It is so tempting for a single mom to think she has to do everything all the time. Single moms often feel like they have to be everything to everyone! It is easy to think think the success and failure of every endeavor of those in your little circle relies soley on you. Single parenting is not for the feint of heart! The workload alone, never mind the mental, emotional, and spiritual toll of single parenting, is a lot to handle!
When there is no one to bounce ideas off of and no consistent plan to follow, paths are limited rather than freed. In these situations, single moms tend to
- Try to do everything at once.
- Become paralyzed and get little or nothing done.
- Experience guilt either way.
In the first case, single moms exhaust themselves and stress out those they love most. In trying to do everything, they move from task to task, finishing nothing, and accomplishing little. Even when they get a lot done initially, it is not sustainable, longterm advancement.
In the second case, overwhelm and fear cycle to prohibit growth. It's like when you walk into Baskin Robbins and are faced with 52 flavors and don't know which to choose, only in single parenting the weight of every decision feels like a millstone around your neck. It weighs you down for fear of making the wrong move, upsetting the wrong people, or causing more damage. Stagnation causes additional pile ups and overwhelm. Isolation and even shame quickly follows.
Finally, all single moms experience some degree of guilt. No matter how hard the modern world tries to deny natural gender roles, there are some things only fathers can do for their kids. When fathers are not parenting full time, responsibilities fall on the shoulders of kids that they would not bear with an adult male present. Some of those responsibilities are things kids should do but they should do them with a male mentor who lives in the home and is a steady presence in the child's life. Other responsibilities are thosse a child should never have to do but now must because he is left to fend for himself. Finally, some responsibilities can only be modeled, like fidelity, honoring your wife and commitments, seeking forgiveness and offering mercy, courage, and hope, and putting responsibility and respectability above desire, worldliness, and the self.
Of course, not every family models these behaviors and some women and children must separate for safety reasons, but even then the overwhelm, paralysis, and guilt are present.
After more than a decade of research, observation, interviews, and my own trial and error, I developed three pillars of single parenting to streamline overwhelm, break through paralysis, and allow love for yourself and your children to far outweigh guilt.
The number one issue single moms face is isolation. They often lose, not only their husbands, but their husband's family whom they love and whom they thought loved them. They lose friendships as people take sides. They lose more friends as workloads pile up, kids need more attention, and free time evaporates. They are behind on school programs and mom events they used to enjoy. They are pushed to their limits at work and in trying to get things done during the typical work day so they can tread water at home. They feel forgotten by their Churches and pastors and gossiped about by parishioners. They even lose their own children to part-time parenting or parental exhaustion, childhood anger, and teenage shutdown.
First and foremost, single moms need to know they are not alone. They need to learn new skills in relationship building and how to carve out time to make relationship a priority when so many things cry out to be made a priority.
Single moms need to build a relationship with the Lord and believe He always has plans for their good and for the good of their children. They have to believe in His unconditional Love and gentleness. They have to believe vengeance belongs to Him and hand all anger and unforgiveness over to Him. They need to have hope and display hope. This comes, not from a replacement husband, but from a strong connection to The One from whom Hope originates.
After a relationship with God, single moms need to learn how to care for their own inner circle. They need to develop new relationships with both themselves and their children. They do this by prioritizing and focusing and knowing when to pick a new project up and when to put it down. They do it by remembering children are with them for such a short time and by learning to make the most of every moment. They do it by knowing making the most of every moment has more to do with cuddling at bedtime, praying a quiet Rosary together, throwing snowballs, jumping in leaf piles, going for bike rides, and being reliable than in fancy gifts or expensive vacations.
Single moms need strategies for co-parenting, especially in less than stellar circumstances. They need to real life action steps for regaining their footing when the rug has been swept out from under them. They need to learn to find calm when their patience is tested.
Single moms need to find friendships and build a cadre of those who have been there and understand. They need to find shoulders to cry on and those to celebrate with. They need to form friendships both in work, in extended family, and in personal relationships. They need to learn boundary setting strategies and red flag awareness.
Single moms need to know building relationships is not about finding a man to fill a hole, but about building love that grows from the Heavens to the heart and is reciprocated upward and outward.
Some studies show the average person makes 35,000 decisions a day. Whether this statistic is true or not, there is no doubt that human beings are full of choices and decision making is part of daily existance. Not every decision is life altering, but the sheer number of decisions one makes in one day is staggering. It can be guessed that single parents make more decisions than many others simply because they make all the decisions for themselves and for children. Those decisions also have heavy consequences much of the time.
Knowing that, developing routines gives us guardrails. Routine takes simple decision making off the table and automate tasks. While that can sound boring, it is absolutely not! Instead, it frees you to give time, energy, and focus to decisions that are fun and or especially impactful.
For example, if every day, you have to consider whether you work out in the morning or after work, if you eat fast food or a homemade meal, if you respond to that demeaning text or handle it another way, you waste limited resources on figuring out those simple things that can be automated and decided ahead of time.
If you implement routines and then also work on them until they actually become routine, you not only save time, you also save money and reduce stress. If everything becomes a problem you need to solve, then no problem is getting your full attention. That means relationships break down. Work is cheated out of a fully focused employee. Friends are cheated out of laughter. Kids are cheated out of a peace-filled mom. God is cheated out of your presence. You are cheated out of all of the above resulting in being cheated out of joy and the ability to fully love and be loved.
Learning to automate what can be automated is not routine; it is a life saver!
This is a big problem for single moms! When is there time in a busy day for self-care? It seems like an impossibility, yet we know that on airplanes, adults are told to put on their oxygen masks first so that they can save those around them. What makes single moms think life is any different?
The problem with most "self-care" programs is that they do not understand self-care. They assume self-care means a day at the spa or getting your nails done or sitting back doing nothing.
They don't understand the lives of single moms! Worldly self care is counter productive. It is expensive and often time-consuming. Many single moms have a hard time shutting down what lingers in the backs of their minds. They know work piles up while they "self-care." They know taking time away from responsibilities will lead to more overwhelm when they return. What is worse is that, while self-care may provide temporary relief, the gains are short-lived.
True self-care helps the single mom discover who she is now. It helps her define principles and rediscover passions. It involves challenge to beliefs in the mental, physical, and spiritual domains. Self care makes you uncomfortable the way a cacoon makes a caterpillar uncomfortable. Self care does not need to be costly, but it always involves investing in yourself. Sometimes that investment includes dollar signs as in when you hire a coach. Other times it includes investing in time and energy as when you workout, read a non-fiction book or take a class, or when you take time to sit alone and listen for God to speak. True self-care involves risk taking as when you try something new and grow in cofindence seeing old, self-imposed limits fall.
And yes, sometimes self-care simply means getting dressed in your favorite jeans and fancy heels, putting on earrings and letting someone else take care of you by getting your nails and hair done, getting a massage, or sitting in a white robe with an adult beverage in hand poolside at a spa.
When so much of life has been turned upside down, self-care for single moms needs to be about getting to know, and love, thyself again. For many, it may be getting to know and love thyself for the first time.
These are what I have determined are the three pillars of single parenting. As I said last week, faith and prayer and God Himself provide the foundation for the pillars. We go nowhere without Him. With Him we become new creations.
That is what I hope you find as you read through these upcoming months and listen to podcasts that will be coming in the next few weeks.
If I have missed something, by all means let me know! I'd also like to hear from you. If you were asked to define pillars of positive single parenting, what would your pillars be?
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