If you read my previous post in this series, you already know that I started my parenting journey at a bit of a disadvantage—I was doing a lot of it on my own. With a partner who travels three or four nights a week (and who functions as the general contractor for the ongoing renovations of our house on weekends), I take responsibility for the majority of the day-to-day domestic duties in our family. Please don’t get me wrong—this arrangement works for us. I love the time I get to spend with Little G, and I am grateful that we are in a position where I am able to stay home with her during the day. But my almost-two-year-old is an exuberant, strong-willed force of nature who doesn’t nap, and solo parenting from Monday to Friday presents a number of challenges.
(I should mention that much of what I am writing is more relevant to parents who are home with their children through the day. Solo parenting while working full or part time presents a whole different set of challenges.)
The following challenges may seem obvious, but let me tell you, a lot of them took me completely by surprise!
1. You have to be on. All. The. Time. (Oh yeah, and there are no sick days.)
One of the things I look forward to most when Geoff is home is that very first diaper change of the day. (Yes, I know that sounds ridiculous, but bear with me.) Along with bath time, the early morning diaper change is one of Geoff’s jobs when he’s not on the road. It may seem like such a small thing, but when you are responsible for every single diaper change through the week, that first one you get to skip on the weekend seems like the most decadent treat. Because that’s the thing with solo parenting—you do it all. You can’t pass your fussy, overtired baby off to your partner when he or she gets home at the end of the day so you can take a much needed breather. You can’t let your partner take over dinner prep when your clingy toddler decides she’ll scream if you try to put her down. If you are sick—with a cold, a migraine, or even food poisoning—you are still the one who has to roll out of bed before the sun is up to change that first diaper of the day. And even naps aren’t really breaks, because you often need that time to feed yourself, clean up after the previous meal, or start prepping for the next meal (or perhaps, luxury of luxuries, sneak in a shower).
2. You have to give things up.
I am embarrassed to say that this took me by surprise. Until G was about four or five months old, I took her everywhere with me. She slept well in the baby carrier, so I was still able to do a lot of the things I did before I got pregnant, just with a baby in tow. But around the five-month mark, things changed. I remember the turning point occurred while I was at my book club. I’d been taking Little G with me since she was a newborn, and I was surprised when she didn’t fall asleep at the usual time. I thought, Well, she’ll definitely fall asleep once I start walking home… Walking always puts her to sleep! Boy was I wrong. The night was a disaster. She was awake for probably six straight hours, which was unheard of until that point. That’s when I realized she was finally ready for a predictable bedtime and routine. I could no longer go out in the evenings unless I hired a babysitter. I could only work out at the gym if there was childminding. Appointments occurred on the weekends or not at all (or with a squirmy, bored toddler in tow). I could no longer join my running group for early morning or evening runs. I was stuck.
3. You miss your partner, and so do your kids.
Okay, this is a no-brainer. Obviously you miss your partner when he or she is gone for long stretches of time. I’m used to it, to some extent. And before G, I was working long hours, too. I think what’s most difficult is seeing how much G misses her dad when he’s gone. Every morning, when I bring her into bed with me, the first thing she says as we enter my bedroom is, “Daddy?” And it breaks my heart every damned time.
Know what else breaks my heart? The things that Geoff is missing when he’s gone. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to feign surprise when Geoff comes to me excited about a new word or skill Little G has picked up—I don’t want to break it to him that she’s been saying (or doing) it all week.
4. Your partner disrupts the routine.
Without fail, G is over the moon when her dad gets home. But there’s an adjustment period. She clings to me when she first sees him, and gets upset when I leave the room without her. Her behaviour is definitely more extreme once Geoff returns, and G can be quite a handful. On day two she starts warming up, and by day three she will happily set off on an adventure with her dad without giving me a second look. Unfortunately, on day four Geoff is on the road again, and the cycle repeats itself.
Another issue is that things with babies and toddlers change quickly. Nap times shift, food preferences change, and that thing that kept your kid occupied for twenty straight minutes last week has been discarded and replaced by something else. It’s hard for your partner to keep up, and it is hard for you to communicate these subtle changes to your partner when you can barely remember what happened earlier in the day, let alone last week. Geoff and I have experienced our share of miscommunication and incorrect assumptions, simply because it is difficult to stay on the same page when things change so quickly.
Okay, I realize that I may have painted quite a grim picture of solo parenting. I promise that although there are challenges, they are not insurmountable. If you have a partner who travels or works long hours, there are ways to make the days a little easier. Stay tuned for my next post, Keeping it together as a solo parent.
Have you ever had to go it alone, for a day, a weekend, or longer? What was the hardest part for you?