These solo parenting tips were hard-learned through many trials and many, many errors. As a military family, I find myself solo-parenting more often than I expected to when I used to dream about being a mother. But my marriage is worth it. And my family is worth it.
Since you are here reading this, I’m going to guess that yours is too. So let’s set you up for success! I’m sharing my top solo parenting tips, challenges, dos and don’ts, and how to care for yourself in all of that chaos. Find more tips and support on my Instagram or TikTok.
Prefer to listen? The podcast episode for this topic can be found below!
Mini Disclaimer for Solo Parenting Tips:
Before I begin, I want to be clear that these solo parenting tips are referring mostly to temporary solo parenting. Although, any parent is welcome to take my advice for a challenging season of parenting! But, I feel the need to explain the difference between single parenting and solo parenting. Because it is not the same thing.
These words are sometimes used interchangeably with parents who either co-parent with someone they are separated or divorced from or a parent who is parenting entirely alone. Their other parent is not involved, whether this is due to the death of their partner, a choice to not be involved, or just temporarily – in situations of their partner traveling for work or deployment.
Single parents and full-time solo parents do not have a partner around their home to help. At all. Temporary solo parents have a partner who is around to help but is just not available to help out for a period of time. This is really important to distinguish because single and full-time solo parents do not have some of the same advantages that temporary solo parents have, like an added income or additional help from their partner (even if they feel they could use more). The lack of support for them is temporary.
Why It Matters
I want you to think about an area of life that you really struggle in and feel like you don’t have the support that you deserve. Or where you have felt like you have overcome against all of the obstacles life threw at you. Now, imagine someone who is fortunate enough to have more support, more resources, or more money comparing their life to your situation. As if there is no difference or added advantages for them. It can be frustrating and somehow make you feel even worse.
This is how it can feel to single or full-time solo parents to hear a temporary solo parent say or use words that compare their situations. It doesn’t give them the credit they deserve for having to do more, to accomplish more, or overcome more. All while having less. Less support, less resources, or less money than a temporary solo parent. I have too much respect for single and full-time solo parents to even pretend that my season of solo parenting is anything compared to their world.
Solo Parenting Tips
Now that we have cleared that up, let’s talk about how to survive temporary solo parenting. From all of the challenges, the dos and don’ts, how to stay connected with your partner from a distance, and how to still find ways to care for yourself in all of the chaos. This article is going to be full of resources and important information, so be sure to bookmark this page. You’ll need the reminder on your worst solo parenting days. I promise you that.
If you’ve been following along with my podcast, Instagram or TikTok, you might know that my husband is in the military. I bring this up because my experience with solo parenting has been while he’s been away for military training.
In the military, there is a term sometimes used for the parent that goes away. They are called the non-integrated parent. The reason for this is that they are, even if temporarily, not integrated with the family unit. Another parent is having to fill their shoes. They are more commonly referred to as the deployed parent. But for the sake of keeping this information general to all parents, families, and situations, I will continue to use the term non-integrated parent.
Solo Parenting Tips for Military Families
Before I move on to my tips and advice for surviving a season of solo parenting, I want to offer one specific piece of advice to military families. There are incredibly helpful resources available through Military OneSource for additional support during deployments or training. They even have a special section full of Sesame Street videos made specifically for military children, called sesame street for military families. Plus, a full Military Family Readiness System is available.
The Challenges of Solo Parenting
You don’t get breaks
Even times that would normally feel like a nice little break for you, like naptimes or in moments of their independent play, you will find yourself needing to decompress more than usual. You’ll use that time trying to catch up on the million things you are falling behind in. Or maybe you just need to sit and get in a good cry. No matter how you spend that time, those free moments don’t exactly feel like a break anymore.
Your children will be thrown off
Of course, your children will be missing the non-integrated parent. And thrown off because they might not fully understand what’s happening. Or why. And likely cannot cope with these big feelings. These big feelings can come out in a lot of unexpected or challenging ways.
You take on your child’s feelings
Because your kids are dealing with these challenging feelings and you are the only one around to care for them, you are getting the brunt of all of their emotions. You are dealing with their nap strikes, extreme tantrums, and just general overall frustration and unhappiness. Did I mention you are doing this all without a real break?
Frustration or feelings of failure
It’s normal to feel frustrated over tasks piling up or the house being a mess. Or just feeling behind in general. Regardless of how much you can actually keep up with tasks when your partner is home, you most likely will not be as successful at that while they are gone. This can absolutely make you feel like you are failing. Which couldn’t be further from the truth!
Do’s and Don’ts of surviving Solo-parenting
To keep you from struggling more than you need to, let’s get right into the do’s and don’ts and all of my other solo parenting tips.
Don’t hold yourself or your children to your usual standards
This isn’t your usual day, week, month, or however long you are solo parenting for. You don’t have the same level of support that you normally do. So don’t expect the house to be as clean, for the floors to be vacuumed as much, or for laundry to be maintained as well as it normally is. You may even find yourself slipping in other areas of your life, like your work or any other outside responsibilities.
As for your children, they are struggling too. They miss their routine, they miss their parent. And for as much as you can try to keep your emotions or stress in check – they can still feel it. My son was so upset when my husband left that he went on a complete nap strike. I’m talking no naps. At all. Which meant he was a complete wreck for over half of the day. Only making everything harder on all of us.
But he can’t help it. He doesn’t understand what is happening. Or why his dad is gone. He couldn’t fall asleep for naps because he stayed up crying for his “dada” to snuggle him. It was heartbreaking to watch. Really, it wouldn’t be fair of me to hold him to the same standards or expectations that I do on a normal, average day in our house. Our kids deserve a lot of added grace and tenderness as well.
Do be gentle with yourself if things aren’t like “normal” (including you)
When we find ourselves not functioning in our “normal” state, we oftentimes just become harder on ourselves. Then creating an even worse state for ourselves to live in mentally. When we reach this point, we are defeated, shut down, or reacting in some very unhealthy ways.
Instead, if we can be gentle with ourselves, give ourselves compassion for this unusual and challenging season we are in, we can prevent ourselves from being overwhelmed with self-judgment or overcome with feelings of failure. We are doing our best. If your “best” while solo-parenting doesn’t look the same as your “best” while your partner is there to offer support, that’s normal.
I posted this recently on TikTok. Our “best” changes daily. Really, our capabilities, challenges, mental capacity, and energy levels change daily. And so do our children’s. What matters the most is that you are doing your best at that moment, with the circumstances you are in. Your best truly is good enough.
Don’t follow the same rules
At least not on hard days. Obviously, I’m not talking about matters of health or safety. It seems silly to need to clarify that. But there always seems to be someone arguing that parents can’t “loosen up” a bit without it being compared to neglect or carelessness. What I’m talking about are rules like when bathtime happens, when they start their bedtime routine, and maybe even what’s included in that routine. Or screentime limits.
Rules that you have set because it’s how you would like to parent in your ideal world, in your ideal state, with the ideal amount of support. This might not always apply during this temporary period of time. My son had never had screentime until my husband was gone. I then understood why it is so helpful for some parents’ mental health. It allowed me to not be actively teaching, entertaining, or being generally just in a very “on” state. Even just for the 10-minute YouTube video I showed him.
You can return to your regular rules once your regular routine returns. Or you can choose to stick to your rules on the days you feel capable of it. It’s completely your choice. I’m just offering a bit of grace if you need to bend or change the rules for the time being. There is no judgment here. Just complete understanding of your situation.
Do what you can to get by
However, you can. Order pizza on a night you don’t want to cook. Leave the dishes in the sink a bit longer than usual. This is very similar to my advice about bending the rules. But more specifically about just doing what you need to so you can survive, even if it means you aren’t thriving in all of the different areas of your life. If getting by means your house is messier but your kids are happier, that seems like a perfectly good compromise.
Don’t stay up late
Please trust me on this one. I know it’s so tempting, especially when we all know that nighttime is our time as parents. We can finally chill and do our own thing without having to worry about the kids until morning. Unless they are still waking up during the middle of the night, in which case I feel you. I’ve been there. For far too long. And I’m sending you extra love and support during this time.
But now might not be the time to stay up extra late. Whether you are stress-cleaning or watching TikToks – both things that will keep me up later than I expect. What if your kids wake up more in the middle of the night? And what if they miss their non-integrated parent when they do? Or what about the chance that they might wake up extra early the next day? Because you know they are always doing that on the days you are the most tired.
Having time to ourselves is important, don’t get me wrong. Take that time. Do whatever it is that you need to do to decompress and give back to yourself. Just be aware of the tasks that await you the next day. Tasks that are going to require more energy from you than on a normal day. It wouldn’t hurt to give yourself a fairly responsible bedtime while you are solo-parenting.
Do take every shortcut possible
Curbside groceries? Sign me up! Avoid the added stress of hauling kids around a grocery store. Ordering delivery more often? I approve (as long as it remains within your budget). Cooking easy meals? Have lots of mac and cheese? I’m here for it all. Honestly, why make things harder on yourself right now?
I’m not saying to completely disregard your child’s health or welfare. Just that it’s ok to take the easier route sometimes. I made a lot of mac and cheese because it was an easy meal for my toddler. And one I knew he wouldn’t say no to. Plus I was pregnant and just about everything made me feel nauseous. I bought a lot of veggie pouches and peas, knowing they were easy ways for him to get veggies. Usually, he eats veggies cooked in more complicated forms. Ones I did not have the energy to make.
Think of what your ultimate goals are for the day. What are the surefire, guaranteed, easiest ways to ensure that happens? Choose that. Are there better, more challenging options out there that you should be choosing? Maybe. But save those for when your capacity is better suited for it.
Advice to feel connected with the non-integrated parent
Show pictures and videos of your partner to your children each day
This made my son’s day while my husband was away! His face just lit up and he would giggle at some of the videos. It’s a way for your child to feel connected. If you are reading this beforehand, I also recommend taking some videos or pictures that you know your child will enjoy. You could take a video of them reading a book or making their favorite silly noises.
Send email or text updates
And include all of the photos and videos that you can, even if it doesn’t seem special or important enough to capture. They are missing just seeing your faces! Anything with you in it will make them happy.
Every moment you find yourself checking to see if your partner is looking is one to share. Is your kid doing something new and impressive? Are they doing something extra goofy? Or just being super adorable? Even if you didn’t get it on picture or video, make sure you tell your partner. And even beyond your children’s updates, tell your partner about your day.
I learned this through my long-distance relationship with my husband prior to getting married. It didn’t feel so distant when I kept him involved in every part of my life, even the ones that seem insignificant. These seemingly insignificant moments are the ones that make us feel closer when we are in person. Getting to see and experience those small moments in one another’s lives creates more intimacy. More connection. And more closeness.
Negative News Considerations
Consider their mental state and how much they are able to take on when it comes to negative things. Especially if your partner is deployed or in any other incredibly stressful situation while they are away. It may be challenging for them to be worrying about their family while they are dealing with some really tough situations on their own.
The first time my husband left for training, our friend passed away. He was luckily allowed to come home so we could say our goodbyes. But after he went back, I fell into a deep, dark depression. And I was grieving alone, as my support system was nowhere near me. My husband was already dealing with his own grief, military training was stressful enough, and now he had the added concern about his family back at home. Worrying whether we were ok without his support.
Between training exercises, we had a conversation about this. I was aware of how it might have impacted him and asked him how he wanted to handle situations like that in the future. Our partners want to be involved, but their situations need to be taken into consideration as well.
Set Expectations First
My advice is to have that conversation with your partner. Ask them what to do if there is a major emergency. What is the best way to contact them? In what situations would they not want to know something potentially negative or bad? And don’t hold judgment for them here. If they don’t want to know something, it’s not for lack of care on their end. Truly, it’s because they care too much and are not able to do a single thing about it. They care so much it hurts them.
If you can easily contact them while they are away and your partner does want to know these things, that is great!. I still suggest asking them if they are capable of holding space for you in an emotional or stressful state. Because sometimes people just aren’t in a place for it. Maybe they need to decompress a little first. Or will need to wait. And that’s ok. I’m sure there are times when you are emotionally drained, overwhelmed, tapped out, and wouldn’t be able to handle someone else’s emotional crisis. It’s never anything personal.
Support for You in these Solo Parenting Tips
Resentment is normal
Speak about it, don’t hold it in. Obviously, consider your partner’s emotional state first as we just discussed. But don’t just hold this feeling in the entire time they are away, if possible. I did not deal with resentment during this first couple rounds of solo parenting, because he was gone for military training. He was sleeping on the ground in the desert, eating pretty terrible food, and just generally not having a good time. He would have much rather been at home.
But, I’ve dealt with resentment towards my partner plenty in motherhood. Like when I was getting up in the middle of the night to feed the baby while my partner is sleeping soundly. Or the fact that he gets breaks at work on the days when my son is refusing to sleep and needs my constant attention.
Resentment can absolutely come up for you while your partner is away. Especially if you are stuck inside during the winter with your kids and they are in a tropical location, able to enjoy happy hours or go to the beach. Without kids to worry about. There is a way to tell your partner that you are feeling resentful without making them feel bad.
Speaking About Resentment
When I’ve had this conversation with my husband, I have often started it out by reassuring him that I am not mad at him. Saying that I don’t think he’s doing anything wrong and that it’s just the situation in general that sucks. This helps to approach the problem (resentment) from a team perspective. It’s not me against him, it’s us against the problem. That makes it easier to move on to explaining your feelings of resentment.
Find a solution for yourself. Be clear about what you need from them, whether it’s a promise for a long break when they get home or for them to just say “that would be really hard and it does suck”. I find that acknowledging and voicing this feeling keeps it from having power over you or your relationship.
Go with the flow
Try not to stick to your normal schedule (or even a strict schedule) at all. Naptimes and bedtimes are really just arbitrary. It’s nice to think about wake times when considering when to put your children down to sleep. But the times that I’ve had the most frustration is surrounding sleep. When I had planned, scheduled, and fully expected my children to sleep when I determined they’d be ready to sleep. Not when they were actually ready to sleep.
Plan things loosely
If you are making plans that rely on your children being ready, you being or feeling presentable, or needing to meet with someone. Try to plan it loosely. Ask for grace from whoever might be impacted by your plans, like close friends or loved ones. Let them know you’ll be in a really tough spot, might not be on time, but will keep them updated and will do your very best.
For people or situations where you don’t feel you are able to be as relaxed with planning – like appointments or people who you know aren’t as flexible with changes in plans. I would honestly just suggest delaying those plans, if at all possible.
But, I totally get that some important meetings or appointments shouldn’t be delayed. In these situations, ask for outside support with your children (if that’s even available). Or just honestly give it your absolute all. Be early, be overprepared, and plan for the worst-case scenario. But mostly, be gentle with yourself if you are stuck in that spot and things aren’t going as planned. You are doing your best.
Call people for support
Especially if you are feeling like you are going to lose it. Even if these people are not actually near you to come to physically offer support, just having someone listen and validate your feelings can really be a day changer. I called my friend Katie in my worst moments while solo parenting.
She reminded me of how much I was handling on my own, how good I was doing. And how normal my anger, frustration, and overwhelm were. It was the release of stress and pep talk that I needed to hop back into the ring, so to speak. Reaching out for support can really help you manage your emotions, which is my next point…
Manage your emotions
Step away when you need to, even if your little one is crying. While my son was deep into his nap strike, I was exhausted, overworked, not caring for myself, and not getting a break. He had a tantrum and I almost lost it. To manage my emotions, I made sure he was in his completely safe and baby-proofed playroom. Then I went to hide in the bathroom to do some deep breathing techniques, cry, and process my emotions.
I know I’ve talked about this in my article on Ending Intergenerational Trauma. For those of us struggling to break cycles of trauma that were handed down to us, managing our emotions is hard enough as it is with our children. It’s only made more challenging while solo-parenting. Go check out my article on Ending Intergenerational Trauma and the one on How to Deal with Triggers. These were the only things that helped get me through those moments.
Reward yourself in small ways
Go get a fancy coffee one morning. Put on a facemask at the end of the day. After you put your kids to bed, have your favorite dessert in your favorite pajamas while watching your favorite movie. Find little ways to treat yo’self along the way.
Make it a priority. While the rewards don’t need to be constant, the self-care should be. Now, self-care doesn’t always need to be some elaborate or drawn-out thing. And it isn’t always face masks and nail polish. Sometimes it’s a quick 5 minute guided meditation or taking a break to read an interesting book. I have a full list of Self-Care Ideas and Activities that I look at each time I get a break. Consider bookmarking and saving that list.
When I get a break, I take a moment to reflect on what my needs are at that moment. And then I look over that list to find something that can help meet that need. That is what self-care is to me. Meeting your needs, whether they feel incredibly basic or lavish. The goal is to fill your cup up a little bit more. While solo-parenting you are constantly draining that cup, giving to your kids, giving to your home, giving to every other responsibility you are taking on by yourself. You deserve to give back to yourself.
You are not alone
Whether you are reading this in preparation for solo parenting or right in the middle of it, please know you are not alone. And that your best really is good enough. Find me on Instagram and TikTok for more support and encouragement. I am always here for you.
Check out these articles:
- The Challenges and Struggles of Motherhood
- Journal Prompts for the End of the Day
- Why You Need a Daily Gratitude Practice for Your Mental Health
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