Tips for solo parenting when your partner is away

Today’s post answers a reader question. You can read previous answers to readers’ questions here.

My husband is about to leave for a three week overseas work trip and I’m wanting to make sure that I stay on track this time. Him travelling is not a new experience but I always start off well and ‘fall over’ by the end of it. I need to put some strategies and plans in place to make sure that I (for example) manage my time, don’t go to bed too late (this is a big problem while he is away) and don’t expect too much of myself (this is also a big problem!).

I also find these trips very isolating as I work for myself and tend to get drawn into all the family responsibilities and don’t see anyone, as we don’t have a strong social network in Melbourne.

Any thoughts or guides you have designed would be most welcome!

When I chat with other parents about this topic, it always makes me think how full on family life must be for those solo parenting all of the time! Now our kids are older, I can leave them on their own for short periods of time if I am on my own, but when they were little, there was no doing that and if you are on your own with little ones, I can only imagine how tough that is.

My husband doesn’t travel for extended periods of time, but we have had times when he has worked long hours so was not home much for the awake hours when the kids were younger and then there are times when he is training a lot for an Ironman etc which has meant he is up and out of the house before the kids are and home after the younger ones are in bed.

When we are going through periods like this, there are a few things I do to help me manage:

  • Menu planning – I make sure my menu planning is on point and includes a night off of cooking for me – whether that be take away, left overs or breakfast for dinner. This is generally planned for a Friday night, so I can relax earlier and feel like I am having a break from the kitchen.
  • Exercise – sometimes this has meant making up my own workout I can do inside the house when the kids were little, or it may mean running sprints up and down the street with the kids playing in the front yard or simply taking the kids for a walk to the park. What ever it is I find that I have more patience and energy if I actually do some exercise most days of the week.
  • Kids involvement – Our kids are old enough now, that we can sit down with them in a family meeting, explain what is happening in terms of the parents being around or not around and work out ways we can work together, to we can make things easier for everyone. It can be as simple as the kids sharing the task of unstacking the dishwasher at night, a task my husband usually does.
  • Friends – I will have friends over for a catch up / lunch / dinner so I can have some adult conversations.
  • Fun – There are two things I like to set at the start of a busy period. The first is something fun the kids and I will do together (movie night at home) towards the end of the time and something for me (like a dinner out with girlfriends) once it is over. I work well when I have something to work towards or look forward to.

Readers tips and tricks for managing when your partner is away

But to get some even cleverer strategies from some experts who either solo parent or have partners that travel for long periods of time, I asked for advice on the Planning With Kids Facebook Page and they didn’t disappoint!

There were so many fantastic answers which you can see here. I don’t have the space to include them all, but have included a selection to help those who are about to have a partner go away.

Holly Pogonoski – I am just at the end of a 5 week stint of solo parenting and whilst it was hard, meal planning, to-do lists, daily checklists and getting enough sleep were probably what helped me the most. Oh and also, being kind enough to myself to give myself permission to let things go and get takeaway after work sometimes and not get too worried about housework that didn’t get done.

Glenda Lord – For getting out of the house,- friend writes a ‘bucket list’ with the kids of cheap and fun things to do- might be making a fort or going to a park to blow bubbles etc, library, thosekind of things. Then the kids have something to tick off and look forward to :).

Clare Reeve – My husband has just done a two week trip overseas. The main things that helped me were:

  • Menu planning for evening meals, and doing one big grocery shop before he left to avoid going to to supermarket with three kids on my own.
  • Looking at my calendar and writing very detailed to-do lists for what needed to be done (i.e. netball uniform out the night before, so we’re not scrambling around two minutes before we need to leave on the day, etc).
  • Making school lunches (and my own lunch for work) the night before (usually hubby’s job) saved a HEAP of stress on weekday mornings.
  • Being realistic about what nights I was likely to be more exhausted than usual, and planning for takeaway.
  • Inviting myself (!) to my parents
  • Doing a 10 minute ‘blitz’ where everyone pitches in to tidy up once a day to keep the mess to a minimum.

Isabelle Le Breton – I’m a single parent so I thought maybe some of my coping mechanisms would help:

  1. Plan the day backwards – start your list with your end goal, & work backwards so you can see what has to happen, & when, to get you there.
  2. When you’re stressed, Brain Dump onto a big piece of paper – just get it all out – & then draw lines from each problem to a cloud with a solution in it.
  3. Meal plan. And get food prep done in advance – figure out what time of day is your best time & get all preparation stuff done then.
  4. Be kind to yourself – you’re not super-human; sit down & chill after each task, even if it’s just to breathe, re group, check your list etc
  5. Lists lists lists lists lists! & rewards rewards rewards!

Melanie Moss – Can I comment on morale? Organise a couple of lunch dates with girlfriends to keep your spirits up, book in a couple of dinner and wines on the couch with a bestie, takeaway meal even better. Have dinner pre-made for the kids, get them to bed early and have some quality grownup time. Don’t be tempted to drink too much or stay up late – keep it early and clean and you feel so refreshed in the morning. You’ll be surprised how much you actually enjoy your alone time without husband.

Kathy Brady – If you are like me you are never going to get time for friends when the other half is away so I try to meet them for walks so I get ‘2 for the price of one’ in my time schedule exercise & a nice natter.

Recommended reading from PWK readers:

What tips would you add for solo parenting when your partner is away?