Monday, January 11, 2016

The Joys (and challenges) of Being an almost Solo Parent: How I Survive (and sometimes, thrive)

First of all, single parents get MAJOR props from me. I am not a "single mom", not even close, even though I throw the term around a lot and probably appear to be one. At the end of the day I have the luxury to stay home with my girls and I have a husband who is a very hands-on daddy who loves spending time with them...These days, however, it just doesn't happen much. Since starting our exciting new endeavor, Scott has been markedly absent. He sees the girls for a few minutes in the morning and *maybe* a few minutes in the evenings if he's lucky. He works seven days a week and days off are few and far between (and not "off" because there are other areas of the business that need tending to). It is not unusual for him to leave for work before the girls wake up, and return home after they are in bed. So, no, I am not a single mom - but I am, for much of the time, a solo parent with zero help and it is for sure the toughest (and most rewarding and enjoyable!) job I have ever had.

Being that we live in a bustling marina community that boasts a nice number of live aboards, locals and passer-throughs, I get all sorts of comments all day long from "You are a saint!" to "I have no idea how you do this!" I have to say, getting this sort of validation day in and day out from people who see how hard I work is most definitely a luxury that many stay at home moms do not get. Not that I need the validation, but it certainly nice every now and then. Being a stay at home mom is often touted as a "thankless" job, so a little recognition goes a long way - especially when I am having a rough one.

So, how do *I* do it? Well, every family is different and the ages of kids and years between them certainly makes each situation unique, but for us with three kids who's ages are three and under, here's how I manage:

Areas where I thrive:

1) Schedules
I know that "schedules" are a hot button among parents, but for us, we thrive on routine! I absolutely love knowing that my girls will wake between 6:30 and 7am, eat lunch between at 11:30 and 12, nap for (at least) two hours between 12:30 and 2:30 and got to bed at 6:30pm (Isla goes down a bit later). While this sort of predictability might make some shudder, I honestly have no idea how I would survive without it. There's plenty of time for spontaneity when our kids get a little bit older, but for now - our schedule is a huge reason I am sane. I know they are not for everybody, but they sure are for me!

2) Naps
Siiiigh. Naps. I do not know what I would do without them. Being a full-time momma is a full-time 24/7/365 job and nap time is like my little oaisis in the middle of the day when I need it most. I can relax, cook, read, write, run an errand or nap (though I never do) between the hours of 12:30-2:30. Isla was a great sleeper and napper from the get-go, but the twins? They were not. It took no less than nine months of solid, every day WORK to get them on a napping routine and schedule (we are big fans of Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child over here) and they did not sleep through the night until over eighteen months. Despite being told that they could not be "trained", I kept at it (and no, that does not mean letting them cry it out) and am so glad I did because I am reaping the benefits of that crazy time now. I put our girls into their beds wide awake, they giggle and coo for about five minutes and then - all quiet for two to three hours - it. is. bliss.

3) Snacks
I know that there are schools of thought that discourage constant snacking in children but I don't think those people solo parented three toddlers! With Isla - I was "organic this" and "no sugar" that...but since the twins I am all, "whatever keeps them quiet". Of course I try to offer the healthiest option I can find (like popcorn, fruit or baked crackers) but sometimes, if it's a little MSG loaded cheesy poof they want, it's a MSG loaded cheesy poof they get. My girls can go from Cherub to crazy in the blink of an eye and I learned very quickly that the quickest way to "tame the beast" is with yummy food. For example, our daughters all fancy themselves quite independent and the only way I can load them into our awesome Kinderwagon Hop Tandem Umbrella Stroller without screams of protest (because they want to walk, of course!), is if I distract them with food. Same thing for all major transitions. Leaving the pool? Snack! Leaving the beach? Snack! Waiting for dinner to arrive at a restaurant? Snack! Anytime I need them to be quiet or sit peacefully, you better believe I am plying them with food. And it's not always on the good section of the food pyramid. Sorry.

4) Outside
Our girls are outside in the fresh air and sunshine literally 90% of their waking hours. I don't think I need to justify how good outdoor play is for young children, but suffice it to say, I believe wholeheartedly in it. Aside from all the benefits of simply being outside, it's about a million times easier for me as a mom! Three kids aged three and under is a lot to handle, and while some aspects of 'tiny living' on a boat actually make it easier (I can always see them, they are never more than ten feet from my person...etc), it can also be very difficult cooped up in a small boat (i.e. when they all want the same toy and fall into a horrific state of toddler anarchy). While my girls will play like angels together, they will also fight like cats and dogs. Being outside gives them a little more room to explore on their own terms and the fights between them are easier to diffuse and significantly less. So outside we go!

5) Cocktail Hour
Yep, I admit it. I like a good afternoon cocktail to "take the edge off" - of course I drink responsibly and don't get drunk, but a couple cocktails before my kids' bedtime makes my afternoons much more pleasant. A more relaxed mommy is a happy mommy and come 4pm when we are usually poolside, you will almost always find me with a drink in hand. Say what you will about it, but I deserve that cocktail! The fact that day drinking is very normal and socially acceptable here combined with the fact that the beach bar is right next to the pool makes this little ritual nice and easy. The running joke is that if I am drinking rum it's been a tough day, beer and it's been a good day! Either way, I revel in my afternoon drinks and while other's might call it irresponsible, I call it wonderful. Cheers!

6) Preparation
If becoming a mom made me hone my 'preparation' skills, becoming a mom of twins turned it into an olympic sport! I am constantly thinking at least two - but usually three or four - steps ahead of the game at any given time. As such, I rarely sit still. I am prepared for almost anything (with kids there are always going to be surprises!), at any time. Our Sailor Bags Backpack is always stocked with spare clothes, Turkish towels, a beach blanket, diapers, wipes, hand sanitizer, bandaids, swimsuits, snacks, toys and more. After the pool or beach, I shower my kids on the premises with a hose (of course soap and shampoo is in our bag as well!) and get them dressed so that we can simply return to the boat all clean and eat lunch or dinner, eliminating that step for me later. Wet clothes are hung on the line to dry during nap time or overnight and fresh clothes, diapers and snacks are re-packed while they eat keeping our pack in "ready" mode at all times. This sort of forethought and planning is 100% necessary when rolling solo with three little ones because the dreaded toddler anarchy I mentioned earlier is only one tiny misstep away!

7) Early Bedtime
The twins (22 months old at time of writing) go to bed at 6:30pm. Yes, they wake up bright and early at 7am but,  believe me, I'd rather have those quiet evening hours than quiet morning hours. Isla (almost four) goes to bed later, usually 7:30/8pm. But she's more flexible these days and not as sleep-sensitive so we'll even let her stay up till 9:30pm on a special occasion if she's had a good nap in the middle of the day. Having only one child is much, much easier than having three (considering their ages and the twin dynamic) and while I absolutely LOVE spending so much time with all of my girls, I let out a big, huge SIGH at 6:30pm when I shut the door to the v-berth and all goes quiet.

8) Social Interaction
A common complaint of many stay at home moms is isolation and lack of adult conversation/connection. I am a very social person who loves to meet and talk to other people so if I wasn't able to connect with other moms, sailors and friends my happiness would suffer. Luckily for me we live in a beautiful marina with a thriving community and because I am out and about all day long - I get lots and lots of social interaction. From blog followers to fellow live-aboards to locals and expats, I will never go more than an hour or two without seeing or having a nice conversation with a friend. I absolutely love that about living here.

And most important...

8) Keeping it Simple
This is kind of laughable because, from a distance my stroller resembles a pack animal on a trek, but I  do try to keep it simple. I don't make things more difficult than they have to be and everything I do is a risk/benefit analysis. Someone invites me and the girls out boating for the day, do I accept? Hell no! Sure, it sounds fun. But it would also mean me having to pack an insane amount of crap from safety gear to food, it would mean (most likely) skipping the blessed nap described in #2, which would then mean cranky babies clamoring for mommy (seriously, two or three toddlers screaming and wanting to be held at the same time is pretty nutso...on a day boat? More nutso), which would mean my hands would be full, which would mean I could not have a drink, which would mean I would be stressed out and worried our kids were ruining someone else's nice day out. Sure, my thought process might seem bleak and a little (or a lot?) neurotic, but believe me - I live with my kids and know them. While, at first, a nice day out on a boat sounds lovely, I also know that it is not really worth the trouble it would be while on my own. In a year this will change, but for now, I keep close to home and keep it simple. Beach, pool, play on boat and park. That's how we roll 99% of the time, and no one is complaining.

Areas where I suffer:

1) Diet
If there is an area of parenting where I drop the ball, it is this one. I seriously loathe the galley and everything associated with cooking - from the meal planning to the execution - is a dreaded act for me. I wish it was not this way, but it is. As such, we eat a lot of quick, thrown together meals. Mac-n-cheese, grilled cheese, and chicken nuggets are staples in my kids' diet. I do always throw in a fruit and a veggie, but my meals are far from Pinterest worthy.  I'm not proud of this fact, but I cannot seem to get it together to make much else right now. Now that we have our awesome Wonderbag, things are changing a little on this front, but is not, and will probably never be, my thing. If I could eat out at every meal, or - better yet - have someone prepare food for me, I would. Also, I don't eat. I have lost no fewer than six pounds since coming down here and I'm so busy throughout the day that I hardly get hungry. Some leftover mac-n-cheese or the remainder of chicken salad sandwich is a meal to me now and it's not unusual for me to forget to eat until dinnertime because I am so busy taking care of the kids.

2) Getting a break
If I had a dime for every time someone told me I needed a break! Thank God for naps, because they are the only one I get. Because my kids are sleeping, however, I am limited to what I can do and usually it must be on the boat and involve very little noise. The other day I had to pay someone to clean our topsides while we were at the pool because I don't want to do it when the girls are sleeping for fear it would wake them. I hardly ever get out by myself and, at this point, if I had a day off without the girls I honestly have no idea how I would fill it! I would love a little more time to write, answer emails (apology to anyone who has emailed this last year! My inbox is a wasteland these days!) and do boat chores or run errands, but - at this point - it's limited. While I would love to have a sitter or someone watch the girls for a few hours during the day here and there, I don't know if I could ever trust anyone with all three of them at their current ages knowing how much work they are. We'll get there.

3) Diversity
Living on a small island means our options of 'things to do' with the toddler set are already limited. Not having car at my disposal combined with the fact that going anywhere alone with my three little ones sounds like much more trouble than it's worth (see #8 above) means we don't ever leave the marina. Believe it or not, I actually don't mind this because the marina we live at has everything we really need: grocery store, coffee shop, two restaurants, surf shop, yacht chandlery, park, beach, pool, and beach bar. The fact of the matter is our marina is actually a destination for many island parents so we get to see a lot of kids throughout the day. But still, the footprint of our world is very "small" right now and I hope that in a year or so it will be easier to venture further afield so my kids know there is a life outside of here!

4) Losing it
When people used to say things about how absolutely crazy their toddler made them, I was secretly like, "That's a little dramatic, I mean, a tiny human pissing you off that much!?! Nah" Well, I am eating my words. Holy crap, I have no idea how they do it but toddlers can push buttons and bring out sides of you that you never knew you had. Being that I am alone with my girls almost all the time means that, sometimes, my moods (usually when combined with lack of sleep) get the better of me. While we try to be a "yell free" home, I find it almost impossible. I resort to bribing, time-outs, time-in's, threats, consequences and everything else under the sun but sometimes they are just little monsters who have the ability to bring out the worst in me. Those days are what I call "rum days".

5) Marriage
Scott and I pass like ships in the night. We hardly see each other and don't spend any quality time together. By the time he gets home he hops on his computer to answer emails and I either hop on mine to write or, more likely, go to bed because I am exhausted from my marathon of a day. I've read up a lot on how this "season of life" (the one with little kids and small twins in particular) can be really hard on a marriage and it's no different for us, especially since Scott is working so hard to get this business where we want it. When high season slows down a bit and he can be home and present a little more, perhaps this will change - but for now, we kind of just co-exist in a state of exhaustion.

6) Hygiene
This marina has what many would call some of the best marina showers ever. Living on a boat means hot, high pressure showers are like gold to us and yet, I have only used them a handful of times. Most of the time I hose myself off after swimming with the girls, or - more recently - I have taken to showering on the aft deck (in my bikini, of course!) while the girls nap. This is not the nice, relaxing, hot, pampering shower that I envision every day but it does the job. I long for that nice, warm shower that exists a short dock walk away...but most days, I skip it!

7) Sleep
Our girls are all good sleepers now, but there are still three of them and there's always a night or two a week where someone will rouse and start the domino effect of waking up the others. Getting the kids back to sleep is sometimes as easy as nursing (the twins) but can also involve hours of cuddling, shushing and holding. There are sleep regressions, nightmares, fevers and illness. All of these things equal sleepless nights and the person who deals with night wakings and early risings is almost always me. While sleepless nights are not the norm anymore (thank God!) I am always, always operating somewhere on the spectrum of "tired".  I drink a pretty unhealthy amount of coffee these days, I will say that.

The Bottom Line:
I am a happy and very fulfilled stay-on-boat mom. Sure, I have my terrible days where I want to run off this boat pulling my hair out and screaming, and of course my kids are far from perfect. But, all in all, I wear a smile on my face and I feel very lucky to be able to raise my kids in a way that I can feel proud of. Ultimately, I know that this "season" of life is a very short one, and one that I know will be over all too soon, so - even during the worst of it - I try to be mindful that "this too shall pass" - and that I'll even miss it! I know that being a stay at home/solo parent isn't for everyone, but it is definitely for me and I enjoy being so close to our girls, seeing every minute and milestone for these very formative years. I wear a smile most of the time and feel thankful every single day. And when I don't, there is always rum.


Emma said...

I needed this today. Always honest. Thank you.

Heather said...

I always love and appreciate your honesty and openness!

Susan Taylor said...

What a great read, Brittany! It stirs up so many "me toos!" Do you think you could do this if you still lived on the hook? It is so nice that you have a successful blog - I think one of the important things for a stay at home mom (especially a well-educated one) is to feel like you are contributing and accomplishing things, too! And not just raising nice humans - because that is of course important. We only have one kid right now and she just started preschool three mornings a week so life is easier but I single mom it 6 days a week. For me the hardest part is making sure there are other kids/moms around for the pool/beach/playground. I need social interaction. And, since I am pregnant... I am sooo looking forward to those afternoon cocktails again!!!! Keep up the good writing :)

Sarah Frank said...

Our lives are so different but so much the same. I'm having a "So-Co" day myself, which is my equivalent of a "rum" day. taking a deep breath and counting down the minutes 'til bedtime as dinner chaos ensues :-$ *sigh* it's all good.

Sarah Frank said...

By the way ... My new favorite thing: The Perfect Drink

It's very compact and the cocktail list is amazing! Look it up. Thank me later ;)

Unknown said...

I relate to you on so many levels and love reading your blog. We just moved aboard our catamaran this past October with our one year old. Every time my little one seems out of control, I think of your situation, and tell myself this is easy compared to Windtraveler. I totally understand the whole galley delimma as well. Anyways, you are truly an inspiration. Keep up the good work and keep writing! Love the blog!

ana said...

What a great post! You're doing great, mama. I'll bring you a rum if ever in your 'hood.

under30undersail said...

yes, yes, and yes. Schedules, being outside, naps, losing it, not getting breaks. Yes, and yes. I hear you!

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