I’ll never forget one of the firsts moments after my husband met our son. It was at BMT graduation and he was standing there holding him and asked me for his pacifier. I handed it to him and he looked at me and said “Can you put it in his mouth? I can’t, I have my hands full.”
It took me by surprise because, SERIOUSLY?! How many thing’s had I done over the past month or so with one hand or better yet… NO hands?! Holding a baby with one hand, a blanket with the other, and the pacifier in my mouth, the thought of multi-tasking didn’t seem to phase me.
I lucked out because my first solo-parenting experience was with an infant. An infant needs no discipline, he doesn’t ask where his daddy is, and he can adjust on a dime because he doesn’t know any different.
A couple weeks ago when my husband told me that he was going to be deployed at some point in the coming year I thought “Oh boy, I’m going to have a toddler and an infant, that’ll be interesting.”
Related article: How to rock your kids bedtime during deployment
One of the most difficult things in military life is solo-parenting.
This is not for the reasons that being a single mom is difficult. This is unique to military life because not only are you dealing with your own issues (missing your spouse, worrying about their safety, taking care of the kids etc) but you are also having to adjust and re-adjust constantly.
You go about your life in a routine, you don’t even think about it most of the time. Like when you get out of the car and one of you always gets the kid out of the carseat and the other always gets the stroller ready, you are just a well oiled machine. Then one day, BAM, you have to do both. As soon as you figure it out, then BAM AGAIN your spouse is back and now you have to figure out how to get him back in the mix.
So I reached out to my fellow experts and found 17 military spouses to give advice on solo-parenting. Here’s what they had to say:
1.”First as a solo parent through multiple deployments, trainings, state disasters, etc. and now as a single Mama, I’ve learned this. You’re not Mom AND Dad (or Mom AND Mom or Dad AND Dad). You’re one parent tasked with most of the load. Yes – you’re more often than not (depending on the “why” of your solo-parenting) doing most or all of the work. But you’re still one parent. Own that. Don’t set up the expectation from others (or more importantly of yourself) to be able to BE everything. You will fail. Be YOU spectacularly. Except for when you can’t. Then be you authentically and humanly.” -Annonymous Military Spouse
I need to think of something other than just “oh God please ask for help!” – Kylie, regular contributor to Nextgen Milspouse
3.”You need to learn to let things go. You won’t be able to do everything you normally would. If signing up for the bake sale is going to put you over the edge, don’t do it. Make time for yourself. Even if that just means a bubble bath after the kids go to bed.” – Julie from Soldiers Wife, Crazy Life
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4.”Take time for yourself and know your boundaries. You can’t do it, it’s okay to ask for help and more importantly, it’s okay to outsource things. I had to ‘man’ up and outsource things because I just didn’t have enough time to get it done. Also, go out and enjoy yourself. I always felt guilty of enjoying myself while my husband was deployed because I know he was miserable and not able to have the fun like we had. It took a lot of pep talks from the girls to go out once a month or so and just enjoy the girl time (movies, pedis, etc). You aren’t ever alone in these things.” – Susie from Momma Bee Saving
5.”Like most things, for me it comes down to knowing and sticking to my priorities. It’s okay to know and respect your limits. Also, it’s not just raising a child that needs a village – being a grown up does too! That friend who makes me slow down to haveÂ a lunch out, the one I can count on to pick up my son from school in an emergency the one will stop by with Tylenol and takeout when I’m stuck home with a sick kid….developing and nourishing these relationships is just as important knowing emergency numbers, getting myself to the dr when needed and getting enough sleep.
Also – grocery store pick up. Seriously. It’s worth it.” – Kristen from Blogging in Balance
6.”Don’t wait until you are at the end of your rope to ask for help. Resiliency is asking for help the whole way through so that you don’t have to end up at the end of the rope!
Also, cereal is appropriate for dinner.” – Kim from She is Fierce
7.”I’m solo parenting as we speak! The two pieces of advice I’d give are to not be afraid to ask for help and to practice self-care. As military spouses, we pride ourselves on being flexible and independent, but everyone needs a hand sometimes. If a neighbor offers to babysit for an evening so you can have a bath, take them up on the offer. If another invites you for dinner, accept the invitation. Asking for help doesn’t mean we’re not capable, it means we’re aware of our boundaries. As for self-care, be cognizant of your own needs. If you aren’t caring for yourself, you cannot fully provide for those you love.” – Ashley from More Than A MilSO
Find or build your village. Identify who you are going to intentionally do life with. Who is your support system? Don’t try and do it alone. – Sarah from Servant Mama
9.”We have done 6 long deployments, and we have 4 kids, so I have spent a lot of time as the solo parent. I have to build a safety net every time we move. I scramble to meet parents from each of my kids classes, in case I need to ask them for an emergency pick up. Chat with neighbors and get phone numbers in case I need something. I gather the numbers for a local ER, babysitter, handyman, lawn care person, car maintenance guy, and a friend wirhout kids. Then I know where to turn during emergencies. Having that support system in place empowers me through the tough times.
For the everyday basics, I stay organized and keep the kids on a general schedule. They have expectations to help around the house. I try to plan out meals, and always keep something healthy in the freezer. I let some things slide around the house, because I simply can’t do it all. But I know my priorities so I stick with them.” – Lizann from Seasoned Spouse
10.”Solo parenting for two years and counting! Life will never be fair – loads will not be equal, but it’s all about perspective. If you can keep the reason why you are in it in perspective, your long range goals always in sight and try to see both parents’ views (pros and cons), you will have fewer complaints and happier conversations. It’s not easy and no one ever will say it is, but neither is your spouse’s side either. It’s just “different.” But remember why you said “I do,” and keep your eye on the prize (the reunion). Everything in between is just life.” – Kim from 1200 Miles Away
11.”1. Make a routine
2. Establish a checklist of what has to be done
3. Remember it’s ok. No one died from eating cereal for dinner a few nights.
4. Inject fun– movie nights, PJ days, slumber parties, dance party, video game day, binge watch Clone Wars” – Jodi
12.”Add in humor. In our family, Glenn is the one who is always injecting fun and humor. We just laugh more when he’s home, and it’s a big part of why I fell in loveÂ in the first place. Solo parenting can seem so overwhelming we forget to be silly. We forget that there is joy, even during difficult things like holidays or birthdays without him. It takes HUGE effort sometimes, so enlist help if you need (funny friends, funny movies). In the end, it heals.” – Casey from Betwixt Beginnings
13.”Have a plan to keep exercise as part of your routine – it’s so easy to let exercise “Slide” off your schedule when you’re solo parenting and you have twice as much on your plate, but it’s important for your SANITY! Exercise helps regulate your mood and improves your ability to cope with stress. Make a plan BEFORE your significant other leaves – schedule exercise into your schedule like an important appointment and ask your significant other to help you figure out how you’re going to fit it in. It might mean finding a sitter for the kids, starting a sitting co-op, paying for a YMCA membership or finding an at-home workout DVD you can do when the kids are sleeping. Either way, it should be a non-negotiable!” – Lauren from Total Lifestyle Management
Know when and how to get help (like for real help from a mental health professional), Use the resources that your community offers. – Susan
15.”Best advice I received for single parenting older kids while a parent is away is to make sure that you are handing out disciplinary actions. For instance, my friend never disciplined her teenage kids, it was always her husband. When he deployed, her kids wouldn’t listen to her and it caused a lot of problems. I understand the need to know how to handle deployments with small kids but I think we often overlook the needs of teenagers while a parent is deployed.” – Missy
16.”I find one of the hardest parts of solo parenting is the transition back to dual parenting. How do you welcome your spouse back into the fold of parenting without constantly reminding “that is not how we do that” or not upsetting the kids equilibrium?! We have mitigated this by some detailed (and probably mundane) emails explaining the girls recent behaviors and what has been successful (and unsuccessful) to discipline or encouragement.” – Briana from Being Briana
17.”For me, one of the best things that I have figured out is really discovering the strengths of my children during these times. My oldest son really loves to take on some his dad’s jobs when he’s gone. It makes him feel more connected and the responsibility of it keeps him happier because he has a purpose beyond what he normally does. Finding an outlet for me while I’m solo-parenting also helps me to keep my emotions in semi-check so that I’m not taking out my emotions on my children in a negative way.” -Rheanna from Cammo Style Love
Remember, you will get through this!
Kids can be challenging when their parent is away. Having to take care of the kids by yourself, on top of all your other responsibilities– all while missing your spouse can be draining. It will take a lot out of you. Just remember, you are strong.
You will get through this.