Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Flying Solo: 8 Tips and Tricks

photo by the inimitable Lesley Colvin

Single parenting: it's tough. Especially with two toddlers and a newborn!

Not that I have ever truly been a single parent - the handsome husband has always carried the weight of providing for our growing family and more (like managing taxes!) no matter how far the distance. But for various reasons throughout our four-year sojourn as parents- whether it be because of my husband's work or other requirements such as an intense church responsibility or other factors - I have cared for our children and home by myself for long stretches of time. It has infinitely increased my appreciation for those who are truly single parents. And caused me to get organized in a hurry.

Here are the things I have learned that make solo parenting easier/doable: 

1. S*L*E*E*P. I can do anything on enough sleep.  Our first, Gideon, was colicy, which meant long days with lots of screaming crying. But I knew he would sleep at night, so that kept my head above water. Now, with three, I have, with my sisters' help, been able to coordinate afternoon nap times and nighttime sleeping, and it's been an absolute lifesaver in getting sleep myself and anything else done, like working a little bit or maybe folding laundry. I also have the energy and mental capacity to be patient and consistent in discipline follow-through, which makes the wake times easier. (Read my sisters' sleep secrets here). 

2. Get help! If you can afford paid help, get it. Find someone who can be regular, a teenager (who can drive or walk!) needing the money, a more mature woman in the area, or an au pair as we had (she's gone, unfortunately!).  Don't feel guilty; just be grateful it is possible. Our family lives far away and wasn't available to help with this birth, and in London we were just too far away for family to come for long stretches, so we got part-time au pairs for the months following Esther and Ingy's birth. If the finances aren't there help, find a network of similarly-situated moms and start a co-op you can all draw on for care. Also find help where it is closest at hand - from your oldest, even if they are a toddler themselves.  It's amazing what they are capable of, and it increases self-esteem to lend a helping hand. Toddlers can throw away diapers, click into their own car seats, clean up the floor, empty the dishwasher, and entertain babies or hold bottles. My favorite question from Gideon is, "mom, what can I do for you?"! 

3. Let go.  This is hard for me.  I'm a perfectionist.  Yet I can't iron kids' clothes when I'm getting less than six hours of sleep. It helps to tell myself I'll do something later, and keep a running list on my iPhone. It will invariably get done in stolen, quiet moments, and allows me to focus on children and reading to or playing with them rather than constantly tidying. 

4. Make special time for each child. At bedtime and nap times, each child gets individual time with me, and the others just have to wait. This has particularly helped my two year old, displaced as the baby, to know that she's still very special to me. Even if Ingy is crying, I will say, "Ingy, this is Esther's special time." She gets to cuddle with me then and we sing special songs. We both look forward to this time. Similarly, throughout the day, when opportunities arise where I get to spend time alone with each child- Gideon wakes up from naps before the other two, we've just dropped Gideon off at preschool and Ingy is asleep in the car, or I am changing Ingy, I will put my to dos away and just focus on that child for a bit, cuddle close or reach back to hold their hand in the car, and realize how much I appreciate them.  It's good for both of us and has increased my love for each child.

5. Routine. I am horrible with numbers, including figuring out how to time things right with three, so routines and predetermined schedules help a lot.  Of course, things are forever shifting, but routines help me go into autopilot and enjoy my kids more rather than constantly thinking through the next step. And kids do so much better with routines!

6. Incentivize. Most corporate cultures work better and produce better and higher profits when employees are correctly incentivized (did you know that Marriot raises are based off of customer reviews?). Children are no different.  Last night, the first to get in and out of the bath got to open the gift for Ingy a neighbor dropped by. G knows that if he sleeps through the night without waking me up (sleep training is on-going, even at nearly four!), he will get a treat (fruit). 

7. Prioritize. I know I can only take care of one child at a time, so I have to prioritize child-related issues in picking which crying child to care for (and applaud myself if only 2/3 are crying at once!). For instance, bathroom issues always take priority over eating, and eating issues always take priority over other things. 

8. Take Breaks. I enjoy my children more and have more energy to care for them when I take meaningful, sharpening-the-sword breaks. I normally do this while they are sleeping and read, work, or do something creative (right now my creative energy goes into sewing curtains and picking out vintage electrical appliances for a room I'm working on - reveal in a future post), or the like.  But occasionally I pay for help to go do something I enjoy - like a BYOB (bring your own baby) movie, go rock climbing, or go to a class at the local library.   

I know I'm not the only mamma out there who flys solo a lot of the time - what have you learned about how to make it work and not just survive, but enjoy it?  Always looking to improve!

Small Wonders

* Gideon is four today (!) going on fourteen, complete with eye rolling and telling me "mom, you're making me crazy!"
* Gideon loves his sleep and will call out to Esther, who is singing herself to sleep, to be quiet. The other day at nap time I heard him say, "Esther, if I wake up, there will be problems!" and again at night while I was putting away clothes, "Mom, I'm trying to sleep!"
* Gideon has also started to develop a little testimony, and told me that the Holy Ghost will protect Ingy in her heart, and teaching Esther that God made her and that He loves her.
* Overheard: "The moral of the story is..." "Do I look like a tiger?"  
* Gideon is all about compliments - "You have such good teeth, mom!" and the excuses: "I can't, I have to dig - that's my work!"
* In asking to watch General Conference, Gideon told me "I want Rasband!" (A new apostle who visited the area last Easter. "How do you know who that is?" to which he nonchalantly replied, "because I like him!"
* The children are music tyrants. Gideon told me in the car the other day, "I don't want a beautiful classical song!"
* Esther after being woken up by me making a loud voice [said in animal voice] "I go to sleep - again!"
* Esther's vocab and comprehension has skyrocketed lately, with the beginning of "whys," "because" and, if she really doesn't want to do something, will tell me, "It's too dangerous!"
* Esther's version of Jingle Bells: "Oh what fun to choose the right one horse open sleigh..."
* Esther has developed a good sense of humor with potty training. She woke up with a dirty diaper and, to the tune of "once there was a snowman," began singing, "Once there was a stinky, stinky, stinky..."
* Ingy is full of smiles, coos, and giggles/chuckles, loves the bath, and is moving already! She can scootch and half-roll.  She gives me a 2-3 hour nap and 10-12 hours at night.  Needless to say, I'm in love!

mountains of snow!

fav museum, the Montshire

kite flying

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