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What Tadpoles Taught Me About Solo Parenting

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I'm going to bed tonight with five fewer mouths to feed.

There's been no tragedy -- thank God -- though it is a little bittersweet.

For the past few weeks, my family shared our kitchen with five tadpoles. We found them on a trail walk and decided that it would be fun to foster them and watch them change until they were full-blown frogs.

(Or toads. Whatever. I don't pretend to know the difference.)

Since then, they've been swimming around in a glass Pyrex bowl on my kitchen counter. We filled it with some pond water and rocks and, thanks to the miracle of Google, we figured out how to feed them.

We didn't bother to name them though. None of us could tell them apart anyway.

This morning, we noticed that all five had front and back legs and that they were all trying to stay above water more than stay below. Their days on our suburban cul de sac had clearly come to an end. It was time to turn them loose.

So what exactly does this have to do with Must-Have Parenting? Well, I'm getting to that.

Mama and Daddy frogs don't hover. They don't even hang around. Those tadpoles didn't need us. If we'd left them alone in that pond where we found them, they would have been fine on their own.

Or maybe they would have been eaten by something bigger ... I suppose it's in the eye of the beholder whether we kidnapped them or rescued them. Maybe they're swimming around the pond tonight sharing their war stories and being celebrated as freed POWs. Or maybe they've already been eaten by something bigger ...

Nevertheless, left to their natural state, they would have gone through all the transformations we've watched these past weeks without having anyone to boil and microwave (and cool!) organic spinach for them to eat. They certainly didn't need me to stand over their bowl and stare every time I took a break from my work.

They still would have sprouted their front and back legs just fine. Their tails still would have shrunk without our help. We are the ones who messed with the natural order, so we are the ones who had to make accommodations to help them thrive.

The same is true for my children, I realized.

As we all learned in 10th-grade ealth class, it takes two to make a baby, and there's enough work in raising children to require the efforts of at least two people. Probably there's enough work in raising one child to create chores for 20 people.

Left to the ideal, natural state, a kid would have two parents, more or less available to meet most of his or her needs. But, as we MHPs are well aware, that just isn't always the case and, for whatever reason, that isn't the case for us.

For my family, military deployments, training trips, schools and just the ridiculously long hours my husband often works have meant that our little tadpoles are going through their own life transformations in an environment that's different than nature intended -- and so he and I have to find ways to make up for that.

For my budding amphibians, it meant microwaving spinach leaves to soften them to provide food. For my actual children, it means Facetiming with my husband from the dinner table.

For the tadpoles, it meant trekking down to the creek for more scummy water. For the children, it means finding ways to work their dad into conversations so that he is always an emotional part of a family, even when he's not a physical part of our daily lives.

The point is, removing the tadpoles from their natural environment didn't change their needs at all, but it did change the options they had for getting those needs met. The same is true for my kids.

Anyone who lives an MHP lifestyle is apt to hear a well-meaning friend or relative remark that they don't know how we do it, they and their children couldn't handle all the separations. But our children are no different from others. They're not made of some mysterious matter that makes them better suited to this lifestyle than other kids. They have the exact same needs as any other child.

But if they're going to grow and thrive and go through all those necessary, healthy changes like they're supposed to, the grown-ups in their lives are going to have to get creative about how to make it all work.

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Rebekah Sanderlin Military Parenting Family and Spouse

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Contributor

Rebekah Sanderlin is an Army wife, a mother of three and a professional writer. Her work has been published numerous places, including The Washington Post, The New York Times, National Public Radio, CNN, and in Self and Maxim magazines. She currently serves on the advisory boards of the Military Family Advisory Network and Blue Star Families.

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