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6 military mom tips for flying solo

A few months ago a fellow Navy wife and her children were over for a playdate.  While we sat on the patio and watched the kids play in the backyard, she and I started talking about one of the main issues military moms face…parenting solo while our husbands are away.

We military mothers find ourselves in an interesting position at times being the sole parent while still having a partner. Not quite a single parent.  But not having a fully present parenting partner either.

Later that evening, it occurred to me that military wives are not the only mothers who find themselves flying solo from time to time.  We will all find ourselves being the sole parent at one time or another.

It could be that your spouse is away for a week long conference for work.  Or perhaps one person needs to fly home to help an aging parent.  Or just maybe you are a mom, like me who finds herself flying solo for longer periods of time while my husband serves in the U.S. military.

No matter the reason, or the length of time apart, parenting can be tough when flying solo.

But military moms are “the quiet professionals”, the special operations of motherhood, when it comes to parenting alone.

I thought I would share a few military mom tips and tricks for getting through the trials of parenting through periods of separation.

Hopefully a few of these tips will help you the next time you find yourself flying solo…even if it is just for a few days.

1. Take advantage of the time

Never feel like there is time to get the things done in the house that YOU want to get done?  Here’s your chance!  Repaint your bedroom.  Get a massage.  Have a girlfriend over for a late night chat after the kids are in bed.  Watch a Gone With the Wind marathon. I even have a friend who remodeled her entire kitchen the way she wanted it while her husband was out to sea.  Now I am not saying that you should go that far — she had a lot of explaining to do when her spouse returned.  But this time alone is a great time to focus on the things that are important to you and maybe not so important to him.

2. Keep busy

Don’t just wait until your spouse gets home to get out of the house.  Schedule outings every few days, even if it is just to visit a friend at her house.  Keeping busy will help the time fly by and you’ll have so much to tell your partner when they return.

3. Countdown to the reunion

Military moms are great at this.  There are many ways of counting down until reunion day, and a countdown helps both you and  your little ones see reunion day growing closer.

  • Fill a jar with the same number of  jelly beans (or any other candy) as days the traveling parent will be gone and eat one every day until they are home.
  • Make a paper chain with one link for every day your spouse will be away.  Each day break away one chain.  You can even write one fun activity to do that day on the chain.  Make cookies. Take a nature walk.  Mail a letter.
  • On your regular calendar write down one thing you love about your spouse everyday until they return.  Then copy this list and give it to them as a “Happy You Are Home” gift.

4. Make time for yourself

Just like the flight attendant tells you on an airplane before takeoff,  make sure you put the oxygen mask on yourself before your children.  You must take care of yourself if you are going to have anything to give back to your children.  Hire a sitter to get some time away.  And if you can’t hire a sitter, work it out with a friend to trade babysitting.  Even if it is just to go grocery shopping, time away from your kiddos is valuable and necessary for your sanity.

If you have family nearby, arrange for a regular schedule, say two mornings a week, where you can get some time to run errands or eat lunch with a friend.  Heck, even take a nap!

5. Keep up the communication

One of the toughest parts of being apart is staying on the same page with your partner while separated.  Use technology like email, Twitter and Skype to keep the other parent in the know with regard to the kids.

Children change quickly…so our parenting must keep up. A week or so before my husband returns, we do a parenting debrief. I give my husband a heads up on what our schedule looks like and make sure he is aware of any major changes since he left.  Also, make sure to share with your spouse any behavior issues that he needs to  know about.  Nothing like walking into the throes of potty training without being prepared for what you’re walking into.

6. Give yourself some grace

There is no way to possibly be BOTH mother and father.  So give yourself a little slack.  Order pizza a little more often.  We’ve had popcorn and Gatorade for dinner more than once while my husband is away.  Put the kids to bed 30 minutes earlier so that you can take a longer bubble bath.  Give them dessert on Fridays AND Tuesdays if it helps.  Take deep breaths and know that separation and parenting is hard, even for those of us that do it all the time.

And know that there is no way to be a perfect mother, but there are a million ways to be a great mother!

Even when you are flying solo.

A huge thanks to Rob Bixby Photography and Operation: Love Reunited for the use of his beautiful photographs.

Are you facing a separation soon? Or are you a veteran? What are your tips for flying solo?

by Eren

Reading Time:

4 minutes





  1. Rachel

    Thanks to you and your family for serving!

  2. Kristia@FamilyBalanceSheet

    Those pictures brought tears to my eyes. With so many things going on in this country…BP, the economy, sometimes the fact that we are in 2 wars is forgotten. I am so thankful for the men and women who serve this country and for their families who so graciously share their loved ones with the rest of the world.

  3. L.

    My husband is gone this week… just for fun. When I dropped him off at the airport, our thoughts were both on military families in which one parent is gone for months or years at a time with some non-zero chance of not returning. It made me cry. Thank you for your sacrifices for our safety, and thank you for sharing your wisdom with those of us who aren’t as experienced.

  4. Jenna

    Also, create a support group or “tribe” community. That can help you out, babysitting, emotional support, laughter, or for emergencies. Knowing that there is someone to call no matter what is a big stress reliever.

  5. Mother of Pearl

    One thing that helps me get through when my husband has to be away is to remind myself that I am not solo parenting. He may not be here with us, dealing with all the day to day issues, but he is off doing his vital parenting role of providing for us. That helps keep my heart attitude right and that makes all the difference in my going day to day without him here.

  6. Susan

    Thank you for your service (which is just as important as your husbands!) I am a prior soldier, now SAHM, so I can relate on many levels. This post was timely for me as my husband has been gone for a week now (pleasure) and will return this weekend. I have a 4yr old, 18 mos old, and I’m 7 mos pregnant with our third! I think you gave some great tips that I will try for next time, although I feel lucky that he doesn’t travel so much! I really appreciated the grace comment. I need to work on that one. Always trying to be a super-mom, when sometimes its good enough to say you (and your kids!) survived the day! I’m off now to check out your blog….

  7. Lee

    I’m still trying to figure this out during our first deployment with kids. My husband has been away almost 3 months for training, with 2 3-day visits. Next week we drive down to his camp and spend a week with him before he heads down range. So we’ve been getting used to it in stages – right now we can call and text everyday, and have had visits to look forward to. Then we have almost a year before he’s back again.

    I have been planning our school year (we homeschool) looking for a balance of outside activity/structure and keeping the free time that makes homeschooling so fun. I am not signing up for any extra duties (we will do a one-time volunteer for scouts, no teaching at sunday school this year, etc.) to conserve energy.

    Thanks for the OK on popcorn for dinner, LOL! I do add a smoothie with lots of berries, yogurt, banana, and protein powder to go with the popcorn, but it does make a great “dinner” with a movie thrown in too.

    • heather

      Skype is a wonderful thing!!! My kids and I get to talk with my husband down range everyday. It works great for his schedule to talk after our lunch but before quiet time. And it helps give me a boost for the rest of the day. The cost of the netbook and the internet connection is well worth it for everyone’s happiness.

  8. Laine

    Great article! I just sent it to my best friend who is a navy wife with two small children and a husband who is about to be deployed. In the spirit of #1 we’re planning for her to pack up the kids and travel halfway across the country to stay with me for about a month!

  9. Laura

    Both the pictures brought a lump to my throat; I’m the wife of a 22-year navy veteran (now retired) and the pictures brought back the absolute joy felt when a spouse returns from deployment.

    My favorite saying while my husband was in the service was that “the toughest job in the navy was Navy Wife.” The deploying service member has a job to do, while the spouse who stays back has their own job and has to pick up the duties of the one who left. That doesn’t mean the service member’s job isn’t hard, just that it’s actually often harder to be the one staying home.

    Wonderful tips! We always did the paper chain to count the days until my husband returned, although the length of deployments wasn’t usually known up front. I would also recommend trying to maintain the same schedule as much as possible while a spouse is deployed. That doesn’t mean not doing special things for yourself or with your children, having goofy meals, taking trips, or even redecorating while he/she is away (which is what I always did – LOL). But the return of the spouse is so much easier for everyone when all he/she has to do is slip back into a familiar routine rather than a new “single” life you’ve created for yourself. Unfortunately that happened all too many times for some families and it was hard on those marriages.

    And thank goodness there is email, Twitter, Skype, etc. these days! No such thing when my husband was on active duty, but it really does make things easier for everyone. The “parenting debrief” just before the service member’s return is absolutely crucial!

    Thank you from the bottom of my heart and beyond to all those who are currently serving!

  10. Bree

    When my husband is deployed I try to keep our routine pretty much the same. My kids crave structure so even when daddy is gone, we do all of the things that we would normally do. I also usually do one special thing with the kids while he is gone towards the end of the trip for the kids to look forward to.

  11. Kathryn

    Thanks so much for the wonderful tips and encouragement! My husband’s job requires about 50% travel–one week in, one week out–so your post is really helpful to me. One tip I’d add: if you’re going to be flying solo regularly, seek mentoring from an older mom who’s done the same. My husband was traveling long before our daughter was born, so I’ve been a “half-time single mom” since day 1. Especially in the first 2 years, I really benefited from my friendship with a mother of 3 grown children whose husband had been a Navy and commercial-airline pilot. She had so much wisdom–both practical and abstract–to share and could offer a long-term, out-on-the-other-side perspective that I didn’t have.

  12. Aimee

    First, thank you to you and your husband for your service to our country!

    Second, I really enjoyed this post and wish I’d read it three years ago. My husband is in consulting and traveled Monday through Friday for years. I always comforted myself with “it could be worse…he could be deployed and not come home every weekend” but it was still very hard.

    I found the support network to be, hands-down, the most crucial survival technique. Sometimes I would just call a friend or neighbor to ask if they’d mind if we walked over to visit in their backyard for a few minutes. It was a little embarrassing at first to be so forward but I’m glad I did and they seemed to enjoy it, too.

  13. Dawn

    My husband travels for his job. He is usually gone somewhere every week sometimes it may be a day trip, but it is often for two or three days at least. Several years ago we moved while he was away on a business trip. He left one house on Monday morning and returned to our new house on Friday. He had to remember not to drive to the old house.

    • Kathryn

      LOL! We had the same situation last year. We were preparing to move, and the buyers for our house absolutely had to close during one of my husband’s “out” weeks. So he filled out power-of-attorney paperwork, and I did both closings, the move, and most of the unpacking without him. I was so grateful for our wonderful family and friends who helped me get it all done!

  14. heather

    I am now a SAHM after 9 years in the military myself. Home is harder. One thing we do is to have a little bigger meal for lunch. My kids are all still not school age (3 under 5). Then dinner is simpler…pancakes or waffles with fruit or maybe sandwiches. The other great invention is the crockpot. I think I use it 3x a week right now with the leftovers for the other nights.

  15. Lisa

    Such a well written article. Thank you very much. My husband is gone 2/3 of every month and this really struck home. Great ideas and great words of encouragement!

  16. Meg

    My husband just left today for a year long deployment, this is our 2nd deployment but our first since we had a baby. I know getting out of the house is so important! I have set some personal goals that I hope will help time go by quickly since I’ll always have something to work towards and look forward to! And I’ll be giving myself plenty of grace, especially in the cooking department, ha!

  17. Chris

    What a wonderful, well-thought out post. I have no idea how military spouses (families) do it, but it is appreciated! My husband is public service and has a varied schedule, work days from 2 hours at home to 24+ hours away. He’ll soon be changing positions and we’ll return to more of the longer shifts.
    Since he’s gone only 1 or 2 nights at a time usually, I adapted to tip #1 pretty quickly, lol. It really is a chance to do things “your way” so to speak. Funny though, the paper chain countdown is my favorite idea, even though we really don’t have a need for it. Maybe a similar, draw an activity from the hat when Daddy works overnight, would work 🙂

  18. Katie

    For those of you moms who will be giving birth while your partner is away, you may wish to consider having the help & comfort of a doula. Doulas can be useful to anyone, regardless of whether they have family nearby or not, but doulas can also be especially understanding in the way that a solo parent may need. For anyone who isn’t familiar with the term doula, a doula is a non-medical labor/childbirth assistant who offers continuous, one-on-one support for the mother’s birth choices & can help ease pain through comfort techniques and by simply caring for the mother’s emotional needs.

  19. Katie

    Thanks for the post. My husband is currently wrapping up month 11 of a 12 month deployment. Our now 19 month old son was 8 months old when his daddy went away… it’s been really hard, but if you look for the positive it’s there. Distance allows two people to grow stronger as individuals and appreciate each other so much more once they’re together again. After spending a year or more apart, it’s much easier to overlook my husband leaving socks all over the house! I guess that I just want to say… it’s nice to have a reminder right now that I’m not the only one who raises their babies alone or lives without their spouse. Thank you to all those other military families out there.

  20. Tsoniki Crazy Bull

    As a military family, all of these things listed are SO true! Our kids are older now (8 & 6) but it seems that just means they take it a bit harder when their Dad leaves. We try to keep busy and keep a routine while he’s gone, it helps keep me sane. I love LOVE the Boys & Girls Club and can’t recommend it enough!

    I’ve always done an okay job on my own while he was away, but as the kids get older it’s things like the club and a routine that really benefit them. If they were home all day with me I’m not sure how we would all do. LOL

  21. Jenna

    My husband works fulltime and is taking night classes 3 night a week. Some days the kids barely see him and I feel like I’m on my own. My situation isn’t anything compared to yours but the tips are still helpful. Thanks.

  22. Ashley

    Thanks for this as I needed to hear this today. My husband also serves in the military and was just told last night that he was heading out for awhile. He left this morning, and I’ll tell ya, this has been one heck of a day.

  23. Melissa

    Thank you for posting. My husband travels frequently with his job leaving me home with our one year old and baby. This was very encouraging and helpful.

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