Being a single parent is tough. Being a single parent who is greatly outnumbered is even tougher. Solo parenting while your spouse is deployed for months at a time is exhausting.

When you’re a solo parent, every task is on your shoulders– household chores, meals, your job, bedtime routines, doctor visits… all of it. There isn’t another parent around to share the burden, to take turns, or to help split up the children so you can divide and conquer your errands.

There’s a strange shift that happens when your service member leaves for deployment and you find yourself solo parenting every day. It’s almost as if you forget some of the basic skills of adulting and have to learn them all over again, adapting to the new challenge of solo parenting.

Solo Parenting: Milspouse Struggles During Deployment

Everyday chores become more difficult when you’re solo parenting

When you’re solo parenting during deployment, even the simplest things can seem more difficult. You used to have a great routine for preparing meals, but now that the kids are underfoot every minute, you find you just don’t have the energy to plan grocery lists and cook every day.

Or maybe it’s the demoralizing challenge of being the only adult in the house–outnumbered by children–so it just feels easier to serve mac and cheese or chicken nuggets for every meal. What’s the point of preparing a healthy, veggie-filled dish if everyone else is going to complain about it? Whenever my husband leaves for deployment, I feel like I forget how to cook.

Grocery shopping is miserable. I can’t go during nap time or leave any little ones at home–the way I would when my spouse is home. So I bring everyone with me, and pile three kids into a shopping cart (or maybe have one strapped to me, depending on their age), and then we try to get through the story with a minimum amount of whining and tears (from me, haha! I’m the one who feels like crying!)

And bath time? Yeah, the bath time and bedtime routine for the kids is a huge challenge when you’re outnumbered, or if you have a baby and a toddler during deployment. Sometimes I skip it every other night. There are times I have sat on the toilet nursing the baby while watching the toddler in the tub. Baby-wearing is helpful when trying to get the older siblings ready for bed. Sometimes I put some kids to bed early, just so I can take care of the youngest with two hands.

When you’re solo parenting, basic hygiene can be difficult

There’s a lot of ways I have to adapt and streamline the schedule when I’m solo parenting three or four young children. Sometimes, I have to temporarily lower the standards. Will the house look perfect every day? Of course not. Will I cook a hot meal every day? Probably not. But there has to be standards. There has to be a line. And basic hygiene is one of those lines.

Recently, a few month’s into my husband’s sixth deployment, I realized I was struggling to find a good time to take a shower. When you’re a mom of little ones, there’s never an easy time to take an un-interrupted shower, right? But while solo parenting several little ones, the only time to shower is when you’re completely exhausted.

It feels easier to go to bed, and just shower tomorrow. But after a day or two of that, I have to draw the line. There has to be standards, even when solo parenting. I can’t take care of little ones if I’m not taking care of myself. And showering is a basic (and essential) part of self-care.

I used to shower in the mornings, before getting the littles out of their rooms. I don’t like the feeling of wet hair at night. But lately, some of the kids are old enough to come out of their rooms, so they come straight to me as soon as they’re awake. As soon as they’re in my room, they’re asking for breakfast. Or help with a toy. Or they tearfully need me to resolve a fight with a sibling.

I suppose I could set my alarm earlier in the morning. But… remember the part about solo parenting being exhausting? Starting the day any earlier than necessary is just not going to happen. So, that means I have to shower at night. I’ve learned to adapt, and I made it part of my evening routine.¬† You can change your habits without lowering your standards. And that’s one of the main survival tips when you’re solo parenting.

If you’re going through deployment with young children, you’ll want to read the tips in this post about military kids and deployment!

Ways to cut corners when you’re solo parenting

Eventually, we all have to admit that things will change around the house when we’re solo parenting. Like it or not, you are going to adjust. I’ve learned that it’s okay to be more relaxed about some things–to cut a few corners–as long as you’re clear on

I’ve asked my deployment support group on Facebook how they manage expectations and cut corners during deployment. Here are some of their suggestions:

  • Get groceries delivered! The delivery fee is worth your sanity from dragging kids through the store.
  • Use paper plates for some meals so there’s fewer dishes to wash.
  • If you can’t have a completely clean house, pick one area to keep clean: no dishes in the sink, or nothing on the floor in the Master bathroom.
  • Hire help: an occasional babysitter to stay with the kids while you go out, someone to help clean the house or mow the yard, etc.
  • Use the YMCA for childcare while you work out.
  • Get some distance from the kids. It’s ok to put them down, take 10 minutes in another room, or lock yourself into the bathroom with a snack sometimes!
  • Celebrate all your accomplishments! Give yourself something to look forward to by celebrating deployment milestones.

If you find yourself solo parenting during deployment, give yourself grace to change your routines, simplify things, and cut a few corners. Know what your standards are, where you draw the line, and always make sure you are taking care of your own basic needs. This isn’t an easy thing to do, but one day at a time, you’re making it happen!

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