Solo parent

Week 16 – Life Balance as a Solo Parent

People who serve in the military have already proven themselves proficient in character to be a good mother or a good father. The day you signed up, you signed up knowing the next chapter of your life would test and polish your duty and your discipline. You signed up to prepare for the unchosen stress of protecting your country with the chosen stress of training. You trained to expect the unexpected; to prepare with foresight and planning; to cultivate quick thinking, courage, and brawn so you could respond well and with strength to any challenge.

Now put that lens to parenting, and even more to parenting solo. You can protect the innocence of your kids. You can give them safety and refuge. You can motivate them, passing on your values. You can help them trust in your leadership. We already know you can do that. It’s just a question of how to do that when the van is broken down again, and the Christmas concert is tomorrow night and you still need to make a donkey head out of one-inch foam and spray paint, and you just got news of your next deployment.

Solo parenting while serving your country is a feat of logistics, applied tension, and team support. Astronaut Chris Hadfield writes about how we show up in a way you might recognize. As you listen, we’ll pause—bring to mind people in the service, people in your history on teams, who have filled these archetypes.

“In any new situation, whether it involves an elevator or a rocket ship, you will almost certainly be viewed in one of three ways,” he says. “As a minus one: actively harmful, someone who creates problems. Or as a zero: your
impact is neutral and doesn’t tip the balance one way or the other. Or you’ll be seen as a plus one: someone who actively adds value.”

As Hadfield explains, everyone wants to be a plus one. But “…proclaiming your plus-oneness at the outset almost guarantees you’ll be perceived as a minus one, regardless of the skills you bring to the table or how you actually perform.”

Balance roots in attitude. You don’t get to choose and declare that you’re a plus-one. That’s for the people around you to decide. Claiming that for yourself fuels entitlement and will knock you off a path of earning the regard of others. Whether you’re in the environment of a ship, a base, or your home, operate from the baseline of not claiming your value, but demonstrating it.

Pressures and Stressors

Serving in the military is already a promise to respond with your strength under duress. Even through times of relative peace, you’re living under the tension of that promise. And further, as a solo parent, you’re living under many other tensions that may affect your focus, your effectiveness, and the well-being of your children:

● Maintaining a job and household as well as caring for children
● Shouldering financial burdens alone post-divorce or loss
●Trying to work through conflicts around visitation and custody
● Dealing with a hostile or uncooperative co-parent
● Feeling challenged to spend quality time with children
● Supporting your child’s school performance or social relationships
● Handling disruptions to extended family time or relationships
● Managing your or your ex’s dating or new relationships

Take a moment to appreciate all the ways you’ve shouldered these promises and tensions well—and to acknowledge all those in the service who are doing the same in parallel.

Author Thusitha Perera wrote, “You’ve somehow boarded a rickety rollercoaster moving at a pace at which the world is a blur, and the screws are half a turn away from it all falling apart.”

The sensation is familiar, but being in the service, we can’t imagine not stepping forward for the ride:

“Because balance doesn’t exist, you’re either operating under or over your energetic equilibrium,” writes Katherine Morgan Schafler. “In other words, you’re in the realm of being either underwhelmed or overwhelmed. Perfectionists reliably choose to operate over their equilibriums. For perfectionists, the risk of being underwhelmed is much scarier than the risk of being overwhelmed.”

We promised our strength under duress. We are rollercoaster-seekers. We may have gotten more than we bargained for—not only dangerous, high-stakes military missions, but what might feel like a dangerous, high-stakes emotional long-game at home. As we must in the field, we make do with what we have. We get inventive, we plan thoroughly, and we lean on our team.

Share Time:

What’s an experience you’ve had in the military that was more challenging than your solo parent role?

Acknowledge Change

Any change in your life—your relationship status, a job promotion, or a relocation—can take some time to get used to for you and your children, extended family, and social circle. Keep everyone talking. As parents, we live to protect our children. You may instinctively want to shield them from conflict, problems, or rough news, but you can only do so much or wind up co-dependent. Model a healthy response by addressing relationship change, the death of a parent, and the lingering effects with balance. Be honest about uncertainty, but faithful about what gives you confidence. Be open about your own feelings but prioritize theirs. Don’t put your kids in the position of parenting you. Balance doubt and fear with certainties and love. Ask them how they’re feeling, and then be quiet to hear what they say. Make sure they know you’re deeply invested in their thoughts. Lighten the effect of heavy conversations with time playing with them in the backyard. Don’t just tell them it’s going to be okay. Show them.

The American Psychological Association offers a few more tips for heart-to-hearts with children:

● Be intentional about what you’re going to say by practicing in front of a mirror or with another adult
● Select a quiet moment away from the distractions of the day
● Always refer to their other parent with the same respect and kindness you’d want from them (regardless of whether it’s reciprocated)
● Tell the truth on a level that they can understand, balancing honesty with their well-being and innocence
● Don’t be afraid to answer a question with “I don’t know”
● Reassure your children that you are there for them and love them

Steve Maraboli gives us an illustration of a kid-friendly stance on change that’s just as useful for you as it is for them: “Don’t give up! It’s not over. The universe is balanced. Every setback bears with it the seeds of a comeback.”

Share Time:

What’s helped you show up for your kids through difficult times?

Juggling the responsibilities of the military and solo parenting doesn’t just affect your children. It affects you. Look after yourself in whatever way you know you need: with runs in the park or swims at the local pool; by making time to cook healthy, clean food; by treating yourself to the things you love, from fishing to social time with friends. Think of it as putting on your oxygen mask before helping the others—fellow service members, family, children— around you. Your children are your priority, but you can’t bring your best to them with an empty tank.

Whether divorce, loss, or an unexpected pregnancy made you a solo parent, allow yourself to grieve. Consider healing and integrating life’s disappointments to be one of your most important reconciliations of all. There is no set timetable. Keep an eye on the physical toll unresolved emotions can take: changes in your appetite, sleeping patterns, mood swings, or illness. Give yourself space, time, meditation, books, or therapy to work through what comes up and ensure you’re bringing your best self to your kids, relationships, and work. Acknowledge that your life’s trajectory has shifted, but don’t allow that to hold you back from seeking happiness or love again.

Most of all, keep trying to earn plus-one status in the eyes of the people who depend on you. Start by choosing balance, and choose it wholeheartedly.
Don’t hesitate, and don’t listen to your own excuses. Author Andy Andrews calls this a committed heart:

“Most people fail at whatever they attempt because of an undecided heart,” he says. Should I? Should I not? Go forward? Go back? Success requires the emotional balance of a committed heart. When confronted with a challenge, the committed heart will search for a solution. The undecided heart searches for an escape. A committed heart does not wait for conditions to be exactly right. Why? Because conditions are never exactly right. Indecision limits the Almighty and His ability to perform miracles in your life. He has put the vision in you. Proceed.”

Further Action Step:

What is your heart committed to? Write it down.