What to do with Mother’s Day pain

You can’t miss Mother’s Day and all of its pinkness. Social media posts celebrating wonderful mothers. Mothers posting grateful pictures of their children. Flowers on street corners. Advertisements for jewellery, chocolate, electric appliances– why an item of work? – to give Mum. Kindy children busy making macaroni photo frames. Lots of traffic as people drive to visit Mum or to take her out to lunch.

Mother’s Day. It’s a time of families meeting together, honouring Mums and full of love and warm fuzzy feelings…but not for everyone.

Mother’s Day is a lance for pain for many women. Those who:

  • long to hold a baby in their arms, and invest money riding an emotional rollercoaster trying
  • those whose babies (big and small, some who never lived outside the womb but left their presence on their Mother) are in heaven already
  • those whose mothers are in gone in death, dementia, circumstances or in rejection of the child
  • those whose dreams of a happy family are shattered in single parenting
  • those who are not with their children
  • those who never had the opportunity to partner and have children, and it’s all they wanted
  • those who through circumstances not of their choosing are raising children on their own
  • those who are adopted or the mothers who surrendered them

All this focus and media creation of an idyllic situation, heightens the sense of loss and longing for these women (and for some men).

Mother’s Day may have passed, but the emotions it brings forth, like poking the dragon, are still bubbling away. Later, I suggest how to manage these.

Honest reflections as a single parent, saying what we don’t always like to admit

I remember the early days of single parenting. Without another adult to organise the kids I took them shopping, gave them the money, pointed them in the right direction to the present I wanted and when they were really little even helped wrap the gift, then acted surprised on Mother’s Day. When they were big enough to give me breakfast in bed, I cleaned up the mess created with their offering.

Once my ex had returned to living close by, it become a day tainted by other emotions I don’t’ like to label let alone share publicly – like jealousy. When I shared my kids with him, I spent some of the day alone. Seeing my kids invest time and love in their relationship with their step mum  – which I encourage and I am grateful for her investment in their lives – but if I’m honest it still creates a pain in me, a bit of envy.

It’s a day, even now my kids are grown, I feel points to my failure  –  the loss of my marriage, my kids growing up without two parents. So, Mother’s Day still pricks a little.

What to do if this is you

  1. Admit what you feel. Label the emotions within in you – anger, betrayal, aching loss, jealousy and envy
  2. Process the emotions. Journal, speak to your safe person or to a counsellor, tap dance out your anger, be creative, walk somewhere that soothes your soul, focus on what you are grateful for
  3. Look for the reason behind the emotions and this may require some professional help like counselling or seeing a psychologist. What is it that raises your emotions – is it loss of the dream of a happy family or even family to hold your baby in your arms? is it grief from the death of your mother? is it the fractured relationship you have with your mother and again the dream of what it could have been? is it rejection and caused by an abusive parent?
  4. With your support person to help, deal with the reason.

What others can do

  • Be sensitive.
  • Check-up on those in your circle for whom Mother’s Day can heighten pain, and acknowledge their grief, ambivalence and even hostility to the day.
  • Provide support as needed.
  • Create communities where people are welcomed and celebrated for who they are, not just their roles.
  • Acknowledge others who have been a mother to you, thank them for their investment in you and the legacy they leave in you.

Putting legs on it

DO one action from the group you fall into: what you can do, or what others can do?

Do you want more than just to survive single parenting? Do you want to be your best and flourish as a family? Click here for ‘Successful Single Parenting’ chapter
Resources

For daughters of narcissistic mothers read Psychology Today: When Mothers day hurts https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-legacy-distorted-love/201305/when-mothers-day-hurts

Photo credit Melissa Askew www.unsplash.com

A message for ‘Stubborn Independent Control Freaks’

It was a moment of revelation. Tears pricked my eyes as I realised in trying to be independent, I was in fact selfish and had denied Rachel the chance to join in with us.  I had excluded her from a fun time with good food, friendship, laughter, and building connection with each other. She also missed the hard work.

My homegroup had ‘offered’ to help me re-arrange my house, clean, and build a dog fence as my parents are coming to live with me for a few months whilst in-between houses. Our dogs don’t get along and will need to be separated.  We moved furniture to create two rooms for them and I moved into my son’s old bedroom, packing his gear into the shed. In displacing heavy furniture, we cleaned gigantic dust bunnies and dusted unreached areas. On the plus side I found a favourite earring I lost a year ago, revisiting an unanswered question, ‘how did it get there?’

Here’s our to do list:

As previously mentioned in where are you on the control freak scale‘, this was a difficult thing for me, having others help me. I am paddling my own canoe, pushing others away, as I don’t want to appear needy or unable to look after myself. Last time they offered to help with the garden when the weeds were taller than the windows (see How to help single parents move on the ‘control scale’ and accept help) I cheated by paying the lawn mowing man to whipper snip the weeds as well. Short term solution but it gave an impression of not requiring their help. But this job was beyond me. I knew I needed help. The group organised to come, and I was meant to ring Rachel and invite her.

When I saw her at church after the working bee, the realisation stabbed me. By not inviting her it saved my pride but it was a disservice to her. The group had bonded in the hard work. We had a shared the experience of red back spiders, dust and cake. We had laughed and gotten to know each better as we chatted through the tasks. Despite giving up time on a Saturday, we enjoyed ourselves and did a great job. But Rachel had missed out.

By keeping the spotlight on, my own humiliation in asking for help, I had denied Rachel the chance to be a part of a group community building experience.

So, no five steps in how to do something today. Just a story with a moral to show you, who are stubborn independent control freaks, that in reaching out and allowing others to help you, you are benefitting them as well.

Michelle L Sullivan in a 10-minute TED talk, ‘Asking for help is a strength, not a weakness,’ says ‘We have a role to play in other people’s successes. In helping others, we share an experience together and we both grow and benefit, even with strangers.’ She talks about ‘compassion, courage, understanding’ as we walk side by side. We all need others – sometime the need is obvious, sometimes it must be revealed.

Reversing that, other people are a part of my success and I can give them that opportunity by revealing my need and asking for help.  They will grow and benefit from helping. We are better together.

My learning in summary. It is selfish of me not to ask for help. I am denying others an opportunity that will benefit them.

I apologised to Rachel and it turns out she couldn’t have come. But that is not the point. I excluded her based on my embarrassment and my efforts to be independent and in control.

Putting legs on it.

What area are your struggling with?

What help do you need?

Who can you ask?

Do you want more than just to survive single parenting? Do you want to be your best and flourish as a family? Click here for ‘Successful Single Parenting’ chapter
Resources

Pay it forward

Reachout.com: Pay it forward

Pay it forward day

Random acts of kindness

Two steps to live a whole life

When I was at church once without the children, the worship leader asked me after the service who I was. She said that although I looked familiar she didn’t recognise me without my two children. How often do I not recognise me without my children? Take away the label of mother – and taxi, cook, cleaner, homework assistant, behavioural therapist, referee and what is left?  I define myself by the roles I fulfil, not by who I really am.

My blog ‘8 steps to see yourself as a family – not a broken one’ asked the question, ‘As a single parent do you see yourself as incomplete?’ The photo comes from a collection called ‘wholeness’

Here’s two steps to live a whole life as a single parent (also applies to all parents).

  1. Find and live who you are created to be
  2. Believe you are whole person

Who are you without your kids?

As a parent your role will always be that of parent. Your children will always be a priority in your life … but you are whole without them. You need to live your purpose as a role model encouraging them to do the same, and not be co-dependent, pulling your love and life purpose from them.

It has taken me a long time to fully find myself beyond being a single parent.

Step 1: Find and live who you are created to be

It’s not an either/or choice between parenting and purpose. It’s a yes to purpose but with the support of others to take some of the load, releasing you to live your purpose. This is why you need community; community who sees your strengths, will support your weakness, and help you live your purpose. Don’t follow my example and do both leading to burn out. Live as the person you were created to be including being a single parent. Parenting- investing in your children – is part of your purpose.

Need some help finding your purpose?  click here

Do you need someone to complete you?

Overheard conversation: What attracted you to your new boyfriend; ‘His house’.

Many single parents can be consciously and unconsciously driven to find a partner to meet their financial and security needs – to help provide for the family, to share the load of parenting and discipline. Someone to look after the kids that doesn’t have to be paid.  Someone to cover the pain of loss and loneliness. In their brokenness and need they maybe choosing an unhealthy relationship just to have one.

Over 90% of single parents were part of a couple so probably didn’t plan on parenting on their own.1  As a single parent family you are complete and as a single parent you are complete, although today’s language can make you feel like you are incomplete. When people refer to their partner as ‘my better half’ or ‘my other half,’ this implies single people are incomplete – a half person waiting for their other half to be complete, to become one, to be whole.

You don’t need anyone else to complete you. One is a whole number (ask any mathematician).

My experience of wholeness

This section contains Christian content! I’m reading a book at the moment by Ann Voskamp called, The Broken Way. I always knew saying ‘yes’ to Jesus was more than a ticket to heaven. It was the forgiveness of my sins by His dying on the Cross. I am learning it includes entering into a union with Him, like in a marriage where everything is held in common. All the good things of Christ’s are mine, and He takes all of me – my bad and broken included.

Three quotes from her book:

 When we’re rejected and abandoned and feel beyond wanting, Jesus cups our face: “Come close, my Beloved.” When we’re dirty and tear-stained and despairing, Jesus Christ is attracted to us and proposes undying love: “All that you’re carrying I take…and all that I am is yours?” 2

The pieces of me, the shards I didn’t know how to gather together, the ache that kept me up at night, that I didn’t even have words for – none of the pieces of me would find peace – until I could see and feel and experientially enter into the reality of my union with Christ. Peace isn’t a place – it’s a Person.3 (My emphasis in bold.)

…his miraculous embrace that can end our abandonment, our aloneness. It’s this enveloping relationship of the outstretched cross, sharing in the oneness of the very life of Christ.4

Step 2: Believe you are a whole person

Hollywood tells us we need another person to complete us, our soul mate. This is not true.

You are whole. You do not need another person to complete you.

Putting legs on it

What is your purpose?

What support do you need to live it? Who can support you?

Where do you find your worth and wholeness? How can you change your mental image of yourself to reflect that you are whole?

Do you want more than just to survive single parenting? Do you want to be your best and flourish as a family? Click here for ‘Successful Single Parenting’ chapter
References

  1. HILDA Melbourne University (2016) The Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia Survey: Selected Findings from Waves 1 to 14 p19 https://www.melbourneinstitute.com/downloads/hilda/Stat_Report/statreport_2016.pdf
  2. Voskamp, A (2016) The Broken Way, Zondervan, U.S.A, p46
  3. Voskamp, A (2016) The Broken Way, Zondervan, U.S.A, p47
  4. Voskamp, A (2016) The Broken Way, Zondervan, U.S.A, p48

Photocredit: Tim Stief unsplash.com (from a collection called Wholeness)

Where are you on the control freak scale?

I have a theory – and it is just a Vicky Legge theory about a control freak scale!  At one end is the illusion you have no control and the other – the independent, stubborn control freak.

The control freak scale scale

My theory says many single parents sit at the independent stubborn control freak end of the scale. The very act of single parenting creates this in you. Nothing in the house happens without you. You must think through and enact everything. You control everything. Even if the kids do chores, you have set up the schedule, you do the reminding and monitor if they have been done. You answer every question fired at you and help with homework! You are the maid, entertainment coordinator, gardener, taxi driver, budgeter, cook, and the endless list of providing what your family needs. I blame the nature of single parenting for pushing you to the extreme end of the scale.

At the other end of the scale is believing you have no control, not taking any responsibility for your life, expecting everyone else to solve your problems and meet your needs. Again, some single parents are pushed to this end of the scale by their circumstances. Poverty (and many single parents live below the poverty line) can create a cycle of welfare and powerlessness. Combine this with the overwhelming load of coping on your own especially if you are isolated, can make you dependent on others and handouts just to get by. This can be humiliating and devaluing, creating a mindset that you have no control, you are helpless and need others to supply all you need.

Neither of these is healthy.

I sit at the independent control freak end as do many of the single parents I have ministered with. In reflection, I can also see the influence of my family and my childhood contributing to this. I was raised in a family that said, ‘love many, trust a few and always paddle you own canoe,’ and the circumstances of being raised in a single parent home meant I took this on board to a deep level of never receiving help, let alone asking for it.

So now I am in a battle of wills between people trying to help me and me refusing, and I am learning the value of moving to the middle of the control freak scale and how to get there.  It comes from relationship.

holding hands brooke-cagle-unsplash

Pay it back, pay it forward, care for yourself, live your purpose

I refused help because I thought I had to reciprocate. I believed that if someone cooked a meal for us then I had to do the same for them. Three problems with this: a) I can’t cook very well b) I hate cooking and c) I don’t have time to cook for myself let alone the time or money to do it some for someone else.

I have learnt you don’t give the same gift in return. I do have a friend who cooks meals for us regularly, more often when she knows I have deadlines or I am unwell. She says I pay her back by spending time with her as a sounding board.

You can pay it forward where, if you receive a kindness, you do one for someone else.  Read about the benefits to you and the community if you do this click here 

The help can be a gift to release you to care for yourself or live your purpose both of which helps you, role models to your kids and potentially impacts others. You have value and are worth investing in.

Moving to the middle on the scale

So, the solution is to accept help that is offered from relationship, from people who wish to invest in you, but not as welfare or a project.  When friends offer to cook tea one night, look after your kids or weed your garden (are you listening to yourself Vicky!) you can use that time and energy to pursue your purpose or care for yourself.

See the help as an act of kindness that you can payback but it doesn’t have to be in the same way, pay it forward or accept as gift because you are valued and loved.

We are better together.

Putting legs on it

Where do you sit on the control freak scale?

No control___________________________________________________________Control freak

Are you declining help that is given in a loving respectful way? How can you change your attitude to this?

Are you demanding and expecting help without paying it forward? What random act of kindness can you do for someone else?

Are you valued and loved by others? If not, find a community who you can build friendships with. See blogs Increasing your support, How to build a friendship network, YouTube video on Using the circles of support

Do you want more than just to survive single parenting? Do you want to be your best and flourish as a family? Click here for ‘Successful Single Parenting’ chapter
Resources

Pay it forward

Reachout.com: Pay it forward 

Pay it forward day

Random acts of kindness

Photo credit: Holding hands Brook Cagle and Lone kayak Filip Mroz www.unsplash.com

How to use the 5 love languages to better fill your child’s love tank

There’s someone in my family who loves me dearly. They show it to me with little surprise presents like a treat from the shop or doing things for me. I know they love me but I don’t feel it. I tell my kids all the time I love them, I build them up with words to inspire them. One of my kids often remarks, ‘You never spend time with me.’ They know I love them but they don’t feel it. Knowing and feeling love can be different things.

In the blog and video on filling your child’s love tank I mention that while you may think you are giving love, your child may not be receiving it. To fill their love tanks with unconditional love, you need to do your homework to find out how best to reach them. This means detecting how you can best convey your love and how they best receive it.

london-scout-unsplash ballet dress

The five love languages

Dr Ross Campbell (an Associate Professor of Paediatrics and Psychiatry)  and Gary Chapman (a Relationship Counsellor), in The Five Love Languages of Children1 discuss how few children feel unconditionally loved by their parents even though the parents may say ‘I love you’ and genuinely mean it. They say to fill children’s love tanks you can express love in five different languages:

  • physical touch
  • quality time
  • gifts
  • acts of service – actions speak louder than words
  • words of affirmation – using words to affirm a person

The authors comment that although we need and use all five languages of love, we have a primary language that we use.

As a parent you may speak one love language but your child may hear best in a different love language. Learning to speak the child’s primary language increases the chance of the child knowing they are unconditionally loved.

Using love languages in practice

In my example at the beginning can you identify my primary love language? My child’s language? The person who loves me? Did you say – words of affirmation, quality time, gifts and acts of service?

Once I understood the concept and worked out who ‘spoke ‘ which language I realised why I struggled to feel  loved and why no matter how many times I told my child how much I loved them, they complained I didn’t because I didn’t spend time with them. It eased my frustration and helped me to consciously speak other love languages back to the person who loves me even though it feels weird, and to speak love to my child with less words and more time.

Where can you learn yours and your child’s love languages?

You can observe your actions and your children. What do they ask of you: a back rub, to sit and play with them, to listen to them, for a present, or do they try to make your breakfast?

How about you? Do you use words or  buy little treats for them, or prefer a snuggle?

You can use the quizzes as I did the old fashioned way – before the days of the internet – using tests in The love language books or check out the website:   Five languages of love. Take the quizzes today and discover your love language and your child’s love language.

Read more on love languages and learn how to speak the languages that are not natural to you by looking at the resources below and clicking here

Once you know the languages and how to speak them then you have to work out ways to bridge the gaps between you.  It’s helpful to recognise when others are speaking love to you in a language you don’t readily use, to affirm that you are loved. It may feel awkward at first but I found it has improved my relationships with both my kids and others.

Putting legs on it

Do some research and detective work. How do you show love? How does your child receive it? What strategies can you use to bridge any gaps between you?

Do you want more than just to survive single parenting? Do you want to be your best and flourish as a family? Click here for ‘Successful Single Parenting’ chapter
Resources

Gary Chapman: Keeping the love tank full

Gary Chapman: The 5 love languages profile for children

busykidshappymom: Five languages of love – love tank

motherhow.com: How to love your child? Inspired by Ross Campbell

 References

  1. Gary Chapman and Ross Campbell. The Five Love Languages of Children S.A: Northfield Publishing, 1997.

Photo credit London Scout unsplash,com

8 steps to see yourself as a family – not a broken one

It was an often repeated event.  It could be a ‘meet the teacher’ event for school parents, watching a concert or the basketball final. I was there to support my kids and sitting alone. Through rose coloured glasses I saw everyone else sitting grouped in families – two parents chatting, grandparents and the odd aunt or uncle in the cheer squad and I sat by myself in a cloud of dark thoughts and self-pity. I felt that others were looking at me, mocking me for being by myself.  To overcome this I reminded myself that we are a family, we are not a broken family, we might be a small family unit but we are a family nonetheless. It stopped me feeding the paranoid, self-absorbed thoughts.

My family

What about you? As a single parent do you see yourself as incomplete? Do you use the label ‘broken family’? My family lived interstate which may have exacerbated my feelings of feeling alone, but in speaking with other single parents, it’s a common experience feeling isolated at events where you perceive every other family has two parents and is perfect. It’s not true but feelings misread the context. It can bring up feelings of failure and shame. How do you overcome this?

You are a complete family

See yourself as a family. Remind yourself you are a complete family, just as you are. This can take some persistent changing of your thoughts to engage with this mental picture. Encourage your children to embrace it also. It is important to see yourself like that and not be paranoid about what others think of you. You might be thinking it’s easy to say ‘just change your mindset’, but it’s hard to do. Here’s 8 ways to help the process.

8 steps to help you see yourself as a family

  1. Don’t describe yourself as a broken family. You are whole and complete.
  2. Develop family time with specific activities that everyone enjoys and can participate in.1
  3. Support each other, going to concerts and sporting matches. Be each other’s cheer squad.1
  4. Keep family traditions and start new ones. 1
  5. Have fun. Create enjoyable snippets of time that will be the children’s memories of their childhood.
  6. Do things as a family (leaving the paranoia of judgment at home).
  7. Encourage contact with extended family to help create a sense of larger family. 1
  8. Find a surrogate family for your children if you don’t have family close by or willing to be involved. Remember be safe!

What can this look like?

After attending a concert (of which there were many – dance, drama and music) we would stop and get a special ice-cream on the way home, combining steps 2, 3, & 4. I went to the concert feeling proud of my kids, and to combat the aloneness I would start a conversation with the person next to me usually asking who they were there to see (step 6). We also had our pyjama day tradition where no-one had to do anything – we relaxed at home in our PJ’s watching videos, playing games, reading and ate whatever we could find (steps 2, 4, 5)

Encourage contact with extended family to help create a sense of larger family

Children need to have a sense of belonging and knowing where they fit in their wider family, including your parenting partner’s family. Encourage contact with extended family to help create a sense of larger family.

I hadn’t appreciated this until my children were having some professional counselling and the counsellor mentioned the children ranked wanting to know certain people in both their father’s family and mine as a top-three priority. If they placed such importance on it, how could I ignore it? As my ex lived overseas it was up to me to ensure that the children met and had special time with his family, even though it wasn’t comfortable for me initially.  I invited his family to the children’s birthdays and concerts and we celebrated together.  Later, I took them to his family funerals which didn’t feel strange, though others outside thought it was. This reinforced to me the importance of not buying into the thoughts and judgements of others, but to define and celebrate our family as we saw it.

Some parenting partners are able to amicably attend their children’s special events together giving their children a bigger cheer squad.

Draw your family

To know how your kids see your family ask them to draw it.

I have precious pictures from my children at different times showing our family. One I proudly brought from an art show fundraiser at school in which my child had drawn the three of us and called the picture ‘my family’ (picture in this post). Later for a German project, learning to use German words for family, my daughter drew herself and her brother in the middle with her dad, his wife and step brother on one side, and me and the dog on the other. It took a while for the German teacher to find the words for step-brother.

To help explain the concept of step and half siblings to children see ‘My Family Bush’ in the resources below (contains Christian content).

Putting legs on it

Ask your children to draw their family. Use this as a discussion starter.

What steps can you incorporate into your life?

Do you want more than just to survive single parenting? Do you want to be your best and flourish as a family? Click here for ‘Successful Single Parenting’ chapter
Resources

Blended Not Shaken Ministries offers children’s resources and workshops to Christian schools, churches, counsellors and chaplains. Karina Hudson desires to minster to step families and single parents by providing support, encouragement and discipleship. She runs monthly single step mum support groups in 5 locations around Adelaide. In her books she, her husband and children openly share their experiences.  Her books are available through her Facebook page and she has a website coming soon

  • My Family Bush – helps bring meaning to the concepts of ‘step’, ‘half’ and ‘full’ as they apply in blended families. My young adult daughter loved the statement that step-parents ‘step-in’. I like the bit where she points out that Jesus experienced a blended family. He had a step-dad in Joseph and had half brothers and sisters.
  • My Two Houses – tells the story of a child from a blended family and how he is helped by prayer, scripture and the knowledge that God is near and can be your friend.
  • Caught in the Middle – is the story of a child whose relationship with God through the Bible and prayer, helps with the difficulties faced and feelings experienced as a result of having divorced parents

 

References

  1. Hart, A. (1996) Helping your children survive divorce, Word Publishing, USAp181-182

The do’s and don’ts of love tank filling as a single parent

By the number of love songs around, you’d think we’d have the answer to, ‘I want to know what love is?’ All humans are born with an innate need to be loved – a hunger for love. Not having this need met fully leaves wounds and scars that take more than time to heal. Studies have shown that where children receive gestures of love – for example physical touch – they are healthier, grow normally, mature emotionally and are even more likely to survive.

So let me introduce you to a concept I’ve found helpful as a single parent, not only to understand the dynamic that was happening in my family around love, but ways to improve it for my benefit and the sake of my children.

It’s easier to draw on a whiteboard than write about, so here is a video explaining it (with lots of hand waving from me and two word substitutions. Apologies for the light reflection on the whiteboard.)

Watch the video ‘Love Tanks and Single Parents’ by clicking here

The effect of single parenting on a child’s love tank

In a single parent family, the potential supply of love to the child is halved. This is compounded by the parent losing vital filling of their love tank from their partner. Basically, the single parent will need to supply more love fuel to compensate for the loss of the other parent but they will have less available fuel to do it.

You will need to be strategic in filling your love tank because there is no partner to help fill you and you may be the only parent filling the child’s tank. Therefore, you need significant others to nourish you, the parent. You need to keep your tank as full as possible.

Filling love tanks

Other people can help supply the children’s tanks. Encourage other family members, mentors, friends to connect with your children and be a source to contribute to filling their love tanks.

Safety warning: be careful who you introduce and encourage to have relationship with your children. As a single parent you are at risk of being targeted by predators – aiming for you or your children. They befriend and groom. Be aware and trust your gut. If you have concerns speak up, check them out or don’t be friends. From personal experience trust your gut and act, even if others excuse the person’s behaviour.

As a Christ follower I have another love tank available to fill all the tanks – both mine and the children’s, and that is God. Unlike human love, His is limitless and not dependent upon our behaviour. It will flow freely to us as a free gift of grace whether we return it or not. As a single parent I tap into God’s love as a way to fill my tank, but also encourage my children to fill their tank straight from God too.

So the diagram of love tanks could look like:

Love tanks diagram

In summary

As a single parent you need to:

  • keep your tank full
  • ensure your love flows down to your child
  • ensure your child can receive your love (we will talk about languages of love later)
  • encourage/create opportunity for the other parent, if they are around, to contribute to filling the love tank of the child
  • develop relationship with others who can fill your child’s tank such as extended family, friends, mentors – but remember – be safe

 Putting legs on it

Click here for the worksheet to draw who is filling your love tank and answer the reflection questions.

Do you want more than just to survive single parenting? Do you want to be your best and flourish as a family? Click here for ‘Successful Single Parenting’ chapter
Resources

One Together: How to build a friendship network

One Together: Increasing your support

One Together: Why every single parent shouldn’t parent alone

Gary Chapman and Ross Campbell. The Five Love Languages of Children U.S.A: Northfield Publishing, 1997.

Gary Chapman: The 5 love languages profile for children

Ross Campbell (Dr). How to Really Love Your Child. U.S.A: SP Publications, 1992.

References

Hemfelt, R., Minirth, F., and Meier, P. (1989) Love is a Choice. Thomas Nelson Inc, U.S.A.

How to build a friendship network

I could say I remember the isolation of single parenting.  The demands of parenting, working and keeping the household running squeeze out time for the parent to be with others and self-care. But it’s not just in my past. Now, still single and a part of the sandwich generation, working and keeping the household running, I need to deliberately keep building my support network, ensuring it has safe people in it.

Why is a friendship network important?

Described in the negative, loneliness is bad for your health, both physically and mentally1. Friendships don’t just boost your health, but improve your belonging, sense of purpose, self-esteem, and help you to change and cope with the hard times in life2. Friendships are good for you! You need to be proactive about building a network for friends.

flamingoes Ganapathy Kumar unsplash

Building friendship networks

The blog increasing your support explained using the ‘support circle’ tool to map out who is in your circles of support, asked some reflective questions and linked to another worksheet to prompt your thoughts about where you can connect with people for the social circle.

Another way to grow you social circle is volunteering if you have the time and the energy. See article in the resources section.

If you look at building your support network using the visual of the circle – the social circle is where you meet people and from there you will develop an ongoing friendship that moves the person into your friendship circle. As you deepen the relationship the person may move into your inner circle.

Friends are an essential part of that support network. To be well supported you need 3 to 4 people in your inner circle, these are the close friends who are ‘there for you through thick and thin.’2 You need to ‘cultivate a diverse network of friends and acquaintances’2 in your friendship circle. When evaluating friendships ‘quality counts more than quantity.’2

The Mayo Clinic Friendship article in the resources has a section on ‘ways of meeting new people’.

In New Life in the Mourning (2010) I wrote, ‘I have a variety of different friends accumulated over the years and each provides or meets a different need. I have nursing friends with whom I can debrief about work. There are friends with whom I share common interests like church or dancing, and there are friendships that have grown from meeting the families of my children’s friends.

On Friday nights at a fast food outlet, we get together as a family with a group of friends. Our kids met in childcare so we have similar experiences as working mums. It’s great to unwind from the week at work with these women, who understand how hard the load is and how precarious its balance can be. We support and encourage each other while the kids play together and fulfil their own needs. This is an example of a win-win situation where more than one need is met at a time.

Surround yourself with positive, growing people. You cannot bear other people’s burdens when you yourself are overloaded. It is not selfish to choose uplifting people to associate with; it is self-protective. In time you can help others but now may not be that time.’

I may not meet on Friday nights at a fast food outlet with those families now, but we are still friends. A couple of years ago in a dark time with ill health I realised I was socially isolated, so I mapped my support circle and took action to grow my social support. I joined a book club and scheduled time in my calendar to invest in a few friendships both old and new. If I didn’t schedule the time and put the ‘date’ on my calendar I would stay home on my couch.

Safety

You need to evaluate your support circles for safe people. Safe people are not hurtful, controlling or destructive to you. They encourage you to grow and support you in times of distress. For some Christian based articles on safe people see Dr Henry Cloud and Dr John Towsnend: Safe People 

Now here’s the warning. As a single parent you are at risk of being targeted by predators – aiming for you or your children. They can be in any of your circles of support. Be aware and trust your gut. If you have concerns speak up, check them out or don’t be friends. From personal experience trust your gut and act, even if others excuse the person’s behaviour.

This is problem in dating too. Predators target single women who put pictures of their children on dating sites4. There was a comment on an article about this suggesting all potential dates be asked for a ‘working with children’ screening certificate. Your thoughts – is this going too far?

So be careful and ensure you fill your support network and friendships with safe people.

Putting legs in it

Review your support circle.

Do you have a diverse range of friends? If not where can you cultivate them?

Evaluate your support circle and friendships for safety. Are they safe?

Are your friendships supportive or draining?
Do you want more than just to survive single parenting? Do you want to be your best and flourish as a family? Click here for ‘Successful Single Parenting’ chapter

Resources

Volunteering see Help guide: Volunteering and its surprising benefits, has tips for getting started

Protecting your children from predators see Parents: protect your child from a predator

How to’s of friendship see:

References

  1. Campaign to end loneliness: Threat to health http://www.campaigntoendloneliness.org/threat-to-health/
  2. Mayo Clinic: Friendships – Enrich your life and improve your health http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/in-depth/friendships/art-20044860
  3. Legge, V (2010) New Life in the Mourning, Sid Harta, Australia, pP146-147
  4. http://www.mamamia.com.au/news-single-mum-grooming/

Photo credit: Ganpathy Kumar unsplash.com

How to prioritise and schedule

It’s back to work for me this week and by day 1 reality hit me, there’s more to do than available time. The potential is there to overload already. As promised here are some ideas on how to prioritise and schedule following on from             3 steps to organise your year as a single parent family

rose and hand-maja-petric unspalsh

How to work out your priorities

As a single parent you will experience overwork with the demands of running your family; working, keeping house, other commitments and maybe having some ‘you’ time. You need to find a way to prioritise all the demands you experience and manage your time.  One of the acts to achieve balance is to work out what your priorities are and give your available time and energy to the highest ones. Your priorities may not be the same as your boss, your pastor/minister if you go to church or your mothers!

There are many different techniques around.

My favourite is the ‘to do’ list. Sometimes I even write things on the list I have already done for the satisfaction of crossing it off!  Some issues with a ‘to do ‘list include:

  • Not finishing it can also make you feel bad about yourself
  • Using a list is task driven – people can be something you ‘do’ rather than ‘be’ with.
  • The desire to delete an item on the list can push you to keep working until the task is finished so you ignore breaks, people and don’t notice that the quality of your work slips and your frustration increases – or is that just me!.

Blocks of time schedule

Due to the negatives of a ‘to do’ list, I have switched to using a blocks of time schedule. In this method you allocate a set time to an activity and it doesn’t matter if you complete it, you stop and move onto the next block of time. You allocate breaks and rest time. Stephen Covey designed a method of scheduling a week by working out your role, followed by a goal for each role, then allocating a time blocks to work towards the goal.

So what mistakes did I make in my schedule for this week? I blew it before half the day was gone. I forgot to add time for breaks …oops… and didn’t add margins. Margins are gaps between the blocks that give you wriggle room if you need a bit longer on a task, or give you a chance to return phone calls, even sneak a longer rest. Allow a block of time for answering emails and checking social media, as letting these interrupt other block of time limits your ability to concentrate.

It’s important to add time in your schedule to spend with people – not as a task but as a refresher and encouragement to you and them. Andy Stanley says we show people how much we love them by our schedule1.

I got caught by this too this week when one of my big kids asked me to do something with them and I continued on with trying to finish my tasks because I hadn’t allowed time in my schedule just to be with them. The argument that ensured fleshed out that they felt my work and writing blogs were more important than they are to me. My time reflected my priorities. Point noted so the schedule needs flexibility to be with the kids when their needs dictate it.

Make sure you include time for self-care.

Using a weekly planner

In the resource section is a downloadable weekly planner 2 available under creative commons and based on the Stephen Covey method that you can use to try a schedule. In the first column you list your roles and in the second column list the goal you are seeking to achieve in that role. You can add any priorities across the top. Then block in your time for the week allowing for:

  • Margins
  • Time for relationships
  • Time for self-care.

The ‘sharpen the saw’ in the bottom corner refers to ‘preserving and enhancing the greatest asset you have – you’ 2

Don’t forget to be flexible to allow for needs as they arise.

Putting legs on it

Evaluate how you prioritise and schedule?

Is it working for you and your family? Do you have time to self-care? Do you have time to make your children feel valued?

Try the schedule if you want to and let me know how it goes (allow yourself some grace for not getting it right the first time – just look at me).

Resources

Template for Covey based weekly planner distributed under creative commons from:

http://diyplanner.com/templates/directory?sort=desc&order=Size&filter0=**ALL**&filter1=23

Hyatt, M (2011) Is that task important or merely urgent, Blog March 2011, https://michaelhyatt.com/is-that-task-important-or-merely-urgent.html

Example of Time Management Matrix available under creative commons:

http://diyplanner.com/files/Time%20Management%20Matrix%20(Final).pdf

References

  1. Stanley, A. (2011) When work & family collide, Multnomah Books, U.S.A,.p44
  2. Stephen Covey: Sharpen the saw https://www.stephencovey.com/7habits/7habits-habit7.php accessed 7/1/17

Photo creditz; Maja Petric unsplash.com

3 steps to organise your year as a single parent family

So I was reflecting on the second day of the New Year in the shower – as you do as a single parent because in the shower and the loo, you can generally get yourself at least a few minutes before being interrupted! I was asking myself why, on the first day of my schedule, I had already blown it.  My conclusion: trying to do too much. So I went back to the drawing board and followed a process I have used over the last nearly 2 decades that has helped us plan our year as a family. We call it our family planning session – nothing to do with contraception!

As you poke your head into 2017 here’s my 3 steps and lots of tips on how to organise your year as a single parent family.

deer-poking-head-chris-greenhow-unsplash

You can experiment with the ideas and the tips in this blog to find what works for you but DO SOMETHING to create a family schedule or risk setting yourself a year of overload and being overwhelmed as you try to manage everyone’s activities and agendas for the year.

  1. Start with the big vision and map it out
  2. Create a calendar that everyone can see
  3. Prioritise and create a schedule for you (the parent) – this will be covered in the next blog

Step 1 Start with the big vision and map it out

Who will do what activity? As a single parent household this can take some planning. Some tips to help the process are:

  • Begin with a budget. How much income can be spared for activities?
  • Prioritise a wish list (or need list) for each person. This must include you the primary carer – you need something that is yours. It might be a craft, borrowing books from the library with some downtime to read, an exercise class or team sport, a walk on the beach or catching up with friends.
  • Research the options for top priorities that fit the budget.
  • Look for discounts if siblings or a child takes more than one class in the same school to keep the price down.
  • Create a draft activity calendar. Is it workable without stress? Driving in circles to drop and pick up kids in two different directions on the same night is not fun! I tried to cluster activities on the same night of the week and in the same area, so we had activity free nights.
  • Look for ways to connect with other parents to see if carpooling can be arranged.
  • Can you combine activities e.g. when my kids were at a dance class I walked with a friend in a nearby park or negotiated concurrent swimming lessons.
  • Ensure you have time together to relax and have fun as a family.

Step 2 Create a calendar that everyone can see

This helps everyone have an idea what is happening in the family. We still do this even though my kids are young adults. It looks different now that they are proficient readers and can add their own activities. A few hard lessons as teenagers were learned on not having the car available for their use as they hadn’t written an activity on the calendar and this helped create the habit!

In the early primary school days I used colours to differentiate each child, my own and family activities/appointments on the calendar, and we crossed off the days so we knew where the calendar was up to.  Later I’d print up each month through the computer to save writing the same stuff by hand and highlight in different colours each person’s activities. Birthday parties and other events were added by hand as they appeared. I tried to remember to copy it and put in the communication folder (editing out some of my bits) so their dad knew what the schedule was. Was the system perfect? No. But it did help me in particular to have some idea of what we were up to.

Step 3 Prioritise and create a schedule for you

The final step for me was to find a way to manage the many other demands on my life apart from single parenting which is where I had to learn to prioritise and create my own schedule. This will be covered in the next blog.

Good luck in the planning of your families activities for this year. May the structure lessen your stress.

Putting legs on it

Map your family activities for the year (or first semester)

Create a monthly calendar

Resources

Planning with kids: Getting organised at home – has list of relevant blog posts on this topic http://planningwithkids.com/2010/04/08/getting-organised-at-home/

Childhood 101: 10 simple ways to get your family more organised http://childhood101.com/2015/06/family-organisation-tips/

Photo credit Chris Greenhow unsplash.com