Hats off to all the single parents out there. To all the army spouses whose partners head overseas for months at a time. To anyone who manages kids on their own for extended periods of time. I have massive respect for you. It ain't easy. Usually, there are two people on the adult team in my house, but not always. I spent a couple of months late last year minding my two boys on my own Monday to Saturday, and there were certain things that ensured the survival of my sanity. Here are 10 things that can make life easier when you're on your own and one thing that definitely doesn't.
1. Ensure there is always an escape hatch. An auntie, a grandmother, a friend to call on when the going gets tough. You may not need them as much as you think, but it is hugely comforting to know that you can always bundle the kids into the car and
abandon them have them spend quality time at grandma's if things get difficult.
2. Allow the dust to settle. Let go.... of expectations of a clean house, clean clothes, on you or on the babies. Who am I kidding? This advice applies even where there are two of you tackling the housework at all times. My three year old asked me recently "But where does all the dust come from?". Where indeed my boy...
3. Make a countdown calendar to count down to when daddy is home. I had a little string of cards; one for each day and attached a photo of the person visiting/activity happening on that day. Confession. This one was more for me than for the boy. Although it probably works better when the small person's understanding of time is more evolved than 'yesterday= everything in the past' and 'soon= everything else'.
4. Remember who you are. Do something that is about you, your separate identity, someplace without the kids. For me, this was yoga teaching. On a Tuesday evening, my mother in law came over and I taught a pregnancy yoga class. It was a break from mothering and it gave me back a sense of myself for an hour or two. And I could smile to myself when the mamas-to-be complained that they weren't getting enough sleep. Think you can't get comfortable in your bed now? Hah! Try having a small human kick you repeatedly in the face instead of inside the belly.
5. Screw the grocery shopping. The Irish psychologist David Coleman in a chapter of his parenting book, gives advice about toddler tantrums. He devotes an entire section of that chapter to coping with shopping with small children. First piece of advice - don't go shopping with small kids if you can avoid it. Got it David. I didn't need much convincing. Tesco online became my new best friend. No more walking the aisles pushing a trolley while baby cries and two-year-old tries to fill the trolley with cakes. No more relying on the kindness of strangers to unload your trolley, pack your shopping bags and push trolley to the car (Yes, some wonderful fairy performed this kindness for me.. I hope I remember to do the same one day).
6. Simplify everything. For me, that meant only planning one activity/outing any day. It meant cooking the same dinners in rotation, which in turn meant buying the same groceries every week. Easy peasy shopping list. It meant organising the spaces in the house so that fresh nappies and a change of clothes were always within easy reach (not the elaborate nappy/clothes organising system it sounds like, it was actually a number of brightly coloured Ikea baskets under the TV shelf).
7. Make friends with your slow cooker/crockpot. To avoid crazy hour. You know, that hour before dinner when everyone is ravenous and you're trying to cut onions while baby is in the carrier and your two-year-old hangs off your leg telling you he wants you to play with him NOW and he HATES whatever it is you're preparing. Baby didn't want milk before you started to cook but does now is writhing and squirming in the sling and starting to cry and you wish you could go lock yourself in the bathroom while someone else makes dinner. A slow cooker. Stick it all in there in the morning and hours later it's almost like someone else made dinner. I swear.
8. Seek out social contact. Invite yourself to the neighbours for coffee. Go to the mum and baby group (no invite needed) . Make extra dinner so you have an excuse to ask your mother in law over on her way home from work (no invite really needed, but it's only decent to give her dinner in exchange for her yoga-babysitting duties). Go to another mum and baby group. Ditch the babies once and while and make it just a mum's group. With wine preferably, dinner optional.
9. Virtual contact. Where would you be without the yummy mummy whatsapp groups to discuss toddler tantrums, potty training and whether it's ok that your kids haven't had a bath in weeks. Then there's the family whatsapp group for amusing memes and hilarious conversations over Fair City storylines. And a dizzying array of mum/parent groups on facebook, where you can bond over cloth nappies and the like.
10. Chocolate. Sure, a little wine helps too. So do green smoothies, vitamins, and coffee in the morning. But keep the chocolate stocks up (and hidden from the children) and spirits will remain high. and the thing to avoid?
Potty training Some things are a two-person job. Making a baby, for example, figuring out how to get the squirming baby into the baby carrier that first time. And dealing with a tired two-year-old, with an underpants full of poo while a baby wails in the next room. Definitely, a two-person job. The only exception to this rule being if the one person is your spouse returned from their absence and they're looking for brownie points. Then you can leave them to it while you enjoy more of number 10.