When Parenting Is Out Of Our Control

If you struggle with situations in parenting that are beyond your control, this is for you.
As single parents we often have zero control over how our kids are being raised while they are with the other parent. We may feel powerless over the other parent’s values or principles that are counter to our own. Other times the struggle of parenting feels out of control because our exes don’t show up in our kids’ lives or participate as much as we would like them to. This can be so hurtful to our kids and we can’t do anything about that. Further issues can develop as our kids get older and start making choices of their own with friends or outside influences. Each of these challenges represent parenting when things are beyond out control.  So, how do we help our kids, and how do we parent, when things like this are out of our control?

We know as single parents that many things in our lives are beyond our control but probably one of the hardest to deal with is parenting. Whether it’s because of different philosophies between two houses and how we raise our kids, or it’s the other parent not showing up when we think they should, in ways we think they should, or  when influences and other friends start to shape our kids, it’s hard to know how to parent.

Single mom, Elizabeth, shares her struggle with splitting custody 50/50 with her son’s dad who has different values, different beliefs in God, and a different parenting style. “It really forces me to go into parenting with an open hand. Actually, it’s more like I have a closed fist and God is prying my hand open through this.” Joking aside, the struggle is real. As single parents, we worry about what’s going on at the other parent’s house. Some of what we teach our kids feels like it is constantly unraveling when they are not with us and when they come back, we have to start over again. Maybe you are walking intentionally toward healing but your ex is not.  This can place stress on your kids as they see different things happening in each environment. So often, our protective side wants to come roaring out when we see our kids burdened by all of these dynamics.
Sometimes instead of sharing custody, you may have a coparent who, by choice or by legal decree, is not participating enough  or as we want them to. It feels so helpless to want the other parent to step up and send a birthday card or call their kids. Even though we might have an issue with our ex, they are still the parent to our kids, and we want to see our kids bond with them in a healthy way.

For Kimberley, her ex would see the kids fairly regularly at first but then over time, it became less and less, until almost nothing as her kids got older. It’s hard to watch this dynamic and not want to say something but we have to bite our tongues and allow our children to love the other parent. Regrettably, even if we are quiet, when communication from the other parent becomes non-existent, our kids pick up on this. They start to see it for themselves, particularly as they get older. And, if their parent has been absent, our kids sometimes get to the point that they don’t want to reach out to them either because they’ve been hurt too much.

Robert shares an experience where he invited his daughters’ mom to one of their daughters’ birthday party. They were all planning on her being there, and she didn’t show up. Robert felt so helpless and disheartened. He had to come to terms doing what he could do as a Dad and then surrender the rest to God and let Him take charge of the rest.
It can be so easy to want to fix and smooth things over for our kids but we just can’t do that all of the time. For so long, Elizabeth wanted to do anything she could to get her ex to grow, to change, and to be more present for her son. She finally had to release this to God and focus only on what she could own within her own four walls.

We can’t control the other parent’s healing path, what they do as a person, or their desire to become a healthier adult. If we are trying to control those things, we will end up not being fully present with our kids. It’s hard to let go but, ultimately, it’s about trusting God and believing that He loves our kids more than we do. We have to take the high ground and release what we can’t control. When we do that, it gives us a sense of peace.

Kimberley’s mom reminded her of a powerful truth when she was facing the uncomfortable task of letting go of expectations and hopes for her ex to coparent differently. She said, “Kimberley, dear, you are going to stand before God alone one day. You are not responsible for your ex. You are responsible for you and for the things God has asked you to do. Your ex will have to stand before God on his own one day too.” There is nothing we can do about our ex except to pray for them.

It’s also good to remember that some of the stuff the other parent does, that we think is such a big deal, that we get so mad about, doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. But fear makes us believe that every single little thing that happens is going to screw up our kids. Elizabeth says she sometimes finds herself playing “out a twenty-year  [projected] vision where just because her son watches a rated R movie, he’s going to end up as a drug dealer. We just go to these crazy places when it comes to our kids.” And, it’s true. Fear can make us panic and lose sight of the bigger picture.
“And this is when we need to give our kids to Jesus because they’re His anyway. He knew that all of this would be part of their story”, says Kimberley. Sometimes being exposed to the wrong way can open our kids eyes to the opposite side, and help them see what they really want and need, like stability and healthy love.    

We do have to let go when coparenting, for all of the reasons above, but we also have to let go because there’s a cost of conflict when we engage the other parent. We need to choose our battles well. There are times where choosing a battle of conflict is appropriate, like when there’s abuse, neglect, or substance abuse. These are times we need to step in. There are other times when we can let go of minor, temporary frustrations. We need to count the cost of each situation because putting ourselves in a position of high conflict over small details really costs us our presence, our energy, and our ability to be vessels of what God wants to do in our lives.
There are coparenting situations that come up that challenge us. We need to consider if we are trying to control the other parent or if we are protecting our children. We do have a responsibility to protect our children wherever they are, at school, with their other parent, or in any setting. If we see there is danger of potential harm, we need to speak up. We can pray about it, we can journal about it, and then we can be clear about what we saw taking place and stand up and say, “I can’t sit back and let this continue.” We can confront the other person. This can be challenging. They may be hostile and defensive but it can also open the conversation about what is best for our children. It’s helpful when both parents love their kids, can recognize mistakes they make, and work together.

Robert shares that when he looks back, he sees many things he made a big big deal about that in the grand scheme of things weren’t that big. On the other hand, there are things that need addressing and being able to do that honestly and fairly is crucial.  

It’s also important to realize that as single parents we are hypersensitive with our exes and with anything to do with our kids. First, the person parenting our kids part of the time is someone we have a serious dispute with. That’s why we are no longer together. So, we need to recognize we will have triggers with them. Second, the fact that our situation is out of our control makes us super sensitive to anything we see outside the margin with the other person’s parenting of our kids. We can get really nitpicky about the other parent’s choices.
Because of our triggers and sensitivity, we may not always have the best judgment when it comes to deciding how bad something is or not. This is where we need to be careful to not bring our children into these disputes. They must be allowed to love their coparent freely, and to like going to their home and having a different set of rules there. Being able to bend the rules a little bit may not be the worst thing. There are things we need to address but there are a lot of things we can let go of and trust God with. We never have to bring the kids into the conflict.

In the same way that we want to protect our kids from inappropriate movies, or negative influences, we have a responsibility to protect them from drama between us as coparents. We need to be careful about how we talk about and interact with the other parent in front of the kids. When we put our child in the middle of parenting conflicts, we are inadvertently telling them they are wrong to love the other parent and we are not allowing them freedom to feel the way they do.
One of the other ways we can feel out of control as parents is when our kids start gravitating toward a bad influence. We may see our kids moving toward friends that are not healthy. Robert shares that seeing this happen with one of his children led him to start parenting from a place of fear instead of love. He jumped in and tried to protect, enforce, and rectify things through control. He was reactive to the situation and in the process, he destroyed the relationship. As our kids get older and start making decisions of their own, we must be careful not to react in fear but to lean into the relationship.

When we encounter parenting situations out of our control, with a coparent, with outside influences, or with situations at school, we need to remember two things. First, we are not alone in this. God is fighting for our kids. Second, our kids are going to be okay. “Our greatest posture is on our knees”, shares Kimberley. Her mom reminded her again recently about how much she prayed for her kids. She prayed for years over their friendships, relationships, and direction in life.
The power we have as parents isn’t in our strength or might but in God’s Spirit. Pray for your kids! And take the long view. When our kids start making bad decisions and do things that are self-destructive, it is the most heartbreaking thing for us as parents. We feel helpless and out of control. The only thing we can do is trust God.

Robert shared that even though he overcompensated out of fear with one of his daughter’s, there is always hope. We can and must take the long view. Their story is still being written and God has a plan for them even when we can’t see it. He can weave everything together for their good, even the things that scare us. The relationship he thought he had destroyed has come back around. He has such an amazing close relationship with his daughter now.

He reminds us, as single parents, we are not alone in this. God is with us. He is still writing our stories, and the stories of our kids. It can be hard to give God the pen sometimes, but when we do, we can trust that He is writing something beautiful, even when parenting feels out of our control.

Every month we focus on a theme important to single parents. All month our focus is on parenting. This week in our online Solo Parent Society groups, we will talk further about this topic, “When Parenting is Out of Our Control” and discuss our thoughts around this podcast topic. Single parents, we invite you to join any one of our meetings, online 6 days a week. Check out our game nights too for casual fun and a time of sharing afterward.
As you walk the journey of single parenting, we want you to know you are not alone! Solo Parent Society’s mission is to offer encouragement and hope through our weekly groups,  our communities on Facebook and Instagram (@soloparentsociety), and our weekly podcast. Subscribe here on AccessMore or wherever you get your podcasts. You can access all of this and more using the free Solo Parent app. Don’t miss “Sound Mind Set”, the daily reflection tool we created to connect single parents to God in just ten minutes every day.
We love to connect single parents to resources that offer hope and help. We want to help single parents raise healthy kids. To learn more or to donate, go to www.soloparentsociety.com. Questions? Email us at info@spsociety.com.

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