Margin for the Single Parent

Margin

This weekend we had a wonderful dinner with old and new friends and I brought up the topic of “Margin” (see our post: MARGIN). It is one of my essential topics because so few people seem to have it in their lives. One of the participants suggested that it is especially challenging for single parents.

It struck me that maintaining margin is especially hard for single working parents and perhaps to a lesser degree, singles in general. The Bible states that two are better than one for the simple reason that they can help each other with life challenges. Tasks can be shared, someone is there to care for them during sickness, and often there may be two incomes sharing the financial burden.

Single parents frequently carry the whole load – finances, chauffering the kids, shopping, cooking, cleaning and disciplining. If there is to be any recreational time, they also have to play “cruise director”. When I suggest building margin into their lives they look at me like I just let my cheese slip off my cracker.

What can single parents do?

The first thing I can think of is to build relationships with others. There might be a tendency to isolate and try to do everything by oneself. Even just the company of others may bring some relief. Can you trade babysitting? You need to carve out time for yourself in any way that you can. Don’t use down time to clean – spend time with God and others.

Next, as hard as it may seem (and you might feel guilty), really limit the extracurricular commitments of your kids. Some kids are actually burdened by the quantity and expectations that come with being overly committed. Sometimes they will agree to activities solely to gain approval from their parent. Even if they feel disappointed by the limits placed upon their choices, they will feel even more let down by an irritable, impatient and overwhelmed parent. Train your kids to be a team with you in the household chores, but be reasonable and encouraging, not an angry taskmaster.

Set a realistic standard of living for yourself and your kids. Simplify. Do everything in your power to make the tasks that need to be performed as quick and easy as possible. Ruthlessly cut out complexity. Eliminate as much clutter as you can. Don’t become a world class “collector” and don’t let your kids become one either. Create systems that can be performed without thinking. Automate bills. Let friends know you are not available to text all day long. There are probably a million other ways to simplify life. What might you add to my list?

Lastly, give yourself grace. I can do finances and taxes easily. Nan would struggle. I would probably nuke every meal. Nan loves to cook and make food look appetizing. If you are single there’s only one person doing everything. Graciously ask for assistance or budget for tasks that overly challenge you if you are able.

Most importantly know that you are loved and that it’s likely that things will get better in time.

Building a Team With Wisdom

team

I have been thinking about team building – particularly in the context of relationships. I am always encouraging couples to be a team, but what am I really asking of them? Am I asking for agreement, holding the same opinions and conclusions on issues? What does it take to build a great team?

When my business partners got together to make decisions we didn’t always have the same perspective. We didn’t want to allocate money, resolve employee conflicts, or support vendors in the same way. But we got along really well. We lasted 27 years as associates with a pretty minimal amount of conflict and then dissolved our business with equanimity.

A functional team is cooperative, not contentious. All it takes is one hostile person to subvert progress. Disagreement is not hostility, it’s simply a different viewpoint. And a good team looks for diverse ways to approach situations. It’s actually what brings strength and innovation. But what makes the difference is in the presentation of opposing ideas.

Cooperative people would say:

“Have you thought about….” or “Could it be more effective if we……” or “Is it possible that we might try….” Or  “I’m seeing things in another way”

They tend to listen and validate the person even if they disagree with the perspective.

Contentious people might say:

“You’re just wrong” or “That’s a stupid idea” or “How could you even think…..”

They also tend to bring anger, blame, contempt or even disgust to discussions.

When couples function as a team they attack problems, but not each other. There may be elevated emotions, but they don’t lose sight of solving the issue as their goal. They remain friends in the process.

Churches are teams. Life groups (small groups) are teams. Corporate staffs are teams. Any group of people joined together to perform a task, reach a goal or build relationships are a team. When dealing with a volatile person, it’s helpful to know that their volatility or hostility may be a blind spot. What they feel is “normal” communication may appear to you or others as highly argumentative and oppositional. If they are able to receive constructive criticism you may win over a strong supporter. If not, you may need to either bring in a third party to help, or discontinue the relationship. That position is Biblical.

(Matthew 18:15-17) “If another believer sins against you, go privately and point out the offense. If the other person listens and confesses it, you have won that person back. 16 But if you are unsuccessful, take one or two others with you and go back again, so that everything you say may be confirmed by two or three witnesses. 17 If the person still refuses to listen, take your case to the church. Then if he or she won’t accept the church’s decision, treat that person as a pagan or a corrupt tax collector. 

What if you suspect you are the difficult person? It never hurts to check it out with a wise, safe person. Then go to those you may have offended, in humility, and ask forgiveness. It really works wonders. 

I’d also recommend watching this video clip from Henry Cloud when learning discernment about self or others: The Wise, The Foolish and The Evil

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ruoPQuePhV8&t=256s 

Drop us a line if you have any questions.

Emotional Ransomware

Ransomware

I recently got attacked by an Internet virus in the category called “ransomware”. It installs itself on your computer and encrypts all your files of certain types so they cannot be read. In my case it encrypted all my pictures, word processor, spreadsheet and pdf files. And yes, I went through the stages of grief. It is very insidious because it comes with a promise to restore files that were stolen from you – for a price. The rub, of course, is that you have to trust a criminal to follow through with what they promise. And eventually you will have to arrive at the conclusion: “Not likely.”

I wonder if there are also emotional equivalents in relationships. In the computer version, you believe you are allowing a legitimate program to install on your hard drive, usually in the form of a software or program update. In the emotional version you allow someone to install a program on your heart. And if that “program” has bad intentions or is damaged, it  steals your confidence, your dignity, your choices, or some other quality of life.

What ransom is being asked for by the thief? Perhaps it’s sex. Or it might be complete obedience or exclusivity. Maybe it’s a demand to accept bad behavior unconditionally like anger or criticism or manipulative crying or selfishness.

Breaking it down. What did I do wrong?

First, I was too fast to respond. I didn’t take my time and really pay attention and think through my actions. I ignored a little voice inside of me that asked “Are you sure?” Instead, I wanted to move ahead with the current task and so accepted what was interrupting my screen. Impatience can really get me in trouble sometimes.

Secondly, I was too trusting. I should not have accepted the request on face value without investigating further. I can be naïve. “No one would really try to harm me.” Really? So what are all those security programs for? Just because someone copied and pasted a logo doesn’t mean it’s authentic.

So when it comes to relationships are you impatient? Do you move ahead too quickly out of desire to move from “me” to “us”? As you got older did you feel the time was running out and so now you are not as cautious as you once were? Or maybe you have always been this way and need to reassess.

Are you too trusting and transparent and tend to open up completely when you should be observing and testing. Trust is not just supposed to be given unconditionally. It must be earned over time. Are you swayed by the company a person keeps assuming they are just as reliable? That’s the equivalent of a cut-and-pasted logo. Authenticity is not guaranteed.

A well known verse in the Bible says:

Proverbs 4:23 Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.

I think that’s the best advice of all!