“My life is just really crazy right now. I feel a lot of guilt and I feel bad for my kids. And just the weight of what’s going on is really getting to me. I just want to find peace.” – single mom, Rachel
Finding peace after divorce, during change, or life transition is difficult. How can single parents manage the chaos of crisis and find peace in the midst of this? For insight, we talked with Dr. John Delony, a mental health expert and leading voice on emotional wellness with extensive experience in crisis response. ( to listen to this discussion – https://bit.ly/SPSACCESSMORE )
Our minds are often crowded with wounds we have encountered, things we’ve done, and things that have happened to us that all end up as baggage. Sometimes our past not only haunts us but continues to shape our future. Dr. Delony shares some steps to deal with wounds and shame from our past noting we all are born with a backpack we carry through life. Different situations in our family, finances and culture add bricks to our backpack. Not everyone starts with the same amount of bricks. Some are added through grief and struggles we encounter throughout our life. Some of us launch carrying weights others don’t have. As we move into adulthood and become parents, our kids are another giant brick that we carry.
So what are the other bricks and how do they get added? The bricks aren’t simply guilt or the weight of responsibility. Dr. Delony notes that guilt is something we do that violates our value system. So, if I tell a lie to a coworker, I feel guilt. Guilt is a brick we hold in our hands for a minute until we can make it right. Shame is when we take that brick, call ourselves a liar, and add that to our backpack as an ongoing weight we choose to carry around everywhere as part of our identity.
Single parents have real and imagined traumas related to past relationships and broken dreams. We end up adding lots of bricks to our backpacks. We need to do an inventory of our backpack so we can see what we are carrying and decide what we need to get rid of so we can be the single parent we need to be for our kids. This kind of “unpacking” usually only happens in community, in a group, with a friend or counselor, someone willing to help us sort through our bricks. Unless we do this, we can’t fully show up for our kids, in new relationships, with a church community, or in any area because we’re weighed down with all this extra weight.
Deciding what stays in your backpack or not requires examination and evaluation. Some bricks helped us learn important lessons. Some are evidence of mistakes made that we don’t want to repeat. Dr. Deloney suggests we can transform some of the bricks from a heavy weight into a memory that serves to remind us of what not to do. Some bricks we can transfer into knowledge or reframe them in a way that allows them to stay in our minds but not have to be carried on our back. Carrying around this extra weight doesn’t do anyone any good.
William Glasser suggests that every pathology in life is relational in origin, even with ourselves. When we find a way to relate healthily to ourselves we can begin to reframe and create new pictures for our life instead of carrying around extra bricks. Glasser said, “we speak in words, but we think in pictures.” We each start out in life with pictures in our heads of what our ideals will look like for marriage, partnership, aend family. While these words sound the same for each of us, they generate different pictures in our minds. After crisis and a time of chaos, we must reinterpret the words and add new pictures and meaning to them. To do this, we need to properly grieve the vision of what we thought our lives would be like before we can move on to the new vision. It takes time and intention to change the pictures in our minds. Our backpack full of pain, betrayal, and hurt must be grieved. The quicker you can grieve the loss of your ideal pictures, the quicker you can create new ones and begin to move toward your future.
Dr. Deloney suggests we draw a picture with colored pencils of what you thought marriage was going to be or what you thought your life would be like as a parent. Then, discuss with a friend (or counselor, mentor or pastor) what part of that didn’t work, what part is gone, and what part doesn’t exist anymore. Then, take a look at what bricks you are carrying now because of the loss and grief you’ve been through. In this process, remember, grieving takes time. We need to address grief head on, as quickly as we can, but once we start, the process isn’t quick. But it’s worth it. As we come out of the grief and start redrawing the pictures in our minds, we can create order from the chaos or crisis which is most often our thoughts and emotions running amuck in our heads.
Dr. Deloney notes that three steps to confront the chaos and begin to find peace:
- Write down, “I feel this…”
- Then ask, “Is this real or not?”
- Once you determine facts, then act on what you need.
First you acknowledge how you are feeling, then ask what is real. Based on the answer (because “facts are our friends”), then you can act. For example, “I feel lonely today”. Is this real? If the answer is yes, then we recognize we need to call a friend, we need to get out of the house, or invite some friends over.
Dr. Delony says, “Too often we turn into slaves to our feelings and emotions and forget that our mindset is a muscle we can exercise and strengthen”. Those thoughts, feelings and emotions do not own us. We can practice being aware of what we feel and we can practice recognizing facts versus what is felt. That is the first step.
Then, quit giving your brain permission to go over and over memories, old hurts, anxieties and fears. Our thoughts involve choice. We can choose to think on good memories, things to celebrate, reminders of love, and wellness. We can think about what we want and need next versus what is in the past.
Therapist Michael Gomez does this exercise where he tells people to picture a pink elephant. We can all picture a pink elephant in our heads. If we can do that, we can take ownership of our thoughts, emotions and feelings. Once we acknowledge them, then we can decide what to do about them. We must then be brave and decide to call a friend, seek out support, or share what we need with someone else. This is one of the cornerstones of resiliency. The oft-quoted wisdom, “We don’t always get to choose what happens to us, but we can choose how we are going to respond to it” is a way we can begin to choose our mindset and not stay stuck in chaos and crisis mode.
For single parents, this can be particularly hard. Dr. Delony says, “Parenting is hard. It’s the best worst thing ever.” And being a single parent has adde pd challenges that can lead to feeling overwhelmed. But even as a single parent, the process is the them. We have to begin to acknowledge what we feel, accept what is real and then ask for what we need. Part of this includes painting new pictures in our heads. Unless we acknowledge and accept where we are, and draw a picture in your head about it, all our efforts will revolve running from that new reality. You have to feel and grieve the loss of ideals, the broken dreams, process it, and move on. Dr. Deloney stresses you can’t do this by yourself. You need to get in a group of people you can be vulnerable with and who will hold you accountable and sit with you in your grief. It’s not always easy but when we do this, we can be a better single parent.
As single parents we must remember our kids are watching us. Someone once said, “Kids don’t listen, they watch”. Kids are sponges. One of the hardest parts of being a single parent is knowing that as we grieve and experience loss and trauma and our kids are absorbing it too. Dr. Delony reminds us we can’t hide it from them. We have to be able to share with them in age appropriate ways. Rachel Cruz says it best, “Share, don’t scare”. We can tell our kids, “Mom is hurting” or “Dad is not having a good night tonight.” This lets them into our process of grief without overwhelming them with details. But, if we don’t share with them, our kids will internalize it and think it’s their fault. If we don’t share some of the emotional struggles we are facing, kids make up their own narrative about it and that is much worse. Letting them in also models for our kids how they can process loss and grief too. We can teach them how they can make a new picture for their future too. Whenever we do this, we gain ownership over our thoughts, feelings and emotions and we stop the chaos in our brains for long enough to attend and engage in the moment.
A crucial foundational step in all of this, for every person, is being able to look in the mirror and say, “I am a person of value.” You must start there. If you do not feel like you are of value, then you are not going to take the time to grieve what you lost. You won’t take the time to draw a new picture for yourself.
So for single parents, remember, you are a person of value, whether you can see it or not. You are a person of value regardless of what you did or brought into the mess you’re in. First, know you are valuable. Second, be willing to bring someone else into this with you. It can be a mentor, counselor, friend or pastor. But you won’t be able to take the additional step to regain peace with your mindset if you aren’t able to take the first step to say, I am valuable, and I matter.
Single parents, as you make this journey to know your value first so you can then “unpack your backpack” and find peace, you do not have to do it alone. Join a Solo Parent group online or in person. Reach out to a trusted friend, mentor or pastor. Engage them and let them know you want to take one baby step toward healing. Share with them the steps Dr. Delony presents here and ask God to help you see your value. Then, begin asking yourself what do I feel, what is real, and what do I do next. Invite God into these steps. Ask Him to help you with each one. As you do, please know we are praying for you.
As part of your practice to strengthen your mind, our Solo Parent app has a new daily resource called Sound Mind Set. It’s a great new tool for single parents to use to pause and anchor their thoughts in truth every day. You can find it on our Solo Parent app and it’s FREE! Download it today and start this 5 minute practice of becoming grounded in a sound mindset.
To learn more about Dr. John Delony – https://www.daveramsey.com/personalities/john-delony
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