Do these 4 things when you don’t have your kids

The house is quiet as the kids are not home, but I’m feeling sick. In the early days of my single parenting my ex lived overseas and as my family lived interstate I cared for my kids full time. This was my first weekend without them. I had longed for it, planned for it, and now here I was, Sunday afternoon, ill.  The cause of being sick – over indulgence. I had tried to pack every desire into the weekend. I had eaten my favourite takeaway meal as I only had me to buy for. I had watched back to back romantic comedy movies, but I think it was the packet of chocolate biscuits, at least one block of chocolate and a packet of red frogs that upset my stomach. As my body ailed, so did my mind and I wallowed in self-pity, focusing on my circumstances and my loneliness

So, I went to sit by my fish pond (not the one above!), one of my favourite places to relax, journal, and for me to hear from God. This is the life lesson that came to me:

  • don’t cram every pleasure into time without my kids
  • take a balanced approached and ensure I self-care
  • re-create by doing something I love
  • connect with others to lessen the loneliness and invest a little in me and my future

You may have other things to add to your list or not relate to some of mine, but these have helped me enjoy, be re-invigorated and grow through the time I don’t have my kids. Once my ex moved back to Australia, we began turnabout weekends and this time alone become a source of strength to me and lost its ‘woe is me, I hate my life’ focus.

4 things to do when you don’t have your kids as a single parent

  1. Self-care
  2. Re-create
  3. Connect
  4. Invest

 Self-care

Self-care is not selfish. Self-care allows you to continue in the role as a single parent for the long term. It improves the flow of love and quality of your parenting as you are refreshed and giving of yourself from a full tank. Self-care includes resting, de-stressing, looking after your health (so a few treats, not the whole block of chocolate and packet of lollies in one sitting) and having some re-creation.

Re-create

Re-creation is another way of looking at recreation. You might think of recreation as something you do for enjoyment when you are not working. Re-creation goes further in doing something that builds you up and fuels you to continue life.

You can re-create by doing a physical activity that also adds to your physical and mental health. If it’s a team sport it may improve your relational health too.

Many re-creation activities like craft work, journaling, doing the crossword or a jigsaw puzzle and playing a musical instrument produce a mental state called ‘flow’. Flow is when you lose track of time and thoughts are focused on what has your attention – so your mind is not wandering or focused on you. Being in a state of ‘flow’ turns down your bodies stress reaction.

Connect

You are not designed to do life alone. Loneliness is bad for your health. You need people to support you as part of caring for yourself.

Loneliness has a mixture of social and emotional aspects.  The social aspect of loneliness comes due to a disruption in social networks. Emotional loneliness is due to lack and/or loss of intimate relationships. It’s common as a single parent to experience both of these – you may have lost your partner, you may have moved neighbourhoods, a low income can reduce chances to participate in group activities like sport and going out with friends.

There are ways to overcome this without spending money. Can you volunteer somewhere, join a book club through the local library, ring or skype a friend you don’t live near, meet up with friends for morning tea rather than lunch which would be more expensive?

Invest

Use your alone time to invest in yourself and your future, to create a vision that doesn’t completely depend on your role as a parent. Find and fill your passion and purpose beyond being a parent to help with this. Mine was writing.  This grew from a flow activity of journaling to writing books and courses that became my business His Heart Ministry Training. I joined writing groups, did some courses and invested my time without my children in living my purpose and building my future. Living your purpose is the goal of health.

If you are spiritual, use the alone time for contemplation, meditation or prayer.

So, instead of feeling sorry for yourself and trying to indulge every desire, as I did, use your time without your kids to your advantage. Doing something you enjoy, builds you up and refreshes you. You can learn to reframe it from a painful situation to something you may look forward to.

Putting legs on it

List one thing you can do under each heading and think about if you can combine them. Eg. Journaling for me was self-care, a flow activity and became an investment in myself and my future. I even connected with others through writing groups.

  1. Self-care
  2. Re- create
  3. Connect
  4. Invest

Now schedule it on your calendar.

Resources

How to have some R and R – rest and restoration

Self-care

5 steps to change loneliness from a burden to a bonus

5 reasons to pursue your passion and purpose beyond parenting

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

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)

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 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.

weed-aaron-burden-unsplash

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