How To (Re)Fit Into Community

Sometimes during our solo season, we just don’t know where we fit in. We feel like neighbors are talking about us, like we are walking on eggshells, like the places we once belonged are no more for us. Friendships and relationships we had before seem different now. It can be awkward not knowing how or where you fit in as a single parent.

We hear often from single parents that they just don’t know where they belong anymore. And, unfortunately, there are some deep wounds that single parents have experienced from no longer feeling comfortable in communities they used to be part of, like church and small groups.
As we consider how to fit into community as single parents, we may need to look at potential messages we may be sending to others that can create an abyss between us and them. We may need to consider some of the things we are telling ourselves. To begin to fit into community again and not feel so alienated, we need to develop some new strategies.

As we talk about ways to get reconnected to community again, single mom, Marissa, shares some of her story on how she became comfortable in community after a season of feeling isolated. After her husband passed away, she had to fight off voices of rejection, in her own head and in those who pushed her away during a tough season. She found herself alone with her boys, finding safety in not having to deal with anyone else. But a counselor challenged her and said, “You can’t keep circling the wagons forever.” She thought to herself, “Oh yeah? Watch me.” But in the end, he was right. She couldn’t hide forever, but reengaging was harder than she expected. She had retreated so much it was difficult to connect to others again.

It takes courage to step back into community. After becoming a single dad, Robert found a small group of guys that he could connect with but not everyone finds that. After becoming a single mom, Kim found herself arriving at church late so she could avoid awkward moments with others. She didn’t owe anyone an explanation, but she felt as if people were wondering about her, and sometimes, they did ask questions she didn’t want to answer.

Marissa said the first step for her in getting back into community was recognizing where she was at with it. She had to accept that it was difficult for her. And, because it wasn’t easy, she made a commitment to say yes whenever someone asked her to do something with them unless she absolutely couldn’t do it for a specific reason like a work or schedule conflict. She also pushed herself to form a core group of friends to lean on before she would even consider dating. She didn’t want to find herself putting the full burden of her circumstances on one person, a significant other. She also continued to reach out at church, asking people to go out for lunch or to do things together even though it meant risking the feeling of rejection if they said no. She knew ultimately that she had to keep trying.

Solo Parent Society was one of those things she said yes to when a neighbor told her about it. She walked into her first meeting like a deer in the headlights. What she found is that she wasn’t the only one feeling awkward, unsure, and nervous. But she learned she could let her guard down because it was a safe place to share and be known. As she gained security and support through the community there, she was able to extend that confidence and peace into other areas of her life. She found herself more able to step out of her comfort zone in other ways, at work, in her neighborhood, and with other people.

She also began to trust her decision to participate in some things but not in others. Having the strength of a safe community behind her helped her choose areas she could say no to. For example, in years past, she would push herself and her boys to go to church every Sunday including Father’s Day which was particularly difficult because they had lost their dad. This year she did not want to go so she didn’t. Instead, later that day, she led My Chapel, an online time of connection to God for single parents, their family, and friends. She realized she felt comfortable there, like she fit in. Everyone there had a similar story of parenting alone or some hardship that led them to seek support in new ways. Sitting in a typical church setting on that day felt too hard so she let that setting go. Instead, she chose an alternative way to worship and be connected.

Sometimes, as single parents, we may feel like we “have to” participate in all the ways we did before but life has changed and some of the people and places we find community with may change too. Perhaps it’s too big of a hurdle for you to go back to communities where you are surrounded by married couples or two parent families. It’s okay to acknowledge that and intentionally choose a new community where you feel more safe and like you belong. For Robert, it was Samson Society, a group of men that met together each week. For single parents, it can be Solo Parent Society. Finding people who share a common experience is a great way to engage and refit into community again. It makes sense for your community to look a little different in a new season. Your life has changed so your community may change too. That is part of the journey. Even as you let go of the old, it is still important to find a community where you feel like you belong.

Having a community where you feel accepted fills a void that needs to be filled before you can branch out into other areas. It gives you strength to take risks in other areas of your life. Someone once said, “The heart’s greatest desire is to be all known and all forgiven” and we have found that to be true. We want to know, at our core, that somebody knows us fully. In a marriage, that is our spouse. But when we’ve had that relationship ripped out, it leaves a hole. The communities around us can help fill that hole when they are safe and accepting, but not all are, and they can’t fill it perfectly. Instead, we must start with finding wholeness in God. We need to bring our hurts to Him and ask Him to heal us and to fill us up with His presence. Then, after that, we need other people who will be with us as we heal and grow.

Community with God and with others are both essential. Once we have that safe core of connection, we will be better parents for our kids. We won’t be so prone to lash out in hurt. We will also be more present for our friends and for others because we won’t be so needy ourselves. The more healed and whole we are, the more we will attract healthy friendships and relationships.

If we want kind, loving friends, we need to be that way ourselves. Learning to listen, being able to hold space for others, and offering them a place of acceptance to explore what’s going on are all keys to fitting back into community.

Another thing to remember as we are stepping back into community is not to make assumptions about other people. We can look at others and assume they have it all together and could never understand our circumstances but more people than we realize have experienced hardships of their own. We also need to be careful not to assume people are thinking the worst about us.
More people have empathy and respect for our struggle than we might recognize. Sometimes we assume the looks from those around us are coming from a place of judgment when, instead, many are watching with admiration.

We also must be careful when reentering community not to presume things about other people. Sometimes people aren’t sure how to respond to us and to our situation. Maybe they are uncomfortable and just aren’t sure what to say or do. Their discomfort is not rejection! It is simply their inability to navigate the changes in our circumstances.

We also need to be aware of the role we play when we reengage with community. There are times we may say too much or too little about what we are going through. Recognizing when to share a simple response and when to share more can be a fine line, full of nuance. Regardless of what we share or how, sometimes people just aren’t very good at knowing how to respond. Instead of making their response about us, it helps to recognize their role too. We play a part in developing healthy community but the responsibility for healthy connection doesn’t rest on us alone. When people don’t know how to respond to something out of their comfort zone, they avoid us. We assume that is rejection, but it really is more about their uncertainty and not about us at all.

We also may retreat from others too quickly because of our fear of being hurt. Some of our relational wounds are still fresh and we are more sensitive than we may have been in the past. In that vulnerable feeling of uncertainty, we may be reacting too quickly, assuming the worst, or quitting too soon. When we are unsure, we can challenge ourselves to continue to engage, to lean in, and to keep seeking connection beyond our comfort zone.

When we have a safe support system like Solo Parent Society to fall back on, we can use the strength we find in that community to fill us up so we can give to others in another. We can challenge ourselves to remember that we have something to offer. We can take the focus off ourselves and offer support and friendship to someone else.

As we consider how to refit into community, these principles are all significant. We can seek out areas of community where we can be heard, seen, and known, so our needs are being met in healthy ways. We can gain strength through our connection with God. We can develop skills to listen and support others in ways that we all need at one time or another. We can challenge our assumptions about what others are thinking. We can recognize our sensitivity toward feeling rejected and pushback by continuing to reach out. We can remind ourselves that even in hardship we still have something to give to others. Each of these shifts in our mindset and behavior can help us refit into community.  

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