Solo parenting isn’t as tough as single parenting but it’s still REALLY hard

Having a partner who travels for work is a grim reality for many parents. Sometimes, it pushes us to be strong and creative mothers. Often, it feels like an act of endurance.

How many sleeps left?

I have a calendar hanging up in the kitchen that tracks the days my husband is home and away. Often, the away days outnumber the home days. On these ‘away’ days, I look at the calendar with my two children, and the last thing they always ask me before bed is: “how many sleeps till Dad gets home?”

That’s just how it is, and I’m definitely not alone. Military wives do it. Partners of hard-working musicians, TV producers and sales people do it. Then there are all the other jobs that demand long, unconventional hours, like doctors, lawyers, and shift workers. For many families, this is how the work-life balance shakes out. In other words – unevenly. 

The invisible stuff

Personally, I’ve been doing the solo parenting shift for over a year now. Husband is home for a couple of weeks, Husband is away for a couple of weeks. This, I remind myself, is nothing compared to the endless challenges single mothers must face every day. I can’t even imagine.

Still, getting through a partner’s regular absences is tough. Doing it without resentment is even tougher. See that’s the interesting thing: well-meaning friends and family often assume that the hardest part of solo parenting is the logistics. Sick days, school runs, groceries, meals, bedtime (oh God, bedtime).

That is all pretty exhausting on your own. But after talking to a few other mothers in the same solo boat, we all agree – the hardest part of parenting alone is the emotional loneliness. You know those chats you have on the couch with your partner at the end of the day? And the stories you laugh (and cry) about together? That’s the secret invisible stuff that fills you up after a long day with young children. That’s what you realise you can’t live without. 

Getting on with it

So what to do? I tried sitting around feeling sorry for myself and that didn’t work. So after a year of doing this, I’ve figured out a few survival strategies for doing this alone:

  1. Standards are lowered. When my husband’s away, dinner is redefined. Instead of roast chicken with the works, it’s an omelette with toast. Screen times are extended. Washing is downgraded. And everyone wears their jeans for a week longer than usual. You find the shortcuts and let go of perfection.
  2. It’s all temporary. I continue to remind myself that this is the work that has to be done right now. It will change. Jobs will change. The children will get older. I’ll get a turn too.
  3. It’s hard on them as well. Life on the road gets old pretty fast, and our partners have their own struggles with being away. This is hard on everyone.
  4. I need help. I’ve had to get creative about bringing more help into my life. I pay for what I can, and trade favours with neighbours and friends. One thing I’ve learned: most of the time, people actually really want to help.

A word about re-entry

That’s my term for the first few painful days after your partner gets home. Because things don’t just get better as soon as they walk through the door. Your finely honed routine is going to get disrupted, and he’s probably jet-lagged. So if you can, talk ahead of time and do a debrief on your new household routine, and the things you really, really need help with when he’s back. After two or three days, things get easier.

Despite the struggles, running things on my own has been a good lesson in endurance. We just keep swimming, and the pages on the calendar keep turning.

 

Do you have a partner who travels for work? How do you find it?

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