If you had told me when E was just born–and I hardly knew how to make it through Seth’s 12-hour shifts alone by myself–that I would one day be watching three children aged two and under all by myself for a week, repeatedly, I would have told you you were crazy. (Primarily because I was a brand-new mom with no idea of how easy I had it, but that’s another story!)
[E, 2 years; R, 1 year; L, 2 months]
But as it turns out, Seth’s job has turned into one with a good deal of long business trips, which leaves me home with the munchkins all day and all night for days. We survive, and honestly I enjoy the change of pace every once in a while.
This is a two-step process: figure out the things that are really, really hard to do with just one pair of grown-up hands, and then do everything possible to make those tasks go smoothly. Things that fall in this category include: bathing the children, bathing oneself, and putting the children to bed. Getting a bath myself is the hardest task for me, but I’ve learned that if I time everything carefully, I have a few minutes in the morning when the girls are fed and will play very happily by themselves, and L will usually sleep. Sometimes the girls even set up playing shop in the bathroom, which is fantastic, and I enjoy taking the longest shower I can.
Take full advantage of help.
Remember the priorities you just thought of whenever another pair of helpful hands walks in the front door. What can you do in one-tenth of the time if someone else is there to entertain the kiddos? DO THAT. Or, if you’re going absolutely nuts by yourself for the week with no adults to talk to, then throw the todo list away and just talk.
This is pretty much essential even if there are two adults in the home, but this is the one task that could truly be nearly impossible if all the kids go to bed at the same time. You only have two hands, but toddlers at bedtime can be a nightmare! Keeping even the most well-behaved child in Place A while you struggle to put another child in Place B is unspeakably difficult. Stagger bedtimes. Also, make it a habit to not let them get up in the middle of the night. With just one adult home to fetch and soothe them in the wee hours, it’s just not possible to get up two or three times per child! Zero is good. Daytime is tiring enough without adding night wakings into the picture.
Back when there were only two, sometimes it seemed like the day would stretch on forever and ever and ever. And maybe it’s intimidating to haul all three off to the mall, but it’ll entertain everyone, use up a lot of time, not create any mess at home, and if it turns out to be too much work, then you just go back home. Be chill, have no expectations, and enjoy the ride.
I’m not normally a very scheduled person, but when I’m the only grown-up around, everything turns into a hyper routine. Our life becomes a series of blocks of time: first we’re going to get some milk for breakfast, then we’re going to get dressed, then Mommy will get a shower, then we will go downstairs for the food component of breakfast and Mommy’s coffee, then we will clean up and do morning chores and so on. With no deadline of “Daddy’s coming home!” there is no accountability for me to get things done properly, and also no major obvious breaks in the day. Scheduling keeps things sane and also helps us move through the day more pleasantly and smoothly.
I am not a morning person. Seth gets the kids every morning and I silently go get my morning shower, preferably without talking to anyone until I’ve been up at least a half hour, and without actually doing anything until I’ve had my coffee. The girls, on the other hand, are definitely morning people. They come chipperly chirping into my room before I’m even awake, much less ready to address two cheerful but hungry toddlers. I hate mornings. So, the night before, I get their breakfast all ready, get my coffeemaker scheduled to be piping hot and ready to drink by 7am, so that when they come running into my room, all I have to do is creep downstairs, pick up everything and bring it upstairs, then crawl back under the covers until I’m a little more happy with the world.
There is great consistency in the house when there’s only one grown-up around to give directions, and toddlers love consistency. I’ve found it to be a great time to change sleeping schedules, make a child learn to sleep through the night, initiate potty training, and so on. “Daddy will be so proud when he comes home!” is also a great motivator.
I don’t care very much what food I eat, and would happily eat pizza for dinner every night. Toddlers are very much the same–they don’t distinguish much between macaroni and cheese or coq au vin. So, when Seth is not home, our dinners focus more on being basically nutritious and less on being culinarily impressive. I use the chance to try new made-up meals that might flop, and I also do a lot of baking instead of cooking. Sometimes it’s hard to do both, and baking usually takes the hit, so it’s a good chance to make some cookies and cakes! (Of course, then I have trouble not eating them before Seth gets home, but that’s another story!)
Do everything with the kids.
When you’re alone with the kids, the most precious commodity is time alone without the kids. Don’t waste it by using it for chores! Whether it’s laundry or mopping the floors, try to do it when they’re awake and demanding, and save the naptimes and nighttimes for the things you really need to be child-free for–or just to breathe. Or sleep.
Expect some tears.
With three quasi-rational children around, you’re guaranteed to have a few moments where you just can’t make them all happy fast enough, and there will be much more screaming than there would be if another adult was around. But it’s okay. Just attack their grievances methodically one at a time, stick one child in a crib in another room while you deal with the other(s) if they keep setting each other off, and patiently work through all the problems until all is right with their world again. No matter how loudly they all scream, eventually you’ll work through it all and there will be quiet and peace in the house again.
Find, or create, childproofed areas to put your kids for a few minutes or more. Know where you can put the youngest safely away from the older ones. Know where your children can play happily and safely while you run to another room to put a baby down, to put on a load of laundry, or to use the bathroom! Get as many gates or childproof door locks as you need to make it happen! When you’re alone around the clock, the tasks you usually save until there’s another adult around still need to get done.
I don’t mean pray to make it through the week, although that might be necessary! But I find that the house, and my mind, are much quieter when Seth is not here. The children are much quieter (probably more bored, but still), and I have more work to do, which means my whole self is more focused and reflective. I have a lot more time to think, and study, as I go about my daily business, and so these weeks are often some of the most helpful to me spiritually. It’s always good to be unable to be idle.
The biggest focus for me on home-alone weeks is trying to make our days go by smoothly enough that Seth doesn’t feel badly about leaving, or like he’s creating a great burden for me. We talk all together on the webcam before the kids go to bed, and the kids always get all wound up and happy about that. They make crafts for him while he’s gone (although they often get disassembled before he actually comes home!) and we’re very excited when he finally walks in the door.