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.

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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

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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

Three cheers for you!

You’ve nearly made it. The year is almost over and you have survived intact as a family. I want to celebrate you for all you are and do as a single parent. You are amazing!

fireworks-stocksnap-chris-chadd

Unless you’ve been a single parent or witnessed it up close, most people will never know how hard the slog is. Everything depends on you from income, to house work, to child-rearing, to playing monopoly on holidays. So as the year closes give yourself a pat on the back for making it.

Yes, you may have lost your temper, and yes, you may not always have made the best decisions. Fatigue can sap your energy and your ability to be rational, but you have loved your kids for another year. You have created a family for another year. You have provided for and cared for your kids. You have taught them much. You have kept them safe.

Where you made mistakes, apologise and forgive yourself. See blog 3 steps to take when you get it wrong as a parent

As the year ends I hope you find some time to be restored yourself. Some time to have fun and enjoy your kids, enjoy your family, and maybe even enjoy some alone time. Christmas can be especially difficult with the intricacies of shared care, but you can find ways to enjoy it and build happy memories for your kids.

From my family to yours, Merry Christmas and we will catch up again in 2017.

PS If you need some encouragement for 2017 click below for my 7 day devotional (contains Christian content).

The devotional is to encourage single parents, that even in the midst of the tiredness, struggle and daily grind of parenting on your own, there is hope. For me as a Christian, this hope comes from God and what He says about me and my circumstances from the Bible. It is the whisper of His presence when I feel alone and overwhelmed; the light of the promise of a future when my present appears a never ending tunnel of darkness. I want to share some short reflections, to take you on a journey for seven days, to show you that you are not alone in your role as a single parent. The God of the universe sees and cares for you. He sees your struggles and He is for you, and He cares about your children as well.

Photo credit: Chris Chadd stocksnap.io

How to reframe the problem of Christmas into an opportunity

Whose turn is it for Christmas?

The difficulties of shared care at Christmas can tarnish its celebration. However, you can reframe the problem into an opportunity.

frames-jessica-ruscello

Last time we talked about the other parent and Christmas is one of those times that the other parent will feature in your planning. You know the questions and statements: Who will have the kids on Christmas day? You had the kids last year, it’s my turn! My family’s having the big event with all the distant relatives coming so they should spend time with me. Whose house will they wake in? Not all of these are asked or delivered nicely!

There may be competition with present giving. There may be complications with wanting to take the kids away on holidays. Plus there are budget issues and potentially time alone. I’m sure you can add to the difficulties that arise at this time of year.

My family live interstate and when it was my ex’s turn for Christmas I had two choices: travel and celebrate with my family and miss seeing my kids for Christmas, or stay at home and see my kids for some of the day and spend the rest of the day alone.  Christmas can be a difficult time.

So with all that dross, how do you make Christmas the time of enjoyment and celebration that it is meant to be?

Reframe it.

Reframing is defined as ‘frame or express (words or a concept or plan) differently.’ 1Reframing is the art of changing how you think about something; putting a different meaning onto the same picture. It is reframing a problem or difficult situation into an opportunity.

So, in my example when the kids were going to spend Christmas with their dad’s family and I was going to spend time alone, I could say (and I did!), ‘Woe is me, I am so hard done by, I am spending part of Christmas alone, this is not how I wanted Christmas to be.’ I could reframe it saying,  ‘Isn’t it great the kids will spend part of Christmas with their dad and his extended family. This gives me time to do something different – child free.’

The ‘something different’ some years was having a meal with a friend and her large family who always welcomed me as part of their Christmas celebration. Another year it was getting together with a group of single mothers who were also child free and we enjoyed a meal of take away chicken and salads on the best china, no cooking and no kids interrupting the conversation. In all of this I can reframe my Christmas with the positive statement, ‘I don’t have to cook.’ I don’t enjoy cooking and I’m not very good at it – I have exploded a roast chicken.

Other ways to enjoy Christmas

Create new family traditions that don’t revolve around Christmas day such as looking at Christmas lights, attending a Christmas pageant, visiting Santa or attending community events. We would go to Carols by Candlelight in the local park, sit our chairs with friends and the kids would meet up with their friends from the local primary school. The kids were always excited when the notice and lights went up in the big pine tree in the park because it signalled the start of Christmas festivities.

You can develop a routine leading up to Christmas to create your family’s Christmas tradition which allows freedom for who the kids will be spending time with on Christmas day. Shared care on Christmas can be part of the tradition!

What have you done that creates a tradition or reframes Christmas? Please share you thoughts in the comments as this could help someone else.

Reminder: ‘what is best for the kids?’

Using the word ‘turn’ to describe who the kids will spend time with makes them sound like a pawn in a game, dehumanising the impact this has on their lives. It’s about us, the parent getting our needs met, not what is best for the children. We should consider them in our deliberations and conversations. See blog the one step in dealing with other parent

‘When dealing with a parenting partner, the golden rule is the children should be paramount in all considerations, with their welfare being of the utmost importance. Put the children first’.

Putting legs on it

Write down your thoughts about Christmas.  Now reframe them and tell yourself ‘the reframed story’ rather than the ‘woe is me’ one.

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

University of the Sunshine Coast: reframing your thinking http://www.usc.edu.au/media/3850/Reframingyourthinking.pdf

For children’s books to support children in shared care arrangements (Christian content) ‘Caught in the Middle’ and ‘My two houses’ click here

References

  1. https://www.google.com.au/search?q=reframing&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&client=firefox-b-ab&gfe_rd=cr&ei=ga80WMi9OcqEogO41p_wBw

Photo credit Jessica Ruscello unsplash.com

 

The one step in relating with the other parent

In running One Together workshops this has been the most challenging topic to discuss. It raises tensions because of the variety of opinions. How to relate with the other parent? For most single parents it is a source of pain, for many a source of conflict and for some there is the spectrum of the absent parent.

There is one step to relate with the other parent in all these situations: Put the children first.

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When relating with a parenting partner the golden rule is the children should be paramount in all considerations, with their welfare being of the utmost importance.

For my ex-husband and myself, putting the children first involved everything. It included custody, access, property settlement and most importantly, how we spoke to and about each other in front of the children.

Let’s explore what that looks like:

  • Being parenting partners
  • Communication
  • Absent parents

Parenting partners

Both parents are important in the life and development of children and their involvement is an integral part of a healthy outcome for children of broken relationships. So while you are no longer together, you will remain parenting partners.

Professor of psychology, Dr Archibald Hart, describes in Helping Children Survive Divorce1 how each child, at the end of a marriage, has a right to see and love both parents. He claims it is the parent’s responsibility to facilitate this. An exception is where the child would be put at risk. Seek professional advice if this is the case.

The Australian Courts view on parenting arrangements is: ‘Contact with family members is considered to be the right of a child (not the right of a parent). 2

Research shows that if managed well parental separation is not harmful to children in the long term, but ongoing parental conflict is 3. Typically conflict can be seen in anger, verbal abuse, distrust, avoidance, control, criticism and problems communicating to the other parent. Conflict is not healthy for you either.

Communication

If the other parent is still involved in the children’s lives you will need to find a safe way to communicate with them. Putting children first in communication means:

  • Showing respect to your former partner – to their face and behind their back
  • Don’t use the children as spies
  • Don’t interrogate the children about the other parent
  • Don’t use the children as messengers

I found my children were good at eavesdropping so be careful how you speak even when you think the children can’t hear!

To help with communication consider using a communication folder where parents write notes to outline important events and put in relevant school notices, birthday party invitations and so on. If the child has an illness, a duplicate action plan or notes on managing it can be included as a reminder.

Both parents can sign up with the school for copies of the school newsletter and the child’s reports. I have friends who use public places like fast food outlets for handing over children for access visits. Some agencies offer a safe house so that neither parent has to see the other.  There can also be supervised visits arranged (see resources). For the sake of the children find a safe solution that is workable for you.

Absent parents

Children invariably put parents on a pedestal which will crash down during their teen years.  Even the absent parent will be idolized.

Walk the fine line between not bad mouthing the absent parent and giving enough information to satisfy the child that it is not their fault. Reassure them of your love. Read this article – ‘Absent Parent’ for more information.

As a parent, you owe it to your children to be the best parent you can be, healing and growing and pursuing your purpose in life. Dr Hart paints a picture of children at the end of a relationship being supported by two loving and growing parents, even if they are heading in different directions.

Putting legs on it

Can you improve how you put your children first in communication or being a parenting partner?

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 children’s books to support children in shared care arrangements (Christian content) ‘Caught in the Middle’ and ‘My two houses’ click here

Download the booklet Children and Separation http://www.familyrelationships.gov.au/BrochuresandPublications/Documents/Childrenandseparationbooklet.pdf

Download the booklet Supervised visits and change overs: http://www.familyrelationships.gov.au/BrochuresandPublications/Documents/supervised-visits-and-changeovers.pdf

Or visit the website: http://www.familyrelationships.gov.au/BrochuresandPublications/Pages/supervised-visits-and-changeovers.aspx

Family Lives, Absent parents:

http://www.familylives.org.uk/advice/your-family/single-parents/absent-parents/

HelpGuide: Co-parenting tips for divorced parents: http://www.helpguide.org/articles/family-divorce/co-parenting-tips-for-divorced-parents.htm

References

[1] Hart, A. (1996) Helping Children Survive Divorce. Word Publishing, U.S.A.

2 Family Relationships Online (2016), Children and Separation, Australian Government http://www.familyrelationships.gov.au/BrochuresandPublications/Pages/ChildrenAndSeparationBooklet.aspx

Family Relationships Online (2016), Children and Separation, Australian Government http://www.familyrelationships.gov.au/BrochuresandPublications/Pages/ChildrenAndSeparationBooklet.aspx

Photo credit Bonnie Kittle www.unsplash.com

3 ways to help you to find your life purpose

There is only one you. No-one on the planet has the same genetic make-up as you. No-one has your exact personality or experiences. No-one sees the world as you do. You are a unique creation and there is a unique purpose for your life.

In a previous blog I outlined the five reasons why it’s important for you as a single parent to invest in you and pursue your passions.

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But it raised the question ‘I am busy being a single parent. How can I find my passion, and still have time to cook tea?’ The answer is by doing 3 simple things:

  1. Consider questions
  2. Try something
  3. Take a test

What am I here for?

Finding your purpose goes back to the question of the meaning of life – what am I here for?

Rick Warren could be considered an authority on the answer to this question. He has written a bestselling book, ‘The purpose driven life’ that has sold over 32 million copies and was recently in the news with Michael Phelps’ success in the pool at the Rio Olympics.

Warren’s book explores how your purpose is shaped by your natural abilities and talents, your passions and what you like, who you are and your life experience. Read more about the Purpose Driven Life and for a Biblical perspective click here

Consider questions

To help with reflecting as you answer the questions you can:

  • Discuss them with a friend and get their perspective about what they see in you
  • Write about them in your journal
  • Just think about them

Questions

  • What do you enjoy doing now (sport, hobby, craft, etc)?
  • What did you enjoy doing when you were younger?
  • What makes your soul sing?
  • What are you good at?
  • What have you always dreamed of doing?
  • Who needs you?
  • What do you still need to do?
  • What legacy do you want to leave?
  • What makes you stand on your soap box?

In the resource section is a collection of blog posts that have questions to help you ponder ‘what am I here for?’

Try something

Often when you try things you find out if it is something you like to do, are passionate about and have the skills for. I learnt as a 15 year old teaching Sunday school to little kids that being a teacher to primary age children was definitely not for me!

Take a test

There are tests on the internet you can take to learn more about yourself such as the VIA character strengths test. There are Christian books with questions and guides. There are workshops to identify how you are shaped for purpose.

Finding your purpose is not an instant thing. As a busy single parent make sure you allow some blocks of time to invest in you, to self-care, and you can give some this time to exploring your purpose. Gradually build a picture of who you are and what you are here for.

Putting legs on it

Answer the questions, try something or take a test to learn about your purpose.

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

Samples of blog posts on the topic:

Christian books with guides to work out your purpose:

  • Warren, R (2002) The Purpose Driven Life, Zondervan, U.S.A
  • Brazelton, K (2005) Praying for Purpose for Women , Zondervan, USA
  • Max Lucado, M (2005) Cure for the Common Life, W Publishing Group, USA

VIA Institute of character: Strengths (take the test here) http://www.viacharacter.org/www/Character-Strengths/Science-Of-Character

References

Warren, R (2002) The Purpose Driven Life, Zondervan, U.S.A

Photo credit: Aaron Burden unsplash.com

How to reduce stress as a single parent (to fit with your limited time, babysitting and financial resources)

‘Single parenting is the hardest, most emotionally challenging, fatigue-inducing and energy sapping torture I know and I really do love my kids!’ 1 I wrote those words probably ten years ago when it was the full on primary school years. Now it’s bigger kids, bigger issues (life direction, jobs and partners) and soon to be empty nest. Single parenting is stressful. Learning some techniques to manage stress is an important self-care strategy for any single parent.

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The stress of single parenting

As a single parent you know how hard it is. You have no-one to share the daily workload with. No-one to discuss issues or problem solve with. No-one to download to about your day or to care for you when you are sick. Hence, the often repeated mantra from me that you cannot single parent alone (see blogs Why every single parent shouldn’t parent alone and Increasing your support).

You also need some stress management skills.

Signs of stress

The first step in managing stress is to recognise when you are stressed instead of waiting for burn out and/or physical illness to stop you. That was usually my warning sign and it’s a bit late! It’s better to recognise some of the signs of stress and do something about it early on.

Some of the signs of stress are:

  • Muscle tension (head, neck & shoulders)
  • Feeling anxious or nervous
  • Moodiness
  • Feeling depressed
  • Nervous movement/restlessness
  • Irritability
  • Sleep problems
  • Grinding teeth or clenching jaw
  • Pent up anger
  • Headache
  • Weight loss or gain
  • Poor focus/concentration

Reducing stress

As a single parent you can reduce your stress by using some of the 10 strategies to practice balance as a single parent which includes how to action time management and mindfulness, and ensure that you have support.

As a single parent you may not have the time, babysitting or financial resources to attend relaxation classes, but you can easily build some into your daily routine. You can also learn and employ techniques such as relaxation breathing, progressive muscle relaxation and guided imagery. These are easy to slip into the single parent schedule. I now use a combination of all three when I go to bed each night as a quick and easy way to unwind and stop my mind from rehashing the events of the day, family issues, and prevent my mind from preparing the ‘to do’ list for tomorrow and anticipating the next days’ problems.

Let me teach you to do relaxation breathing. Watch the video by clicking here. Relaxation breathing is incorporated into other forms of relaxation.

Progressive muscle relaxation is designed to reduce muscle tension.  For a handout with general procedure and relaxation sequence click here. Some people with chronic conditions find progressive muscle relaxation can increase their pain so know your body and what is helpful for it.

Guided imagery is ‘like a guided day dream’2 creating mental images to take your attention to another place and time, a place of quiet and peace where you can relax. Let me take you through an exercise in guided imagery click here. In this exercise you float worries off down the river. Other scripts may have you pack your worries into a box and close the lid. While doing this exercise with my daughter, she used to ask for more time to stuff the box with her worries! Leading groups through this, most people don’t stop to open the box on the way back.  You can read guided imagery scripts to yourself to become familiar then reconstruct the scene from the script in your mind, have someone read it for you or make a recording of it and play it.

Putting legs on it

Why don’t you trial a stress reducing strategy and see if it works for you.

There are additional strategies in Huffington Post article ‘20 scientifically-backed ways to de-stress right now’.

Resources

Melnick, M. (2013) 20 scientifically-backed ways to de-stress right now http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/09/09/stress-relief-that-works_n_3842511.html

Better Health Channel: Stress

Better Health Channel: Breathing to reduce stress

Inner Health Studio: Free relaxation scripts included guided imagery, visualisation and physical relaxation techniques for personal use (see restrictions on website)

Mills, H, Reiss, N, and Dombeck, M (2008) Visualization and guided imagery techniques for stress reduction, MentalHelp.Net

Relaxation Breathing and Guided Imagery videos are part of the online course ‘Restoring Balance’ launching Tuesday 1st November.

References

  1. Legge, V (2010) New life in the mourning, Sid Harta, Australia, p 144-145
  2. Lorig, K et al. (2006). Living a Healthy Life with Chronic Conditions – 3rd ed. Bull Publishing Company. U.S.A, 2006, p 78

Photo credit Aaron Burden www.unsplash.com

Increasing your support

Single parents shouldn’t parent alone.

This is a statement I make frequently. As a single parent you need others to help you. You need to parent together with others to grow your best family. The previous blog unpacked some of the reasons why I believe a single parent needs a community and support team. So how do you do that? How do you grow community and support? There’s a couple of tools to help you.

A touching moment as a tiny Piping Plover chick snuggles into its parent on a sandy beach in the early morning sunlight.

Mapping your support circle

Firstly, have you heard of mapping your support circle? It’s a helpful way:

  • to work out who is currently supporting you
  • look for gaps you need to fill
  • identify people you can move within the circle

I have used this tool when I teach single parents ‘One Together’. I teach it to my pastoral care students to use with people they are supporting. I use it when I coach people for healthy living and I have used it on myself. Getting curious yet to use it for yourself?

Download a copy from the ‘My Life’ Healthy Living journal’ here

How to map your support circle

You are the centre of all the circles.

The inner circle are the people who are closest to you – usually only 3 or 4, and they can be family or best friends. These people know you inside out and you can be truthful with them. Likewise they will tell you the truth. They love you unconditionally, hold your secrets and keep you accountable i.e. they are safe. Think and then write names of people in your inner circle.

The friendship circle is for your friends. These are people you comfortably hang out with. You invite them to your birthday party and they would invite you to theirs. They are a network of support to you.  Think and then write names of people in your friendship circle.

The social circle is your wider social network. These are people in the local sports club, parents at your kid’s school, people you chat to at the shops. You can have a friendly chat but the conversation is not deep. Think and then write names of people in your social circle.

The paid circle is people who are paid to be in your life like your local doctor or your hairdresser. The paid circle includes any support workers or counsellors.  Think and then write names of people in your paid circle.

Watch the video on using the circle by clicking here

What next?

Answer the following questions?

  • Do you have people in all circles? Are their gaps?
  • Do you have 3 to 4 people in your inner circle and people in your friendship circle (as this is where most of your support will come from)?
  • Do you have paid support if you need it – like a counsellor?
  • Are you using people in your paid circle to provide support that the inner circle should provide e.g are you telling your hairdresser your inner most feelings because you have no-one else to talk to?
  • Can you see someone whom you would like to move into another circle e.g a friend in the friendships circle who could provide additional support in the inner circle?

An example of using the tool.

At the start of last year, my 20 year old daughter in the space of a month, had her brother whom she was close to move interstate, her best friend was killed in a car accident and she broke up with her boyfriend of 18 months.  Her inner circle was destroyed at a time when she most needed them.  So for emergency support we added some paid support with counselling. Some months later, we drew her circle of support and identified people in the friendship circle who she could spend more time with and grow her inner circle again. She thought it was a clinical way to make friends, but it worked!

Building support networks

As a single parent and due to the busy demands of life, lack of money and sometimes an overloaded schedule (see 4 strategies to ease the household load as a single parent) it can be difficult to prioritise your support network, leading to big gaps in your support circle. So another simple tool to prompt your thoughts about where you could connect with others is – ‘Activities you can try to meet new people’.

Putting legs it

Have a go with using the tools and grow your support network.

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

Resourcing families, Building support Networks http://www.resourcingfamilies.org.au/building-support-networks/

Focussing on disabilities has great information on building a network and the manual, ‘Circles of support’ p9-10 has more information on social circles http://resourcing-families.thewebshowroom.com.au/uploads/70239/ufiles/Circles_of_Support_Manual_2015.pdf

References

Legge, V, Oerman, B & van Loon, A 2015, My Life: Healthy Living Journal , Baptist Care (SA) Inc, Wayville.

Photo credit Ray Hennessy unsplash.com