Solo parenting as a trailing spouse: my reality

10 Oct 2016

This is not my usual post. This is what needs to be written today so I get it out of me and can keep going for one MONTH alone with my children.

Solo parenting as a trailing spouse

This. Still. 

I am still not the mum who can say yes to a night out because I have no (more) babysitter, no village or family to call and the husband is away. Again.
I am still not the mum who can just get 30 minutes of respite as Papa cooks dinner for the kids.
I am still not the mum who gets time for herself every so often with a weekend away with friends or our family would never be together as a foursome.

The previous post was written two and a half-years ago. I only had one child then. Now with two kids, it is even more difficult. I have to be strong as our 6-year-old cries her heart out when Papa leaves (when all I feel like doing is cry with her). I have to take her to school even though she cries that she wants to stay home (that only happens on the days Papa leaves). Cuddles, hugs and exciting promises help. I have to carry my boy downstairs in the morning while he asks: "Papa il est en bas" (Papa is downstairs). I explain with a big smile that he is not, that he is in Washington. And show him the pictures he has sent overnight.

Today is a Sunday. Today is a holiday. Today is a weekday. It doesn't matter. Today is today. Families go about their business. Families enjoy long weekend meals, meet-ups and trips. We don't. I take my kids out to the zoo because they need some fresh air. We ride our bikes because the sun is shining and this is what we normally do on Sundays. We bake. We invite neighbours over to come and play. I really don't feel like doing any of it though. I feel like I need a lie-down. I need a break. 

Solo parenting as a trailing spouse
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Solo parenting when all the usual playdates and activities have run out, when all of the families have gone back to their own home is the toughest. You still have to keep going. No-one is coming home to help you out with dinner or the laundry. No-one is there to read a story but you. And you crumble into bed thinking about what will have to be done the next day to keep going. 

Few people understand how tough it is to be a lone parent so often and for such long periods of times without a community around you to support and help out. If you are one of them: group hug! You know how hard it is and you are doing brilliantly at it! If you are not one of them, don't tell us that with Skype, it is fine. The kids can see their dad. Sure, they can. But dad can't hug them, kiss them and see his big girl cry after we hang up. And dad can't do anything to the mayhem that is everyday life with small children who get sick, family decisions that need to be taken on the spot or the washing machine giving up on us that week (of course). Don't tell us that you have been there when you got divorced. Sure, it is tough too. I can't even imagine what it is like. But it is not the same. Don't compare it. You were in your home country. You had grandparents or family at the ready. You didn't have to make a huge effort everyday to speak to people. You didn't have to look up in the dictionary what the disease spelt out in big red letters on the front door of kindergarten was. You didn't have to dread every single phone call because speaking on the phone in a different language is the worse exercise ever. You had a support system in place and you spoke the lingo.

I know there are worse things in life.

I am not saying I have it worse than everybody else, because I know I don't. I am pretty lucky in many ways.

This is my reality though and some days I hate it.

Yet, in a few minutes I will pick myself up and smile as my 2-year-old wakes up from his nap and my daughter emerges from her ipad game.  Life will go on. And if you meet me tomorrow at kindergarten drop-off (thank you to Kindergarten for being opened) or at the dance class, I will be all smile and say life is fine. I am tired but I am coping. Because that is the truth. I really am. That is my reality. I have adjusted to it. Just some days are tougher than others.


  1. Totally feel for you! Glad you are writing about it. The last five years have felt like this for me in some ways and it is tough! Can't imagine adding the expat factor. Hang in there!!

    1. Thank you. It is tough. Some days more than others. But we do the best we can, right?

  2. One day at a time, friend. And it's okay to sleep together at night because the bed is cold and it's easier than diving into their rooms. It's okay to cry under the pressure. It's okay to let them watch more than necessary. It's okay to say yes to special treats until they aren't special anymore. It's okay to scour the city for an indoor playgym so you can get take a cat nap on the mat. And it's okay to snap, then pick back up cause you're tired and at your whit's end. Huge huge hugs.

  3. Giant hug, Annabelle. I wish I could come over and clean your house and play with your kids while you sleep!

  4. Big hug from Australia! I understand and feel your pain, I am in my home country at the moment. But we are often based for long periods of time in Jordan (and I speak 0 conversational arabic).

  5. Annabelle, you just read my mind. This is exactly what I meant when I asked for other expats to tell me how they felt about weekends. My husband sometimes travels and sometimes doesn't but even if the doesn't, he is "exhausted" (ok, Im being a bit mean, he does work A LOT) and so even if he is home I'm taking care of him too!!!! I have come to dread the weekends, there is no school, there are no activities, the park is too hot, the pool takes too much time to prepare for when they only want to stay 10 minutes, the indoor playgrounds are small and have become boring, movies are just more screentime but in the dark..........I feel you, I get you and I send you a huge huge hug!

  6. Oh I sympathise. We had this a lot in Malaysia last year, although no where near as bad as you. Mr EE was away for about half of every week and sometimes a week at a time with no pattern to work around. Earlier this year the children and I were sofa surfing in the UK while Mr EE was at our new posting trying desperately to get our visas sorted. I am not sure which was worse, In Malaysia I was in my own home but with no support network, in the UK I had a support network but no home and the children and I were slotting in when and where we could. It is not easy and I really feel for you!


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