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Five Tips to Avoid Drowning as a Single Parent

How one woman has learned to cope with raising five children—alone.

Somehow I missed the single-parent swimming lessons. I feel like someone just picked me up and threw me in the deep end—then threw five children on top of me! I'm a pretty strong swimmer, but I'd love someone to blow the whistle for a signal break so I can go sit in the hot tub.

This isn't the pool I'd planned on jumping into. I don't know if the pool analogy works for you, but I think it works well as a metaphor for my daily life of drowning in exhaustion, work, laundry, parenting, and paper. Occasionally I get a gulp of fresh air, but then I have to dive back down.

My body is tired of paddling. My mind is murky from too many decisions and too little sleep. My emotions are numb from trying to carry my children's pain and heartache as my own. My spiritual life is in an SOS state as I continually throw my hands up for help. So how do I get out of the pool? Or better yet—to the lounging chairs?

Here are five tips I've picked up over the years to help me cope when single parenting seems overwhelming:

1. Freestyle: Seek freedom from your expectations and those of others. Think instead of your favorite family times. I love when all six of us snuggle together and read a great book, talk for a little bit, play a game, and simply exist together. Granted, those nights usually end with dishes undone, laundry unsorted, and papers leaning precariously on the desk, but what sweet times they are. Not every night can be bliss, but allow yourself time to just be mom or dad without the pressure of completing the millions of tasks before you. We know everything will be waiting in the same place tomorrow.

So Christ has truly set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don't get tied up again in slavery to the law. -Galatians 5:1

2. Backstroke: Don't look back—focus ahead. What do you want for your family in six months, one year, five years or more? Do you have aspirations for yourself and your children? What memories and family traditions do you want to have with your children? Set some goals and plan some family time. There's hope for tomorrow!

No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us. -Philippians 3:13b-14

3. Breaststroke: When your head goes under and you have a bad day or month, get back above water again. The opportunities for blunders are boundless. Our children need to be secure in our love and the love of the Lord. This will cover a multitude of flubs. Hugs do wonders too.

So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. -Romans 8:1 Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins.
-1 Peter 4:8

4. Sidestroke: Find someone to come alongside you. There are people who have walked this path who can offer you guidance, encouragement, and support. There are friends who would love to help you. There are groups who can offer a venting venue. Allow yourself to be blessed by friendships!

Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other.
-1 John 4:11

5. Butterfly: Enjoy your life. Find things that bring smiles and send you flying above the water. Enjoy your children and the beauty they bring to your life. Realize that there are many things to be thankful for daily. Hold fast to the things that bring you joy and peace. Do not lose your joy in the midst of difficulties. There is beauty and love all around waiting to be found.

You have turned my mourning into joyful dancing. You have taken away my clothes of mourning and clothed me with joy, that I might sing praises to you and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give you thanks forever! -Psalm 30:11-12

I didn't choose to swim in the single-parenting-pool, but I do get to choose how I react to the water. Will I sink to the bottom in fear, frustration and failure, or will I rise to the surface in hope and joy? Will I teach my children to sink or swim when life gets tough?

I want to be such a strong single parent that I will be able to use my experience to be a lifeguard, and hope to help other single parents climb out of the deep end.

All praise to God, the father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. -2 Corinthians 1:3-4

What about you? In the midst of stress, bills, chores, jobs, and laundry, how do you keep your head above water?

Sue Birdseye is the author of When Happily Ever After Shatters released in March 2013 from Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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