As new parents we struggle with bringing babies into our chaotic lifestyle but ultimately we do (for more on that topic please read “Having The Military Baby”). Once we bring these little military offspring into the world we, as the spouse left home, are faced with what to do with our endless days, weeks and months alone. For those of us who stay home with them those days can seem so long and never ending especially when you add sleep deprivation and deployments to the mix. When my boys were under the age of three it was a challenge finding things to do with them but in the end I always did; for my sanity and theirs. At that point in time and even to this day I run. It is my stress reliever and I forced my young baby and toddler children to come with me. One time my mother was commenting to me about bringing them with me and I said that I had to do it to help relieve my stress and my older son, then three said: “Yeah, it is all our stress reliever!” And with that I will go into my tips for surviving the years with children three and younger.
1. Take a walk everyday! Everyday rain or shine, hot or cold, I walked with my babies. We would stop at playgrounds and I would let them collect leaves and rocks and other things that I would later throw away. Be sure to bring snacks and drinks; never let that be a reason to have go home. All government housing has multiple playgrounds and if you live off base make it a priority to find the nearest one within walking distance. If there isn’t a playground near by just the walk alone is great in and of itself.
2. Make naps a priority! Everyday I longed for 1:30 to come around. It was my two hours of reprieve. I showered, started dinner, cleaned bathrooms and napped myself. Too many parents don’t make napping a priority. If you don’t do it for your child, do it for yourself! We all need a break during the day, even if you are just going to plant yourself in front of the TV or read a book or do P90X. Make your kids go to their beds and take nap and enjoy the silence that is napping children. Man, I miss nap time!
3. Sign them up for a class. It could be anything from tumbling to dance to Mommy and Me groups, swimming lessons or even story hour at the library. This not only gets you all out of the house but it will help you, the parent, have a little social time, too. Everyone needs to be socialized and that includes mommies (or daddies) that stay home with young children. It can be very hard to take that leap for some but I promise you it is well worth all the effort. To find base supported groups contact either Fleet and Family Support Center or MWR, most of these will either be free or be very low cost.
4. Find a “once a week” activity to do. For me and my gang we went to an indoor playground, similar to Monkey Joe’s. But, it could be buying season passes to the zoo, children’s museum or attending a play group. Something that can really only be done once a week for a couple of hours. Oh and yes, we still walked and napped. Those activities are only about three hours out of the day. Check with your local ITT office to find discounted tickets for zoos, aquariums, children museums and more.
5. Learn to cook dinner in 30 mins or less or ahead of time. My saying back in those days was: “If I can’t cook it in the 30 mins or less or make it durning nap time, it doesn’t get made.” I also would cook double of some things and freeze them so I had quick meals when my husband was away. One other tip, don’t have the food wars when you are flying solo. It isn’t worth your already depleted energy. There is nothing wrong with throwing in the towel and ordering pizza or going to the food court at the NEX.
6. Take them to an hourly daycare (CDCs usually have them, just ask). Do this for your personally sanity. Having even just one or two days a week for 2-3 hours of alone time will go a long way in the “make mom (or dad) happy” department. Sometimes it is just nice to go alone to the Commissary or the post office or even clean the house without interuptions. One summer I put my boys in hourly care three days a week for three hours and I came home and read the entire Twilight series. So, really this tip is about you and how to help relieve some of your everyday stress.
7. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Houses will be messy, playmates will be missed because you just can’t get out the door, cereal for dinner will happen and calls home to mom in tears saying “you just can’t take it” will be made, too. Those years with small children are so very hard for any parent and then we have the added stress of military life. Cut yourself some slack, call a friend and have a glass of wine on the porch together while your kids play, eat cereal for dinner (AGAIN!) and the house is a mess.
8. Go home to family! It can be expensive and hard to travel with little ones but both you and them need it. There is nothing like walking off a plane or getting out of the car and seeing your mom with open arms ready to not hug you but take the kid(s). Look into “Space A” travel if you are short on funds for flying. It is either free or cost very little and most Air Station for any service will have them, it just takes a phone call to find out the schedule. While I believe fully in the support of the military family, there is nothing like your own blood especially when you have very young children. So go! Don’t sit home wishing you were there.
In closing I have one last thing tip to add. Don’t be in a hurry for those years to pass by. I realize all to well how hard it is to live our life with this little humans who can’t understand why daddy isn’t home and you are sad because you miss him, too. We will shed many tears in these years wishing our mothers were closer to come and rescue us from disasters like your one year old having the stomach flu at two in the morning. I did all these tips not only because it helped fill my day but because it caused me to slow down and take in my boys at that age. I so very much wish my boys would take a walk with me and look at nature but they are older and it isn’t as much fun for them anymore. So don’t wish those years away because they are hard, stop and enjoy them because they go all too quickly. As my mother always says to me when I complain about how hard it is right now, “the bigger the kid, the bigger the problems”.