Wednesday, January 30, 2019

The Solo Challenge: How I manage 10 kids solo with a spouse that travels weekly for work

I have 10 kids aged 15 years and younger and my husband travels weekly for work. My husband has been traveling for work since our second was born. He has taken jobs that involve travel because they have paid more and allowed me to be a SAHM. With each job change his work travel has increased and the more children we have added has made it challenging. When he first started traveling I was a wreck, I had a toddler and a newborn and I was out of my element. I quickly realized that in order to manage being solo with lots of kids I needed to plan. Three years ago, my husband started a company and it has been a lot of blood, sweat, tears and sacrifice from both of us. His travel has picked up tremendously, but we are a team and support each other 100 percent. Instead of complaining about being solo, I plan for it.

My husband and I have a couple of rules when he is traveling. If he is gone more than 3 days it is going to be messy when he gets home. We also have a text only rule when he is away. I don't really want to hear about his nice hotel room or client dinners while I am changing my 10th stinky diaper of the day and negotiating with a tyrannical three year old. He knows if I call him there is an emergency.

Here are some of the tips/tricks I have learned over the years.

1. Have an easy meal plan
I do the meal planning and grocery shopping, but my husband is the cook. He will often meal prep some meals on the weekend before he leaves. A tray of baked ziti and a breakfast casserole can be a life saver. I also plan easy meals that I know the kids will eat and not complain about it. I make sure I have plenty of food in the house before he leaves. No dinner plan and hangry kids is a recipe for disaster.

2. Have 2 days worth of laundry done
With 10 kids I do a load or two of laundry everyday, but I make sure I have two days worth of clean clothes for the kids as the week starts. There is nothing worse then trying to get everyone to the bus stop solo and the kids don't have pants, the blue shirt for field day etc...clean.

3. Do school/lunch/activities prep the night before
This is a hard one, especially when I am beat at night, but the extra 10 minutes is worth it to not have an ugly morning. I make sure everything is signed that needs to be signed, homework is completed and lunches are prepped. My big kids help to do their own lunches.

4. Set up carpools, ask for help and delegate
When I know my husband is traveling, I make sure to look at the week's schedule and set up as many carpools for the kids activities as we can. I have a large whiteboard calendar in our kitchen that has all of the kids activities for the current month. We are very lucky to have families that will help us getting kids to and from events. We live in an area where many of our friends have spouses that travel or are military and we support each other. I also have my older kids help out by unloading the dishwasher, dinner prep/clean up and reading bedtime stories to younger siblings.

This whiteboard is our family's master calendar, my kids joke that if it is not on "the calendar" it is not happening. My littles make sure I put their birthdays on there right away. We have had this calendar system from Pottery Barn for over 10 years.

5. Hire a babysitter during the dinner and activities rush
We have a couple of nights a week where we have 4-5 kids practices on the same night all within a 2 hour window and some later evening practices for older kids. When I am solo on those nights I have our good family friend and long time babysitter come and help me. In our house 5-8pm is the "witching time" I call it. Trying to get dinner on the table, kids out the door for events, and managing meltdowns is challenging. If I can have a second set of hands during that time it makes the evening go better for everyone. We have a local university near us and have found fantastic babysitters in the past advertising there.

6. If you can swing it, belong to a gym
My gym membership has saved me many times. Being on one income our budget is extremely tight, we do not have money for any extras. Our gym membership has been 100% worth the money. We belong to Lifetime Fitness. The child care center staff is awesome and are so good to my kids. Some weeks when my husband has been away it is the only hour I get to myself and the only chance I have to shower. When we have had power outages or snow days and I have been solo we head to the gym.

7. Be kind to yourself
When I am by myself for the week, there are certain things that aren't going to get done around the house. The kids aren't going to get showers every night, if everyone is melting down one of the younger kids may not make it to soccer practice that night. I will use paper plates for easier clean up and the kids may have chicken nuggets or cereal for dinner twice that week. The clean laundry isn't going to make it off the back of the couch. It is all okay.

Full Disclosure:
My husband's work trips are usually 2-3 days long, with the longest ones being 5 days. Right now he is traveling several times a month. Managing kids solo during the week is much easier then the weekend. Weekends are tough and so is the summer. No matter how much I plan things happen; sick kids, bad weather, homework projects kids forgot about. Recently, my husband was away and half of us including me came down with the stomach bug. In that case you go into survival mode, the kids eat pizza and cereal and watch extra show time.

I get a taste of solo parenting several times a month and it is hard, single parents and military/government/shift work spouses are my heroes.

What are some of your tips for parenting solo?