Flight, fight, freeze, or fawn—which one are you, and which one is your child?
Everyone reacts differently to pain. You might have one child who runs for protection, another who tries to be strong and fight her way through life in order not to be hurt again, and another who feels depressed. You may have one who struggles with addiction.
Whatever the case, your own reaction to trauma may look very different than your child’s. And if you have multiple children, you will most likely be navigating their different ways of getting through while you stand, puzzled and unsure of what to do to help them.
By nature, I’m flight or fawn. But, I had to learn response rather than reaction during the worst pain of my life.
There is one kind of pain when your spouse packs his bags and dates a sixteen year old girl; there is another kind of pain when he takes your four children right into that mess and you get to spend a weekend alone wondering if they’re okay.
There is divorce, then there is UGLY divorce. Mine was the latter.
Let me just tell you that being forced to send my children into a bad environment was almost more than I could handle.
The children were reeling and emotional trauma took on a whole new meaning.
Single mom, I want you to know that you may have to go to plan B when it comes to raising your children. Never impose your “perfect” scenario onto a situation that is so messed up you will only do more damage if you insist on the way you’ve always done. Allow God to come into plan B and show you alternative ways of handling situations that don’t seem as good as your plan A, but that are definitely best in the situation at hand.
Don’t despair, never give up, hold steady, and always, always put your children first. Remember that grief has no time-line, and after four years you may hear a child say that he or she is only now fully grieving. Trauma can lock the brain–and when others think “he/she “should” be healed, they may only now be able to face facts enough to begin healing.
Refuse to compare and remember to walk patiently with no expectations except constant prayer for your children.
1. Respond rather than react.
When it comes to reaction, let that be your children while you hold the line of mature response. They are not able to process what happens and desperately need you to be there, 24/7 in a calm, steady way.
At this point, even seeing you in your kitchen making them lunch or dinner can help them feel steady. Any routines you had before need to stay if at all possible. Keep your home tidy, keep food on the table, and keep spending time with your children as you always did.
If you need to go to work as I did, make sure your left over time is dedicated to your children. Go out of your way to be there for them. When you have your children, it should be all about mothering them and creating an environment that is as close to the previous one as possible.
Please don’t be one of those moms who starts drinking too much, dates prematurely, and tries to drown her own sorrow with less than Godly pleasure. Your children need to see you lean into the Lord and getting your comfort from Him and from healthy people. I’m here to tell you, regardless of how long and difficult your days and nights feel, choosing rightly will only help you.
There is enough trying to pull you down, but the honest truth is—no one but you can wreck your life. This is a time to be on guard even more than before. Don’t let yourself be your greatest disaster. I cannot stress this enough—CHOOSE RIGHTLY.
Because here’s the beautiful truth: every hard thing God asks of us ends up creating the most beautiful thing.
Girl, you can run after what you think will heal you, but your soul won’t find rest until it stops to rest in Christ.
2. Surround yourself with Community
Mothers, keep attending the same church you attended before. Don’t run, hide, or try to play life as if nothing’s happening. The only time to switch churches is if things are truly better for you elsewhere. Don’t change out of embarrassment, shame, or a need to hide what is going on in your life. Again, keep things steady for your children.
3. Learn what each child needs.
Single moms need to re-evaluate every part of their parenting in light of what their children are going through.
One year, I had a child who wanted to do online school at home. I decided to let her try, thinking maybe the social pressure at school was too much for her. I registered her for online school, but oddly, nothing worked out and I had to tell her she needed to go to school. In a few weeks she was bubbling with anticipation for cross country, getting up at 5:00 in the morning to prep for her 6:00 practice at school, and asking me to take her shopping for supportive shoes. I had to switch gears quickly, do lots of paperwork, run her to the dr. for a physical at last minute, and drive her to school at 5:45 each morning for practice.
It was a lot, but the sudden joy and motivation on her face let me know it was right. Physical exercise is one of the greatest combatants for depression and anxiety. The same opportunity would not have happened at home, so this is a good example of staying open to various options. Only God knows what is truly best for your child.
4. Make good use of mentors.
My boys needed more than just me. Daily, I was keenly aware that raising boys couldn’t be done on my own. It wasn’t always easy to ask that family if my youngest child could come over for the day. But I knew he needed animals, four wheelers, and a houseful of boys with two healthy parents, so I asked multiple times in order to get him into that environment.
This couple knew what my son needed and gladly took him even though it wasn’t always convenient. And when they asked how they could help, my response usually was, “Pray, and spend time with my boys.”
A younger son will need play dates and time with a healthy father, even if it’s someone else’s father. He needs to feel what it’s like to be “one of the boys” on a manly adventure. Here is where the church comes in—single moms need families who reach out to invite their children to join them in active, fun, and meaningful things. This is one of the best ways you will ever help. It may seem small to you, but it will be big to a single mother.
An older son may need mentorship in extensive ways. Teen boys desperately need adult men to come alongside them and give of their time, energy, wisdom, and resources. To those who’ve done it for my boys, I cannot thank them enough.
Single moms may need finances, but even more, they need family. To the ones who showed up for my boys when I was begging God for it—you will never know what an answer to prayer you were, or how you impacted our lives.
5. Learn to recognize symptoms.
Do you have an angry child?
Let me tell you, what he/she is fussing over isn’t the real issue. This child is in ‘fight’ mode to protect him/herself from being hurt more. Learn to look past the angry voice and ask deeper questions. Do it in the moment to help them see you care more about the real issue than about the anger shown in the moment. Probe deeper and never walk away without showing you care, even when you want to protect yourself from anger. (This is me, and I’m still learning this one).
You may well find your angriest child melting into your arms crying vulnerable tears and telling you what’s really going on. Or, you may have one who is just angry for awhile. This takes a lot of strength to get through and you will need every possible resource to help both you and your child regain emotional clarity.
Though you show understanding for your child, never excuse ugly behavior. Your child needs to know, no matter how much they’re hurting, it is never right to hurt others because of it. Talk to them often of ownership and how no one can ever ruin their lives. Listen carefully to their feelings but always, always steer them away from a victim mentality.
This may look like listening one day, holding them, and just being there. Another day it might look like having them spend time with other adults who can help them. There is no pat answer here. Single moms with traumatized children need endurance, patience, wisdom, and a whole lot of daily faithfulness in order to keep providing stability for their children as best they are able.
There’s much to be said, but for now, dear single mom—keep your head up and know this is not the end of the story. And when you can’t hold on any longer, God holds you longest.
“Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love Him.”
James 1:12, NIV