My husband is preparing for the possibility of working at a new job a few hours away and, I’m not going to lie, I’m terrified.
Ending in May of 2016, I spent two and a half years at home, raising my kids solo while my husband worked far away. Those years alone, only seeing my husband every few weeks, were the hardest years of my life. It would be an understatement to call them exhausting.
That experience left me in a depressed, anxious, and overwhelmed state, but once I was able to dig myself out, and work through my pain, I bounced back.
But, honey, it wasn’t easy.
And I’m terrified that, if I don’t do this solo parenting thing right this time, I’m going to end up right back where I started (or worse).
I mean, I’ve added a fourth kid to the mix. How could that not make things harder?
In the years since, I’ve learned a great deal about the numerous connections between my mind and body and how stress greatly impacts my health (I wrote a post last year about it here for Pick the Brain). These days, I’ve employed strategies to help keep my stress levels in check – something I wish I would have started doing sooner.
In preparation for writing this post, I referred to my personal journal entries when I was alone. Here are some of the words I used back then to describe how I was feeling:
“It is hard because I feel like my basic needs are unmet on a daily basis and, of course, some of that is because my husband is absent. I feel like my cup of chores and responsibilities are stacked overflowing. There are so many unknowns at this point that I almost want to give up everything. Like a hamster on it’s wheel. Yeah, I watch tv and veg out from reality for a little bit each day, but I need much more than a vacation at this point. I need a miracle. I need the heavens to open up and shower a billion blessings in order to make my life go back to normal cause right now…it ain’t normal. My kids need their dad around and I need my husband.”
(Nov 2014 – 11 months solo)
“I think staying at home is starting to bother me a bit. Between the loneliness and feeling like a hamster running on a wheel of life, I’m second guessing what I really want to do with my time.”
(Oct 2015 – 20 months solo)
Going back to these entries broke my heart. I wish I could go back in time and tell myself a few things. In a way, if my husband does leave for work again, it would be a way for me to re-experience that traumatic time and further my healing.
To be clear, I’ve done this solo parenting thing many times before. It’s just that the most recent time was the longest.
The first time I did it was when I was a first time mom – just two months in. Could you imagine? Thinking back, I don’t know why I didn’t just go with him. My husband left me to work 32 hours away. That was before the days of Skype and Facetime, so when he came back for his first visit two months later, he was devastated by how much our son had grown. I remember begging him to come home after just five months of working over there, and he returned. Even though I had my seventeen-year-old sister living with me to help, I was going crazy!
The next time he went away was when my son was two. I was working full-time (and going to school part-time) when he took a job less than three hours away. He wasn’t able to commute home due to the harsh winter weather, so we lived apart. Because of work and raising only one child, I didn’t find that period away to be too difficult. Plus, it was very brief.
Fast-forward a year to when I was two months postpartum. I moved in with my parents for six months while my husband worked nine hours away. I remember feeling so annoyed with being away from my husband that I took my anger out on my dad, yelling at him because of the choice of words he used to speak to my son. I’ll never forget the look on my dad’s face. I was too young at the time, though, to realize why I blew up at him.
So, armed with all those prior experiences, I went into the more recent one knowing some of my limitations. Here are seven things I did while solo parenting that helped me cope.
1. Get help from other adults
The last time I lived away from my husband, I was pregnant. He left when I still had about four months to go, so local friends would help me with babysitting while I went to my doctor appointments. During the last few weeks, my mom and sister alternated coming to live with me because the baby tried to come too early and I needed to rest as much as possible. They helped cook and clean and care for the kids so that I could ride out the final days. After the baby came, we moved to be closer to my husband, but not close enough for him to live with us. But I was close to my mom (literally right across the street). So, she was able to continue to help me from time to time when I would need to go to a doctor appointment for physical therapy (my shoulders) or a chiropractic adjustment (my neck).
2. Give older children more responsibility
My oldest (son) was only eight-years-old last time. He was a big help around the house, like helping vacuum and sort laundry. Today, my kids are 12, 9, 5, and 9 months. My son is now old enough that he can help carry the baby and watch her for brief periods of time while I’m in another room. Plus, he now helps with washing dishes and cooking.
3. Baby swings, pacifiers, bouncy chairs, and playpens
Surely, I would have lost my mind without these inventions. If the baby wasn’t asleep for the night, I would put her in her bouncy chair and place it in the bathroom near the shower door so that I could take a quick shower. The baby swing helped her nap in an area where I could see her while I did stuff, like pack moving boxes. (I’ve moved three times now with a little baby and I strongly discourage it.) Playpens are great for when they are in that stage of sitting by themselves or crawling and you need a safe place to put them while you run to the bathroom. (I just had to be sure to threaten my older kids to stay away from the baby. One time, when my son was three, he cut a big hole in the mesh with scissors because he wanted to get his sister out.)
When my third baby turned eighteen-months-old, I took her to daycare three days a week so I could get a break. I don’t have the luxury of living near a daycare anymore, but if my husband goes away for work, I’m going to look into finding a nanny to come to the house two to three days per week so that I can get a break.
5. Assigned chore days
Because I started blogging more seriously in 2015, tackling chores started to nibble away at my mind, so I created a schedule of when I would take care of things. For instance, Tuesdays and Thursdays became laundry days and Fridays were for washing bedsheets. Once I set designated chores for a certain day, I was able to relax and only did the chores I assigned for that day.
Starting in sixth grade, I’ve written in a journal. And I still have every single one. It’s my way to mind dump. Because of blogging, I don’t journal as often as I used to because some of my posts serve as sort of a mind dump. However, I don’t blog about everything that’s going on upstairs, so journaling is still important to me. Sometimes just writing my feelings on the page helps me to see how trivial my worries are. Other times, writing my feelings helps me face my emotions head-on, causing me to cry – a helpful way to release all the stress I’m feeling.
7. Phone calls, video chats, and regularly scheduled visits
No doubt, my husband and I spoke on the phone every day. Most days, Skype helped so he could see the kids and so that I could see him. But no number of minutes and video calls could replace in-person time. We spent what some might feel was a ridiculous amount of money on plane tickets so that he could fly home every few weeks.
But, while doing all these things certainly helped, it still wasn’t enough. Since then, I’ve had to do many things to recover and get back to better health. If I have to do it all over again, I would need to make sure to prioritize these activities in order to heal old wounds and prevent a future breakdown.
Here are four actions I’ll be sure to continue taking if I have to solo parent again:
Being the only caregiver to a nine-month-old will be taxing on my thirty something-year-old body. Last time, I was four years younger and I experienced body pains that I didn’t experience staying home with my other kids. When my body hurts, I’m cranky. Throw in a bunch of unruly children, and I’m likely to explode in fury. With my husband away, I won’t have the extra hands to carry the baby around. My body will have to work longer hours. Taking the time to stretch and do some simple yoga poses every day will help to manage my symptoms.
Currently, I do modified stretches as recommended by Katy Bowman from her book “Diastasis Recti: The Whole-Body Solution to Abdominal Weakness and Separation“. I discovered my ab separation around twelve-weeks postpartum. I kept feeling a ripping pain near my belly button every time I would sit down to breastfeed. I first attempted to repair it with one of those online programs, but with poor cell and wifi service, I was unable to load the videos half the time. Once my program access ended, I found her book and was able to make great progress in a very short period of time by just following her instructions to modify my standing posture. Continuing to work on these stretches and strengthen my core will continue to be a priority whether my husband leaves or not.
For me, stress takes its toll on my shoulders. Massage therapy has helped to release that tension over the last three years and will continue to be my go to pain management technique. Between professional appointments, I like to use a tennis ball and press against a wall, placing the ball between my shoulder blades. I’m right-handed and favor carrying the baby on my right hip so I’m constantly needing to work out that shoulder pain. I also occasionally suffer from sciatica on my right leg, so the ball comes in handy to help manage that, too. I will have to bump up my frequency of seeing my therapist to at least every two weeks if my husband takes this new job.
Considering all the kids I’ve carried, my chiropractor (who specializes in treating pregnant and postpartum women) says my spine looks great. Her only concern is my neck. All the years of looking down and working in front of a computer screen have changed its natural curve. I also have an SI joint that likes to lock up, causing my hip to rotate. Fun stuff! Aside from pain management, keeping up with my adjustments helps to restore my nervous system – a definite must if I’m going to try and go through the stress of raising kids alone!
Supplements, Eating Clean, and Paraben Free
I’ve always been big about taking vitamins, but when I was living away from my husband, I’m not sure that I was taking all the right ones. When I started my road to recovery, I went under the care of a nutritionist/chiropractor who helped me restore my system through supplements. He suspected my adrenal glands were exhausted and the supplements helped nurse them back to health. While I no longer take what he gave me, I do take high-quality prenatal vitamins (because I’m breastfeeding). I also take a calcium and magnesium supplement, which helps with preventing muscle cramps. In addition to vitamins, I only buy organic chicken, pasture raised pork, and grass-fed beef. I buy organic produce whenever available and drink organic milk. I also changed out all my beauty products so that none of them have parabens.
Even though I’m armed with more weapons than last time to combat the stress of being a solo parent, I’m not excited about needing to put all this new knowledge to use. If he does leave, I pray it’s only for a short time and that he’ll have weekends off so he can come home often.
How about you? Are you or have you ever been a solo parent? What are some techniques you use to cope?
Leave a comment below and let me know! I love to hear from other moms who have been through the same experiences!
Lauren is a thirty-something-year-old stay-at-home mom blogger at LifeSparkWithLauren.com. When she’s not writing, she’s busy managing a household that often appears to be taken over by her four beautiful kids. In true introvert form, she savors her alone time on her yoga mat or curled up in bed with her Kindle. She loves eating Panera Bread and drinking iced coffee from Starbucks. She’s a regular Target shopper and buys organic as often as she can. Sleeping is her weakness – AND double chocolate chip cookies. You can follow her on Instagram @lifesparkwithlauren.