Self-Care When You Have No Margin

Self-Care When You Have No Margin

As single parents, self-care is so hard to do because we rarely have margin. We don’t have room for flexibility. It’d be great if we could share a one-size-fits-all self-care routine but that’s not reality. Self-care is nuanced. It depends on so many factors including how much time we have with our kids—whether we have them all the time or some of the time.

How do we actually take care of ourselves and our kids, no matter our parenting situation?

It’s important for single parents particularly and for all humans. I think it's in the nuances. Life doesn't stop. It doesn't slow down, it doesn't cooperate. Not every day or every situation is exactly the same. Sometimes I'm exhausted, sometimes I have a lot of energy. I might be full of emotions one day and actually feel kind of numb or overwhelmed the next, every day is different. And so, it's a challenge to lean into those nuances, to know how to care for myself. Just paying attention to all the changes and things because it's so unpredictable.

It’s hard when you only have your children 50% of the time. You feel the pull of wanting to pay attention to them the whole time they’re with you especially if you don’t feel like they get a lot of attention at the other parent’s house. You feel that you need to pour in as much as you can without being overbearing. But then you also have to pay attention to what they want and need too. There are nuances with that. There are some days when your kids are super clingy. There are some days when they’re chill and want their own space and time. And so just paying attention to those things too.

It’s also hard when you have full custody, and you don't have a break. It's bittersweet because you feel grateful you have them, but related to self-care specifically, it is very difficult to carve out time. There wasn't a foreseeable break. You’re on call 24/7. So, it’s important to start with defining the challenges. You can’t effectively move into a solution unless you can appropriately define what the challenge is.

There are so many nuances. Maybe you have a child with special needs. You can become resentful and worn out as a caregiver when self-care is at a premium. It can be very difficult to carve out what you need. It’s normal to want to be away from your kids at some point.

It's a normal thing to go, I am done. I'm cooked. I need you kids to go away. Regardless of your custody situation, you don't ever turn off the parenting. It's always there. And no situation is perfect.

Ultimately what we're saying here, the biggest challenge to self-care when you have no margin is that it's so nuanced as a single parent, there are so many factors related to us not having the margin to think about self-care. Let's move into how we can accomplish some self-care when there's no predictability.

What are some things that we can do to accomplish this?

More than anything, it's about balance. No self-care regimen or routine is a one-size-fits-all solution. It doesn't matter who you talk to. Just because something works for me, doesn't mean that it will work for someone else.

It’s all about balance and figuring out what works for you. On the days you have your kids, it's more so thinking about what you need in that time for that day and knowing what your schedule is. Where can you fit in 10 minutes to read or go on a walk? Every day is different but try to at least squeeze in something for the day. Maybe you watch a funny show on your lunch break or read some scripture in the morning.

One of the key parts of finding balance is finding yourself, knowing what you need, and taking the time ahead of time. Why dive into all these self-care plans that other people suggest for you? If it's not genuinely what's going to fill you up, you're extending energy instead of gaining energy. A huge part of finding balance is taking time to think through and discover what you need. Doing the dishes may help you feel more calm and at peace. That's so important. Someone else might really need to ignore the dishes and go take a walk. Learning to recognize your different needs and how to respond to them and then get creative with it, knowing yourself is part of finding balance.

John Delony who's been on the podcast several times, says many people will run or do exercise routines to try and mitigate their anxiety or mental health. The one thing that people don't talk about is the fact that going for a run is causing you stress because you don't have time to go for a run. He says, then don't go for a run. It's not going to do you any good.

So, know what works for you. It's not going to look the same. Something that really helps some people in significant drama is just being honest with your kids. Just tell your kids you need some alone time. They will understand and it will help you model for them the importance of taking care of yourself. You can meditate, go for a walk, watch TV or whatever. Really owning it and trying not to hide your self-care from your kids and not just trying to squeeze it in. Being deliberate is a better way to go.

There are times when your kids will be clingy and need physical touch, and that's totally fine. There are times when you can't or don’t want them to be close to you. Be kind but honest. Sometimes being near is the best you can do. It's a balance of giving them what they need when you have the capacity.

Check-in with yourself, and ask yourself, “Do I have the capacity for snuggle time or do I need my space?” Sometimes you will and sometimes you won’t. And that’s OK. Change your perspective on it.

It’s really important to address what self-care is because it is a trillion-dollar industry. It's important to acknowledge that it's not just something that makes you happy. It's not self-indulgence or spoiling yourself. It really is setting yourself up for success, like refilling your tank. It’s not just trying to make yourself happy in the moment, which is fleeting. If it doesn't put you in a better position, it's really not self-care.

It doesn’t make it bad if it’s a distraction and or pleasurable, but that's not what we're talking about as far as self-care. It can be confusing sometimes. It doesn’t have to be three hours on a Saturday, getting a massage or trying to do one big thing a month. To find balance, it’s more about taking a little bit each day or every other day. It doesn’t require these big extravagant gestures. That doesn't mean that you can't, if you want to go for a hike or get a massage, it doesn't exclude these things. It's more about the little things that you can give yourself every day.

What is a realistic thing that you can do for self-care?

You can use the acronym win, which stands for, “what's important now,” if you're facing a lot of decisions or challenges and you just need to boil it down to one little thing that you can accomplish, doing that and taking things in bite-sized chunks. What's important now is a great way to care for yourself. Similar strategies are “one day at a time” or “what’s the next right step?” so that you don't feel so overwhelmed. It helps you to not look so far ahead or borrow trouble way into the future.

If you work from home and you’re feeling like you’ve had a heavy morning and you know you have a heavy afternoon, then take 30 minutes to sit and watch something funny, like a sitcom. Watch something you know is going to make you laugh and lift your mood. Laughing is one of the best things that you can do for yourself during the day to just lift the weight of it. Scientifically it releases endorphins too. It might be TikTok that you like instead of a sitcom.

Find a way to interrupt your pattern and give yourself a breather. Go outside with a cup of tea and just breathe for 10 minutes or take a walk down the street or even in the parking lot if you work in an office. Finding those little times, even in the car rider line, having 10 minutes that you're waiting for your children to be released from school. Just give yourself the opportunity to sit in silence, take in some fresh air, and do whatever you can do during that time. If you have to go meet them at the bus stop, can you go five minutes early and spend some time just standing there and taking it in?

It’s the accumulation of all these little things that you do that can bring a sense of self-care. Breathing exercises are easy and beneficial. Focusing on your breath, getting present with whatever you're doing, feeling the feels, noticing color. There's so much science behind mindfulness, getting present, and breathing exercises, it changes things in your brain. It changes the way you feel.

Prayer is also another one. We have a Solo Parent app for this called, Sound Mindset.” It walks you through breathing, getting present, getting in touch with your feelings, and then linear feelings being made known to God and then sitting in stillness. Prayer can be silence and stillness.

Meditation, prayer, reading the Psalm of the day or a Proverb a day. Noticing creation, and a hundred percent just allowing him to speak to you through those simple things we can do. When you’re feeling really low or depressed, basic things are helpful. Get out of the bed. Go take a shower, comb your hair, brush your teeth. Take care of yourself physically, and really push yourself through some of that to overcome some hurdles of deep emotion.

The most important topic of self-care is to remember that you matter. How you take care of yourself, how you value yourself, and how you pay attention to your wants and needs really matter because you matter. You're loved. You have so much value. It's so healthy and strong and beautiful and right to take care of yourself in small ways. Ways that make you feel good.

Listener Question

Hi, I'm Brian. How do I overcome the stigma of being divorced when I walk into church in the months and years following divorce?

We can relate to this question. Whenever I walked into church, especially in the beginning stages of my divorce, I felt the weight of people's eyeballs on me. I felt like people were wondering where was the mom. I had to realize that I'm not alone. It’s actually very courageous to go to church. It doesn't matter what people think. We hear this a lot from single parents, that they don't feel like they fit in a church anymore.

Church isn't a place where you should feel ashamed or judged. You should feel welcome no matter what your situation is. That's what Jesus is all about.

When we talk about the church, we're not saying there’s an agenda item to alienate single parents. Don't think that at all. It’s just unfortunately sometimes some churches, not all, but some churches have created this expectation that being a Christian is about having it all together. Then you don't want to show up at church. Walking in as a single parent is evidence of not having it all together.

Part of this is our experience and not necessarily a reflection of what people may be thinking. It may be coming from a sense of our own shame or fear or self-consciousness. Hopefully, your church experience post-divorce is an atmosphere of welcome and acceptance. We want to see church culture embrace single parents in a more robust and loving way.

Church is about worship, community and taking time with Jesus. If you’re not connecting to the community aspect of church, then a Solo Parent group is a place where you can come and be completely welcomed and find people who are just like you.

As far as addressing the stigma of a divorced person, what’s happened is that you are aware of your brokenness. There are a lot of other people like you. That's why we started Solo Parent so that you don't have to feel alone in it so that you can turn your brokenness into a badge of honor rather than a badge of shame. This is a way that you can move into breaking the stigma.

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