“How will I ever get through this week?” you ask yourself as your spouse stuffs a final suitcase into the car. It’s never easy being a single parent, even if it’s just for a few nights. The longer the trip, the harder it can be to keep your cool with your kids. Don’t head for the hills when your partner heads for the airport. Here are some practical tips that will keep you sane the next time you’re on your own.

  • Go for Crowds: In the weeks preceding your spouse’s trip, set up playmates for the week you’ll be flying solo. Even one or two afternoons of getting together with your kids’ friends (or your friends with kids) can relieve the pressure of being the primary entertainer. And be sure you arrange the outings at their houses. Your kids will enjoy the diversion of other children and fresh toys and you may even escape the cleanup. If your spouse is gone over a weekend, call your local library to find out if they have any free programs running. Drop in on a Saturday story-time or mid-week puppet show. An hour of diversion here or there can be more helpful than you think.
  • Join the Trip: While you can’t always tag along, you can still be a part of a business trip from afar. For example, if your spouse is traveling to Germany, embrace Germany at home. Pull out the map of the world and hold a mini-geography lesson. Show the kids where Daddy or Mommy is and what states, bodies of water or countries he or she had to cross to get there. Go to the library and check out a few books on Germany, a CD of German kids music, or a DVD that teaches some simple German language. Find a dinner or dessert recipe native to that country and ask the kids to help make it. Spaetzle and Lebkuchen anyone? If the country is known for its spices, like India or Thailand, let your kids smell the different spices to get a feel for that country’s cuisine.
  • Stock Up: Speaking of food, make a meal plan for the week and go grocery shopping before your spouse leaves. And by all means, go easy on yourself. Don’t try the Beef Wellington recipe this week. Instead, go for easy pastas where you can throw in frozen veggies and canned artichoke hearts. Steam a bunch of carrots early in the week to have at the ready and don’t be afraid to order a pizza one night. Grilled cheese is easy and it really is okay to have sandwiches for dinner.
  • Bring in the Reserves: Enlist help. There is no shame in taking some time for yourself to regroup and feel human again. Set it up beforehand so you aren’t scrambling for someone at the final hour. Have a sitter or neighbor watch the kids for two hours so you can do something on your own, even if it’s staring at the wall -- which is sometimes all you need.

A business trip doesn’t have to be cause for panic. The next time you’re slated to be a  single parent for the week, take a deep breath, count to ten, and make a plan. You’ll avoid the desire to have yourself committed. Plus, you’ll all miss the missing member of your family a lot less, and enjoy each other’s company a lot more.