One of the most common questions I have been asked during this never-ending deployment is, "How do you DO the single parent thing?" That is often followed up with "I could never do that" or "I don't know how you do it". In the beginning, I didn't think I could do it. Sometimes I still don't. But it gets done. We're heading into month 15 and the kids are alive and I'm not in jail. So, how do you do it? I can't give you fool-proof ideas but I can share with you what worked for us.
A lot of this depends on how old your kids are, where you'restationed/living during the deployment, etc. My kids are 6 and 3 and welive in Hawaii. The first thing I did was to start talking to themabout the deployment a few months out. I explained to them that Daddywas going to have to go to Iraq (we looked Iraq up on a map and checkedout age-appropriate books on Iraq from the library to help themunderstand WHERE he was going) for "several months". They were youngenough at that point to not really have a firm concept of time andsaying "a year" seemed overwhelming - to them and to me.Once we got past that initial shock, I enlisted the kids in helping mecome up with an "adventure list". We combed through the tourist booksand came up with adventures - big and small - to keep us occupiedthroughout the year. The smaller ones - beach trips and park outings -we planned for the weekends when his absence would be felt the most.The bigger ones - water park trips, hops to other islands, museum visits, botanicalgarden adventures, and special events in town - we saved for school breaks and holidays. They gaveus things to look forward to and helped to break up the monotony.Basically we became tourists in our own neighborhood.As a parent, I came to rely heavily on routine. I function better - andso do my kids - if they know what to expect. We almost crave it.Bedtimes are set. Rules are set (the big ones). Activities are set(within reason). It helped us to feel as though we were in control of asituation that was so much bigger than us. With regard to rules, Idiscovered an "If/Then Chart" that I now use that covers the 10 mostbasic infractions and the consequences of those infractions. It'spredictable. The kids were able to see the logic behind theconsequences and that helped them to feel as though they were a part ofthe decision-making process of the house. And it took the pressure offof ME to be the sole disciplinarian in the house 24 hours a day, 7 daysa week. In fact, once got the chart (you can Google "If/Then Chart") wewrote to my husband and asked him if he had any suggestions onconsequences for the different infractions. He appreciated beingincluded and it helped to remind the kids that, even though Daddy isgone, he is STILL a part of this family and its' functions. We also made sure to have FUN. Once or twice a month, we do "MovieNight". We haul out the pillows and blankets, pop up some popcorn, bustout the M&Ms, and pop in a movie (thank goodness for Netflix!). Thekids love cuddling, eating junk food, and watching a movie they've notseen before (their favorite so far is "Sound of Music"). I love thefact that I get to spend some quality time with my kids and forgetabout the fact that I'm the only adult in the house. We do breakfastfor dinner at least once a month (more if I'm not up to cooking!). Wego out for ice cream a heckuva lot more than we do when Daddy's home.We do what we can to make the best out of the fact that it's just the 3of us for now. And we take LOTS of pictures to send to Daddy.As a parent, I would encourage anyone dealing with a deployment to finda reliable child-care option. Whether it's the neighbor, a teenagerfrom a family in town or at church, a local day care center, or theChild Development Center on post...USE IT. I'm not advocating pawningyour child off on anyone and everyone all the time but I know so manywomen who feel guilt over the thought of day care or a babysitter. Timefor yourself - time to run errands on your own or grab a bite to eat onyour own or hit the gym, read a book, or even clean the house ON YOUROWN - is vital to maintaining sanity. I have found that my relationshipwith my children is better when I have time for myself. There is lesspressure. Less stress. I feel more focused. They seem to listen betterand work better with me. And they enjoy it. I wouldn't take themsomewhere they didn't enjoy being and my kids (being the opinionatedand mouthy things that they are) will tell me if they don't likesomething. It gives all of us a few moments to recharge. Which gives MEthe ability to focus properly on THEM when I am with them. I am a better parent when we all have a little time apart. The saying, "Familiarity breeds contempt" can be seen in action in my house when my husband is gone for extended periods of time. I have a feeling it is this way for many families.Life as a "kind of" single parent is a balance. It's a balance betweenyou and the kids. It's a balance between sanity and insanity. It's likewalking a tightrope above an alligator-infested pit carrying a flamingbucket of snakes. Well, it can be for me on certain days. Take it dayby day and do your best to have some fun. My goal during thisdeployment was to be able to look back on this year and smile. Smilebecause we made it but also because my kids and I had some fun togetherand strengthened our bond. I'd say we've done well. I hope this helps abit.