Six (Media Free) Tips for Solo Parenting with Toddlers
Solo parenting (not to be confused with single parenting) is when one parent is gone for a period of time, often due to work trips.
Military families (like ours) experience this often - between trainings, regular drill weekends, long schools, and deployments. Add in work trips for weekday jobs and there's lots of time when one parent is flying solo.
Here are some tips for getting through. These also work for older kids, difficult days, or when your spouse is home:
1.) Get them outside and active
Even if it's just a tiny toddler playscape, let them burn off big energy outdoors.
Time outside helps regulate their body's natural rhythms, gets them hungry (everything tastes better when we're hungry) and helps them sleep better.
2.) Put them to bed early
Maintaining any kind of bedtime routine without the help of half of the grownups who usually facilitate it can be extra challenging.
Tired (but not over tired from being up too late) children fall asleep more easily. Once they're asleep it gives you a few extra minutes at the end of the day. It also builds a cushion of time for the nights when everything takes so much longer.
We are all at our best when we've gotten enough sleep.
3.) Loosen your idea of "meals"
Eating together as a family is important, especially when a portion of your family is missing. What you put on the table can be simple, nutritious, and easy to prepare. It just might not look like a meal you'd make for grown up friends.
Apple and peanut butter totally count as breakfast.
Popcorn, hot dogs, and peas for dinner? Absolutely.
It can be easy to fall into the expensive trap of prepared foods - well-advertised and nutritionally-empty "kids foods."
Small pieces, healthy choices, and let the kids serve themselves.
A variety of healthy options guarantees that no matter what they choose they will feed themselves well.
Prepare a couple of vegetables, a couple kinds of protein, throw in a a fruit, grain or starchy vegetable medley and you might be surprised at what your children choose for themselves.
4.) Bring out toys they haven't seen in a while
Like many families, we have way way way more toys than we need.
We have pretty strict requirements for what toys we keep in our home (another post on that some day) and we still have way more than we need. Some we move along, and some we store out of sight. Weeks go by where they play with blocks every day and weeks go by where they stay in the closet.
This gives us the opportunity to go "shopping" for toys that are fresh and feel new again, without spending a dime.
It's so easy for anyone to get overwhelmed by too many available options. Having a few toys in reserve, even ones they've played with countless times before, allows them to engage more deeply in their play-work.
5.) Add some fun, some special, some extra care
At our house this can be as simple as stainless steel straws.
The girls can have them any time, they're dishwasher safe, they can't crack or break (unlike plastic or glass) and they're special. Even if we use them every day.
Other things we do are light candles at mealtimes, hold hands, sing a song together before meals, and have extra goodnight kisses.
6.) Be kind to yourself.
Even if you yell.
Even if you step out onto the porch to commune with the dog because he's the only other "grownup" you've seen all day.
When parenting on your own it can be hard to dig deeper and come up with even more to give when you're doing all your own jobs and your spouse's as well.
Sometimes all it takes is a few simple shifts that take the same amount of energy to help your family muddle through until you're all together again.
And do yourself a favor, drink enough water. You can thank me later.