My claim to fame, if I actually have one, is that I was an Army wife for twenty-five years. My title of Army wife could be easily substituted for other titles such as: single mom, home repairman, Uber driver, school teacher, childcare provider, car mechanic, plumber, chef, housemaid, pediatrician, and veterinarian. On second thought, the title of Army wife is usually substituted for all of these titles and often at the same time. While my husband, the service member, was the most dependable guy around for the needs of the Army, he was often the least dependable guy for me and our family. That was just reality. When Dad works long hours or is gone for long periods of time, it makes for one very tired mama and some very unhappy kids. So, what are we tired mamas to do?
Tricia’s Unofficial Survival Guide to Life When Dad is Not Often Around:
- Perfection will literally drive you to insanity! I would not say that I am a perfectionist, but I would say I believe there is a certain way to do everything, such as: loading a dishwasher, sorting dirty clothes, folding towels, and cleaning the house. Here is the thing I have learned: My perfectionistic preferences are only preferences. The world still continues to turn on its axis even when someone else loads the dishwasher improperly. Moms, we were not designed to be a one-woman-show when it comes to parenting. That means when Dad is gone a lot, something has to give, and that something should be perfectionistic standards. Notice that I did not say ‘standards’, I said ‘perfectionistic standards’. At the end of the day, it does not matter if the towels were folded properly, or even if they were never folded at all. GASP! What matters is that you did not get yourself so worked up and worn down over perfection that you had no sanity left to be mom to the little ones or big ones all day.
- Do not pretend that Dad is a mind-reader. Dad has been gone all day, or maybe all week, or maybe all month. He genuinely has no clue what has gone on all day in the household during his absence. When he does come home, take the time to sit down and tell him all that has happened. If you do not tell him, he cannot possibly know. And if he does not know what is going on, he cannot possibly know how to support you when he is home. A great way to do this is by practicing couch time. Couch time is just a fancy way of saying you should take about fifteen minutes to talk with your spouse without allowing interruptions from the kids. Now, if Dad has been gone a lot, let him play with the kids and then have couch time. But do the couch time. Have the conversation. Keep him informed so that he feels connected and so that you can have his support. If you consistently share with him, he will be one step closer to becoming a mind-reader.
- If you don’t want to be “mean Mommy”, then he needs to be more than just “fun Daddy.” Often when Dad is frequently gone, Mom becomes the bad guy. Moms, we get tired of always being the one to say “no”, being the one to discipline the children, and being the party-pooper. But just as often, when Dad does finally make it home, his time is so limited that the temptation is to just be the fun dad. He starts making up for lost time and the kids love fun Dad, because he does things like take them out for ice cream, play ball in the yard, and wrestle on the floor. He does all those things that you would like to do with the kids but you have been too busy folding towels properly, cleaning up the latest mess so the house is clean, and disciplining the one child who believes he is actually in charge. In order to restore some balance, Dad needs to make an effort when he is home to be the one helping get the housework done, cleaning up the messes, and disciplining your future world-changer – in addition to all the fun he brings too. So let him help, even if his way is different than yours.
- If you are jealous of “fun Daddy”, you might need to spend less time being “mean Mommy”. While it is easy to blame Dad’s absence for your need to be the mean one, the reality is that you probably are missing chances to be the fun one even while he is gone. Who says mean, perfectionist Mommy cannot take the kids out for ice cream once in a while when Dad is gone? Who says the weary, feeling-like-a-single-parent mom cannot set aside the laundry for thirty minutes to play outside in the yard with the kiddos? Who says the mommy that just had to administer discipline to a child cannot return with a smile and a few silly hugs as you roll around playing on the floor together? Who says? Well, you do. Give yourself permission to also be fun Mommy.
- You are not an island. If you think you can do this whole parenting thing alone, you are just as insane as your perfectionist neighbor. Here is the thing about absent dads—it makes for independent moms. We normally think of independence as something wonderful. After all, as Americans it is pretty much in our DNA. However, independence in a family usually leads to isolation from others. This is not a good outcome for anyone. You cannot and should not assume that just because Dad is gone on a regular basis, you have to do everything on your own. Your first line of defense against this is to enlist help. And the first ones that you should be enlisting are your children. Yes, that is right. They should be helping out at home. This is why you have got to let those perfectly folded towels go. It is just not going to happen. Well, not for years anyway. Let the children help. This should be your mantra. Then, when you just cannot take it anymore because all the towels are folded differently, you should enlist the help of local family members. These are the people that will love your children even when you do not feel like you can love them one minute more. Let the extended family come over and love the children while you refold the towels. You will be amazed at how much a thirty minute or sixty minute reprieve can restore your will to live and love. And, if you are like so many of us in the military world and without family around, well, now is the time to find some friends. Friends are out there. My fellow introverts, this is your time to find your people. You must find your extroverts, because they are always looking for a reason to be social. Find the extroverts. They will make you laugh again. They might even watch your kids. If you are an extrovert, you probably do not need me to tell you to do this because you have probably already done it. If by some weird chance you have not, and you feel especially down, it is because you need to find your people. So, go and find them, party together on your island, and you will be ready to love on your kiddos again.
- When Mama ain’t happy…well, you know the rest of the saying. My last tidbit of advice to keep you sane while Dad is working long hours or gone for long periods of time, is that you must make yourself a priority for a moment each day. The five previous suggestions are mostly others-focused. However, we all need a little “me” time every now and then. I am not talking about three hour lunches or weekend spa trips. Let’s be realistic. Very few of us can afford such luxuries in time, money, or both. But what you can do is take a few minutes for yourself each day. If you have little ones, I would strongly suggest that naptime be your time. Resist the urge to clean the house without a little one behind you messing it up again. Instead, take the nap, read the book, drink the tea, or enjoy the silence. Whatever it is that makes you feel whole again, do it. If naptime does not work for you, consider getting up thirty minutes earlier (for my morning people) or staying up thirty minutes later (for my night people) and enjoy the quiet and the silence. Allow the Lord to recharge your weariness and give you the strength to be the best mom to the children He has lent you. How’s that verse go? The joy of the Lord is my strength!
While this is only six simple guidelines to help you survive when Dad must work long hours, they are six guidelines that can make the difference between survival and happiness. Though the meaning of life really is not about finding happiness, happiness sure does make life more pleasant. When Mom is feeling pleasant, she is more likely to let the perfectionism go, take advantage of the moments to be fun Mom, to love fun Dad when he returns, to enjoy the precious commodity of family time, to ask and accept help when needed, and to be still in the quiet moments. If you can do this, you will find your own claim to fame as the mama that did more than just survive.
Tricia McDonald is the wife of a newly retired Army Sergeant Major and a mother of three amazing children, ages 17, 18, and 22. She recently gained a wonderful son-in-law as well. She currently resides in North Carolina, where she homeschools her two youngest kids. Tricia enjoys reading and is passionate about U.S. History. She also volunteers as the music coordinator for a local semi-professional youth theatre group. She would like to encourage young moms to enjoy each moment, as the years really do fly by quickly.