GUYS. I can't believe it.
After 3 looooong months, Bubba is HOME! No more “single mom”-hood for me, and “Bachelor life” for Bubba. He is finally done working in Boulder, CO (read why he was there HERE). In case you don't know, we have 3 kids and I'm pregnant with our 4th. Raising young kids is tough (especially with no immediate family around). Being pregnant is tough. Keeping kids entertained in the summer is tough. But doing it all at once, and doing it alone?
Oh holy help us all.
Let's just say I had many a panic attack prior to Bubba leaving. Now that he's home I am able to reflect on the last few months and see how much we've grown as a family, and how much I've grown individually. No, I wasn't perfect. I had my meltdowns, my freak-outs, my pouting and complaining. BUT…eventually we figured out a system and things started clicking. But before I share my thoughts and survival tactics, let me first say how much I admire and respect single parents out there, and parents whose spouses get deployed. I wish I could give you all hugs and personally tell each of you how amazing you are!
Sure, I'm not actually a single mom. Sure, 3 months is a relatively short time. So no, I won't pretend to know what it's like to truly be spouse-less. But I'll share with you about my personal experience and what we learned in case it helps any of you cope with parenting young children with OR without help!
What I learned as a “single mom”: 1 Dozen survival tips that WORKED for us. (…in no particular order…)
1. The hours are long, but the months are short…make it fun and get out of the house!
Each day seemed to be long and exhausting, the hours slowly ticking by. But now that he's home, I can hardly believe 3 months has passed already. It somehow FLEW by!
It was tempting to close the shutters and hunker down for 3 months at home, because taking kids out alone can be hard! But I found that the days where we stayed put were the most stressful for me. The kids fought, the house was a mess, everyone was on everyone's nerves. When I got us out of the house and doing a fun activity, it made the time pass quicker. See my “thrival” section below for how we squeezed in fun. Don't get me wrong, there were days where we stayed home because I just needed to get things done. But in general, getting out of the house at least 1x per day made all the difference.
Some of the activities we did: scheduled play dates, went to the park, went to play places at fast food joints, used every membership we have to museums and things, went on walks and bike rides, ran errands, went to the library, and visited friends.
2. “Survival mode” doesn't work.
If you have read any of my parenting or baby/kid posts you've probably learned by now that I'm a glutton for structure. Am I nazi mom? Nah, not really. But whether you like it or not, whether you've accepted it or not, humans in general (but especially children) do better in an environment of structure. It's how their brains work. Can't argue with that.
I asked for advice from lots of people when I found out Bubba was leaving. Many said to go on survival mode: stay in your PJ's all day, have a sleepover on the living room floor, let your kids sleep with you each night, eat out every day, buy freezer-food only, use paper plates only, eat straight from containers, abandon structure and do whatever it took to just SURVIVE.
While we did a few of those things as a fun treat here and there, in general I learned the hard way that abandoning structure and going in to full-blown survival mode just didn't work. I learned the mentality shouldn't necessarily be “I'll do anything to survive this”…but more “what can I do to make sure we THRIVE during this?”
Which brings me to my next point…
3. Schedule + Structure = Thrival
I would like to introduce you to my new word, THRIVAL (thriving + survival).
Warning: side tangent! One of my bucket list items is to get a new word put into the dictionary, so will you please pass along the Thrival trend and make it “a thing” so I can cross this darn item off my list? Thanks homies. *Knuckles*
Continuing from my last point, one of the main lessons I learned is that the best way to fight change is with consistency.
I found the more structured I was; the more my kids could depend on a consistent, safe, typical schedule, the better we all did! They (we) were all better behaved, slept better, were happier, we got more done, we were less stressed, and we had way more fun together.
Here's a brief rundown of my “thrival” daily routine:
- We had the same morning routine every day, except Sunday (church threw things off): 1 tv show before breakfast, hot breakfast (cereal just doesn't “stick” enough), do their hair during breakfast, we'd FaceTime with daddy while eating, or if he was in a morning meeting we would send him a video message. We'd hop in the car and get out of the house because the morning was our “activity” time, even if it was just running errands.
- We had naps the same time every day – no matter what. NAPS. ARE. IMPORTANT. For the kids AND for me! We would skip play groups, parties, and outings that interfered with nap times. Sleep begets sleep, and sleep – for you and your kids – is very important.
- After naps we had a snack, chores, and would usually hang out at home the rest of the night.
- We had the same nighttime routine: Dinner at 5:30/6, tub at 6/6:30 (reading in the tub always a plus), ready for bed 6:30/7, stories, tuck-in-time, FaceTime in bed with daddy if he was available, prayers, lights out by 7:30/8. The consistent routine made putting the kids down by myself a bit easier, and made it so I had from 8pm forward to recoup from a long day.
- We talk about what to expect the next day. Each night during tuck-in-time my kids would ask “what's tomorrow?” (meaning, what's the plan for tomorrow). I could tell them what the plan was, or ask for their input in making one. It gave them comfort in knowing, and gave their little minds lots of prep and heads-up for what to expect. It really really really really helped.
- We scheduled in fun! We had movie nights friday nights, and would eat out on Saturday nights. It was a fun thing for all of us to look forward to.
I kept a schedule for myself too. I didn't kill myself running around cleaning up all day, and I tried to be present with my kids when they were awake. I found a time and place to get things done so they didn't interfere with each other too much. I still use this routine even though Bubba's bad. Examples:
- Any time I go to the bathroom or any time the kids are asleep is social media/phone/computer time. When the kids were awake, I try to ignore my phone and computer.
- I try to clean up breakfast while my kids were eating it (I prefer a granola bar on the run).
- When the kids are down for naps, I set the timer for 10 minutes and clean as much as I can. The rest of nap time is my computer time.
- When the kids wake up we all do chores together. This is my time to switch the laundry and do chores the kids can't do yet.
- Once the kids are in bed I clean up dinner, do a once-over on the house, then spend the rest of the night catching up on my DVR while folding clothes, working on my computer, or working on a craft or project – guilt free.
4. Get fo'real about discipline, but focus on rewards.
When Bubba first left there was a bit of an adjustment period. The kids, especially my daughter, acted out a bit as they adjusted to daddy being gone.
I found my “on the fly”, “heat of the moment” consequences and reactions weren't working. Once I got consistent with discipline (just like I got consistent with our routine), it went much smoother.
Examples of some of the consistent discipline I used:
- If they talk potty talk, they have to sit on the potty.
- Whining = pulling a chore stick from the chore jar
- Sassiness = wall sits for 1 minute. Noncompliance added minutes
- If they eat their dinner, they get dessert. No dinner = no dessert
- If they are fighting, they need to work it out amongst themselves. If they come to mom, mom handles it her way which equates to both sitting in time out (or wall sits), and mom taking away the toy they were fighting over.
- Bad words or saying hurtful/hateful things to each other = soap in the mouth to “wash the naughtiness away”.
- If they throw a massive tantrum they get buckled in their car seat – whether in public, or at home. (I would always sit outside the car so they weren't alone, of course). Once they are calmed down, they could come back to whatever we were doing.
I was able to be more calm and rational with the punishments (I'm not perfect though, let's be honest!) and the kids could tell you with their eyes closed what the punishment would be for them breaking one of the rules.
I also tried to really focus on earning positive rewards more than noticing bad behaviors. (Need ideas? Check out our behavior chart.)
For example, Hutch got a new pair of Spiderman shoes and Priya got a Frozen sing along microphone thing from a blog sponsor. Rather than give them to the kids right away, they had to ear 20 pennies before getting their gift. They each had a jar and would get pennies for helping me, doing nice things, being polite and patient, etc. Alternatively they would lose pennies for poor behavior. It took several weeks, but they each earned their prize. It helped take the pressure off me and transferred it to them – in a positive way.
I learned that I had to be firm and consistent with discipline, because I no longer had Bubba around to “handle it”, or back me up (though, let's be honest…he's totally “good cop” in our home).
5. Leave the baby buckled!
Church. Dance class. Corn maze. Post office. Car wash. All a potential NIGHTMARE with a busy busy busy busy busy 19 month old. If there's one thing I learned with Bubba gone, it's ALWAYS have the stroller with me, and ALWAYS keep Beck buckled in it! The moment he is let loose it's all over. Plus, being so pregnant, I'm simply unable to carry him everywhere. Once he's out it's impossible to put him back in because he throws a fit. So I learned to put him in, and leave him in!
Might sound cruel, but he learned to be very patient and content in the stroller. Sure, I let him run around at places that were appropriate like the park or play place of course. But otherwise I pack him a bottle, snacks, and a book or toy (and the iPad for desperate times), and keep him buckled tight. Even in church! We sit in the back where there is room for the stroller and it's the only way I was able to survive a quiet service with 3 kids 4 and under – with or without Bubba.
Just trust me on this one, parents.
6. Treat yo'self
Have you ever seen Parks & Recreation? We used to watch it all the time. One episode was all about this “Treat Yo Self” movement. Super hilarious, but super applicable. I let the guilt go and got a babysitter from time to time, got a pedicure with the girls, took the kids to a restaurant instead of cooking dinner on the weekends, watched more TV than usual so I could zone out once the kids were in bed, had a sushi date with myself in the car…
…and may or may not have bought myself several pairs of shoes. Go crazy? Nah, be reasonable. But treat yo self once in a while? Heck YIZZAH!
7. Adjust the love languages.
It's no secret that I love The 5 Love Languages book. If you haven't read it, you need to! It really helps you understand all relationships in your life, not just the one with your spouse.
The problem with distance is that both of our love language is quality time, and Bubba's is also physical touch…aka IMPOSSIBLE when your hubby is in the next state over. Bubba and I rarely ever fight, but we had some of our biggest fights ever while he was away. Over dumb things that I can't even remember now, actually! Why? We started drifting and having trouble connecting to each other because we basically let the love languages drop.
Eventually we learned to adjust our love languages and focus on sub-languages that we COULD show. We kicked our communication into hyperdrive and talked through everything. Most importantly, we worked on presenting solutions for overcoming the lack of love language bucket-filling we were experiencing. So instead of saying “I'm just so lonely! This sucks! I hate this!” I would say “Ok I'm feeling really lonely or frustrated about such and such, but here's what I'm thinking would help”. And it did!
Plain and simple, we had to work our booties off at it.
Bubba started writing me letters to make me feel loved. He would send me simple gifts in the mail to make my life easier, like new PJ's (I was complaining about my belly not fitting in mine) or a new iPad stand (because I complained about holding the iPad when FaceTiming him).
When he came to town he'd make sure to take me out on a great date and not just a typical dinner and movie. We took time to talk, catch up, and connect while we could.
I made physical contact a priority – but not just the sexual kind. I made a huge effort to cuddle, hold his hand, and be physically present with him and not distracted or busy when he was in town (all things that are not natural for me to do normally). I'm also notorious for NOT being a phone talker. But I made a huge effort to FaceTime regularly, and be positive and have lots of stories and questions for him when on the phone, because that was important to him for connecting from afar at the end of a long day.
It's definitely better for any relationship when you AREN'T miles apart, but deciding in advance to make a selfless effort to keep the love burning is key.
8. Forget yourself from time to time.
Serve. Serve. Serve! Playing the “woe is me” game only makes everybody lose. When Bubba and I tried to focus more on the needs of each other, we felt more loved and fulfilled, even from a distance.
For me, I tried to find ways to serve people around me: I took dinner to several people, fed the missionaries, tried to stay in touch with friends by calling and inviting them over, volunteered to bring things to church events or neighborhood parties. I paced myself and didn't bite off more than I could chew, but I found that when I forgot myself and served others, the Lord blessed me 10 fold in return. It's truly amazing how Karma really does work.
9. “Let it go” is not just a song from Frozen.
Simplifying is important. Don't run faster than you have strength, because at the end of the day it doesn't do anyone any good. Your kids need you. Your spouse needs you. Let go of stuff that really doesn't matter in the grand scheme of things, focus on the true priorities, and understand that this too shall pass.
Halloween decor? I let it go. Spotless house? I did my best but ultimately I let it go at the end of the night when I was too tired to lift one more plate from the sink. All the projects I wanted to accomplish with him gone? I let it go. Even blogging. You guessed it…let it go. I learned to let go of perfection in general, not be hard on myself, and be proud of and focus on the things I DID accomplish.
10. Accept help!
I had several friends offer to bring me dinner or watch my kids. At first I said no, but several insisted and left me no choice. It was awkward for me to accept at first. But I had to learn to humble myself and accept the help! Just as we strive to serve others, we need to give others an opportunity to serve by accepting their help. I learned to accept help graciously and find a way to return the favor to them someday.
11. Get dressed and put makeup on, even if you don't plan on going anywhere that day.
I can't stress this tip enough. When I first tried out “survival mode” it meant sweat pants and no makeup all day. After a while I found it made me feel sluggish, frumpy, and self-conscious. It takes just as long to pull on jeans as it does sweat pants! So even if my outfit is simple, I learned to make it a point to get dressed as soon as my feet hit the floor in the morning, and put on makeup (which usually happened in the car at red lights or waiting sitting in the parking lot for a minute before getting out of the car for our morning activity). I shower at night so I don't have to worry about it in the morning with kids. I only wash my hair every 2 or 3 days, so doing my hair once would last a while. Getting ready lifted my spirits, increased my confidence, and allowed me to be more productive and get things done. It's amazing the placebo affect getting ready for the day has!
12. Fake it 'til you make it, and don't be afraid to cry.
I learned that it's not only ok to have a good cry once and again, it's downright HEALTHY to cry! But the important thing is to get it out of your system, then suck it up and decide to be happy. Being down, sad, and complaining about the situation doesn't do anyone any favors. Have a sense of humor; find things to laugh about. Look at the glass half-full. Do anything it takes to have a positive outlook about the situation. I firmly believe being happy is a CHOICE. I had to make the choice to be happy and positive…and eventually it worked! Fake it 'til you make it, yo.
WHEEW! So there's my novel. Being a “single mom” for 3 months was tough, but it was a great learning experience. It forced us to take a step back, reassess our priorities, work on gaps in our marriage communication, work through issues we didn't know we had, brought us closer to our kids, helped get us in a good routine, and gave me confidence in knowing that
WE CAN DO HARD THINGS.
Now, if you don't mind, I have a husband to go cuddle with.