I'm not a single parent, but I often feel like one because I'm married to a hospital physician. My spouse works long, irregular weekday hours + one weekend a month, and he's seldom able to predict when he's coming home. Like any new parent, when we first adopted our kids I had trouble adapting to this challenging schedule. However, we recently celebrated our six-year adoption anniversary, and I realized I've learned to cope, even thrive. Here's some advice I wish I'd had starting out as a sometimes-single parent:
1. Have everyone contribute to family routines. I can't emphasize this enough. The kids and I do time-bound jobs such as clean-up and cooking. My husband does the jobs that aren't as strictly time-bound, such as repairs and laundry. We are all responsible for the overarching routines such as bedtime and homework. While our housekeeping isn't perfect, everybody knows what they need to do, no one is left doing everything, and the kids can see that their contributions are valued.
2. Set aside regular planning time. My husband and I try to sit down together once a week to plan out the following week. We can't always schedule a "date night," but even a few minutes together with the calendar helps us appreciate each other's challenges and strategize solutions for potential conflicts. Besides, we'd rather have a friendly conversation at home than an angry one at a fancy restaurant.
3. Discuss priorities. My husband and I check in frequently about large issues; this often helps me make decisions solo. For example, someone wants to take our 8- and 9-year-old kids to a PG-13 movie? I know my husband would say no, so I stay on the same page with my response. A teacher wants to meet with us Thursday morning? He can't attend, but he'll trust me to speak for both of us.
4. Share both sides so your kids don't get caught in the middle. It's hard not to feel frustrated with a spouse who isn't there, but it's worth trying so that kids don't feel pressured to take sides. Angry in the moment? Totally understandable, but try to remember to share a balanced perspective so your kids don't get stuck in the middle, for example: "Yes, I was mad when Dad got called in to work, but I understand that this is part of his job and I'm glad he can help other people."
5. If necessary, remind your kids that they don't need to fill in for the absent parent. When my husband went away for a conference last spring, my son's behavior tanked until I reminded him that he didn't have to be the dad. Making sure kids know who is responsible for what can go a long way towards keeping harmony, no matter which adult is in charge. Kids might fight more when a parent is away, but at least let them fight about age-appropriate issues.
Have a spouse who's sometimes not there? How do you cope? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below!
Image credit: FreeDigitalPhotos.net