“What is she thinking!”
How often have you watched a single mom’s actions and asked, “What is she thinking?” As a solo parent, how often have you observed your own actions and asked, “What was I thinking?”
All parents need the ability and skills to make wise, discerning decisions. Single parents have the same concerns, dreams, and hopes as other parents. Yet, single moms often feel too overwhelmed to focus and being decisive feels completely out of reach. There is a reason for the inability to make good decisions when we most need to.
Triggered By Trauma
More often than not, becoming a single parent was not part of your plan for your happily ever after. Most solo parents began in a committed relationship and never anticipated raising a child alone. Your significant relationship is gone, replaced by the trauma that almost always accompanies this life-altering change in relationship status.
Complicating an already complicated situation is the way our body responds to this shock to our system. Trauma disables the reasoning ability of the brain. In a natural occurring sequence, trauma causes the thinking part of our brain – the cerebrum located in the front of our head – to go offline.
In an emergency, the flight, fight, freeze, or please mechanism takes control while the thinking section of our brain is disconnected. That flight, fight, freeze, or please part of the brain, the amygdala, is adjacent to the memory-making department. That is why a place, smell, sound, taste, or texture can resurrect a memory linked to something we’ve buried deep in hopes of not recalling to remembrance.
Fight, Flight, Freeze, Or Please
For the single mom, trauma is rarely a singular event but can be a regular occurrence. The loss of what would have been a lifetime relationship frequently triggers a continuing list of additional crises including loss of identity, relocation, financial upset, employment changes, multi-layered legal issues, and cruel betrayals. In the wake of this devastation are broken hearts for your child and you.
For some, this upheaval can take place over a year or two before the crisis settles into a new normal. However, in the presence of emotional or mental complications, the turmoil is perpetual, keeping life off kilter and the amygdala’s fight, flight, freeze, or please protective mechanism in our brains on constant alert.
The problem is that while our emergency system is activated, our thinking and reasoning system is not.
When we see ourselves or another single mom, or her child, doing something that clearly doesn’t look smart, the truth is we are not thinking at all. When the cerebrum, the reasoning function of the brain offline, we automatically react instead of thoughtfully respond.
We are not thinking. Because we cannot.
Our Child’s Brain
Children in trauma typically find themselves regular visitors to the school principal’s office. This pattern perpetuates the myth that single moms are poor parents. In truth, trauma in children shows up as behavior issues.
Experts know, bad behavior is not an indication of a bad kid. Nor are behavior issues in a child indicative of inadequate parenting. Instead, bad behavior often is symptomatic of a child with a broken heart.
The Solution To Make Good Decisions
For the single mom, recognizing that we are reacting rather than responding is step one. You can try this technique used by military special forces for just a few minutes. This practice relieves stress and heightens concentration and performance.
- Begin by slowly exhaling all of the air out of your lungs.
- Gently inhale through your nose to a slow count of four.
- Hold at the top of the breath for a count of four.
- Gently exhale through your mouth for a count of four.
- At the bottom of the breath, pause and hold for a count of four.
- Repeat this cycle several times until you feel your body calm, and your heart slow.
All parents need the ability and skills to make wise, discerning decisions. Single moms frequently feel overwhelmed, struggling to stay focused and make decisions precisely when they’re most crucial. Decision-making is critical in the best of circumstances, and the process becomes daunting for a solo parent.
While we are affected by decisions made by others as well as the decisions we make ourselves, the good news is that God is sovereign. True to His promises, He guides us to make wise decisions today that positively impact us, our family, and our community. “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. James 1:5.
Healthy decisions create a healthier life. Those times when you feel worried and churned up inside, these feelings point to the need to make a decision. Once you make a healthy decision, your emotions calm.
Making good choices does not always mean your life will calm. After all, you can only control you, your attitudes, and your actions. You cannot control anyone else. Thankfully, as you continue to make wise decisions, one by one, you set a stronger life path for you and your child.
Eventually, you become so patterned in making positive decisions that making the next right choice becomes a habit. Healthy decisions become steppingstones to a more emotionally peaceful and spiritually fortified life.
The first step is to get the thinking part of our brain, the cerebrum, back to doing it’s important job. Pause for a moment, breathe, and ask yourself, “What am I thinking?” Then, prayerfully ask, “What is the next right thing to do?”
35,000 Daily Decisions
A life of integrity begins by just doing the next right thing. Behavior has consequences – positive and negative. Every day we make more than 35,000 decisions. From what to wear to what to say, the decisions we make – even good ones – compound over time and impact those around us.
With so many choices each day, no wonder we experience decision fatigue which shows up at the end of the day when we are most likely to fudge on our smart eating program, skip our exercise routine, or make that impulse purchase.
To protect mental clarity, avoid decision fatigue by automating routine decisions. Knowing the style you wear, what you will and won’t eat, and how you will treat others makes the decision once and for all. Knowing what we will and won’t do ahead of time reduces the number of choices we make each day and provides wise guidelines for the decisions that constantly present themselves.
Steps To Make Good Decisions
But what about the choices that are not automatic? How do we make good decisions? From the book, The Ten Best Decisions A Single Mom Can Make, here are helps for making good decisions.
First, ask these questions regarding the decision you are considering:
- Does Scripture already give clear directions? Jesus distilled the Ten Commandments into two: love God and love people. Often, the easiest avenue to decide is to ask, what does love require of me in this setting?
- Is this problem mine to get involved in? Or is this decision clearly someone else’s responsibility? If I step in, am I taking over in a situation that does not belong to me?
- What is the next right thing to do? A complicated situation can usually be navigated by taking one next step at a time.
- Does this decision line up with healthy life principles and relationship boundaries? Does this decision protect the gifts God entrusted to me, and foster self-respect and self-care? Will this decision bring personal growth in my life?
- Is this decision a good example of what I teach my child? Would I encourage my best friends, my family members, and children to make a similar decision?
- Do the people I most respect agree with this decision? Have I asked my trusted friend, counselors, close family, and spiritual leaders for their insight and advice on this decision?
- How will life be different or improved if you say yes to this decision? How will life be different or improved if you say no?
Make A Pro/Con List
Second, make a pro and con list.
In one column, list reasons to take this course of action. On the other side, list why this is not a good idea.
Third, prioritize the reasons.
The Bible teaches that priorities lead to progress. “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom,” (Psalm 90:12 NIV). As you prioritize your thinking, wise decisions appear. Use an ABC system to assign an A to those vital reasons on the list. The supportive reasons get a B. C is for creative but not imperative reasons.
Compare Both Lists
Fourth, compare the high priority reasons from both lists.
Evaluate the A reasons for saying yes to the A reasons for choosing no. If there is a tie, move to the B reasons. One list may be longer, but quantity is no substitute for quality. To build clarity, prioritize the evidence and focus on A reasons.
Fifth, use The Brainstorm Test.
If you still cannot reach a solid decision. Gather the wise people in your life in person or on a video call so you have the best minds brainstorming together on your behalf. List every possible solution from your team and your imagination.
- Cross off the ridiculous.
- Eliminate ideas that don’t match your bank account, morals, timeline, current education, or skill level.
- Move possibilities to a Pro/Con list. Run new ideas through the Pro/Con exercise. You may see ideas that can become new goals, fresh possibilities to research, or options to investigate further.
These tests produce a system that allows you to make most decisions expediently and confidently. Even the most puzzling choices can be pursued with diligence, so a solution becomes evident.
God speaks through
- His Word
- wise counselors
- the Holy Spirit inside you
- these decision-making tests.
Listen. God’s good hand is on you as you journey ahead with his help. “Because the hand of the Lord my God was on me, I took courage,” (Ezra 7:28 NIV).
For more tips on making good decisions, check out The Ten Best Decisions A Single Mom Can Make by Pam Farrel and PeggySue Wells