Solo parent

Week 9 – Redefining Self-Care

If you listen to the world, it’s no wonder you’d think self-care is nothing more than indulgence: cocktails on a Tuesday, an afternoon at a spa, or a string of drive-through food interrupted by a salad. Though treats can give us a welcome break or lift our mood for a day or two, Brittin Oakman’s poem gives us a different perspective.

I lied and said I was busy.
I was busy;
but not in a way most people understand.

I was busy taking deeper breaths.
I was busy silencing irrational thoughts.
I was busy calming a racing heart.
I was busy telling myself I am okay.

Sometimes, this is my busy—
and I will not apologize for it.

Sometimes, self-care is indulgent. But the kind of self-care that sticks often calls us to more than just receiving treats. It calls us to sweat, work hard, or face what scares us. Sometimes, self-care only feels good after you’ve done it. And almost always, we need to talk ourselves into it. Today, we’re going to talk about how, and why.

Share Time:

In this season of solo parenting, how would you define self-care for yourself? Would you say you’re good at it, or do you avoid it?

We need to redefine what self-care looks like, both internally and externally. Let’s start with internal self-care, the dialogue we have with ourselves.

Carrie Hope Fletcher wrote, “We need to start treating ourselves how we deserve to be treated, even if you feel that no one else does. Prove to the world you are worth something by treating yourself with the utmost respect and hope that other people will follow your example. Here’s what to remember about internal self-care:

1. Self-care isn’t selfish.

Parker Palmer wrote, “Self-care is never a selfish act—it is simply good stewardship of the only gift I have, the gift I was put on earth to offer others. Anytime we can listen to true self and give the care it requires, we do it not only for ourselves but for the many others whose lives we touch.”

The only gift we have is our energy, which translates to our attention. When we are depleted of vital energy—worn out physically or emotionally—we have none to give. You might think I shouldn’t put my own needs before the needs of my kids or I have to get supper started, do school pick-up, and switch over the laundry. And you’re right about all that. But there’s a dark side to not finding the time to restore yourself. Pay no attention to yourself and you’ll be incapable of spending it on the people you care about.

Think of the moments when you’ve not been at your best. Moments when you messed up, lost your temper, let someone down, or mixed up important dates or logistics. Chances are high that you were depleted. You’d been neglecting yourself. You can only go so long without self-care before you start reacting negatively to every small thing, turning into patterns that affect the harmony of your home.

You’re no hero to prize being “self-sufficient”. You’re orchestrating your own burnout. You are a spiritual being. To spend your energy well, you must first be filled with it.

2. Self-care is self-awareness.

When we’re attuned, we’re plugged into the sensations of being alive right now. We’re engaged in self-diagnosis. How is your body—your hunger or your digestion, your sleep, your breathing? Can you feel stress in your muscles and joints? Are you aching, twinging, or flinching? Are you relaxed? If not, why not? What does your body need as a vessel for your spirit, at its best? Right now, what do you need? Your body will always answer. It’s sending you messages constantly. Listen to them.

We often think about self-awareness in the bigger moments of our lives: Should I go out to dinner with that interesting person, and take that chance? Am I going to get the promotion? Did I ask the right questions of my kid’s teacher the other day? But self-awareness is not tactical. It’s the practice of recognizing gaps and filling them. It’s checking in with yourself in small moments for quiet wisdom: What’s driving me right now—am I lonely? Defensive? Scared? Do I need input on this decision? Do I need God to guide me? Do I need a friend?

To truly understand what’s motivating your reactions and feelings, spend a few moments examining your heart. In the early days of being a solo parent, listening to yourself might be the last thing on your list. You may even have an antagonistic relationship with yourself or your body, and you may be disinclined to listen. You may be deep in guilt or shame and inclined towards self-punishment by way of deprivation of care. Let those feelings be what they are, but set them aside and tune in. Close the door to your bedroom and pray God, I’m here. I don’t know what I need right now, so I’m going to just rest in your presence.

As Tara Brach wrote: “The revolutionary act of treating ourselves tenderly can begin to undo the aversive messages of a lifetime.”

3. Self-care always costs you.

Everything costs something. Self-care is a trade-off. Whether it’s opting for a few laps at your local pool, reading a book in the sun, or meditation with God, yes—you are choosing yourself over the dirty dishes or the obligatory night out with friends. But think of it this way: saying yes to self-care is saying yes to more peace, more contentment, and radiating capacity when you do choose to show up.

It’s not always sunshine or meditation, though. Sometimes, self-care means hard work: like choosing to dive headfirst into healing. Sometimes, it’s prioritizing what you’ve been avoiding. Self-care is not only supposed to make you feel better. It’s an investment to make you be better. Alongside space and comforts, self-care may call you to revisit places of grief, or to clear out the baggage of your old life.

Share Time:

How do you tune in?
What does it cost you, and is it worth it?

External self-care is going outside yourself for interactions or experiences that feed your soul, boost morale, or access support. Basic principles are:

1. Self-care is not self-sufficiency.

Single parents are often deeply moved to not need anyone else. We can be almost proud of ourselves for it and stubbornly attached to this ideal. I am managing just fine, thank you very much is a defense mechanism. We want to prove to the world and to ourselves that we have everything under control. But this defensiveness consumes us and becomes a performance we can’t possibly maintain all the time.

We were made for dependency—on God, and on each other. Do any of us want to look needy, or like we can’t clean up after our own mistakes and failures? Of course not. Furthermore, our experiences make it harder to ask for help and trust that someone is going to be there to provide it. So yes, it’s tough to ask others to step in to give us a little time, a break, or any kind of relief. Start by asking God, who puts the very people who can help in our path, if we’re paying attention.

2. Self-care is making the effort to find community.

Inner circles don’t just spring up out of nowhere. They need maintenance. They need mutual gifts of grace, patience, and companionship. To receive it, offer it.

Cultivate a well-rounded circle. Think now of the person you know who’s most empathetic, and who gives the best hugs. Now think of the person who most reliably cracks you up. And now, think of the person who’s always got the most practical advice. No one person is going to meet every need or every mood.

To have a healthy circle of friends, you’re going to have to show up and let yourself be known. And be interested in knowing others. This can make you feel vulnerable. For introverts, it can be counterintuitive. But give yourself the opportunity to surprise yourself. That in itself is self-care, too. And this practice will serve you well when you feel ready to find love again.

3. Self-care is finding healthy distractions.

Sometimes, like an under-stimulated dog, you just need to run off your fretting. If you don’t, you’re likely to start bouncing off the walls. When you’re solely focused on loss and healing, even with the best of intentions, life is going to feel heavy more often than not. Healthy distractions are your balance. They are not escape, and they are not a license to avoid reality or your obligations. They are simply being off-leash in an open field—whatever that looks like for you.

Channel your energy into music, if you play. Get it out on a sporting field with a team of peers. When you’re brimming over with thoughts, hike them off in the woods. Whatever it is for you, that’s okay. But ask yourself: when you call a third glass of wine ‘‘self-care,” are you being sarcastic? That’s a good sign that you already know you’re escaping rather than tapping into your innermost core. Are you simply running—feeling the air in your lungs, and getting your blood pumping—or are you running away into a bottle of Pinot Noir?

Let’s end with a tiny poem from the Pulitzer-winning poet Theodore Roethke. Imagine self-care as laboring in the garden, digging in the dirt, and the bliss of the shower that follows:

I do not laugh; I do not cry;
I’m sweating out the will to die.

My past is sliding down the drain;
I soon will be myself again.

Further Action Step:

God cares about how you take care of yourself and fill your cup up, so to speak. This week:

● Spend some time asking Him to help you reframe what self-care means.
● Ask Him to deepen the relationships in your circle.
● Ask Him to help you let go of self-sufficiency in exchange for true, deep community.
● Find a healthy distraction that allows you to enjoy life—even for thirty minutes.