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The Secret to Surviving Solo Parenting

Photograph by Getty Images

Having a husband who travels during the week for work has always been hard. When my kids were both under 2 years old, it was hard to nurse my newborn while also entertaining my 19-month-old. It felt like my house was overflowing with the kids’ persistent neediness, and I was the only parent who could sop it all up. I was also the only one who could change diapers, and more often than not, both needed changing at once.

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As the kids have gotten older, it’s gotten easier. Now, only one child is in diapers, and I don’t spend my days trying to sync two nap schedules. I’ve now traded fears about them falling down the stairs for fears that they will never get along for more than five minutes.

Each time my husband leaves and I find myself solo at the helm of our family, I remind myself to cut myself some slack and to keep my expectations a little bit lower for those days he is out and it’s all on me. On the first day, I manage to follow that advice. I don’t sweat it if the kids watch the iPad while I jump in the shower or if our bedtime is a little later than normal.

I feel swamped by guilt that my kids watched several shows while I tried to make dinner.

But by the second and third days, I’m usually wound a little tighter—those expectations I was supposed to be loosening my grip on are suddenly clutched to my chest, and I can’t let go. It’s on those nights that I feel swamped by guilt that my kids watched several shows while I tried to make dinner. Those are the nights that I find myself snapping at the kids all through our meal—sit up straight; please finish your milk; keep your pants on while you’re eating. Instead of keeping the bar low, inexplicably I raise it as the week wears on.

By the end of my husband’s business trips, I always think the same thing: It would be so much easier if my expectations were more realistic. It’s the idea that I should manage every meal, every school drop-off, and every hour of entertainment by myself that screws me up every single time.

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So, I am trying to train myself to have two tracks of expectations: one set for when my husband is in town (and helping out with every aspect of our family life) and another one for the times when he’s gone and I have to let some things go. Because pretending I can do everything alone that my husband and I do together is not working.

How do you handle parenting when your partner isn't around?

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