Dear Millie and Mollie:
I need help! My husband is off again on another business trip and my two year old has an ear infection and my newborn has colic. I love this life, I chose it, but sometimes I question my ability to be a part-time single parent. Any tips?
We all know them. Their spouses are deployed, attending conferences, visiting far-away office locations, you name it. My husband did forms of all three, two weeks of active duty in the reserves each year, multiple trips out of town to conferences where he exchanged testing data on high-voltage power transmission, and the actual tests he ran at sub-stations all over the Pacific Northwest. Sometimes he did all this in rapid succession.
You find yourself searching for superpowers every day. With nursing babies, sleepless nights, ear infections, chickenpox and the myriad of parenting complexities, the parent-left-behind faces them all just like any other "single" parent. There IS good news in all this, your loving spouse does eventually come home, and duo-parent normalcy eventually realigns itself. You even get taken out to dinner by a spouse who wants to never eat out again. But during those long stretches, a person could start questioning her existence.
I've mentioned in an earlier post that my husband was out of town immediately after our second child was born. I made the very wise choice to "go home to Mother" for the time he was gone. I was recovering from toxemia, Peter was just starting to consider using a grown-up toilet, and Roger was feeding on-demand. Peter and I slept in the family room and either mom or dad brought me a Roger when he needed feeding. Mom and dad just couldn't let the newborn sleep in a room other than their own, and I bless them for that.
In no time at all, John was back and we found our own rhythm in our own home. But trips out of town came up frequently and John was often away. I realized what a big job it was, this "single parenting."
Fortunately, I did not have to deal with rejection, anger, divorce lawyers, angry in-laws and all the other sufferings of so many single parents. The paycheck was still deposited every other Thursday, my husband called me frequently to boost my morale, and there was always the blessed respite of his return when somebody else could draw a line in the sand and not let some little guy watch a PG13 movie.
But I do empathize, long stretches of loneliness and frustration does take its toll. A few ways I coped with it follows.
Do your necessity shopping in advance. And I don't just mean food. I'd lay in a huge supply of used-books. It was nice to take the kids to the bookstore, but sometimes all the time it took to prep for a road trip sucked the fun out of the expedition. Ditto for the trip to the grocery store. Believe me, it was nice to get out with the kids, but I liked having it be an option, not a desperate mission.
Network with other new moms. I did that once I learned of a babysitting co-op in my area. Three other moms also wanted a little time to themselves so we bought script and swapped that and kids on a regular basis. I had to babysit for others to earn my afternoons off, but it was a blessing. First, it validated my choice to limit my brood to two. One afternoon I had five in diapers, it wasn't long after that I had my tubal ligation.
Get an evening in with a friend who doesn't have kids. One of my bestest friends ever was a single professional person with no children and no intention of ever having them. When John went out of town, she'd come over and we'd amuse the kids while we talked about things non-pedagogic. This means she brought her New Yorker magazines and we'd read something by Steve Martin, Woody Allen or Alice Walker. Care Bears would be dancing on TV and we'd actually discuss ERA (the Equal Rights Act, not the detergent) in the background. It was nirvana.
Get online. Oh yeah, you are already! But keep it up. You don't want to ignore those kids, but doing a little on-line research about what is making you bonkers is a good thing. Just don't fall into the looking-glass.
Get a dog (cat, bird, whatever). It's nice to have a non-verbal non-judgmental friend. When your partner is gone, it's nice to have somebody else around who will patiently let you stroke them while you pour your heart out.
Join Netflix. I sooooooooo wish I had that when I was a young mom. For nine bucks a month, you can have unlimited access to movies, documentaries, etc.
Use your Millies and Mollies. Your mothers do understand your angst. And when the grandkids arrive, you do have two grandmothers. Neither of mine lived close enough to just drop by, and their babysitting was rare. But when it did happen, it was excellent. Nobody loves a child like a grandparent.
Indulge your hobbies. My gardening, piano playing and reading went into ascendence when John was gone. I'd average a book an evening, not having cable television in those days and the internet just being a twinkle in Al Gore's eyes.
Keep a journal, then write honestly. Sometimes it's embarrassing to be faced with your own pettiness years after a slump, but there you have it. And occasionally include a list of blessings. You'll forgive yourself your pettiness.
These days, having either parent gainfully employed is a good thing, and having one travel isn't the worst fate when you consider the alternatives. So do count those blessings, acknowledge your frustrations, and deal with them in a positive way.
And here's your super-power - family and friends. I never could have endured 20 years of a husband who travels, a full time job during that time, part-time work, MS, etc. Loved ones do get you through the worst.