Of all of the many things that I learned while my wife was gone, none was more helpful to me that foregoing dishes and glasses in favor of paper cups and paper plates. Yes, I know, not very environmentally friendly; honestly, though, I wasn't as concerned with saving the polar bears as I was with saving my sanity. Now, you might have a small family and don't have to do the dishes that often (twice a day for us on some days!). But for a family of 6, the dishes and glasses and plastic cups and spoons and forks and bowls...well, you get the idea. It became overwhelming. Having the kids simply throw their plates and cups away after meals made life so much easier. Obviously, once my wife came home we reverted back to normal plates and such (I had help at the point!). But for my money, it was worth it not to have to do the dishes very often.
One of the most important things that we as parents do for our children is also one of the most basic. That's bath time. Now, imagine, if you will, needing to get four kids clean every day. If you're a parent, you know that kids love bath time. Suds, bubbles, warm water, toys... what's not to love??? It's all fun and games until you're the one doing the cleaning. That's why I came up with the assembly line method. When my wife is deployed we almost never do baths. We do showers. I'll line my kids up in the bathroom, bare bottoms and all. The first one gets into the shower. I wash him/her up and down, side to side. I then pull him/her out of the shower and dry him/her off while kid #2 gets in. I then repeat the process until everyone is clean. I can get all of my kids squeaky clean in about 5 minutes. No, it's not happy fun bath time, but the mission is accomplished and I can move on to the next task at hand on that given night. Now, in the year since the last deployment, my oldest has gotten to where he does all of that himself in the mornings, so bath/shower time for the upcoming deployment doesn't look quite as daunting!
There are several other little tips and tricks I used to make life a bit smoother while my wife was gone, things I'll use again when she leaves us this Summer. The above two, though, are probably the most useful in terms of easing the job of being a single parent in a deployment. With any luck, I'll come up with a few more in the year ahead. Remember, never cut corners unless you need to cut corners!