I've been asked a lot lately about 'coping'. So I thought I'd focus a bit on it, maybe there are mums out there that would like to hear the mindless drivel of a woman who spends 8/12 months of the year being basically, a solo parent.
Firstly I would like to clarify that I am not in a winner-takes-all whinge about single motherhood vs. sahming with a fifo partner. Solo parenting, in my book, (and here, I guess!), is the act of being the sole provider of care for a long period of time. Like days, or weeks, or in the case of women whom I envy but never want to be, the wives/partners of soldiers and their amazing class of folks that go for months at a time being away and having so little contact that even I would hide away and cry within the first week.
Ok, I'm sure I've forgotten some group or ten, but I'm hoping you get the point.
So I personally am a solo parent for 2 weeks at a time, with the fella coming home for one week each time he returns. The pattern is good. It's simple, predictable and has a rythym of it's own that we can fit around. If there are women out there, reading this, with a 'sometimes rostered' partner, my hat is off to you. I couldn't deal with a phone call in the afternoon telling me that the fella was needed somewhere else in the morning and there was no routine to it. It would drive me insane.
I have a 3 1/2 yr old that still likes to sleep in my bed, and an 8month old that would not like that at all. Their sleeping habits couldn't be more different - one's a mummy kid, the other a lay-me-down-and-leave-me-alone kid. They eat different, play different, but thankfully they get along just fine. The hardest times are when I am tired, or distracted, or heaven forbid- want to do something that doesn't have a participant need (blogging, anyone?!).
But then there is day ten. By day ten I am soooo over being on my own that I am a downright bitch. It's day ten today, which is why I thought I'd write this instead of chewing the head off of nearby toddlers.
So here is my coping list of do's and don't's (if I can find any don't's)...
*Eat properly. Make meals, not microwavable bits of plastic crap, and leave spaghetti in a tin (and the nutrient-empty things like it) to collect dust at the grocery shop. If the only way you can get a balanced meal on the table is to get a slow cooker, then get that thing cranking. By the end of winter, my slow cooker is hurting. It's wanting to go to slow cooker holiday school. My son is shocking at trying to get dinner in to after about 5pm, so I shove vegies and some meat in that thing in the morning, turn it on about lunchtime and that's dinner. I find the days when I have dinner prepared by 11am (not cooked, but veg peeled, meat thawed and ready) are our best days. Kids get needier as the day wears on, the cartoons or telly doesn't hold their attention and they want to get to the park or a friends, which, in all honesty, is an angsty mum's worst nightmare if she's not prepared for the dinner/bath/bed rush. So I beg you, make your dinner early, and if you don't like eating at that time of day then keep yours til later (with a glass of red, no?!). By making vegies appear in your diet every day you will have more energy to keep being the solo parent.
*Have a routine, and break it only sometimes. My kids, I am convinced, are going to learn to tell the time pretty soon. At 5pm it's bathtime, for about 15minutes, and then dinner, and then Ethan can watch the Simpsons (which I know is awful, but jees, we all have some crap we enjoy and it gets him to eat dinner at least!). After that godawful show is over, we retreat to the loungeroom and the tv is on and we begin to relax. By about 6.45pm I've got him to organise his book, and we brush his teeth, he wees in the toilet and the story begins. It's rare that he's out of bed after 7. He might be awake for a whole lot longer, but unless he needs to wee, he stays put. I won't go in to how I acheived this, but it took a lot of work. Alice fits in there, the whole time, because she's that annoyingly easy bub that at 6.30 I can lay in her own bed and then Ethan and I have some time doing the other stuff. The week is broken up usually, by things like school, my knitting group, gymnastics and Family Movie Night. The flow of the week is good because Ethan knows, for example, friday is gym day and we need to do certain things, and that after he finishes school on mondays he's going to be either hanging out with dad or he'll have the day off the next day to pick dad up from the airport (the in-between monday is a bummer, but we deal with it anyway). Family Movie Night was started about 4 months ago because I was sick of 'doing nothing' on weekends when the fella was away. So now Ethan and I visit the movie rental store on saturday afternoons, buy junk food (usually chips, godblesshissaltytastes!), and then we come home, clean the house and have 'easy tea' (code for a slack dinner of maybe savoury scones or scrambled eggs and fried mushrooms). After that we have our usual routine but instead of bedtime I pull out some big cushions, make him a bed on the loungeroom floor and we watch a movie together. Again, some nights are harder to keep him still, but usually he's wrapt and it all goes to plan.
*Have a fall-back plan. When Alice came along I had found myself being a lot more honest with my friends. I wasn't coping. So along came my friend that said 'if it's going to shit, call me and you can always visit'. So she's my "I'm about to kill this kid if I don't get him doing something with anyone else" fall-back plan. I can throw us all in the car, drive to her house and her kid will go feral with mine and tire themselves out while we have a cuppa and gush over our babies. It's friggin brilliant, because we have a pact that is two pronged...Our kids are both as 'bad' as eachother (Read: just cos you saw mine hitting yours doesn't mean it's the start or the end of the story), and Never Fall Out Over Kids - the kids will be friends and enemies 50 times an hour, but if you have an argument with a grown up over who's kid threw sand in the hair of the other kid you can find yourself in the shit with them for years. Or you'll dread them coming over. Either way, if your kid is painted as a villian by either you or your friend, you won't visit. And those friends are better saved for your days when every thing is rosy and you're going well. If your falling apart, on day ten, then the last thing you want is to visit someone who's gunna yell at your kid because they never see what their own is doing. So if you want a fall back plan, make it with someone who's as laid back as you are or it won't work because the relaxation you were looking for (the fake kind, but fake is still ok!) won't be there!
*Finally, be kind to yourself. I just told Ethan that he needed to leave me alone for 10 minutes, because I'm busy. OH NO!!! I told my child that I'm busy? What kind of a monster am I?!!! Well, an honest one. Because I Am Busy. I'm trying to get the word vomit out of my head and on to the screen so that the yelling in cyber space can be done. He's not going to grow in to Ted Bundy because of it, he's not going to be found in a corner sucking his thumb and not dealing with the world. So if you are not coping and have to have some time, TAKE IT and make it yours. I have a friend who knits while her baby is sleeping, and reads to her toddler while she's doing it. She gets the kid to turn the pages, and that gets her through the day.
Now, what do you do to get through? Please share. But right now, I'm off to the park...