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The 5 Stages of Partner-Out-of-Town Grief

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When my husband is out of town, things have a tendency to get ugly. It's not that I can't rationally understand why he needs to meet with clients in another city or go on a mini-tour with his band or attend a close friend's bachelor party in Lake Tahoe. Life requires travel sometimes. I get it. It's just that when he does these things, I'm filled with resentment that borders on rage.

"This is not what I signed up for!" I shriek to myself. "Why are you playing a show in Las Vegas or going clubbing with colleagues in New York, while I'm at home providing 24-hour care, feeding, cooking, cleaning, comfort, bathing, dressing, and entertainment for our two-year-old daughter?! Hmm? WHY IS THAT?!"

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Yes, I talk about this in therapy. And I have tried to evolve. I no longer find reasons to call my husband in a panic while he's away and make him feel as guilty as possible. That's progress, right? I'm becoming more self-aware. I'm very clear now about why I have the urge to stab my loving husband with a fork when he mentions yet another little trip coming up.

It dawned on me last weekend when my husband was out of town, that my reactions to these periods of solo parenting exactly follow the classic Five Stages of Grief:

1. Denial - Initially, I either completely forget about the upcoming trip, or I manage to do zero preparation for it. No, the freezer is not stocked with easy meals. No, the laundry is not done in advance. No, I have not organized a schedule of fun activities to do with my toddler.

I suddenly realize with a strange sense of calm that I CAN handle this. And I always do.

2. Anger – I then begin to develop a burning fury at my husband who is having an amazing, adult "vacation" somewhere far away. He's not dealing with tantrums and potty accidents. He's not up at 5:00 am because someone decided to start her day early. How could he do this to me? It's so UNFAIR!

3. Bargaining – At this point, I attempt (usually at the last minute) to arrange childcare or activities for the solo parenting time. These will absolutely fall through. Our nanny always has the flu or a flat tire or a family emergency. Play dates always end up being cancelled. Outdoor birthday parties are always rained out. In Southern California. Where it never rains. It's inevitable.

4. Depression – I plunge into despair, certain that I can't possibly handle my wild and crazy toddler on my own. Why don't I have more energy? Why don't I have more patience? Why do I get so frustrated? Why won't she eat broccoli? I'm a terrible parent.

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5. Acceptance – Somewhere around Day 2 of solo parenting, something small happens. Sometimes my daughter laughs hysterically at my silliness. Sometimes she jumps into my lap and wraps her little arms around my neck. Sometimes I discover a game or activity that is so much fun—something we get to share together, just the two of us. I suddenly realize with a strange sense of calm that I CAN handle this. And I always do.

I realize that I AM enough.

My very imperfect, usually tired, sometimes impatient, sometimes frustrated, always loving brand of motherhood is OK. And I start to enjoy having this time alone with my little girl. I remember that she doesn't need kids concerts or birthday parties or trips to Legoland. She doesn't need to eat broccoli and quinoa every day. She doesn't need me to be supermom. She just needs me.

When my husband returns, he looks tired from entertaining clients or driving for hours in a van full of equipment. "I missed you guys so much," he says. And I believe him... until next time.

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