Military Spouse Reality: How To Kick Ass & Maintain Your Sanity While Solo Parenting

14 Ways to Maintain Your Sanity While Solo Parenting

It’s been almost four months since my solo parenting adventure started and I have to say that I’m learning some pretty valuable lessons about maintaining my sanity while solo parenting during this short tour. For those of you who are new to my blog, we’re four months into our 12 month short tour adventure courtesy of the United States Air Force; Homeskillet and I are “geo-baching” (think geographical bachelors…two households) while he’s in Korea and I’m here stateside.

Solo parenting is not to be confused with being a single parent. Solo parenting is the act of being the on-call, must-have (h/t to Rebekeah Sanderlin’s Must-Have Parent Column…a must-read), must-do parent 24/7 while your serving spouse is off protecting the world, learning about protecting the world, or pulling long hours while protecting the world.

For those of us who are both military spouses and parents means that we’ll all face solo parenting at some point in our lives with the military.  Right now, our separation has me solo parenting our 8 year old and 4 year old 24/7 while working from home running a media company full-time.

I started this solo parenting adventure the day after school released for summer vacation. I. ALMOST. DIED. Summer vacation is challenging enough for a work-from-home-parent, but solo parenting and working from home?

Yep. Time to get the smelling salts.

In order to survive this solo-parenting-working-from-home adventure, I knew I was going to have to make some changes and step outside of my I-can-do-it-all comfort zone…because doing it all is much easier when you’re actually not doing it all alone. Here are my lessons learned so far (in no particular order) for kicking ass and maintaining my sanity while solo parenting.

14 Tips for Kicking Ass and Maintaining Your Sanity While Solo Parenting

 1. Rally your family and friends around you. 

Call mom, dad, sisters, and local friends and clue them in. You need your villageLet them know what you’re facing and be specific as to how they can help you out.

2. When someone offers help, don’t be afraid to tell them specifics of how they can help.

This sounds like a repeat of #1, but it isn’t. Often neighbors will say, “I’m here to help if you need me!”  Don’t let the conversation stop there! Think, think, think. And then tell them how they CAN help. Is it a parent of your child’s classmate? Maybe they can be your back up if you need after-school help.

3. When shit hits the fan…and it will…don’t be too proud to call for help.

This JUST happened to us. We had a conflict between piano lessons and an unexpected  but necessary visit to urgent care. Totally last minute…zero backup. I ran to a neighbor and asked for extra eyes to watch La Grande on her roundtrip to piano lessons as I whisked La Rubia away for a quick strep test (negative…SCORE).

4. Make a point to build in YOU time.

Solo parenting is endless. It’s exhausting. You need to bring your A-game which means you need to bring your very best you. I don’t care what this is, but YOU NEED YOU TIME. I’ve committed to Monday Yoga and enrolled at the local Hand and Stone for a monthly massage or facial. Whatever you do, just do something for you.  Make a movie night for you. Plan a once a month girls’ night. Just do something.

Need some ideas? I’ve got 10 ways you can prevent burn out in the post aptly titled 10 Ways to Prevent Mom Burn Out.

5. Working from home doesn’t mean you don’t need child care.

This isn’t necessarily a solo parenting rule, this is a work-from-home rule. I had to buckle down and accept the fact that La Rubia (age 4) needs full time care while I’m working. When I’m working, I’m not really tuned into parenting. Plus, it’s nice to have that access to full time care even if I don’t intend on having her stay full time.

6. Let your colleagues or boss know what’s up.

I know you’re awesome and you can do it all and you don’t want to use solo parenting as a crutch at work, but there’s going to be a time when you can’t because you can’t. Clue your colleagues, clients, and boss in early in the game so they have your back and aren’t left to jumping to their own conclusions if your work habits shift. At the same time, find creative ways to keep performance up by working non-traditional or flex hours if that’s an option.

7. Clue in the school and teachers.

Your child’s school and teachers are part of your solo parenting team. Let them know what’s going on so that they can help you help your child succeed. Not only will they have your back, they’ll have a frame of reference for observing your child’s behavior and performance.

8. Have the Team Talk with your kids.

Let your kids know that it’s time to pull together and work as a team because Mom (or Dad) can’t do it all alone. Don’t be afraid to enlist your kids in keeping life running smoothly. Get them on board with chores, maintaining the household by staying organized, and by setting a daily routine that works for everyone…particularly the solo-parent.

9. Let your spouse know what you need to hear. 

Sometimes when we’re on the phone, I feel like my spouse just doesn’t get exactly what my day really looks like.  The time difference alone makes work week communication difficult. He’s winding down his day as I’m gearing up for work. Sometimes I need him to just say, “ugh, that must be crazy”, and he needs me to say, “Dude, I really wish you were here”. It sounds corny, but it really does make you feel better.

10. Don’t play the who has it worse game with your spouse.

He feels lonely, I feel like I’m never alone. I feel like the days are ridiculously long and he feels like he’s missing out on life. The best thing you can both do is agree that both of your realities suck in some ways and are pretty freakin’ awesome in other ways.

11. Say no.

Say no to things that add unnecessary stress like social events, short-turn-around travel to family events, or overbooking your child with extracurricular activities. You’re only one person.

12. Say yes.

To things that matter and that make you or your kids feel good. Going on that field trip (Dad is field trip dude when he’s home), eating with your child at school lunch (Yep, Dad is lunch Dad), to a girls’ night out, to help, to an offer for sitting, to fun. YOLO and all that jazz.

13. Remember that you are a SOLO parent and not a SINGLE parent.

There are going to be times when you really want and need your co-parent’s perspective and feedback. Don’t be afraid to hold parent-to-parent talks to work through challenging parenting moments. It’s a win for keeping the away-parent in the loop and involved.

14. Make new traditions while keeping old traditions.

Life doesn’t sit still and it shouldn’t. Establishing new traditions is a great way to keep morale up for everyone  in the house. We instituted Korean Food Fridays when Homeskillet left. Every Friday we close the kitchen (winning) and head to one of our favorite Korean restaurants in honor of Daddy’s geography.

As equally important is keeping old traditions alive too. Just because Daddy can’t be here, doesn’t mean we should enter a year of mourning. Life goes on as it should. And thanks to technology we can share all of these special moments with Dad via Skype and pictures!

What are your best tips for surviving as a solo parent? Anybody facing a solo parenting challenge and need some advice or help? Let me know in the comments below!

A New School Year is Better than the New Year

Back to School ResolutionsI love school.  Even though I’m no longer a student or a teacher, I find that the beginning of a new school year is magical, even more so than New Years.

New clothing.  Sharp crayons.  A snazzy new backpack.  Unsmudged erasers.

New friends. New attitudes. New adventures.

A return to routine.  Yes, this.  A return to routine.

Everything is so fresh and new and exciting.  Even the painfully early mornings are beautiful. And still and quiet and peaceful.

New Year’s is kind of a cliche “fresh start” but a new school year?  That’s as fresh as it gets. You know?

You can reinvent yourself.  Recommit yourself.  And I find that, as a mom, a new school year is a fresh start for me too.

Both girls are in school this year and to be quite honest, I really needed some time to get my head on straight.

Between opting out of the traditional work force, the lazy crazy meandering non-routine of summer, and Homeskillet’s outrageous unavailability, I haven’t been very kind to myself…unless you call snacking, grazing and generally not-working-out being kind.  Which I don’t.

The worst part is that I know EXACTLY what I have to do in order to get it back together.  Isn’t that the pits?  When you’re the only person standing in your own damn way?

If you’re anything like me, you just need a push sometimes.  That catalyst that jump starts awesomeness.  That I AM AWESOME HEAR ME ROAR stuff, ya know?  And for me, that’s the start of the school year.

I’m shaking off my literal and proverbial pajamas, becoming one with the sun (and an earlier bedtime), and am ready to get my girls through this school year with a healthy mom pushing them from behind.

Here are a few things I need to focus on this school year:

Waking up before the kids wake up. Talk about a poor choice of words. I have to wake up BEFORE them….at least 20-30 minutes ahead of them.  I bet I have your attention now.

Working out…no excuses. 4 days a week at least.

Keeping up with my weekly menu…with minimal lapse…so we don’t order out because I am weak…and lazy…and weak.

Setting real work/life boundaries…and sticking to them.  “Mommy time is mommy time, not working mommy time.” <repeat>

I think this is a pretty tall order by itself.  Do you set goals for the school year?

How are you taking advantage of this new school year?  Any new routines, tips, or techniques you’re implementing this year?

5 Easy Steps to Makeover Your Budget

Ultimate Money Makeover Guide!Are you looking for a down and dirty guide to help you build a budget?  I’ve got 5 steps to get your budget built and on track.  Download my Budget Scrubdown fillable worksheet or printable budget worksheet and make your budget happen!

Step 1: Figure out how much money you really make.

You’ll need to grab your most current pay stub, if you’re salaried or have a regular, predictable hourly schedule.  If your hours vary, you work on commission, or you earn overtime, you might want to grab 3-6 months worth of paystubs to help you get an accurate picture of your income.

Check out my step-by-step guide to figure out how much money you make each month.

Step 2: Determine how much it costs you to be you.

Everyone has three types of expenses in their budget: fixed expenses, flexible expenses, and periodic expenses.

  • Fixed Expenses stay the same every month.  Examples: mortgage, rent, cable bill, insurance premium, savings deposits, retirement contributions, loan repayment
  • Flexible Expenses…yep you guessed it, they fluctuate from month to month.  Examples: Gas, groceries, clothing, electricity
  • Periodic Expenses happen annually, quarterly…you get the idea. Examples: holidays, car maintenance, property tax, birthdays, car registration

Check out my step-by-step guide to determining your monthly expenses.

Step 3: Get a grip on your debt.  Know how much you owe and who you owe it to.

Regardless the type of debt that you carry, the most important thing you can do is execute a plan to get out of debt in the smartest, quickest, cheapest way possible.

Quick tips for paying down common types of debt:

  • Credit Cards & Personal Loans: Pay off high interest credit cards first.  Or just go visit my favorite smart, quick, FREE debt repayment calculator at PowerPay.
  • Car Loans: Make extra car payments or send a little bit more in each month to bring down the interest costs.
  • Mortgage: If you can make an additional mortgage payment each year, you can save yourself a substantial amount of money on interest.
  • Student Loans:  If your loans create a major burden on your wallet, see if you qualify for an income based repayment plan.

Step 4: Start looking at ways to cut back on your monthly expenses

Here are some resource to help you save money on your housing, food, utilities, and other monthly expenses:

Step 5: Plan your budget with savings in mind.

Every solid budget has emergency savings at its core, along with other short and long-term savings goals.  Here are a few resources to guide you on developing your savings plans:

Once you’ve got your budget down on paper, the next step is to monitor your spending and keept it

What’s your biggest challenge when it comes to your budget?  Do you have any budgeting tips to share?  Leave a comment below!

 

10 Tips to Teach Your Kids About Money

10 Tips for Raising Money Savvy KidsGood or bad, our relationship with money is often inherited from or a reaction to our family history.  As parents, what kind of money legacy do you want your children to inherit from you?

 1.  Talk about money with your children

Talk about it. If you’re discussing bills, don’t stop because the kids are in the room.  Money is going to be part of their life for the rest of their lives.  Bills aren’t evil and one day they’ll have them too.  Your younger children won’t even care and your older children might be curious.  Talk about it!

 

We know that the wealthy are wealthy because they understand and talk about money with their family and friends.

Family finances are family business.  Of course, you want to be age appropriate with the topics you chose to discuss.  Your older children, I would say 10 and over, might benefit from talking about an upcoming vacation. You can discuss the need to save by cutting back on unnecessary expenses like eating at restaurants.  You might be surprised at what they are willing to do to help out!  If you’re having financial difficulties and your children are 15+, you might want to level with them.  They’re probably picking up on subtle feelings of unease and stress anyhow.  When you make the family finances a family affair, it can become a teachable moment.  Priceless.

Now, keep in mind, I said talk about it, not argue about it.  If you’re arguing about money or there are heightened emotions about it, before you involve the kiddos, sit down with your significant other and get on the same page about the finances (read: How to Talk Money with Your Honey).

2.  Teach your children where money comes from

Money doesn’t fall out of the sky or grow on trees (I can’t tell you how many times I heard that one from Dad).  You earn it.  When La Grande was three and asked me why Daddy had to go to work, I told her that he goes to work to earn money so that we can have a home, food, and do fun things. I also said that it is what adults do and one day, she’ll work too.  I don’t know if she fully grasped the concept, but we laid the groundwork for future understanding.

3.  Young children can learn about money, too!

Little things are big things when you’re young.  You can start forming a positive relationship with money by explaining that money can be used three ways.  We can spend it, we can save, and we can share it.

When La Grande was little, she loved the little rides outside of stores.  Every time we saw a ride, she wanted to ride it.  I didn’t want to create a situation where she would expect to ride every time we passed one. So, I encouraged her to start carrying a little bag with a change purse.  If she remembered to carry her change purse and we came across a ride, she could ride it.  If she didn’t, I encouraged her to remember to carry her change purse next time.  This saved me time (and money) and taught her how we use money.

 4.  Teach them how to set goals and save

Let’s be honest.  Our kids have unlimited wants and we have limited resources.  We can’t buy them everything they want and we shouldn’t (Read: Just Because you Can Doesn’t Mean You Should).  Nor should we feel guilty about not getting them everything they want (You hear? NO GUILT).  A great way to teach your children how to use money and respect its worth is to involve them in the process of saving for something they want.

My kids often get money for their birthday or a holiday.  What we do in our house is what I learned from my parents: we have to save half and spend half.  I could spend half of my money on whatever I wanted and I had to save half of it for a rainy day.  When I was 9, I wanted a newer, hipper bike.  My mom cut me a deal.  She said that I could have a new bike if I paid for half of the cost.  That lesson is at the core of my relationship with money.  If you want something badly enough, you can save for it.

5.  Frame your job in a positive light

Do you hate your job?  Better yet, do your kids know you hate your job?  Your job is your livelihood.  You exchange your time for monetary compensation that affords you and your family the ability to provide for its needs.  What kind of attitude about work do you think your children will have if you complain and complain about working?  When your child is wrapped firmly around your leg, begging you not to go to work, do you say “Mommy doesn’t want to go to work,” or do you say “Mommy is going to work, but I will be home to spend time with you?”

Think about it.  Saying you don’t want to go to work implies that work is an undesirable task that is best avoided.  I don’t think that’s what you were going for!

 6.  Drop “we can’t afford” from your vocabulary

I know it seems silly, but I cannot stand saying the phrase, “I can’t afford.”  I just can’t stand it!  It makes me feel powerless.  Like I don’t have control.  And, you know what?  If I am not in control of my money, who is?

If I want to buy something and I don’t have the cash, I can choose to save for it if I really want it, or I make the decision that it isn’t worth the price.  It isn’t that I can’t afford, it’s that I choose not to buy it.  Big difference.  BIG!

Think about the power in changing that little phrase.  All of a sudden you are in the driver’s seat.  Think about the legacy you’re passing to your kids, just by tweaking that little phrase.

7.  Teach them how to value their belongings

Our kids have so much stuff.  You know it. I know it.  I go into my girls’ rooms and I just stand in awe and partial disgust.  Despite all of their toys and books and stuffed animals and dolls and STUFF, I know that they play with a handful of toys, if that.  My biggest fear is that my children will be so accustomed to stuff, that they won’t respect the work that goes into acquiring the things they have.

We are busting our butts to teach our girls how to respect the things they own.  I am a stickler when it comes to engaging them in picking up their toys, putting things away, helping out in the house, not tossing their clothing on the floor, and doing what ever I ask them to when it comes to caring for and respecting their home.  We’re a team and everyone has to pull their weight.

 8.  Show them that privilege equals responsibility

This is really for my parents of teens.  I am about to take it old school, so work with me.  Nothing is more frustrating than explaining to a parent that they are not required to buy their child a car, nor are they required to fuel and maintain the car.  Not to mention, insuring a teenage driver is a luxury in most cases.  If your teen is so fortunate as to have the privilege of using a car, then teach them that that privilege comes with the responsibility of learning how to maintain that car.  Make your teen pay for the fuel.  Engage them in learning how to maintain the vehicle.  Remember, car maintenance is a money saving activity (Read: Parenting- 15 Things I Will Never Feel Guilty About).

Our job is to launch our children with the tools they need to succeed with out us.  We must put ourselves out of a job.  We are the safety net, not the crutch.

9.  Show them the difference between a want and a need

Alright, some of us might be confused on the whole need versus want situation, but deep down, we know the difference.  I truly believe we do.  We just gloss over our miscellaneous spending at times.  Teaching your child the difference between a need and a want is huge.

Do you need a backpack?  Yes.

Do you need a Transformer light-up-destroy-the-Decptecons-uber backpack?  Not so much.

If you start teaching these little lessons now, I promise you it will get easier the older they get.

 10.  Show them how to give

Giving is such a big part of having.  We must teach our children that there are always those whose needs are greater than our own.  You can engage your child in donating their gently used toys, clothing, and books when they receive new toys, clothing, or books.  If charities are collecting monetary donations, like the Salvation Army over the winter holidays, let your child do the giving and explain why we give.

What would you add to this list? How do you teach your own children about money?