My mother did everything alone. She ran a business, kept the house going, and brought me up. She put me through school and University, redesigned the entire house and garden each time we moved, and she kept up with her West End London accountancy clients.
It wore her out. My mother never got ill or had a rest day, until she had a breakdown. After that, she was never the same again. Being a single parent is tough.
Even worse than how exhausting it is to keep everything going, is doing it alone. My Mother rarely met with girlfriends to chat or had the support of a partner. I also never got to see her very often. We both suffered as a result of that. Being a single parent is not only exhausting, it’s lonely.
As if that’s not arduous enough, the pandemic years have made all of this more severe.
So, here I’m offering you six ways to think differently about your situation if you’re struggling as a single parent. There is a way through this that can help you to feel better.
Six Ways To Recover From Single-Parent Burnout
1. Have Compassion For How You Feel
When we have another person to look after, attending to our wellbeing is the first thing we abandon. So, the first step to reclaiming your energy and motivation is to acknowledge, accept and normalise how you feel.
Just being able to name what's going on for you can help to liberate that feeling, and so feel better. The more you allow your compassion for who you are, how you feel and what you need, the more you will come up with coping strategies naturally.
A good way to start is by widening your vocabulary for feeling. You might be surprised how many emotional words there are. Here’s a great list to refer to.
2. Pause For A Moment
Reclaiming your wellbeing requires mind space. We all need time to process. Burnout is characterised by having no processing time. Our joy and vitality can quickly be drained if we have no time for ourselves.
The idea behind mindfulness is to create a pause between stimulus and reaction. To slow down.
You can do this right now just by consciously taking a breath.
The more you do this, the more you will build a habit of taking time for yourself.
People often think of mindfulness and breathing as a chore that takes effort and time. Of course, you are going to reap the rewards if you can allow more of this into your life. But mindfulness is just a series of moments where you’re not doing anything, and not responding to demands.
It is wise to build things into your life that bring you joy, just for the sake of doing them. Hopelessness will set in when we feel our lives contain only drudgery.
3. Regulate Your Physical State In Seconds
Our nervous systems are affected when we are excessively busy. When we’re rushing to get the chores done, responding to others' needs, and trying to complete our work, we are in a certain state. Sometimes this will be a state of stress akin to the body’s threat response cycle; fight, flight, freeze, or fawn.
Here, our heart rate increases, we breathe more rapidly, and our whole system gets ready to respond to a threat. If you’ve ever suddenly felt irritated by noises or interruptions while you’re doing the shopping, or trying to complete a report, this might be why.
Notice whether you are breathing swiftly and shallowly in the upper part of your chest. Humming, singing, or lengthening your breath can help switch your nervous system back into a state of safety and relaxation, with fuller breathing.
4. Change Your Thinking
Your confidence might go very low when you are alone raising a child. It’s common to feel hopeless and to think negatively.
Keep an eye out for that voice in your head that tells you there’s something wrong with you, like “I’m no good at this” or “Someone else would know better”. This is your self-critic. Negative thought spirals may be a sign that you need to regain your confidence.
Learn how to challenge that critic and negativity.
5. Recognise Your Needs
Many of us learnt to believe from an early age that our needs were inconvenient, uninteresting or irritating to the people who brought us up. So we believe that it’s selfish to have needs and that we might be too sensitive or too needy. Therefore, we keep what we need so quiet that we might not be able to recognise it any more. This is intensified when we have our own children’s needs to attend to.
6. Open To Support
Finding someone to talk to can make a huge difference in how you feel and your ability to cope.
As a nation, we typically overvalue being able to cope alone. Where neuroscience research teaches us that we need each other to survive happily.
The issue of trust, and how we come to it, can be the reason why it’s so difficult to find support, love, and partnership, in the first place.
Sometimes because we weren’t able to trust that our needs would be met, a fear of intimacy, rejection, or abuse develops. It can take time to undo firmly entrenched beliefs, and attitudes about your needs, trust and relationship.
One of the things that helped me to change my thinking was The Calling in ‘The One’ process. My whole World began to shift when I heard the author, Katherine Woodward Thomas, urge us to ask ourselves:
What is the contribution you are making to your situation?
The author, herself, claims that her life changed when her friend asked her what she was avoiding by keeping herself single?
Often what’s in the way of finding a supportive, loving, partnership, is the underlying core belief that we don’t deserve or can’t have this kind of relationship. This can lead to a lifetime of putting up with a difficult or toxic relationship, instead of asserting effective communication or boundaries.
Finding support may involve finding everything in your power to change that belief.
Something almost mystical happens when in this place of self-confidence and self-love. I experience this as an opening that happens inside me. It seems to open a portal to connection. It may be that we are open, so we notice things more, or it may be that we create a space for something to come through. But either way, this openness and internal connection lead to external connection somehow.
In summary, what I’m saying here is that you have the power to recover from single-parent burnout through awareness of how you got to feeling this way physically and emotionally. To shift, normalise and have compassion for your human experience and feelings, as well as practice allowing yourself more breathing space. You may also need to explore and challenge your deeper beliefs.
You are so much more than a drudge. Furthermore, you deserve to live a happier, more vibrantly connected life of inspiration. It is possible for you with compassion and curiosity.