Self-Care While Solo-Parenting
It's my pleasure to introduce Nichole Bellos, military spouse extraordinaire. Nichole has a BA in Psychology, a personal training certification, leads a Tinkergarten class, and is passionate about yoga. Whew! Talk about well-rounded! Nichole is one of our ambassadors and has graced us with her wealth of knowledge and personal experience with making the most of solo-parenting: something we can all relate to! Please give a warm welcome to Nichole.
So, there I was... a new mom of two with a 2.5ish year old and a three week old. My husband had just left for training. In fact, he spent the better part of my daughter’s first year away. Every time we would find a new routine or normal, he would come home temporarily and it would change. Not only were we having to adapt because of my husband’s schedule, but infants develop so rapidly in the first year that their routine changes quite frequently anyhow. During late night feedings, I found myself googling various things to help me get through this challenging time. Why reinvent the wheel? Maybe there was a nugget of advice that would help or something I hadn’t thought of yet.
MY TINY HUMANS, ALEXANDER AND OLIVIA
Instead, I became frustrated. Don’t get me wrong - the advice was good advice but missed the mark for our current situation. Several blogs would suggest leaning on your partner, family or friends to decompress. That can be challenging when you’re fresh off a new PCS or your spouse is separated by distance, or you have yet to make friends... because let's face it: making new friends as an adult is like dating, and it only gets more complicated with children and nap times.
What is solo parenting? Solo parenting refers to parent that has a partner or spouse, but is flying solo. This happens in the civilian world, and is especially familiar to military families. Solo parenting is different than single parenting. I purposely choose this term to be respectful to our partners and spouses, and single parents.
Nowadays, “self-care” is the new buzz-word out in the world of social media. For me, self-care is more than bubble baths and pedicures because, although wonderful and important, they are temporary fixes. I’m searching for long-term self-care solutions. My tips are not ye old typical self-care practices. These do not include shopping trips alone or hiring a babysitter. These are tools to implement in your daily life. These are what I like to call: Parenting Beyond the Moment. We are planting the seeds for the future. These take practice, patience, and consistency. Children tend to internalize the things we say to them, and you will see and hear examples of this during play. It’s important to remember that we are all human. We have bad days. We make mistakes. We are not always in the best headspace - and that’s OK. Take a deep breath and try again tomorrow. Children do not require us to be the perfect parent; just that we be ourselves.
Tip #1: Communication and Boundaries.
When you’re feeling overwhelmed and understaffed, you may just want a moment of peace to pee alone or sip a cup of coffee. Your child may have numerous demands of snacks or wanting to play. I’m here to tell you that you are not obligated to meet every demand your child has - that’s having healthy boundaries for yourself. You calmly and confidently communicate your boundary, then welcome your child’s feelings and emotions surrounding said boundary. We are modeling the behavior we hope to see in our children as they grow. The saying “do as I say, not as I do” doesn’t really work; children will do as you do (don’t believe me? Wait til the first time your child swears - haha). We are modeling the importance of boundaries when it comes to self preservation; we cannot pour from an empty cup. When we model these behaviors, we normalize them for our children and give them the permission to do the same. “Fake it ‘til you make it” also does not work well with children; If you’re not present with them during play, they will sense it. Children are incredibly intuitive. This lack of connection with us can manifest itself as limit pushing, temper tantrums, and acting out. They may already be demonstrating these behaviors if one parent is separated by distance or works unusually long hours. I believe this tip to be important work for their future relationships. They’re learning that saying “no” is healthy and learning to be an advocate for their own mental health.
Here’s an example of what this might look like: “Mom! Let’s play! Mooooooom!”
“I don’t feel like playing monster trucks right now, I feel stressed and need some space.”
Next, allow your child to have their feelings.
“I understand, that makes you feel angry. You want someone to play with.”
If you’re up to it you can offer a solution:
“I don’t feel like playing right now, but we can read 2 books instead.” Or:
“What if we played for 20 minutes together, and then 20 minutes in our own spaces?”
You can also conserve some energy by becoming an active observer of their play rather than a participant.
Children are their own person with their own opinions and feelings. They can choose to accept the boundary or not. This is why I say it takes practice and patience, and it helps to add a large dose of cutting yourself some slack. Solo Parenting is no small task. You could ask for five minutes alone and they’ll give you 2.57 seconds. We are planting seeds. Children learn with repetition. It is in their nature to test boundaries. It is healthy, even, for them to do this... again and again. Solidarity, my friend. Parenting is not for ninnies.
Tip #2: Get Outside!
Using our previous example, you could also say:
“I don’t feel like playing monster trucks right now, but what if we played outside?”
MUD PLAY TO REDUCE STRESS
Fresh air is amazing for the mind, body, and spirit. Keep it simple. With children, less is always more. A short walk around the block or hanging out in the front yard with bubbles is perfect. If you’re feeling up for it - then totally head to the park or a local nature trail. Anywhere they can have access to the earth, the sky, and some nature-like things (dirt, trees, leaves, sticks, etc).
Repeat after me: Dirt Doesn’t Hurt. There is a bacterium in the soil called mycobacterium vaccae that actives a set of serotonin- releasing neurons in the brain. These are the same nerves targeted by many antidepressants. Nature reduces stress. We are also in a time where children (and thus adults) are largely disconnected from the natural world. Today’s children play outside significantly less than we did in our childhood. We can change that.
This is another opportunity for you to practice being an active observer rather than a participant; however, if you love nature then by all means - DIVE IN! Seeing you play and get dirty will give them permission to explore. Sometimes they’re over it in five minutes, and others its two hours! Both are perfect. Five minutes of fresh air is better than zero minutes. The dirt will wash off, but the memories will last a lifetime.
Tip #3: Make Time for Mindfulness
Mindfulness is a broad term and how it’s practiced is completely up to the individual. It can include meditation, mindful breathing, progressive muscle relaxation (also known as PMR, and my personal favorite — Google it!), journaling, doodling/painting, dancing, and so on. It is simply any activity where the mind is not judging right and wrong. It’s a safe place to decompress. Maybe it is a combination of things for you. I recommend at least five minutes per day. Sometimes my mindfulness looks like five minutes of PMR right before I fall asleep or a couple deep breaths at every red light I am stopped at (YESS! Try it!).
This models positive, stress-relieving behaviors for children. When they see us reacting to stress with a couple deep breaths or having a dance party or some other creative outlet it gives them tools to manage their own stress and BIG emotions. This will happen with lots of practice and your guidance. Planting seeds, my friends.
Final Thoughts: You are amazing - there, I said it! Raising tiny humans is hard work. Being human is challenging. Solo Parenting takes both to a whole new level. Some days are phenomenal and we slay the day, other days are the opposite, and most are a mix of both.
These tips are to give you things to try. How can you customize these tips to reflect your life and your individual strengths as a parent? Take what works for you and leave the rest. To be clear, I support all types of self-care - the bubble baths and communication, shopping trips alone and mindfulness, and so on. They’re all important and necessary to fill our cup.
Lastly, what are some of your solo parenting tools? Share your tips and tricks with the Deploy Joy Co. community!