How To Deal With Discontentment

We have so much to cope with as single parents. Some days are good and some days are not so good. Some days we may act in ways we know are not best, or some days we just don't want to get out of bed. Are we aware or are we blind to the signs that we're not okay? Let’s identify some of the indicators that may be telling us something’s not okay, that we're not content or there's something underneath that we need to deal with.

What are signs that you're not okay?

Throwing myself into work and not taking a break, being a workaholic or just not coming up for air, going with that tunnel vision. That's when I can tell I may need to deal with something. Disrupted sleep patterns. If I'm scrolling my phone too much—and I don’t mean ten minutes here or there—but where I'm literally doing the deep dive of checking Facebook and looking at Instagram. I’ll “research that one article” where I'm using my phone as an absolute cope. Definitely distraction and avoidance, whether it's scrolling or a lot of Netflix or HBO Max binging. It’s when I just want to lay on the couch and watch, numb out and not feel anything.

Another thing is procrastination. When I know things need to get done, I might fill my world up with busyness and busy work, but I'm procrastinating on what I really need to do or I'm procrastinating on having a hard conversation. I tend to push things off to the very, very last minute. It’s not healthy and usually an indicator that I'm not in an integrated state, that there's something that's out of whack.

One of mine can seem really functional and maybe even disguised as “healthy,” but I know inside that it's not: when I start to calendar a lot of stuff and keep my days really full. I'll have lunch with a friend on the calendar and then I'll have an event. Then I might schedule time for a walk or a run or even schedule time with my kids. Although it sounds good, sometimes if I'm putting too much on my calendar, I need to get really still and quiet and notice something I'm trying to run from.

Self-pity comes up big time for me, and I can tend to go into victimization. I can play the blame game and have a lot of self-pity and think, “Oh, well, if that person hadn't done this, then I would feel a lot better.” Or “Man, nothing's going right. If this person would do this and this other person would show up in this way…and I really need this from this person and blah, blah, blah.” I tend to project outwards on other people and go into the victim mindset.

I’ll often try to obsessively find a solution to something and figure out a problem that really is not my problem. I’ll go over and over it in my head, just avoiding something that's deeper.

Road rage is my go-to. That's the number one sign I know that I'm not okay. I’ll be on edge and snapping for no reason whatsoever. It could be anything, from the person going too slow in front of me or cutting me off and instead of being able to go with the flow…the anger, rage, fury and fire that come up inside me is not okay.

One of mine is being irritable with my kids. They'll come at me with requests and I'm like, “I'm busy. Leave me alone.” There have been times where I’m not necessarily irritable, but Jax is in a really good mood and wants to play a game, be silly and have fun, and I am in no way feeling it. If I go there, it is a forced thing. It takes everything inside of me to sit down and play a game with this child because all I want to do is go lay on my bed or watch something on TV and do nothing, say nothing, be nothing to anyone.

It could be obvious like irritability or road rage, or it could be the more subtle things that you can justify as productive, like being busy or calendaring things. All of us have indicators that we may not be completely settled. We need to pay attention to those things. It also may be physical, like headaches or tension.

What do we do once we recognize indicators that we’re not okay?

The first thing is to get curious from a non-judgmental stance with kindness and gentleness toward yourself. Say to yourself, “What's going on with me? What am I doing here?” Just begin to get curious and ask questions. “Why am I so irritable? Why do I not want to get out of bed?” Examine that and be curious and invite God into the process: “Lord, what's going on with me?”

If we're responding with a behavior or a trait that is not as healthy as we want it to be, many times it's hard to be aware. Where do we even start? For me, it’s bringing God into the process and sitting still long enough to be aware of what He’s bringing to my mind. I'm just going to sit with the fact that I have road rage. Or why am I incessantly watching TikTok? Or why am I keeping myself busy? Allowing Him to reveal what it is—is a huge part of it.

With the road rage, it's a little harder for me to nail down what's going on in a really specific way. When I'm feeling self-pity, I have to sit down and journal and get everything out of my mind. It's a very overwhelming place to be where it feels like there's so much weighing on me. The other day I wrote for 30 minutes in my journal because of so much heaviness. With the road rage, I can generally pinpoint feeling fear about being late to something. And not taking a minute to center myself and say, “Elizabeth, it's okay. You're going to get there. It's all going to work out. Nothing crazy is going to happen if you're two minutes late. Or “You're actually not going to be late so you can chill out.” Being aware and saying, “What am I afraid of right now? Where's this rage coming from?”

We have to get still, whether it's for a minute just to notice it or whether it's 30 minutes to really pay attention to it with journaling or whatever your process is. We have to take time once we recognize a sign to find out what's beneath it. Or maybe think, “I've been doing this a lot; not only now in this instance, and there's a pattern here. There may be something even bigger going on that I need to pay attention to.” I think that's worth considering. If it's a one-time thing, maybe we just need a few minutes to consider it, but if we're noticing it's happening repeatedly, we really need to dig in.

As we investigate, be curious about these feelings. “If I am late for this meeting, what am I worried about? What's the worst thing if I'm late? What does that say?” “Well, it says that I'm irresponsible.” “And why is it important to be perceived as responsible?” You know what I'm saying? Building this thread of curiosity is what you would do in any kind of investigation: you're going, “Okay, but where's the motive? What's the reason?” When I find myself getting into a pattern of behavior that is either unkind or unhealthy, it typically has nothing to do with what's actually happening.

How do we combat the unhealthy behaviors when we recognize the signs?

We begin to recognize these patterns of behavior and understand that underneath them, we're often under-resourced, frustrated or disappointed in something. There's more going on than what we see. The tip of the iceberg is just the tiniest indication of what's below the surface. We need to ask ourselves some essential questions to understand what's going on inside. And I think one of the questions to start with is: What is this really telling me? When I road rage, when I'm numbing out, when I'm scrolling my phone, when I don't want to get out of bed, when I'm tossing and turning at night, what is this really telling me? What am I trying to avoid? And then, what do I need? So often there's some core fear or core desire.

When I was in my season of single parenting alone, where my kid's dad was not in the picture, I was completely under-resourced and I would find myself at the end of myself, raging at my son. He struggled with anxiety and was having a difficult time getting to school. I remember losing my temper with him on numerous occasions. And I thought, “What is going on with me? What is this telling me and what am I trying to avoid? What do I need?” And I was avoiding the pain and fear that I was going to mess him up. That he was going to become a juvenile delinquent and not get to school and not succeed. There was this huge well of fear fueling my behavior and anger toward him. When I realized that, it helped me get more grounded. I went to God with it. I began to change my need for control. The fear of him turning into a juvenile delinquent was leading me to want to control his behavior. He had to get to school; he had to succeed in certain ways or it might mean this terrible outcome. And so I started to change the narrative. I had to start rewriting the story. I told myself that it was not the end of the world. Some kids are outside the box. Some kids have different needs. It really started with me changing my self-talk, my expectations, and my desire for approval from other people and thinking, “What's my end goal here?” To love my son, to support him, for him to feel safe and secure instead of pushing us both to meet the expectations of society/the public school system, instead of being driven by those outside factors. Just getting to the core of it: I wanted him to know he's loved unconditionally no matter what and I'm on his team.

This gets more practical and less about feelings, but I have to pay attention to my hormonal cycles. There are times where it doesn't just have to do with the time of the month; it also has to do with the middle of the month. I might start feeling more self-pity. I might start feeling more down or get more anxious. And It's taken me a little while to realize those patterns. I’ve gone back through my journal and seen a pattern: I'm journaling about certain things at the same time every single month.

Another super practical and simple thing I look at a lot is H.A.L.T. If you're hungry, angry, lonely, or tired, halt. Push pause. Pay attention to that essential physical need or that need for connection. If you're hungry, eat. If you're angry, take a minute to breathe. If you're lonely, call a friend. Paying attention to our needs mean we're better positioned to meet the needs of those around us.

I was so harsh with my daughters. I had to recognize that I saw my ex's traits coming through and I reacted over the top. I had to really just take a break. I had to pause because I think a lot of times the mistake single parents make is jumping to try to fix the behavior instead of doing this work of going, “Okay, could it be hormones?” For me, it was fear and control. And if I didn't have control, if I wasn't really strict, they were going to end up like their mom. I had to take a step back and surrender. I don't have to be in control and I can just do the best that I can.

It seldom had to do with me correcting my behavior. And I'm not saying if you're raging, you shouldn't. Yes, you need to be mindful of that, but if you're trying to find a remedy for some of these patterns, it's not necessarily fixing that pattern. There is often deeper, more significant work that needs to be done.


1. We all have different indicators that we are not okay. It could be obvious like irritability or road rage, or more subtle things you can justify as productive, or it may be physical. We need to pay attention to those things.
2. When we recognize those indicators of discontent, we need to be curious, investigate, and take inventory.
3. Ask yourself these questions to recognize and understand the signs and what they’re telling you.

Listener Question

Hi, I am Stephanie, a single mom. My son, a fifth grader, came to me in tears after his dad left telling me, “Dad told me you never wanted kids.” How can I reassure him that this is a lie and unplant horrible doubt from his mind?

I would want to immediately say, “Thank you for telling me,” which is one of my go-to phrases I try to say to my kids anytime I feel blindsided or need a little time. “Thank you so much for telling me. That really matters. I'm so glad you came to me with that.” It buys you a little time to think.

But then I would say, “Wow, I'm really sorry that dad said that, and I'm so curious about why. I may ask him about that.” I might say, “What did you say when you heard that? What happened for you?”  so their experience matters, and they have a chance to reflect back as well as gain more information. Gauge where they're at, but ultimately reassure them: “Wow, I'm not a hundred percent sure why dad said that. I wonder if he misspoke or maybe you misunderstood. That's not at all true. We absolutely wanted you.” Even if it was unexpected. Some of the best surprises are the biggest gifts in life. I would bring a lot of reassurance and some curiosity. I'd hesitate to throw the dad under the bus at that moment, but I would definitely have a sidebar conversation later, “Hey, our child came to me with this and I'm wondering if you can tell me more about that.” Be curious. Give them a chance to explain what happened or where it came from. Regardless, I'd make the point that it was really hurtful: “They came to me and were really upset. Let's both be really careful about what we say with the kids.” It would be multifaceted for me: find out about my child's experience, reassure them, and then connect with my co-parent about it.

Just state the facts, state the truth, acknowledge the feelings and answer any more questions that might come up. But don't take the bait of trying to prove your point because it just lowers you to the level of whatever the accusation is. Care more about your child's heart in that moment than your anger and your own heart.

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