Solo Parent: Week On/ Week Off

It may take two to make a baby, but not every family has two parents on hand to raise the babies.

I am an offshore wife, married to a man who works and lives on a boat every other Wednesday to Wednesday. Therefore, I am a solo parent to three girls under four, every other Wednesday to Wednesday. This is what we call #girlweek.

Solo parenting is different than single parenting. I still have a husband, despite the many selfies of me and the girls. You are correct, social media stalkers, he misses a lot, including five out of the five Mother’s Days since becoming a mother. But in real life, he probably just FaceTimed the girls while they ate their breakfast and sent me a list of needed tax documents to gather. He exists, but in a more socially distanced capacity, half of the time.

Raising kids in a long-term offshore situation was not the intention, but it has been the reality. I married a boat guy. Guys who work on boats tend to live on boats. Boats are in water, whereas families live in houses. There is an inherent flaw in this plan.

For the record, I was warned. My very beloved Paw Paw spent over sixty years of his life working as a mariner, doing two-month hitches at times. When he shared his stories about his glory days on the river, my underwhelmed Granny would sit beside him and delicately mutter, “He was gone, and I had to do everything. I even cut the grass.” Most people focused on his stories, but now as an offshore wife with three babies at home, I think more about her overlooked frustration. There is a reason why at 87, she often mentions her career as a solo parent of four. Not until now do I fully understand why.

SOLO PARENTING IS HARD. Everything falls on the primary parent all of the time. At 3:00 AM, when the baby cries because the pacifier is misplaced? Me. Change the sheets because of the accident the night before? Me. Corral the three kids into the car at 7:15 AM to go to school? Me. “Serious talk” about getting put on “Red” at school because of a tantrum? Me. Clean up projectile vomit? Me. Groceries? Me. Decide on and execute dinner? Me. Baths? Me. Order 3T onesies for an eleven-month-old? Me. Fetch toddler who crawled on top of the dining room table? Me. Dead car battery? Me. Chase the kids while they FaceTime their dad? Me. Manage the many pandemic quarantines? Me.

Does it all get done perfectly? Absolutely not. Does it all get done? “Depends on the day” is the vibe of solo parenting.

And ya know, show up to your paid gig, also known as your career, when you can.

Childcare is a lifesaver, when you have it. When Pap Pap volunteers to drive my oldest daughter to dance class, I am saved from an hour and a half of screaming babies who are trapped in the car. If Amie wants to drop off a chicken and broccoli casserole, the answer is “God bless you.” My very generous neighbor, an ultimate SAHM of four, is a major reason why I was able to complete my dissertation during a pandemic, despite my perpetually sick kids who were unable to consistently (or barely) attend daycare.

Solo parenting is a harder road. I am more tired than my friends who have 9-5 husbands. During #girlweek, the mentality is survival mode while attempting to appear cheerful. They miss their dad too, and I need to keep it fun while he is gone. The Wednesday he comes home is celebrated as a homecoming. The kids are reunited with the guy who plays “flying squirrel”, and I once again have an in-person husband. In baby jail, having a husband means having HELP- the greatest asset any mom could have. Once again, he is home and the entire weight of the world is no longer just on my shoulders. Relief creeps in. Mommy will sneak off and wash her hair now.

The next day, the pressure cooker starts. It is time to be social, see family, make childhood memories happen for our kids. What all can be squeezed in? The reality is, some (most) activities and chores are easier to do with multiple adults involved. I now can work longer hours, confident that there is another parent in the picture to attend any unplanned pediatrician appointments. The weekend is an opportunity to make the seasonally appropriate kid activities (e.g., strawberry picking, pumpkin patch visits) happen. I blink and it is already Tuesday, marking the end of a luxurious two-parent household week. Dread and panic fill us both because, in mere hours, solo parenting resumes.

Week on/ week off is hardly the worst schedule. It is relatively baby-friendly for an offshore lifestyle. The longest solo parenting stint I have endured was five weeks long. I have heard of eight-month hitches for oversea mariners. I stand in awe of military families and the sacrifices they make. There are families who navigate life around perpetual turnarounds schedules. Then there are the moms who do all of the work, in plain sight of the physically present husband. Actual single parenting? Truly, there is no amount of praise you don’t deserve. To never have the hope of a break or any support- I would not wish it on anyone.

As moms, we are all just doing our best. For our #girlweek, I give it all that I have. On nights when I pull off cooking a healthy dinner for my girls, I feel extra proud of myself. Should two out of the three girls actually eat dinner? Dance party. Three out of the three eat? Ice cream for all. If I take a non-blurry picture with all three girls, it will be posted. Being a part-time solo parent has solidified my relationship with my daughters. I not only love them, but I really know them. I am fully informed and take great pride in who they are and are growing up to be. It is a blessing to get a front-row seat in their lives, despite the inevitable exhaustion embedded in creating those moments.

In person or apart, my husband and I are their parents. The parenting may not always be graceful. There will always be that time when in my pajamas, I chased down the garbage truck while I dragged the trash cans down the driveway … and that other time when in my pajamas, I once again chased down the garbage truck while I dragged the trash cans down the driveway. Bottom line, my girls are happy and my husband and I are united in being the best parents we can manage to be that day.

One day, our time as an offshore family will end. Rest assured, my husband’s offshore retirement party will be epic.

Melissa Fleming lives in Prairieville, Louisiana with her husband, Blake, and their three beautiful daughters: Evelyn (4), Clara (2), and Chloe (1). She graduated from LA Tech with a B.A. in journalism and then earned her M.Ed. and Ph.D. in counselor education from UNO. She is the owner of MWF Counseling, LLC. In between seeing clients, chasing toddlers, and holding babies, she enjoys watching Real Housewives and drinking as much caffeinated tea as possible.

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