So it’s no secret that Danny travels a lot with work and so it’s often left to me to parent on my own.
I’ve resisted writing about how to “cope” on my own with a toddler as I’m aware that there are many mums and dads doing just this every day and so I didn’t want to come across as patronising.
However, I have had a few requests to write about this from those who aren’t used to suddenly being the sole parent. So here are my tips for going it alone. If you have anything to add at all please pop in the comments!
Also, I’ve made this list being six months pregnant and suffering quite badly with sciatica, so a lot of it is geared around the laziness end of the scale.
And, second disclaimer, Nives is at the stage (am hoping it’s a stage) where she basically has selective hearing and high curiosity which means leaving her alone for long periods (more than ten mins) can lead to face paints on the carpet, flour on floor, liquid soap river in bathroom.
Sometimes you just need a moment
Preparation is key
While your partner is still home
Prepare for your week ahead.
Use the time when your partner is there, or when you do have the help to do all the washing and putting away of clothes, emptying of dishwasher and getting home to a state where it’s a blank canvas, mess-wise. You won’t have time or energy to scrub the roast tray from Sunday lunch at any time during the week. And you have help so you can divide the jobs (or hand them all over 😝) or have someone to divert the toddler’s attention!
If you do a hair wash a week – let it be on the day when you have someone else/another pair of hands doing bathTime with you. Nives is refusing to get out the bath once she’s in at the moment which means me having to pick her out – not great for my sciatica. So she had a lovely bath on Sunday and it’ll be sink washes/ flannels unless it’s a dire (muddy puddle) situation.
Plan plan plan
Plan meals in advance and bulk cook if possible. I always make extra of whatever we are having on Sunday so there’s usually two meals that week accounted for and it’s not extra effort past having to peel extra veg! Get plenty of packed-lunch type food in – you don’t need to stress about two hot meals a day, as long as they’re eating and it’s not all crap you’re winning. Get food in that you can also cook in about five minutes! I’m not just talking about beans and toast (although of course they will feature also!) but tortellini, eggs, cheese, spinach, frozen peas, houmous. Nives doesn’t eat them, but if she did I’d totally be adding fish fingers to the list also and potato waffles. I also use microwave jacket potatoes and frozen mash also.
Think about the week ahead. If you have some childcare sorted, brilliant. If not, try to plan at least one outside activity a day to get fresh air/ wear them out! I have a fear of overcrowded stressful situations so I tend to think about things that will have minimal stress on me and that I can cope with. I know, for example, that if I take Nives swimming midweek and in the morning that I won’t have to negotiate past older kids (whom she invariably tries to copy and follow around) and we can often be sharing the pool with just three or four other parents.
Park features heavily as we live next to it and she doesn’t seem to be getting bored with it. There’s woodland to explore and I make up activities like looking at the different types of bark/spot the birds nests etc. She’ll also play happily in the garden.
Mornings are go!
Nives can wake up any time from 5. And she doesn’t want to hang around in bed waiting for you to get your stuff together. But the novelty of being up means that you have a bit of leeway when she will happily play for about 15 minutes/dress herself meaning this is when you have your shower window. Yes, it’s early and you might want your tea or coffee first. But if you don’t grab this chance, it may be a while before you can sneak off and have one -if at all. She’s happy enough being upstairs so you can leave doors open and enjoy a shower and get clothes on and make sure nothing untoward is happening. And it avoids still being in pyjamas hours later.
Bring everything you’ll need for the day ahead down with you, so you don’t need to make the dozen trips up and down stairs for spare clothes, socks, hat, wipes, pants/nappies. It means you can pack the bag for the day ahead or change them quickly if they come in from the garden covered in mud/water.
If you don’t drive, stay close
I don’t drive, so I plan activities close by or have emergency taxi fund to hand. We have great transport here in Brighton but at certain points of the day the journey can take double the amount of time and there’s a buggy limit also. I try to keep everything to walking distance to be easier.
Organise play dates in advance with mums that you like: you need the interaction too and the kids can play together. Don’t, for the love of god, promise some sort of paint or glitter activity at this playdate unless you can be arsed to clean it/ are able to clean it straight away. You don’t want to be cleaning that shit up after bedtime. That’s YOUR time! They’re happy enough just running around screaming or just colouring or play doh is easy enough to clean up after.
Given the circumstances at the moment (pregnancy/sciatica) I have been relaxed about screen time. Nives isn’t sat in front of the TV for hours on end, but given the limitations to hand I wouldn’t stress if she had been. Television can be a great tool for bringing the mood down and I use certain programmes as cues. The Hungry Caterpillar means it is time for a nap and Charlie and Lola means it is story time and then bed.
Again, keep activities manageable. There’s just one of you to clean up afterwards and your little one can still get creative without you breaking your back. Stamps and stickers are a good shout, or keeping painting localised – we paint rocks or leaves we find in the park. This avoids the inevitable hand in the paint (sometimes). Felttips and cardboard boxes are good too – and then they have a den to play with afterwards.
Avoid at all costs: anything with cornflour, flour of any kind, water, glitter, scrunched up tissue, lentils.
Jigsaw puzzles are also a win
I’ve covered this already but essentially it’s all about keeping nutritional value still high but cleaning down. Make meals in advance, keep cooking time down. I personally avoid using the dishwasher and prefer to wash by hand as I go. That way I keep on top of things and don’t have to repeatedly fish things out of the fetid dishwasher after it’s sat there for days.
This is the time you’ll feel the tiredness the most. In our house bedtimes are a marathon, not a sprint, which can just wear you out. Do things to make it easy on yourself. Skip baths if you’ve a lurker like me. Let them brush teeth in the living room if you must- pick your battles! Nives wakes up several times a night sometimes so what I’ll do is bring her in with me at the first instance. She may not wake again, but I can’t keep lying on her floor to get her to sleep. I need my energy too! Plus that whole “breaking routine/ rod for your own back” thing is bullshit anyway.
Step away from the wine
It’s tempting to unwind with a glass or three of the good stuff, but resist. If your kid has night terrors or is an early riser, you don’t need that headache. Run a bath, do some social media scrolling, read a bit of your book and have an early night. You need sleep and alcohol and many wake ups just mean you’ll be a mess the next day!
Don’t be afraid to ask for help or take help that’s offered. And take the time to enjoy the time together. Keeping chores to a minimum means you can spend more quality time with your kid, which if you get it right can be really rewarding!