Top tips for the temporary and unaccustomed lone parent

Disclaimer: I understand that for the many many single parents in the world this post may seem like a lot of fuss over what is their normal life. You are right and I salute you. Ditto if you have a partner who works all-hours or gives bugger all help with the house and kids. But I suppose we are all used to getting along in a certain way and when that changes for a while, it can seem a bit tougher, hence this post.

It’s just two more sleeps until Olly gets back form his ten-day work trip, which means I’ve almost done it – woo hoo! I usually find the reality of him being away far easier than I’ve anticipated and that by day 3 or 4 the sense of dread has been replaced with quiet determination (except daily at 6.45pm when there is often a distinct fraying of nerves).

Olly’s been doing a global job since before Elsie was born, so I’ve got pretty used to his absences which are normally about a week long. This one of course had extra significance as we’re uprooted from our support networks but I’ve got through! So I’ve been thinking about what are my top tips for surviving when your other half goes away. And here they are:

1, Get organised – plan your week, plan your meals, plan your playdates, make sure your cupboards are filled with treats (for you) and invite friends over at least one evening to break the monotony. It might seem like a lot of effort to cook for other people but as long as they’re close friends and don’t expect fine dining, just getting some adult company will make it worth it.

2, Stay tidy – boring but necessary. You’re going to get bugger all time for keeping the house clean, so do it as you go. Most important of all, do the dishes before bed otherwise you are DOOMED.

3, Eat with the kids – OK, so fish-fingers at 5.15 might not be for everyone but frankly, if I’m on my own I am only clearing up one dinner sitting. Once I’ve got the kids to bed and washed up from their tea I am not starting all over again. Plus, I’m usually starving by about 5pm and end up eating half the children’s dinner anyway, so it suits me.

4, Don’t get stuck in a rut – over the years I’ve got into a habit when Olly goes away of putting the kids to bed, pouring a glass of wine and vegging in front of the telly. This will get you through but it can make you feel a bit bleak. Like you’re just surviving whilst your other half is away – almost like being in prison (albeit one where good Pinto Noir is available). So this time I ditched the glass of wine and have tried to do other things in the evening, like write this blog. I have to admit that I’ve also watched a lot of episodes of Nurse Jackie, so it’s possible that this is more of a personal goal than a well-worn ‘tip’.

5, Prepare for some fallout – so after a week of struggling with kids who all miss their mother/father terribly, said parent comes home to be embraced by their family and to muck in with childcare, creating a warm glow of re-unitedness about the household, right? Well, not necessarily. First up, shock-horror, you might find you’ve quite enjoyed being the sole-carer for the kids. The two or three or four of you will have got into a rhythm and having someone come in on that might feel like an imposition. Secondly, the travelling parent is probably exhausted from a crazy week of meetings and a long-haul flight. Not that you care because they’ve stayed in a hotel every night and have been woken up by an alarm clock instead of a child wanting something. Then throw into the mix your children’s emotions which rather than overflowing with joy that mummy or daddy is back, they may well feel quite angry that the bastard ever went away in the first place. Elsie is usually a total pain in the arse the first couple of days after Olly comes home, which is all anybody needs after a tough week. You might therefore want to consider making plans on your own the day after your other half gets back to be sure that you get the break you deserve and they have to deal with the stroppy kids regardless of how knackered they are.

7, Be specific about gifts – it’s not a good look to throw things at your partner when they fail reward your temporary lone-parenting efforts with a present. The frequent-flyer especially might not think it’s necessary to buy you something on every trip. If this is not the case, then make yourself clear in advance of their departure. Better still, make it easy for them and tell them what you want. I’ve done very well for posh duty-free make up over the years. I’m not sure I reciprocated when I did work trips before Belle was born. Maybe I bought Olly some gin once. But there you go, he obviously doesn’t feel he needs presents and I do. So if you’re reading this at the airport, Ol, just veer towards the Lancome counter. Thanks.

Surviving the long-haul

This week I feel like I’m facing my first big test of being away so far. Olly left yesterday on a work trip – a mammoth one, taking in four European capitals in a week and leaving me on my own long-haul  – 10 days as a lone parent, 11,000 miles from home and all my usual support networks. Help! However, am I going to cope?! Will my sanity survive?! Will the children survive?! Will our kiwi adventure survive?!

‘Course they will.

Two things are getting me through. First up, I actually do already know a few people here. And they’re really nice. Last week we bravely threw a little housewarming, inviting people over for drinks on Sunday afternoon. Obviously we were gripped with the usual oscillating panic. One minute – no-one’s going to come, we’ll just be handing round nibbles to a neighbour and the man from the corner-shop (a bit like Daisy’s housewarming in Spaced). The next,  imagining the whole Greenpeace office might descend demanding vats of homemade humous and feijoa wine. Of course the reality was somewhere in between and we had a great bunch of people here – a mix of friends of friends, colleagues old and new, neighbours and one or two mums I’ve picked up along the way. They’re quite a friendly bunch these Kiwis it turns out.

But having some people drink wine in your garden, nice as they are, doesn’t completely keep the home-sickness at bay. I have plenty of moments where I remember Elsie scooting around with her bessies, or think of a night out with my ladies and have a little cry. But that’s expected. We’re three months into this daft caper and it’s inevitable that once the novelty wore off and daily life set in that there’d be a few speed bumps to contend with.

My second strategy to keep me going in Olly’s absence, is to do nice things and have some treats – starting today. After a lot of shitty weather, the sun was shining, so I took the girls for an explore to Vineyard Quarter, a regenerated dockland area in the centre of the city. It’s like what Cardiff Bay would be if the sun shone and shitloads of millionaires turned up in yachts. It’s got a really cool playground nestled amongst old fuel silos, bars, cafes, street performers etc and a nice vibe. It feels less

Ice cream - it can only make things better.
Ice cream – it can only make things better.

corporate than similar redevelopments and has quirky installations and exhibits, like a reading room in a shipping container, which Elsie loved. The water is blue and sparkly. And did I mention the sun was shining? So we played… we mooched…we picnicked… Elsie had a look for seals…we ate posh ice cream. It was a really very pleasant day out – even with two small children.

And then when we got home, one of our ‘new friends’ popped round for a cuppa.

Well isn’t that a pip!