Balance & Beyond Podcast
#16 Surviving Single Parenthood: How to Embrace the Chaos and Find the Fun
What if the chaos of single parenting could be harnessed and moulded into a journey of self-exploration and personal growth?
As I recently navigated single parenthood for a three-and-a-half week stretch, I came face-to-face with the challenges it throws up - increased reliance on social media for connection, a lax bedtime routine, and juggling work within school hours. Yet, this is not a tale of despair. It's about finding your personal power and learning to retain it, even amidst the storms life throws at us.
During this singular journey, I re-evaluated my expectations as a parent. I adjusted the bar of my parenting standards and prioritised self-care, finding that crucial balance between quality time with my daughter and maintaining productivity. The voyage didn't stop there. I ventured into the realm of self-investment – realising that the best way to ensure our overall well-being, and that of our children, is to invest in ourselves. From managing digital addiction to setting realistic expectations, we’ll unravel the strategies and tools to help you break out of unhealthy cycles.
In this episode, you’ll discover:
- How to relook at your circumstances, whether temporary or otherwise, to ensure you don’t become a victim of them
- The key observations I noticed as I leant harder into old behaviours that I knew didn’t serve me
- The counter-intuitive approach I took to taking care of myself that so many women struggle to do
- Why doom scrolling is so addictive and the traps you can fall into with lots of small time increments in your day
- The exact strategies I used to unlock more fun despite each week being a different version of crazy
Join me as we embark on a journey of self-discovery and empowerment, single parent or not.
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INTRO: Welcome to Balance and Beyond, the podcast for ambitious women who refuse to accept burnout as the price of success. Here, we’re committed to empowering you with the tools and strategies you need to achieve true balance, where your career, relationships and health all thrive, and where you have the power to define success on your own terms. I honour the space you’ve created for yourself today, so take a breath, and let's dive right in…
I have just come off the back of three and a half weeks of single parenting and, whether you're a single parent or not, I wanted to share some of my observations that are going to benefit you, regardless of your parenting circumstances, and share what really caused me to wobble but, at the same time, is a great cause for celebration. I know, that sounds counterintuitive. But, trust me, there's going to be some gems in here for you, regardless.
So my hubby has just returned from three and a half weeks in the UK. It was a work trip, it was a trip for his health, and it was very much going to become a right of passage for him to have some time to do what he needed to do for his career and his purpose. So I knew straight away that I wanted to support him. But, I also knew the moment we planned the trip, that it was going to be challenging for me. We have a life that is built for two parents, as many do. I've got very, very active children, who have tons of activities. And our life is set up at the moment.
Mick tends to do a lot of the pickups, particularly in the afternoon. And he does a lot of the afternoon running around. So, my diary is built around me sort of working from 9:30 onwards, and he picks up a lot of that. You know, three to six, seven PM shift, which is, you know, activities and getting dinner prepped and all those things. So how we would continue to keep this rhythm of daily life without significantly impacting my business was going to be the challenge. And of course there's insane jealousy when your partner is going to Europe and it's summer and yet a weekend in Prague and I'm left with daily life and lunchboxes and driving all around the place. So understanding that you know these things we do for all our families.
But I also knew that life happens for me and I knew that there would be some brilliant lessons in this opportunity for me to have some more alone time and some more quiet time. So I'm going to share with you three observations. First, about what I noticed in my time, and as a keen observer of humans for pretty much my entire life, I also, over the last couple of years, find it fascinating to watch myself. I don't mean that in an egotistical perspective, but I've built the muscle of being able to operate and at the same time go. Why are you doing that? That's very unusual for you. And so I've got this beautiful opportunity.
And when he came, just before he came back, I took a lot of time to reflect on what I'd learned. And you know what can I take away from this opportunity? Because I never want to be a victim of circumstance. It's a very easy trap for us to fall into. But when I become a victim of my circumstance and do the, “Poor me” and “I can't.” And because some of that may be true. The moment I become a victim of my circumstance, I give away my power. And, I don't want to do that. I don't want to. I want to retain my personal power. I want to be in control of my life. Even when, ironically, sometimes I'm not.
So the first observation that I noticed was that my social media usage went through the roof. I'm normally pretty disciplined with my social media. I'm on it for work, I have various forums for my clients. But I became a doom scroller in the evenings, and this is connected in part to observation number two. But I found that when you are killing a lot of time, because with my kids, they've got a lot of activity, so I was driving somewhere, and waiting 15 minutes to pick another one up, and then turning around, and I had 15 minutes before school.
When we got home from school, I had to turn around. And despite the fact that I've done heaps of planning in my business, and divided up all my work into 15 minute increments, the moment you get sucked back into social media, it's really, really easy to continue to get sucked into it. And the algorithm gets better and better. I used to look at my feed a bit and go, “No, that's not interesting.” But as obviously my usage went up, and the doom scrolling went up, the algorithm got better and better.
I'm a pretty extroverted person. Even though I spend all day talking, often how I like to finish my day, is I download on Mick. You know, we chat about the day, and various things that happened. And so I could see myself leaning into social media in this quest for connection, which was really, really fascinating. Because that's what you're familiar with using social media for. It is this quest to be connected to others, and feel like we know what's going on in the world.
And as well as my social media use, I also started reading the news, and I typically stay away from the news. I'm quite fascinated with royalty, and history, and things like that, so I might scroll the news for the latest happenings of Harry and Megan or whatever. Whatever drama is the float, but anything else, I am not interested. I protect my vibration at all costs, and generally the news is based on fear, and it's based on negativity, and I don't really want a part of that. So I choose, “If it's very important, someone will let me know, and I will go and look it up, but otherwise I like to live in my little bubble.”
So, it's fascinating to watch, despite the fact that I have an alarm set, I have app limits, I'm pretty disciplined, I have a bedtime routine, so much of that went out the window, which is really, really fascinating. And one of the flow on effects of this piece that I noticed was that I didn't have a whole lot of extra time, because my calls got squished between school hours. And in having all these little eight minute, 12 minute, 15 minute increments, it's really, really hard to get creative in that time. So, I had this double whammy of my social media usage going up, and really being drawn in. I was almost getting addicted to that dopamine hit again, which I've done a lot of work to step away from.
Actually accessing my own creativity and my own sense of flow became stifled. And that was really alarming to me, because I spent a lot of my days being creative, whether it's writing content or coming up, you know, coming up with content for emails or for the podcast, or for my clients or for training materials or what I need to bring forth, or building and developing myself. And it's really hard to be creative in eight to 12 minute increments especially. It wasn't even just the lack of creativity, it was the massive, massive switching. It was right. I've now got to put on a load of washing and then I've got to get lunchboxes and I've got to get a snack and we've got to get in the car and I had my laptop with me and then I had to respond to this client request and so I was so distracted and just in reactive mode which made me feel, despite working all day long and being busy all day long, I'd get to bed and then go oh, I didn't actually achieve what I wanted today and then found myself in this doom scrolling loop again.
So I know this is a loop that many of my clients find themselves in, and it was really interesting for me to find myself back in this loop when ordinary, I'm in control of a lot of my time. Now what I managed to do was I used all the tools in my toolkit for the last week that he was gone. I'm like “Right, this is horrible, I'm going to get myself out of it.” And I did. But what is really a big celebration for me is that I still feel like that all the time. I always felt like I was on this spinning wheel and I never had enough time and I could never get to the things I'm mad at. I beat myself up for that. I don't live there anymore, and I know a lot of my clients that have been working with me for a while also don't feel that way.
So, know that if you were stuck in this never ending loop of having fractions of time, feeling like you're always at the whim of somebody else, and you need to look after somebody else, and then doom scrolling, it is just a pattern that becomes neurologically and chemically addictive. It is possible to get out of it, and I will share with you some of the strategies I used in a minute to get myself out of this box, out of this spiral. And it's horrendous.
And what's ironic is that, while it's a horrendous spiral to be in, the way we tend to get out of the spiral is to believe that we need a bit more time to relax on social, and so then we become more addicted to the dopamine, and so it becomes more and more addictive. So we can't use our old strategies of trying harder and leaning in more to something that used to work, because it doesn't. Social media is designed for that particular reason. That's why they make so much money is they know how to hack your brain, and so you've got to move beyond your brain and you've got to find a way to get back the control of your time.
So these are my first two observations. My third observation is a more fun one, you could say. And that is that we had a lot of fun! And fun can actually be found in the everyday, when you learn to be present. We had tons of car trips, and we had dancing competitions, and running around with children who were headless chickens trying to put on fake eyelashes at seven o'clock in the morning. It's often not very fun, especially when you have a teenager who doesn't want to be alive and awake at that hour of the day.
And yet, it became this time of laughter, of connection, and especially when circumstances mean that there wasn't a huge amount of time for us to connect outside of that just because we were so, so busy. It was amazing to notice that when you find the fun in every day and you distinctly decide to be present, not thinking about what I should have done or making client calls in the car or trying to multitask, just saying all right, I'm in the car for the next 30 minutes with a child, how can we talk about their day? How can we connect? How can we listen to music? How can we have a dance party, and it is a beautiful way to ensure that you're getting that connection time when life looks on the outside like it's quite chaotic.
So, I know many people come to me saying, “Oh, we need more family time.” And on the weekend, we have to take the whole day and have a family day, and go for a bike ride, and yes, all that is wonderful. But sometimes you're in a season of life where that's not feasible and you have to accept that. You have to find the fun where it is, because, trust me, a 30 minute trip with a grumpy teenager in the front seat who's on their phone and me on a work call is not good, and so we didn't do that. My daughter is banned from being on the phone when she's in the car. She has to talk to me. We have to listen to music. I don't make work calls if I can help her, unless it's absolutely urgent, because I don't need to. I want to actually spend that time connecting.
So there's some observations about my time. And again, these can be relevant, whether you are going through a single parenting stint, or are a permanent single parent, or there happen to be two parents in your relationship, because these apply to everyone. Because, we're all human. So, let me share with you the tools that I lent into, in order to break some of these cycles. But also going into this period knowing what was going to be feasible, and how to ensure that I didn't beat myself up. Because it's madness to expect me to adhere to the same standards, or the same anything, when my circumstances have changed.
So, I have to be realistic. Now, I have this concept that I call, “Adjusting the bar.” And as high achievers, as a recovering perfectionist, it can be very easy for us to say, “Right, I'm single parenting.” ‘Now I'm going to prove I can do it all.” “I'm going to cook everything from scratch, and we're going to do this, and the house is going to be perfect.” “I'm going to do this for work.” And we hold this crazy bar so high, that we can never meet it, and we end up beating ourselves up the whole time.
So, I look at my week every week and go, “Right, where is the bar?” For example, “What are we going to eat?” Those of you that know me know that I hate cooking. It's one of the last things I want to do. So I went, “You know what?” “Cooking is the one thing that can go.” “If I'm short on time, that can go.”
My daughter loves chicken and fish in the air fryer. It takes 15 minutes, she can do it herself, and it can even be a dinner. Literally, chicken and fish, it's protein. I'm happy. It goes in a bowl and she eats it in the car, because we're usually going to pick up her older sister somewhere. And then there was sushi purchased. There were various shortcuts. I'd bulk cook one night, and we’d eat it for three nights. And the girls go, “Sausages again?” “Yes, because I cooked a double batch last night, and I'm not cooking again.”
So was it the most balanced of, let's say, menu for the week? We ate vegetables a couple of times, we ate fruit. But, you know, if a nutritionist would look at our diet for the week, they’d go, “Hmm.” There actually wasn't as much takeaway as the girls thought there was going to be, which was quite interesting, because the moment my husband said he was going away, the girls were like, “Yeah, take away!” They had bets on how many nights that we'd be having take-away, while Mick was away.
So, I adjusted the bar on food, as an example. And there were other things that I adjusted the bar on, in my expectations about how the house would look, or the expectations of various things. But there were some bars that I decided not to adjust. Or I adjusted in the counter-intuitive direction, which is tool number two that I lent into. And that is adjusting the bar up, when it came to my self care.
This may be counterintuitive to you, because usually what happens is we go, “Oh my gosh, it's so busy, and I normally work more than 20 hours a week, which is pretty much all I had between school hours.” So you would think, all right, well, she's going to spend every waking second working when she's not driving around, ubering or parenting. But in actual fact I went. I have to be more on, I have to be more focused, and it's so important, if I'm the only grown up here, that I am whole and I am not grumpy and I'm not depleted, because it is easier to do that when you are doing all the things.
So, I increased my bar for self care. And by that I mean, I walk the dog every day. Something that I got to do, not something that I had to do. I still played netball on the weekends, despite the fact that I may have had to drop a child off to a party early, and some other child had to go somewhere else. Didn't matter. I was going to do my thing. I wasn't going to give up my things. I did a float tank at a local spa. I had wine with girlfriends. I enjoyed my time, because I knew that this wasn't about sacrificing me for the sake of work. Because if I am no good, my work is going to be no good.
I'm no good to my clients if I'm depleted. If I'm on a call with them, and I'm helping them have a breakthrough. I'm helping them shift through something, and I'm sitting here depleted. I'm giving them some advice to take care of themselves. Meanwhile, I'm not taking care of myself. That own advice is incredibly hypocritical, and out of integrity with everything I stand for. So, I increased my self-care, and it was what got me through it. And that self-care sometimes even looked like, finding in my bathroom, a really nice, beautiful shower gel, that I had from a retreat last year and I hadn't opened it yet, and I went. You know what, while he's gone, I'm going to really enjoy my showers. I'm going to make this a time for pampering. I'm going to make this a time for me to nurture my mind, body and spirit. So that's what I did.
So if you're in a circumstance of any kind, whether it's a busy season, a chaotic season, a time of life, a time of year, whatever it is, I strongly suggest that you invest more in yourself, and that's invest more time, invest more energy. And sometimes you need to invest more money. I mean, walking the dog doesn't cost anything, but going from massages and these things. They cost money because that's what keeps me sane. So you work according to your budget. But I don't want you to think that you go even further down the bottom of the list and you have to lean in and absolutely prove that you can take care of everybody else. That doesn't work and it's not helpful for anybody.
And the last piece that really builds and underpins these other tools around adjusting the bar, and increasing my self care, is I lent really hard into the emotional state of acceptance. You may have also heard it called surrender. Key clarification is this doesn't mean I settled, that I became mediocre or I gave up, which is what a lot of people can interpret this word to mean. What I mean by acceptance is that I looked at my diary and went okay, I can't do as many courses as I normally would do. I'm not going to fight that. I'm not going to make it mean that I'm going backwards in my business or that I've got no time for me, or that it's all on me and I'm not going to have any time, and I didn't really go into this big story and narrative because it wasn't going to serve me in acceptance.
How this looked on some evenings, we were lucky that I was single parenting during the World Cup. So, we had lots of amazing football to watch, and that ended up being really good quality time. But sometimes we found ourselves on a Friday night after coming back from an activity, and everybody was in separate rooms on separate devices, at seven o'clock. Having had takeaway that night, and rather than thinking, “Oh, I need to have family time.” I've accepted the fact that we've had a really busy week. Right now, everyone needs to be alone, and everybody needs to watch or do something that is going to refuel them, and make them feel good, rather than forcing us to have this contrived Kumbaya time, that wasn't serving anybody. I accepted that this was how it was going to be. I accepted listening to a whole lot of Taylor Swift in the car, because at the moment, that's the only thing that's on rotation.
When you fight, it's the definition of suffering, and it's so easy to fall into this trap of having to walk the dog every day and, “Oh my God, I've got to do it again, and I've got to do it again.” “And then I have to drive the kids to dancing, and I have to do drop-off, and I have to do pick-up, and I have to reduce my hours, and I have to do it, and this life of obligation is incredibly exhausting.”
So, my circumstances didn't change. True. It is 100% the truth that I had to walk the dog every day, but instead of getting into an accepting mindset, it was not that I had to walk the dog every day, but that I got to walk the dog every day. I got sunshine, I would find beautiful flowers, I would get outside, I would move my body, all kinds of ideas would drop in while I was doing this. So I went okay, this is my life for three and a half weeks. Not a problem, I'm not going to fight it.
And usually when we are suffering in our lives, which means we're stressed and we're overwhelmed and we're exhausted, it's because we're not accepting what is, we're not accepting the chaos, we're not accepting the crazy. And it doesn't mean that I didn't want it to be different. Of course I would love to not have to walk the dog every day and of course I would like somebody else to do some driving and of course I would love somebody else to cook. That's my thing. But that doesn't mean that in that moment I carried all that emotional pollution and made a whole lot of meaning out of it. So when you can learn to put these things down and simply accept your circumstance and hold that duality of yes, I can accept that I get to walk the dog and I get to cook and I get to do all these things with the kids, and I'm looking forward to the time when he's home and I don't have to cook and I don't always have to do pickup and I can lean more into my work. I can hold both of those.
It doesn't make me mediocre. It doesn't mean that I'm settling. It doesn't mean that I'm not striving. It's a way to put things down and find lightness. It's a way to be present in the moment and it's a way to have a hell of a lot more fun because I'm not grumpy and nagging and short-tempered, because I didn't want it to be this way. So they are some of my favourite tools that I lean into on a regular basis anyway, but they were ones that I absolutely, over this period, had to lean into more, so I had to adjust the bar.
Now, the keyword here is, I didn't drop the bar, because that is loaded, and that comes with a settling, mediocre, reducing of my expectations. Why would I ever do that? Of course, I want to feed my children healthy food. Yeah, of course I do. But in that moment, I gave myself a whole lot of grace, and decided what my priorities were. And I was more concerned with my emotional health, and their emotional health, than I was whether or not they ate four or six florets of broccoli. I pick my battles, I increased my self care, I invested in myself, and the most important things we can do is invest in ourselves are time and energy. So, yes, sometimes there's money. But that time and energy are the things that I absolutely had to put in. And I found things to invest in myself that I was already doing. “So, I'm already taking a shower.” “Why not make that shower feel a little bit special for that time?”
And then I accepted my fate. I understood that this was a short period of time. Of course, if this was my permanent circumstances, I would make some changes. Our lives would have to look different, and that's okay, but I accepted what it was holding in the duality of yes, I can accept this, and I'm also looking forward to the time when it would be different, and that makes for a much, much easier life. So I hope you've tamed a nugget out of this.
I said, regardless of your circumstances, single parenting is a tough deal. It's a tough gig. So, if you are a single parent part of the time, all of the time, I salute you. It is not easy. But learning, and having a toolkit that fuels you, and making sure that you have something left in the tank at the end of the day, is even more important when everything relies on you.
I get so many single parents, single women, who come to me saying oh, you know, I need to put everything on the kids, so yeah, but if your health goes and you can't work, what happens? Oh yeah, if you're grumpy all the time, what type of relationship are you going to have with your child? Oh yeah, what happens if you get sick and your child has to go live with the other parents? Sometimes you don't want that to be the case, oh yeah. So actually investing in yourself, putting time and energy and filling your cup is the best thing you can do for your career, for your kids and, most importantly, for yourself.
So, regardless of your circumstances, I would love you to take one of my tools or start observing yourself. Are you doom scrolling? Are you lacking creativity? Is there not enough fun in your life, and how can you use some of these tools and some of these tips to make a change today that's going to make your life that much better for you and everyone in it.
OUTRO: Thank you for joining us today on the Balance and Beyond Podcast. We're so glad you carved out this time for yourself. If you enjoyed this episode, please share it with a friend who might need to hear this today. And if you're feeling extra generous, leaving us a review on your podcast platform of choice would mean the world. If you’re keen to dive deeper into our world, visit us at www.balanceinstitute.com to discover more about the toolkit that has helped thousands of women avoid burnout and create a life of balance, and beyond. Thanks again for tuning in, and we'll see you next time on the Balance & Beyond Podcast.
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