So, you’ve found yourself a single parent. No matter how you got here, from a divorce you wanted, a divorce you didn’t want, death or even by choice – it can be scary. I felt like I was just starting to get the hang of being a mom when I suddenly had to figure out how to be a single mom. I had so many fears that ranged from the smallest things like “how will I ever get the Christmas decorations down now?” to big ones, like “if the house is on fire will I physically be able to get all four us out alive by myself?” There were times during that first year of parenting alone that the constant swirling of fears and worry became completely debilitating. I knew I had to get a grip on my emotions and thinking if I was ever going to raise healthy, resilient kids.
The following three techniques are the basis of what has helped me finally start living more fully and fearlessly as a single parent:
Prioritize Your Priorities
When I first found myself a completely overwhelmed single mom of three kids under five, a very well-meaning person gave me a lecture on how I had to figure out what my priorities were and I remember thinking “How am I supposed to do that? EVERYTHING is a priority right now!” And it was true – my kids were very young and needed me more than ever, my career was just gaining momentum after a long hiatus, my home was falling apart (figuratively and literally) and my health… well, that’s whole other story but let’s just say it was less than stellar at the time. It was in this season of complete overwhelm that I realized I had to become ruthless in differentiating between what was important and what was SUPER important. I decided that my health and my kids’ (physical, emotional and spiritual) needed to be priority number one during this time. Setting my intention and fully committing to this was a choice that ultimately lessened a lot of my fears, which then paved the way for me to gain more strength and energy to get all the other important stuff done.
Name Your Emotions and Say Yes
Many intense feelings have surfaced while trying to navigate my children through this world by myself, not only can they be scary, but also simultaneous, conflicting and confusing. This is where naming comes in. I first learned how to do this from a book called “Radical Acceptance” in which the author Tara Brach Ph.D. tells us that noting and accepting our emotions just as they are, makes it safe for the frightened and vulnerable parts of us to be known and consequently healed. Brach teaches that whispering “yes” or any other affirmative word or phrase to whatever arises begins to soften the harsh edges of our fear and pain so that our entire being isn’t so rallied in resistance. This creates space within us and produces an opportunity for something gentler and kinder to enter. Pair this recognition and encouraging word with a few nice deep breaths and you will soon be conquering fear and sailing more smoothly through all your emotional storms.
Create Structure and Routine
As soon as I became a single parent my first instinct was to move. I wanted a new house without all the memories, new friends who wouldn’t ask painful questions. I wanted a fresh new life instead of living in the pile of ashes that was my old one. During my twenties, I moved 11 times in 10 years so I knew what to do and was ready to go. But now I had three little kids who were shaken and confused and moving them just wasn’t an option. So, for the first time in my life there was no running, no hiding – just facing what was left and figuring out ways to make it better. I began doing this by creating as much consistency and predictability and demonstrating as much follow through as I could possibly muster. This structure and routine during such an uncertain time helped us all know what to expect, which made us feel a little less scared and a lot safer. Where there is safety, fear is nonexistent and in the absence of fear, all that’s left is love – and that my friend, is the point of it all.