I recently spent my first week without my husband to co-parent our two boys with me. While he was visiting some of his family in the US and having a short holiday for a week, I’ve been home, taking care of the boys, keeping house, and working my job.
I’ve always wondered how I’d fare, as I’ve been fortunate enough that neither my husband nor I ever travel overnight for work, so we’ve always been in it together.
One thing that surprised me was that it was easier than I had imagined it would be.
Of course, it’s a bit like the woman in the Pulp song Common People: I’m fully aware that spending a discreet time period as if I were a solo parent is not the same as being on your own with no end in sight. I still doff my cap very much to all the solo parents out there.
But being a solo parent, even for a finite time, meant that I had to be on it, every evening. There would be no one to tap in to help with bedtime or doing the dishes. My evening routine changed and had some surprising benefits.
And yet…in some ways, I found the experience enriching and has given me so much that I want to incorporate in my normal, happily married, co-parenting life.
Get it done
If something needed doing, I needed to do it.
For this week, there was no one else to help do the washing up before work and school so the childminder didn’t come home to a sink full of dishes. There was no one to say to, “Hey, can you grab H’s clothes for tomorrow from upstairs while I change his nappy?” or “Would you mind getting me a glass of water?”
The answer was to get it done myself.
So I did all of the breakfast dishes religiously every morning before leaving the house. And it was nice to come home from work to a clean kitchen and empty sink. I organised everyone’s clothes the night before, made sure dishes were done in full each night before bedtime, did laundry on my working-from-home day, hoovered quickly when I saw the boys had dropped crumbs under the dining room table.
The result was easier, well organised mornings and a cleaner house than usual.
I definitely doubled up more once it was just me with the boys.
For instance, I had the boys bathe together – which they actually both enjoy a lot. It saved me time and water. Our bathroom is just off the kitchen, so I could be doing the dishes and watching them and listening to them play in the bath at the same time.
By the end of the week, I was also using this time to get one of our pet birds out, sitting on my shoulder and preening herself while I washed dishes amid squeals of delight from the bathtub.
In true Squash and a Squeeze fashion, I realise that how doubling up made some things possible with just one parent in the house, doing so with two parents can provide some much-needed breathing space in our daily routines.
Doing things together
I stopped eating after the boys were asleep and instead had my dinner with them, then my dessert and cup of tea, then brushing our teeth together in the bathroom and getting into our PJs at the same time.
Brushing my teeth with them helped me stop eating or drinking anything close to bedtime, so on a practical level this helped me with something I’ve been trying to conquer for a while: stress eating at night. I had been finding that I did most of my stress eating after the boys were in bed – a bad habit I’ve been wanting to curtail ever since I went back to work when my youngest turned one.
Eating together also meant I had witnesses to how much I was eating for dessert, which helped keep me honest, and brushing with the boys not only encouraged them to brush for longer and showed them how to do it well, it meant I wasn’t possibly skipping my evening brushing when the youngest was sleeping in my arms and I wouldn’t want to risk waking him by handing him over to my husband or setting him down to brush my teeth.
I started to let the boys play more. I had to pick my battles and become more permissive than I may be usually.
On balance, this is probably a good thing. I think I’ve been a bit tightly wound when it comes to my boys, potentially helicopter parenting them “for their own safety” (and arguably as well, for my husband’s and my sanity). But being on my own meant I prioritised intervening in their play for only the most serious and dangerous offenses, and leaving them to it far more than usual.
There may have been slightly more bumps and knocks, but not noticeably so. Both kids are in tact and well, and haven’t suffered for having a slightly longer rein.
Quality over quantity
I definitely missed my evenings with my husband. However, being alone in the evening meant I had total control over the remote or what I did once the kids were asleep. I found that I tried to fit in the programmes on Netflix that I was interested in but that I knew he wouldn’t want to watch.
Inevitably on that first evening, I realised this tended to mean wholesome, educational, or self-help stuff. When I really just wanted to watch something like Brooklyn Nine Nine, I instead begrudgingly watched the first episode of The Beginning of Life, a six-part documentary about early brain development.
It was utterly fascinating.
Another night, I watched a Brené Brown talk on Netflix. Again, I started off reluctant and did find some of the fawning among audience members a little annoying, but the talk was excellent, the insight from the research incredibly relevant, and the stories from people’s experiences, including Brown’s own personal experiences, often humorous or very touching.
I also read a lot more: Christie Watson’s book about nursing, The Language of Kindness. Katharaine McMahon’s historical fiction After Mary, about 17th century Catholics. Andrew Bernsetin’s The End of Stress. The latest issue of Positive News.
I realised how much nicer it was watching one, high quality programme (without snacking – see above) and going to bed earlier to have time to read before drifting off to sleep, as opposed to allowing mediocre television to take over my rare child-free moments of the day.
Bringing it all home
I am now happily reunited with my husband. I am trying to continue some of my good practices.
I eat dessert after dinner with the boys and brush my teeth with them.
I try to keep that organisation and ‘just do it’ attitude, rather than relying on or assuming anyone else will help with stuff – not because they won’t, and not begrudgingly, but because I realise now how much I want things to be neat and tidy, and how much happier it makes me.
And I’m trying to fill my time with great literature, provocative and contemplative podcasts, healthy foods, and wholesome exercise.
I am also trying to remain more relaxed, to give my kids space to be kids, and to learn through play.
I’m trying to allow for more noise in the house, more freedom for my littlest one to roam around the house and garden. This change may be the hardest, as it inevitably impacts my husband, and may well result in some friction where our approaches don’t align.
But being a solo parent, even for just a week, has helped me reconnect with the kind of mother I am, and what I want on a very practical level.