In last week’s Friday Flashback post, I shared some of the ways that I juggle homeschooling, working from home, and solo parenting when my husband is traveling for work. Although most homeschooling parents are already “solo” during the day — one parent homeschools while the other works outside the home — those of us whose spouse works away from home for an extended period of time know that this type of solo parenting while homeschooling presents its own challenges.
I received quite a few responses and questions about this topic, so I thought it would be helpful to share my top tips for maintaining a smoothly functioning home with minimal stress during your solo parenting days. Although some of these tips might also be helpful to single parents or military families homeschooling, my personal experience is limited to being “solo” for one or two weeks tops. However I hope these tips can be a blessing to you as well!
1) Re-evaluate your schedule of activities
Early on in our homeschooling journey, I was so concerned about keeping my girls active and social outside the home that we became overextended. On weeks when my husband was also out of town, I was even more overwhelmed, short-tempered, and sleepless. This year, we purposefully re-evaluated all of our outside activities and made important changes.
For example, we switched from a Wednesday evening Awana program to Sunday afternoons. At first I thought it would be inconvenient to have an additional weekly activity on Sundays, but Sunday is already the most relaxing day of our week and my husband is almost always home. Adding a quick drive to the church in the late afternoon — and getting a couple of hours to ourselves — isn’t stressful at all.
While it’s definitely good to get out of the house and socialize with other adults while you’re spouse is away (more on that topic later), keep in mind the time of day the activities take place and preparation required to participate. For us, the 6:30-8:30pm time slot of the Wednesday Awana program was running us ragged, so changing the time was the solution. However, if attending a gathering requires you to bring snacks, prepare a project, or anything else that will add more work to your to-do list, it might be better to opt out on weeks you’re solo parenting and get together for an informal play date instead.
2) Plan and prepare ahead of time
Let me start off by saying that I am NO expert at the whole monthly meal-planning thing or 20 freezer-meal cooking days. However, we realized that we had to do something better in this department after determining how much last-minute meals cost our budget. Plus, my husband does most of the evening cooking when he’s home — he’s an excellent cook and really enjoys it — so when he is gone, I don’t get to accomplish the things I would normally do while he is cooking.
Here’s what has helped me the most when preparing for solo parenting weeks: We make double or quadruple batches of a few favorite meals on the weekend, when we have more time and my husband can work his magic, and we freeze the extras. It’s as simple as that! We also do simple things like cook two whole chickens at a time, make chicken stock for later use, and portion out the meat for a variety of meals during the week. Cooked chicken and slow-cooked beef or pork roast can be used for so many quick meals during the week (such as quesadillas, rice and veggie stir fry, soups, pastas, and cold salads or sandwiches).
I also spend more time preparing our home and schooling week so that things can run as smoothly as possible. Making sure the week’s materials are printed out, checked out, organized in folders, etc. over the weekend saves me from last-minute trips to the library or to buy printer ink during the week. I try to make sure the laundry is done ahead of time, as well as any major chores around the house. I also pair errands together with activities that we’ll already be doing that are close by, to cut back on the running around town.
You may already be a pro at preparing for each week every weekend, however I am still fine-tuning this process. On weeks I’ll be solo parenting, I definitely make a point to be more diligent.
3) Turn your “to do” list into a “must do” list
Recently I wrote about how our family sticks to a daily routine instead of a schedule. One reader commented how she segments her daily agenda into “musts,” “shoulds” and “coulds” — and she works through this list each day, in this order. I think this idea is especially helpful for reducing your stress level when solo parenting.
When identifying the absolute “musts” for each day, I think it’s important to be realistic. If you have mostly little ones and an infant, you might have only feeding and bathing on that list — and that’s OK! My three girls are 5, 10 and 12, so our “musts” include schoolwork, daily chores like dish washing, and running to the store if we’re out of milk or something else urgent. Everything else is on the “should” or “could” list.
For me, the “should” list includes cooking dinner: If I am just wiped out after a busy afternoon of activities and running around, I will order a (fairly healthy) pizza, watch a favorite movie with the girls, and call it a night!
If you work from home, finding time to work is either a “must” or a “should,” depending on the type of work you do, deadlines, etc. I shared how I segment my day into “blocks” for school, work and family time in my Friday Flashback post, so here I will add that if the type of work you do requires more time or attention than you can achieve using strategies such as working at night/early morning or while the kids are otherwise occupied, it might be time for an extra set of hands. Find a “mama’s helper” in a family you know who wants to practice childcare skills, or if necessary, hire someone to be in charge when you must really focus on your work.
4) Spend time with friends, with and without the kids
One of the most important tips I can offer when solo parenting for an extended amount of time is to get out and about with mama friends as much as you can, doing things that are NOT stressful. The park & pool during warmer months are great because you can have some grown-up conversation with other moms while the kids play, and there’s not much prep required other than bringing snacks. Incorporate exercise for yourself by taking a hike with another family, or simply going for a long walk to the park together instead of driving. In the winter, try indoor pools, bowling, various indoor play areas, or the good old-fashioned play date at someone’s home. Stick to places the kids will enjoy for hours, and make sure you choose a day of the week when you won’t be rushing off to the next activity.
If possible, take a break from the kids too! For example, I have found that taking exercise classes at least twice a week in the evenings helps me combat stress and boost my overall energy. So when my husband is away, I make arrangements with a friend or neighbor to have the girls over to play while I’m in class. They get additional fellowship time with their friends, and I get a chance to chat with friends in my class.
Fellowship with friends who will encourage you and refill your cup. I recently shared how building a support system is vital for all moms, but even more when you are homeschooling — and solo parenting at times! This is when I find it most important to have a friend who is like a mentor, because you need support more than commiseration during these times. Even though my husband and I try to talk everyday when he’s on the road, I find that being able to fellowship with friends first keeps me from unloading on him and creating a more stressful end-of-day conversation for both of us.
5) Keep your quiet time, both with God and with yourself
This might seem like a given, but I can’t say enough about how important it is that you don’t skimp on your quiet time with the Lord everyday when you are running the household by yourself. In fact, I have found that getting set for the day with morning devotions and prayer is just the beginning: Taking a “time out” with God can happen anytime of the day, and as many times as needed. It’s also just as important to have downtime with God before bed, rather than falling asleep with the TV on or something else that will subconsciously add to your stressful thoughts.
Recently one of my favorite writers and author of One Thousand Gifts, Ann Voskamp, wrote about a “sanity manifesto” that speaks to this very issue. I love her suggestions and believe they are even more important when I am solo parenting. If I find myself reaching a boiling point of frustration or stress during the day, I know I need to take a time out. A few minutes to myself with the door closed and worship music on, taking a minute to reset and recognize some of the “gifts” of the day in my journal, usually puts me back on track.
Last but not least, don’t neglect yourself: Make sure you eat (yes, it’s easy to let this one slip), try to exercise a bit, and take a hot bubble bath with lavender at the end of the day. Read a relaxing book before you go to bed, not something that will give you more homework. Use stress-reducing essential oils and candles in the house. Keep worship music on in the house and in the car.
These are just a few things that have really helped me stay on track and keep my energy and attitude up during times when I’m solo parenting. I hope they will be a blessing to you on those days when you find yourself doing it all too!
What are your survival tips for times when you are solo parenting? Do you have a spouse that travels regularly or is in the military? If so, what have you found to be most helpful during those times? We’d love to hear your suggestions and questions in the comments below!
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