In my daily life I have to continually refocus my efforts on the essentials. It’s an ongoing process of learning the difference between what I should do and what I can do.

My friends, family and therapist have to remind me of this often. I tend to think that I should be able to accomplish and stay on top of an unreasonable amount of projects and responsibilities.

The theme on The Art of Simple this month is “back to the basics.” I’m no expert, but when I think about the basics of single parenting, I think of two things: community and self-care. As always, I realize these can apply beyond the realm single parenting, but that’s my focus here.

Community for Single Parents

In the community department, I am blessed beyond belief. It blows my mind. I didn’t always have such incredible people around me and I don’t take it for granted. No generosity goes unnoticed and unappreciated by me.

When I moved and started a new job last fall, a family from my church surprised me by bringing over groceries and homemade frozen meals I could heat up as needed. Even now, I bring my laundry and do a load at a friend’s house when I come over for our mother’s group. It may seem small, but for me, the significance is huge.

Of course the value of community goes beyond babysitting and practical help. We all need friends and emotional support. It’s healthy. It’s beautiful. Let yourself crave it. Seek it out til you’ve got it.

1) Accept you can’t do this alone.

This is easier said than done, I know. But, accept that you can’t do it alone. And also, that it’s okay that you can’t do it alone. Parents in all kinds of circumstances need help and support. Let me say it again, it is okay that you can’t do it alone. (I think that second time was for me…)

2) Cultivate relationships with trust.

One of the biggest challenges for me in terms of parenting in general and single parenting in particular was learning to receive and ask for help. I was used to being the one who helped others but didn’t need other people to be there for me.

It was a necessary adjustment. The big shift came when I knew I could trust the friends in my life to say ‘no’ if they were unable to help. Cultivating this level of trust changed everything. I knew I could ask for help and that they didn’t resent my request.

They had offered help. They meant it. They would communicate with me honestly and I didn’t have to be afraid of being too needy.

It’s imperative to cultivate relationships where you can trust they mean it when they offer help and you can trust that they will say no if they can’t help you out joyfully. You need people in your life whom you can freely ask for help and who will set the boundaries they need. This is so important for both of you.

3) Communicate with the people in your life.

Communicate appreciation of practical help. Express gratitude for time spent just sharing about struggles and challenges. Ask for feedback about the best way to communicate ways you need help.

For example, would a request for babysitting be better two weeks ahead of time via email and not by text? Or maybe another friend is totally fine with last minute requests.

Maybe your friend is in a season where they don’t have free time now, but that doesn’t mean they don’t ever want to be there for you in the future.

Talk about it. Don’t make assumptions. Let it be out in the open. This also helps build and maintain trust and depth with your community.

Self-care for Single Parents

In the community department, I may excel… But in the self-care department, I get an F. I didn’t get a hair cut for almost a year. I once went 48 hours consuming only coffee and cookies. It’s huge progress that I now work out twice a month.

I don’t have any cool bullet points or numbered steps to tell you how to get all your ducks in a row. I’m the trenches trying to figure it out, too. But, the point is that I’m making progress. So, high five to me. And high five to you, if you too are taking baby steps toward healthy self-care.

Self-care includes the obvious like nutrition, exercise, and hygiene. But it also includes your social, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual needs.

Single parents can make good martyrs. Let’s change that. If you’re a single parent, you probably know what areas of self-care you’re neglecting. And, I get it. It’s hard. There’s so much to do and you’ll probably never get to it all. That’s reality. I don’t like it. But people keep telling me it’s true.

So, don’t try to work on every area at once. Pick one thing you can work on today, or this month.

If you’re a single parent, your margin of “free time” is likely minimal to nonexistent. So, think of one thing you can make a step forward in. Maybe that’s spending 20 minutes journaling. Maybe that’s setting up a therapy or counseling appointment. Maybe it’s asking a friend to babysit so you can do something fun on the weekend one evening. Maybe it’s eating a salad instead of only cookies.

Just do something to take care of yourself today.

How have you experienced the benefits of community and self-care as a parent? And what can you do today to make even tiny progress in these areas?