Friday, June 28, 2013

How to survive being a sometimes single parent (without losing your mind)

Oh how you legitimately single parents are going to laugh at this post.  Laugh, throw tomatoes and give your forehead a little palm.  And to you, I bow down.  You are the masters.  You're gonna wanna look away from my drivel immediately.

For everyone else, though, it's tough to do the single parenting gig.  With Casey out of town a lot (we're currently surviving enjoying day seven of eleven), trying to singlehandedly fill all roles necessary in the raising of small children 24/7 while also maintaining your sanity is no small task. 

So here are my top ten tips for not losing your cool, Homer Simpson style:

1. Simplify.  PBJ instead of spaghetti for dinner?  Do it!  Run the dishwasher - even if it's only half full - instead of handwashing to save half an hour?  Absolutely!  Take serious stock of the things that are really necessary in the course of a day - and the things that aren't - and focus on those. 
2. Plan ahead.  Make sure that you give yourself the option of doing only the important things while solo parenting by taking care of the tasks which aren't "child friendly" while you have a partner in crime (aka a husband).  The DMV and two small children are not compatible.  Don't plan that errand while you're alone.  Or you'll go crazy.  True story.
3.  Nap.  Ernest Hemmingway once said, "I love sleep. My life has the tendency to fall apart when I'm awake."  While we all know how that one turned out for him (and if you don't, hint: it wasn't good), the truth is that without sleep, the cranky pants go on for everyone.  Solo parenting means the ever-present potential for poor rest through the night, and lots of pressure on every moment throughout the day.  Naps all around are good for everybody's mood and attitude.
4. Fun-something every day.  "Fun" here means anything from a trip to Target, the pool, a picnic or an actual play date.  Anything that gets you out of your normal environment and helps keep them doing something besides testing your patience.  
5. Sing.  Or dance.  Or do whatever you do to be silly, most especially when tensions are high and you (or the littles) don't feel like it.  Yesterday I made up a song about a tornado and sang it with a silly southern accent. At the top of my lungs.  I was, like, really tired.  But it made everybody laugh, and Leah asked me to sing it again and again.  More importantly, it saved us in a moment that could have easily gone south. 
6. Say YES as often as possible.  When you are the only one around to field the endless barage of can I haves and will you dos and whys, it gets really easy to get into the habit of just saying NO.  Can I have some icecream?  No honey, it will spoil your dinner.  Can we go to the pool?  No honey, we have to go to the store.  I hereby give you permission to STOP this behavior.  There are so many things in life that you have to say no to because they're either not safe or not practical at any given moment.  When you solo parent, get in the habit of saying yes to requests that aren't unreasonable.  Who cares if they eat icecream before dinner once or twice?  Does it really matter if she goes to the store wearing a princess dress?  If you can't say yes, offer two alternatives that both work for you, and let the kids choose between them.  Everybody (even a three year old) likes to feel that their input is valued and heard. 
7. Don't be a nag.  Seriously.  Because nobody likes a nag, and neither you nor your children benefit from your nagging.  Kids take for-ev-er to do anything.  #1 just accept the fact that it will take you 15 times as long as you expected to complete even the most simple task.  #2 only hang around with people who understand and empathize when you planned to meet at 10:00, which quickly became 11:15 and you actually showed up at 11:35 (that may or may not have happened to me yesterday). #3 empower your littles to do better.  Instead of huffing all exasperated-like, "I asked you to put your shoes on ten minutes ago, and you only have one on!" say, "I like that you put one shoe on, what do you think the next step is?  Let's do that!"  Always lead with the positive.  If there isn't any positive and you're ready to blow your top, invent some to lead with.  Grind your teeth and force a smile and say  "I like how creatively you're playing with your toys, but do you remember the job Mommy asked you to do?" I promise this is waaaaay more effective than nagging. 
8. Mobilize the troops.  Yes, you are the only adult in the house.  No, the success or failure of your daily life/adventures does not rest solely on you.  Kids LOVE to help.  It's good for them to help.  They learn independence and perseverence and how to overcome challenges.  They get a taste of success, and they like it.  Give them a job they can do independently - even if it might not be totally easy for them - and then celebrate the crap out of it when they complete it.  Don't have enough hands?  Ask your little one for help carrying stuff to the car.  Let them find their cereal (their usual cereal, not the one with marshmallows) in the grocery store and put it in the cart.  Let them clean up the living room and sort the toys.  Let them fold their own clothes, even if it isn't perfect.  Doing is better than doing it for them.
9. Know your limits.  And stick to them.  Be aware of what makes you go nuclear, and have a plan in place to deal with it.  It's okay to give yourself a time out.  It's okay to turn on the TV for half an hour because you're at the end of your rope or put a crying baby in his crib for 15.  It's okay to be strict about something because you know you'll lose your crap if your kids do that thing all the time.  It's okay to go to the store even though you need nothing, simply because you know you can't sit in the house and be nice one second longer.  It's better to let her cry in her room for a while than yell at her.  Know your limits, because those limits will absolutely be tested.  It is better to walk away and take a break than say something in anger that you can't take back. 
10. Love on everyone (including yourself).  The best way to make the transition from "just getting through" until Daddy gets home to happily living your life while he's away is to accept that it's going to be tough, and love everybody through it.  Give those extra hugs.  Read the extra story at bedtime (don't look at me like I just asked you to climb Mount Everest.  I know you're tired.  Do it anyway).  Find at least ten nice things to say about each of your children every day.  Sometimes every hour.  And for the love of all that is holy, build in opportunities for you to rest when you need them.  Put the kids to bed early.  Let them watch an extra hour of TV.  YOU NEED REST TOO!  Not just because you're tired and you feel like it, but because you're a better parent - more patient, more capable, more understanding and empathetic when you're not exhausted or at the end of your rope.  Parenting on your own is a big job, so don't feel bad about needing a break here or there. 

Try to remind yourself that this time goes sooooo fast.  It's so hard sometimes, but good Lord if it isn't worth it. 

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