely spent alone. Sometimes I watch my favorite TV shows I know he doesn’t like to watch. Sometimes I sit in the bath for an hour and read a book. Other time I journal or plan for my business. I spend time alone, pouring into myself.
Like I said, I may be an introvert, but I miss my husband’s company. When you’re drained from solo parenting all day, those quiet moments alone are the exact opportunity you need to embrace to work on yourself or just be present, alone.
9. Give Yourself Grace & Reassurance
And finally, I had to mention the idea that not everything will go perfectly every day when you’re solo parenting.
Think about it – does everything go perfectly when you’re NOT solo parenting? Of course not! When it’s just you remember to give yourself grace. Remember though, as my good friend Kendra of Mother Like a Boss said in an episode on her podcast, Grace isn’t an excuse for doing poorly, it’s just giving yourself a break when you need it.
You may have to let go of some things while you are solo parenting, you may have to make your life easier by investing in things or people that help you. You don’t have 50 hands, 27 eyes and 84 feet to do all the things alone.
Here are some things you can give yourself grace about when you are solo parenting:
- Being sad that you are doing it alone. It’s okay to cry. It’s okay to be emotional. Just give it time to work its way through you and then come back to acceptance.
- Letting the housework slip up a little because you have little people to raise.
- Grabbing take out every once in a while to make dinner easy & remove dishes from the nighttime routine.
- Getting frustrated with your kids more than you typically do. Take a step back, recenter and apologize if you’d hurt anyone’s feelings.
- Not knowing the right words to say to your child who is missing their parent (it’s really hard to see your child in pain).
I hope this post was encouraging to you, and I hope that if you are in a season of solo parenting that you don’t try to do it alone and that you apply some of my tips to help you thrive instead of just survive and endure.