Making it Through a Time
We are nearing the final month of Michael living in Seattle! He moved back in February for a 6 month job training with Starbucks. It's been weird to balance in a lot of ways, and it has been HARD. I'm so grateful for his support from afar and in that way, of course, I've never considered myself a single mom. That is a position that I still have the utmost of respect for, and maybe now a little more empathy.
I recently had a friend reach out and ask for any tips on surviving as a solo parent while the other parent is away - even if it is only for a short amount of time. As I thought on that I realized that there actually has been a lot about this experience that has taught me some lessons in maintaining "normal" while life just isn't. Most of my examples pertain to solo parenting, but I think that these are principles that could apply to a lot of other situations as well.
1. Managing the Brain Fog
I can't say that I ever found myself overly depressed in this time, but I did notice a sort of brain fog that would set in once the boys were in bed. It was like I got through the day, and my processing skills just kind of quit. I couldn't make anything of the time by myself or what I should do with it! (And usually, I looove time by myself.) So when I was sitting on the couch unable to move, but knowing I needed to move either to clean or just do something for myself, I would find something "concrete" to engage in that would kind of snap me back. Often, this was a podcast. Podcasts weren't concrete in something that I could see or touch, but it was a conversation that was happening outside of my body, and it kind of pulled me out of myself. As soon as I started listening, I was able to get up and get moving. Other times it meant turning on a Netflix show on my phone, or even call a family member.
I am definitely not saying that if you're finding yourself in a series of brain fogs, that you should simply cope with some sort of media. The fogs that I experienced were directly correlated to being the only adult with the boys all day then by myself at night - and I think I just needed a little mental stimulation to make it to bedtime. If you are unable to identify why your brain is regularly going numb, I would definitely encourage you to seek professional help, or at least start by talking to a friend.
2. Consistently Socializing
When everything feels out of whack, I think that it's easy to reason that you may just need to skip out on some of your commitments in the interest of surviving. We have skipped out one or two commitments since Michael left, but I decided pretty much right away that, while he was gone, we needed to show up regularly for the people in our life so that the boys could be seeing the same people on the same schedule every week. Church and Community Group and Kiddie College and Swimming kind of regulated us all. And while so many people were kind of keeping an eye out for us, it was important for us to be out, with those people and visible!
3. Saying Yes
One thing that I realized quickly was that I did not have the bandwidth to proactively plan things to do or people to see - but we were desperately needing things to do and people to see. So whenever someone invited us out/over, I said yes. And God knew what I needed, because the first week that Michael was gone we had plans every day that the other party invited us to. Some were acquaintances that didn't even know what our family was going through!
Now at the end of almost 6 months of saying yes to virtually every social invitation, I am exhausted. But! I also feel closer to a lot of friends in Chicago, and even our family that we've traveled to. This has been an intense season in a lot of ways, but I'm so grateful that it's also been an intensely relational season for all of us. Again, God knows what we need!
4. Aiming to Maintain Your Health
The key word here is maintain. When I thought about how much I would be managing in parenting by myself day in and day out, I knew that I needed as much energy as possible, and to not feel sluggish or weighed down by headaches after too many sweets. However, I also knew that I couldn't hold myself to as strict of a diet as I would like, and trying to do so would cause unnecessary stress. Similarly for exercising, solo parenting meant that I couldn't prioritize time at the gym like I would have liked. But dropping all exercise completely would leave me feeling miserable. So instead of trying to increase my running distance or pace, I simply aimed to run every day.
If you're going through a thing that you know will last for a season, I would recommend not trying to increase your own expectations on your health practices, but I would just as much recommend you not throw them all out of the window. I knew that my kids needed me most of all in these months, and in order for me to give them my healthiest self, we were all going to load up in the stroller and go on a 20 minute run! This mindset felt very familiar to being pregnant - in that season you shouldn't take on more strenuous physical activity than you had previously done, but don't let yourself go, and try to load up on extra veggies and vitamins to give you the energy that you need!
5. Staying Open
One of the things that I was most nervous about when Michael was leaving was that I was going to have to be way more vulnerable with everyone in my life. I knew that the boys and I would want to have people over, but I wouldn't be able to speed panic clean before they came without Michael around to help/graciously accept my orders. ;) I also knew that, on days and weeks that I was struggling, I would need to say so! I've always been pro "transparency," but when life was fairly normal I think that I really felt like I could control that transparency. But now, I needed to think about what was ultimately best for the boys, even if that meant talking openly (within a safe group of people) about the negative emotions that I was experiencing, or asking for and receiving offers of help with childcare.
|In the week after Michael left we went to the Planetarium with Attie's bestie from school. We ended up at a few other museums that week too.|
|Celebrating Atticus's birthday at Community Group!|
|First of many road trips - to visit Aunt Nanny in Hamilton!|
|More museums with more friends!|
|Took the boys on a run down Navy Pier before going to the Children's Museum|
|Lots of downtown shenanigans|
|And family shenanigans|
|House FULL of church friends :)|
|I know that this one is a little blurry but it's my absolute favorite from Mother's Day|