My husband just finished a three-day backpacking trip. Before our son Zach was born seven years ago, my husband would go every year, for up to five days per trip. Since we’ve had kids, it just hasn’t seemed possible or advisable for him to go away for that long.
Some of my friends’ husbands travel frequently for work. I’m not sure whether they share these concerns, but this is what I’m afraid of when my husband is gone for a few days:
- The kids will wake me up often, and I won’t get enough sleep (my husband usually does nighttime duty)
- I will be short-tempered and yell more at my kids
- I will lose my temper and get physically rough with the kids
- I will feel guilty about my crappy parenting and start thinking about committing suicide
- All my coping skills will fail, and I will attempt to commit suicide
I am happy to say that only the first of these fears actually happened. Here’s what I did to prevent the others.
Get enough sleep
It can be tempting to stay up late reading a good book or watching a movie, but remember that a good night’s sleep is the foundation you need to be able to use any other coping skills.
I knew my kids would miss their dad, so I decided to make sure they got to do all the same fun stuff they’d usually do when he is around. We ate dinner and went to the nearby bookstore like we usually do on Friday nights, and camped out in the backyard. I took them to their Saturday swim lesson. I did let them watch a little more TV than usual, which they enjoyed.
Use a calendar to explain when the other parent will be home
My kids are four and seven years old so they don’t really understand time that well. We have a calendar posted on the refrigerator, and I used it to explain what was happening each day and when they’d get to see daddy again. Even though they still didn’t completely understand, somehow it was easier being able to point to each day. On my husband’s last business trip, we even crossed the days off to show how quickly the time was passing.
Schedule lots of play dates
Nothing can distract my children as well as playing with their friends. The night my husband left, we went to dinner at a nearby restaurant that has a bounce house. My son cried for awhile, but then he was too busy having fun jumping with his friends.
One of my friends even took my son Zach for an entire day and had him spend the night. Zach was so excited, it was as if he had won a jackpot.
My four-year-old daughter Kaylee was super excited to have Mama all to herself. She joked that her brother wasn’t home because he “wouldn’t play princess” with her earlier, like she’d personally evicted him.
I felt really proud when my husband came back from his backpacking trip. I not only kept the children alive, I bonded more with them and made the time really fun for all of us.
There was one little bump in the whole solo parenting experience. My husband decided to finish his trip a day early and asked us to pick him up at the trailhead. I misunderstood his directions and drove on a fire road for four miles, almost getting the kids and me stranded with no phone service (even dialing 911 didn’t work) and with actual thunder claps overhead. The road was so bad, driving over big boulders ripped off one of the running boards on my minivan.
If there were a time for me to completely lose my shit, this totally would have been it, but I had done so well the few days before, I breathed slowly and deeply and just had faith that if I stayed calm I’d get us out safely, even if it meant walking four miles in the rain with two kids.
For future reference, when there’s a sign that reads “OHV,” do NOT drive on it unless you have a 4×4 even when your GPS shows it as a regular road. “OHV,” I have learned, means “Off-highway vehicle.”
What do you do to survive solo parenting?