A few months ago a fellow Navy wife and her children were over for a playdate.  While we sat on the patio and watched the kids play in the backyard, she and I started talking about one of the main issues military moms face…parenting solo while our husbands are away.

We military mothers find ourselves in an interesting position at times being the sole parent while still having a partner. Not quite a single parent.  But not having a fully present parenting partner either.

Later that evening, it occurred to me that military wives are not the only mothers who find themselves flying solo from time to time.  We will all find ourselves being the sole parent at one time or another.

It could be that your spouse is away for a week long conference for work.  Or perhaps one person needs to fly home to help an aging parent.  Or just maybe you are a mom, like me who finds herself flying solo for longer periods of time while my husband serves in the U.S. military.

No matter the reason, or the length of time apart, parenting can be tough when flying solo.

But military moms are “the quiet professionals”, the special operations of motherhood, when it comes to parenting alone.

I thought I would share a few military mom tips and tricks for getting through the trials of parenting through periods of separation.

Hopefully a few of these tips will help you the next time you find yourself flying solo…even if it is just for a few days.

1. Take advantage of the time

Never feel like there is time to get the things done in the house that YOU want to get done?  Here’s your chance!  Repaint your bedroom.  Get a massage.  Have a girlfriend over for a late night chat after the kids are in bed.  Watch a Gone With the Wind marathon. I even have a friend who remodeled her entire kitchen the way she wanted it while her husband was out to sea.  Now I am not saying that you should go that far — she had a lot of explaining to do when her spouse returned.  But this time alone is a great time to focus on the things that are important to you and maybe not so important to him.

2. Keep busy

Don’t just wait until your spouse gets home to get out of the house.  Schedule outings every few days, even if it is just to visit a friend at her house.  Keeping busy will help the time fly by and you’ll have so much to tell your partner when they return.

3. Countdown to the reunion

Military moms are great at this.  There are many ways of counting down until reunion day, and a countdown helps both you and  your little ones see reunion day growing closer.

  • Fill a jar with the same number of  jelly beans (or any other candy) as days the traveling parent will be gone and eat one every day until they are home.
  • Make a paper chain with one link for every day your spouse will be away.  Each day break away one chain.  You can even write one fun activity to do that day on the chain.  Make cookies. Take a nature walk.  Mail a letter.
  • On your regular calendar write down one thing you love about your spouse everyday until they return.  Then copy this list and give it to them as a “Happy You Are Home” gift.

4. Make time for yourself

Just like the flight attendant tells you on an airplane before takeoff,  make sure you put the oxygen mask on yourself before your children.  You must take care of yourself if you are going to have anything to give back to your children.  Hire a sitter to get some time away.  And if you can’t hire a sitter, work it out with a friend to trade babysitting.  Even if it is just to go grocery shopping, time away from your kiddos is valuable and necessary for your sanity.

If you have family nearby, arrange for a regular schedule, say two mornings a week, where you can get some time to run errands or eat lunch with a friend.  Heck, even take a nap!

5. Keep up the communication

One of the toughest parts of being apart is staying on the same page with your partner while separated.  Use technology like email, Twitter and Skype to keep the other parent in the know with regard to the kids.

Children change quickly…so our parenting must keep up. A week or so before my husband returns, we do a parenting debrief. I give my husband a heads up on what our schedule looks like and make sure he is aware of any major changes since he left.  Also, make sure to share with your spouse any behavior issues that he needs to  know about.  Nothing like walking into the throes of potty training without being prepared for what you’re walking into.

6. Give yourself some grace

There is no way to possibly be BOTH mother and father.  So give yourself a little slack.  Order pizza a little more often.  We’ve had popcorn and Gatorade for dinner more than once while my husband is away.  Put the kids to bed 30 minutes earlier so that you can take a longer bubble bath.  Give them dessert on Fridays AND Tuesdays if it helps.  Take deep breaths and know that separation and parenting is hard, even for those of us that do it all the time.

And know that there is no way to be a perfect mother, but there are a million ways to be a great mother!

Even when you are flying solo.

A huge thanks to Rob Bixby Photography and Operation: Love Reunited for the use of his beautiful photographs.

Are you facing a separation soon? Or are you a veteran? What are your tips for flying solo?