How to Deal With Uncertainty

April 14, 2024

I feel like when I lost my husband was the moment I started transitioning into being better able to deal with uncertainty. Being in that room after I just heard the news and just thinking over and over again, “This isn’t how the story goes. What are you talking about? This can’t be the story. Somebody wake me up and tell me that this is a dream.” And realizing that now suddenly I had to deal with everything uncertain. I didn’t know what was coming next. I think having to walk into it and then realizing I survived it and realizing my kids survived, it was the best teacher for dealing with uncertainty that I’ve ever had.

There’s so much uncertainty in our world today, our nation, our presidential election, wars, the stock market, economy, our health, the wellbeing of our kids, the list just goes on and on. When we find ourselves standing in the face of uncertainty, how can we deal with it in a healthy and sustainable way? From a faith perspective, we know that God is our certainty in life, but how do we apply that to our everyday lives as single parents? Well, today we’re going to cover three main points. Number one, we’re going to talk about the desire for certainty, what drives us to want certainty. Number two, we’re going to talk about the benefits of uncertainty. Finally number three, we’re going to talk about the antidotes to uncertainty.

Why do we want certainty so badly? 
As single parents, we’ve already had so much thrown at us. Maybe your home life was completely stable and you had a loving spouse you were coming home to every day, and then something tragic happened and you lost them unexpectedly. Or maybe leading up to a divorce your entire world gets turned upside down. Everything you thought that your life was going to look like is gone. And so of course you have a desire for certainty. How can I be certain of anything anymore after going through all of this tragedy?

At the beginning of single parenting for me, I was just waiting for the other shoe to drop at all times. I craved a sense of predictability and having some control. It felt like everything in my life was out of control, and it felt like uncertainty was kind of the norm. And I think for a lot of us it kind of is, but the draw of certainty is we want to have a sense that everything’s going to be okay and everything’s under control. In America we have the sense that we can control everything that we’ve got. There’s a fix for everything. And so when we are thrust into a condition where things are not predictable, we want to get back to that sense of control. I think other areas in the world, it’s not quite as much of a driving factor. I could be wrong, I’d love to know if I’m wrong, but I just think especially in American culture, everything is expected to be in its place and be under control. And when it’s not, your world feels upside down.

There was a study done that took half the participants and said, “Hey, you’re going to get an electric shock half the time.” And the other group was told they were going to receive a shock 100% of the time. Interestingly enough, the group that knew they were going to get a shock 100% of the time experienced a lot less anxiety because they knew pain was going to be happening versus the group that was anticipating, “Well, it could happen or it could not happen.”  

Certainty can provide us with a false sense of stability and security where we think we have things all figured out and we know what’s happening. And we think that because we believe the future is going to happen exactly like we plan. But nobody knows the future and nobody can truly plan for what’s going to happen. Sometimes we have regrets because we think “if only I had known this” or “if only I had been there in time,” or “if only I could have seen the future in any way whatsoever.” And those thoughts will drive us to this future desire of saying, “Well, I’m going to get rid of those ‘what if’ thoughts. I’m going to protect myself from all of that.” 

I was thinking how sometimes certainty or uncertainty can’t be applied to the “what ifs” in life. “What if I would’ve just been more accommodating?” “What if I would’ve put my foot down a little bit more?” This whole idea of control and predictability is not just in the present. We’re searching for something that’s elusive. We’re looking for some resolve as to why something happened. “Why God, did you take my husband?” “Why God, did you allow my wife to go crazy and follow her addiction?”

We try to get into this idea that if we just understood it, we could control it, then somehow we would have peace. And the truth is we can’t. And it can really wreck our stability, not just in the immediate, but retrospectively looking at your life and going, “That doesn’t make sense.” And my friend’s favorite saying related to “It doesn’t make sense” is “Of course it doesn’t.” It’s not just in the immediate; it’s when we’re trying to reconcile something that happened to us and it can keep us stuck. I think we almost allow ourselves to feel guilt and shame over the uncertainty from the past. Hindsight is 20/20. “Well, I should have known that then.” You replay it all. “If I had just been a better wife for my husband, he would still be here.” And how do we come to terms with that? And sometimes we come to terms with that by trying to ramp up controllability of our here and now because we can’t control the past. So the present feels like the only thing we can control. Trying so hard to not be hurt. Or trying to find a reason why something didn’t work out. And sometimes we won’t know. Sometimes addiction wins out or a car hits someone and there is no resolve to that. As parents raising our kids alone, we crave certainty and feeling like we’re in control. 

How do we look at uncertainty, maybe through a little bit of a different lens before we move into some antidotes? What are some benefits to uncertainty?

There’s a really good John Ortberg podcast or YouTube video called “How to Deal with Uncertainty.” He quotes a woman named Maggie Jackson who wrote a book called Uncertain. And she says, “Uncertainty is the fertile soil in which creativity, resilience, and adaptability flourish. Embrace the unknown for it is where our greatest opportunities for growth lie.”

He also talks about how the intolerance of uncertainty actually leads to more anxiety. And he quotes a psychology professor from the University of Quebec saying, “Life is inherently uncertain. And if you have difficulty dealing with that, you will have difficulty dealing with life.” So I think dealing with uncertainty is a life skill. We have to be able to be willing to start embarking into those places that are uncertain, but we also have to be willing to teach that as a skill to our children.

I mentioned in another podcast how I recently moved and it’s been really important to me to stay in the neighborhood, to keep stability for Jax. But I grew up where we moved every year, we had a new house every year, and I do think that that did create some resilience. I definitely deal with change a lot better than other people. Being able to show our kids and help them understand the importance of uncertainty and how that can grow us and build us into stronger humans later. And by “later,” it could be the next week, it could be the next month when something else pops up or later down the road.If you really lean into [uncertainty], it can really push you more towards being vulnerable and have that humility to reach out to the people around you who can help guide you through that. Even if it’s just hearing you vent about how this thing blew up or I lost my job; name anything that could happen to create uncertainty in your life. Just being able to have other people around you and practice that vulnerability is a gift. I know I’ve struggled with this in the past, and I’ve heard from other single parents that it’s hard to ask for help or support.

If you are in a trying situation (like soldiers that go to war), it bonds you together with other people. And I do think that that is an upside to uncertainty. If you can find people at our Solo Parent groups in a similar circumstance and can embrace uncertainty, it can actually build tremendous intimacy and connection with other people and comradery—not trying to change at all, but just go, “This is not comfortable, but I’m not alone in it.”

I wasn’t in the trenches in war, but I did go through basic training. And there’s a lot of uncertainty there. You don’t know when you’re going to get yelled at, kicked at, spit at, cussed at. They wake you up at four o’clock in the morning, and you don’t know where you’re going. They tell you what clothes to put on and what to put in your rucksack. You’re out the door and you’re off into the night marching somewhere and everybody in the troop is going through the same thing. We’re all in it together. Then we get to the place where we’re going and we’re all like, “Okay, all right, cool. We’re out here in the wilderness shooting guns.” And then we get back to the barracks at night and everyone’s kind of like, “Wow, that was a day.” But we’re all able to laugh about it or be like, “Can you believe that happened?” It builds unity.

My brother is a lieutenant colonel in the army. He and a man from Ohio State have been doing research on that very thing of uncertainty. How do you take people who are skilled soldiers and actually try to create more skilled soldiers? The ability to deal with uncertainty is actually incredibly important because you cannot have a soldier plan for everything before he/she’s dropped in the middle of nowhere. And so you’ve got to train them how to think creatively, and how do you do that? Being able to deal with uncertainty does create a level of creativity. He said that people who are better able to adapt are more likely to be science fiction readers because they do a lot of “what if” planning like, “Oh, I just changed this one thing about my world, and now all of sudden anything’s possible. I can fly.” It kind of opens your mind to different solutions and you become a better problem solver and more creative thinker because you’re willing to sit with that uncertainty.

Uncertainty is uncomfortable and you don’t wish it on anyone, but from a spiritual perspective, I think sitting in a place of uncertainty brings us closer to the divine than anything else. My mom used to say we were made to be dependent on each other, but ultimately dependent on God, and we are not meant to do life alone. Uncertainty brings that to light. The fact that we don’t know the outcome, we don’t have control, we’re not certain about whatever it is, forces us to a place of going, “I may not know, but I still have faith.” It shows us we can be dependent and that God can be faithful. 

Let’s now talk about some antidotes to uncertainty. What are some steps that we can employ?

I’m not just throwing this out there, but it’s part of life. We got to accept it. And I’m not trying to say “Put your big girl pants on and get it together,” but you need to understand that life is uncertain. You’ve got to deal with it. I think the faster we come to terms with that, the faster we’re going to have a more stable experience—we’re not expecting things to change for us.

By the same token, we can find something that is certain: The Bible says that God is not changing. John Ortberg says, “When experiencing uncertain moments, don’t look for certainty. Look for God.” He is that anchor. And when we are able to focus on him, that uncertainty matters less because what matters to us now is certainty itself. 

One of the antidotes is to accept the fact that some things are just uncertain, but then not let it overwhelm you. Try focusing on what you can control, what things are predictable, what things are certain as a way of grounding yourself. I know during my whole solo season, the worst thing in the world happened on a Friday afternoon: I got the mail and there was a summons to court— another motion for something, and I couldn’t call my attorney. It was the weekend. I couldn’t talk to anyone about it. I didn’t know what to do. I had to start focusing, “Okay, that may be true. She may be trying to fight me for X, Y, or Z, but here’s what I know: Tonight is Friday night. I’m making hamburgers tonight. We’re going to have a good time. We’re going to watch a nature show, or whatever we’re going to do.” When I started focusing on things that were more certain, it helped lift some of the unease of things that were not certain. And just the whole idea of being present. If I’m dealing with something, but I have Jax at home with me on a Friday night, and I know he’s wanting to have a good night together and doesn’t have a care in the world, I have to tell myself, “Be present. Be present with him. That’s all that matters right now. Everything else will work itself out. We’ll get there when we get there, but for tonight, let’s be present.” And it’s hard, especially when I feel like I’m drowning. 

There’s a lot about the future that just inherently is uncertain. We don’t know. So we like think, “Well, he must have thought this: or “He’s going to do this” or “I’m going to lose my job because I didn’t know the answer off the spot.” But the answer to some of that thinking is to say, “But you don’t actually know that. You don’t actually know what he was thinking when he said X, Y, or Z, or did X, Y, and Z.” Sometimes you just need to be okay not knowing, and you don’t have to fit it in, you don’t have to plan. You can just sit there in what is going to be uncomfortable and say, “Isn’t it nice that I don’t have to figure this out?” 

We can’t control other people. And I know for me as a codependent, I’m always trying to look for how I can control a situation. And some of that is even trying to predict what they’re thinking. To your point, that’s not healthy. I can’t predict what this other person’s thinking or going to do or whatever. But even still trying to navigate feelings or trying to protect [yourself], keep someone from leaving you or keep someone from being upset with you or whatever it is. We can’t control other people. So all I can do is be here, be centered, be present and grounded here with my child or in this job or in today.

I don’t know if this was good, but if I was faced with a legal document for more custody rights, I would try to be present. I’d try to focus on what I could control. But if it was something that was incessantly annoying me, I would allow myself to go there. I would go, “Okay, so let’s just say that the worst case scenario does happen. Let’s say that she takes me to court and she wins one more day of supervised visitation. Let’s just say she gets exactly what she wants. We don’t know if that’s going to happen, but what’s the worst possible case scenario?” Because we have this way of magnifying everything that could possibly happen into being X, Y, or Z. And frankly, if she gets one extra day of supervised visitation, it’s just an inconvenience. But what do I really know? What is certain? I will drop the girls off, I will pick the girls up, we’ll have dinner. We’ll wake up the next morning, we’ll go about our day. That helped me deal with the uncertainty. I allowed myself to go to some of the things we catastrophize. I actually had someone walk me through that exercise multiple times and take me all the way down the rabbit trail. And every time the question was, “Okay, so if that happens, then what?” Well then this, this, and this. “And if that happens, then what?” Well then this, this, and this. And then you get all the way down where you can’t go any further. You exhaust the trail.

The main one for me is in times of uncertainty, instead of looking for certainty, we need to look to God. Ultimately we were created in the image of God. We are God breathed and he’s our creator. He knows us intimately. And in times of uncertainty, the best way to deal with that is to come back to the Source. I love the fact that it forces us back to that place of dependency.


  1. Raising our kids’ solo is already uncertain enough. For most of us. We crave certainty as a way to feel some sort of control or predictability over the hand that we’ve been dealt. And I want to add this to that. That is normal. You’re not weird for wanting certainty.
  2. Uncertainty can actually be a positive force in our life helping us to live a more fulfilling and peaceful and vibrant life. 
  3. Third, in times of uncertainty, the best antidote is to not look for certainty, but to look for God. And if you are feeling uncertain about certain things, confess that out loud. There’s something about the act of confession, and speaking out loud, “I don’t know what this means, God, and I would love for you to let me know,” God can handle our uncertainty. 

Listener Question: When my kids are at my house, they’re supposed to empty the dishwasher, take out the garbage, clear the dinner table, help sort laundry, etc. But when they go to their dad’s on the weekends, they don’t have any responsibilities. Is there any way to change the narrative of “bad mom” versus “fun dad?”

The first thing that comes to mind is to keep the long, long-term view. Honestly, if you’re the “bad mom,” you’re not a bad mom. So let’s just cut that out right now. You’re actually a great mom who’s trying to set your kids up for success and teach them responsibility and purpose with the family. You’re serving them in the long term. Even if they have a bad attitude about what you’re making them do, you’re the better parent. Choose your battles. 

I don’t know how it is in the rest of the world, but in Franklin, Tennessee, these kids have so much responsibility when it comes to school. I see so much weight put on kids from schoolwork and friend pressures and social media and all the things, so if they have a chance to go to their dad’s and have a reprieve, great. And actually, I’m the one who’s a little more loose on those responsibilities. He does have responsibilities, but I’m not as strict as his dad is. His dad’s real strict. He’s pretty OCD when it comes to cleanliness and all that.

I would say I’m probably the opposite. I’m probably the stricter mom, but my kids didn’t have a place to go to “fun dad’s” house. There would be times when I would travel and send them to grandma’s house but for the most part, they lived with, in this definition, “bad mom.” But to me, teaching my kids to be responsible was a gift that I gave them. And now that I have one who’s 18, and he’s like, “Mom, can I do this? Can I do that? Can I go on a camping trip over here?” I’m like, “You know what? I know that you have been trained to be responsible for so long, so I get to say yes, because that’s a gift that I was giving you all this time that you couldn’t see.” The number of times my kids would say, “Well, my friend doesn’t have to do this, or my friend doesn’t have to.” Yeah. “But your friend also at 18 is not going to be allowed to have the rights and privileges that you have because I know you can.” So it’s a trade off that you’re playing. It’s a long game.

It’s a good question because especially when it’s a divorced family, there is this competitive nature. I want to be a better parent. I want this house to be the place where he/she learns all the things they need to learn. And so there’s this drive to outdo the other parent. And I would say, “Just chill. It’s all going to be okay.” Focus on what’s in front of you. Focus on getting stuff done.Don’t worry about whether you’re popular at the moment. Have fun with your kids. If you need to lighten up, then have some fun. But more than likely, if all we’re talking about is chores, no kid likes chores. I would just say to choose your battles. Don’t buy into this competitive thing. 

Jax is 10 now and has things he’s supposed to do, and he knows that. And I have said the same things over and over every day for years on end. But now I don’t have to say anything to him. He just does what he’s supposed to do. And so also consider the age. You’re going to have to tell an 8-year-old over and over, and they’re going to get distracted, and there’s going to be something more fun happening.

Okay, well thank you for sending that question. If you’d like to send a question, go to our website and you’ll find instructions on how to email, call or leave a voice message. You can also message us on Instagram or Facebook. Two Solos Rosemary and Melissa started a new group on Tuesday nights at 8:00 PM Eastern, but you can find that on our website or on the app.