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

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

4 strategies to ease the household load as a single parent

It’s easy as a single parent to rush from one demand to the next. You have an endless ‘to do’ list that grows by the day. You live in overload, feeling overwhelmed by your schedule and the mandate of being the only adult in the household. Nothing happens in the house unless you do it or initiate it. I found 4 strategies helped me to manage the load:

  • Share the household tasks
  • Schedule
  • Margins
  • Pyjama day

You may have other strategies and I would love to hear them and share them with others.

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Share the household tasks

This is age dependent. As your kids gets bigger let them have responsibilities that are a part of the household functioning. They will learn much needed skills for adult life. I used to feel guilty that my kid’s friends from couple homes weren’t doing chores but in later life my kids were more helpful around the house and equipped when they have to live on their own.

My kids were paid a small amount of pocket money but could earn extra by completing tasks from the big chart of household jobs. The amount of money was based upon the difficulty and time required to complete the task. Some tasks were rewarded with a small amount of cash and others carried a higher monetary incentive. The kids would tick what they had done and at pocket money time I would add in the extra cash.  An unexpected benefit was knowing how long it was since someone washed the dog!

I was happy to spend the time teaching the skill so the child could learn how to do it e.g. clean the toilet, or hanging up washing so it wasn’t pegged through the middle of the garment. As the whole idea was to lessen the workload on me, I also needed to drop my expectations of the quality and resist the urge to re-clean after them.

Schedule

Scheduling is a way to balance out the activities of the family, ensuring everyone has time investing in their passion and there are times of rest. Taking the time to schedule allows you to be in control of your calendar and review opportunities as they arise to ensure you have the time and the energy to meet them.

At the start of the every year we planned what activities the kids wanted to do. We looked at the budget, what was available and its cost, and the calendar to work out what was possible with our resources.  I limited being out of the house to a couple of nights in a week, so we had down time at home. I tried to plan the activity nights so both the kids were involved in an activity at the same time, so whilst they were occupied I had time to self-care. Often I walked with a friend or along the river to feed my soul. Also I looked for classes where their friends went so we parents could car pool and I only had to drive one direction.

Margins

Margins are the blank edge on busy pieces of paper. Likewise your schedule needs margins. They are ‘the space between [ y]our load and [y]our limits’ 1.   Don’t totally fill up the calendar.  Having blank spots in the schedule allows room for delays, unexpected interruptions and new opportunities.

I learnt scheduling based on the ‘Stephen Covey’ method where you allocate blocks of time to achieve a goal rather than use a ‘to do’ list. In allocating the block of time you build spaces between them for meetings to run late or a chance to have a short time out.

Pyjama Day

Pyjama day is a chance to chill out as family.

It was a favourite in our house.  On pyjama day no-one had to do anything. You didn’t have to get dressed, I didn’t cook so we scrounged food e.g. you could eat potato chips and biscuits, whatever you could find in the cupboard and prepare yourself.   You did what relaxed you and filled your soul e.g. read, play video games, do a puzzle, sit in the sun. We also did fun stuff together like playing board games. It was a time to rest, enjoy each other and refuel ready for another time of activity.

What else helps you?

I would love to hear about your strategies and share them with others.

Putting legs on it

Try one thing and let me know if it works for you. Share something you do with me.

Resources

Crazy Busy by Kevin Deyoung

Hybels, B (2014) Simplify, Hodder & Stoughton, USA

Stephen Covey

Balance

References

  1. Deyoung, K. (2013) Crazy Busy, Crossway, U.S.A, p27

Photo credit: Kalen Emsley www.unsplash.com

10 strategies to practice balance as a single parent

I pictured my life as a single parent, wearing a pile of hats: taxi driver, cook, gardener, homework policewoman, light globe changer, everyone’s diary, and pooper scooper for our pet dog! A teetering stack balancing on my one solitary head.  Single parenting involves the art of balancing – balancing everyone’s competing needs and time. You cannot care for your children without first caring for yourself.

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It is so easy as a single parent to cut back on caring for you. I miss exercise, always with a good excuse of course! I fill rest time with emails or taking the kids somewhere. I volunteer to help others when I should be asking for help. I allow work to encroach on family time.  I crowd out my hobbies and passions with kids activities. The list goes on; more hats join the wobbly pile.

You need to be intentional and practice balance. Here are some strategies to help you do this:

10 strategies to practice balance as a single parent

The following 10 ways come from participants in the One Together course as we brainstormed how to achieve balance:

  1. Look at everyone’s needs – are there ways that more than one need can be met at once. eg I use to walk with a friend while the kids were in a dance class.
  2. Ask the other parent or others to help.
  3. Learn and practice time management skills. (see below)
  4. Review activities to maximise leisure time.
  5. Drop your standards of housekeeping, particularly if you are working. Encourage the children to help with household activities according to their age and development.
  6. Beware the expectation and obligations of friends, family and the outside world. It’s OK to look after you and say ‘NO’ sometimes.
  7. Review your working hours and budget so you work enough to meet your commitments but have as much non-work time to enjoy your children and care for yourself
  8. Don’t be so regimented in your time schedules…
  9. Spend quality time with each child whatever that looks like for them.
  10. Practice mindfulness.

Time management

There are many different ways to ‘manage’ time and prioritise the endless list of things to be done. Find one that works for you.  Two of the major differences in approach are working to a priorities list (however you determine them) or working to blocks of time. Described simply the blocks of time method means you allocate a specified time period to a role or task and when the time is finished, whether the task or role is completed you move onto the next. This can be arranged in your weekly schedule (see resources below).

Mindfulness

Being present in the moment is important. Worrying about blocks of time or other jobs on your list is a sure way to increase stress. Sometimes while I am cooking tea, I am also trying to wash the dishes, racing back to something on the computer and maybe even bringing in the washing. What invariably happens is I burn tea, can’t pour the water off the pasta down the sink because it’s full of soaking dishes, so my frustration level rises and I yell at the kids. By focusing on just one thing eg cooking tea, I can relieve my stress by staying in the moment and concentrating on the one job in front of me.

Putting legs on it

You can do a self-reflection exercise to see how well balanced you are.

Look at the 10 strategies list above and see what you are already practicing. Choose another strategy to try with your family and evaluate the result.

Download a 20 plus paged Self-care Pack by clicking below

Resources

Photo credit: Mike Birdy www.stocksnap.io