What is She Thinking? The Trauma Effects Single Parents Experience

The change of relationship status to becoming a single parent often sets off a series of traumatic events in a newly solo parent’s life. We look at what’s happening inside her brain and body as she experiences this trauma.

What is she thinking?

How often have you watched a single mom’s actions and asked that question? As a solo parent, how often have you watched your own actions and asked, “What was I thinking”?

More often than not, becoming a single parent was not on your calendar.

Most solo parents began in a committed relationship and never anticipated raising a child alone.

The unwanted companion to becoming a solo parent is the trauma that frequently accompanies this change in relationship status. 

what’s happening inside your brain

The tricky part about trauma is how our body reacts. In a naturally 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, or freeze mechanism takes over, while the thinking part of our brain is disconnected. 

Related: 7 Lies Single Moms Believe and the Truth that Sets Them Free

That flight, fight, or freeze part of the brain, the amygdala, is adjacent to the memory-making department, which is why a smell, sound, or taste can trigger an unwanted ricochet back to the trauma we prefer not to recall.

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.

With the cerebrum, our brain’s reasoning aspect offline, we merely react rather than thoughtfully respond. We are not thinking.

And because trauma can be a regular occurrence, we continue to react rather than reason. Severed relationships frequently are the catalyst for a continuing list of other traumas, including loss of identity, relocation, change in finances, new job, legal issues, unexpected cruelty, and broken hearts for our child and us. 

For some, this upheaval can occur over a year or two before a new normal settles in. For others, particularly when there are emotional or mental complications, the turmoil is perpetual, keeping life off balance and the amygdala’s fight, flight, or freeze 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.

Related: ABCs of Single Parenting: 26 Things Single Parents Will Experience

The Solution To Reacting to Trauma

Recognizing that we are reacting rather than responding is step one. Jeanne Zehr of Mind Cap Cognitive Advantage Program recommends investing a few minutes to do square breathing. 

This practice relieves stress and heightens concentration and performance.  

Square Breathing

  1. Begin by slowly exhaling all of your air out of your lungs.
  2. Gently inhale through your nose to a slow count of four.
  3. Hold at the top of the breath for a count of four.
  4. Gently exhale through your mouth for a count of four.
  5. At the bottom of the breath, pause and hold for a count of four.
  6. Repeat this cycle several times until you feel your body calm and your heart slow.

Related: Single Mama, Are You Giving Yourself a Break?

Naming Your Feelings

Researcher and vulnerability expert Brene Brown learned to name her feelings.

In painful situations, recognizing aloud, “This hurts,” triggers the cerebrum to reengage. 

In her book, Daring Greatly, Brown writes, “Shame resilience is the ability to say, ‘This hurts. This is disappointing, maybe even devastating. But success and recognition, and approval are not the values that drive me. My value is courage, and I was just courageous. You can move on, shame.'”

Making Good Decisions Again

All parents need the ability and skills to make wise, discerning decisions. Single moms often feel too overwhelmed to focus and be decisive when they most need to. Decision-making is critical in the best of circumstances, and the process becomes daunting for a solo parent.

Related: Feeling Overwhelmed? One Tip to Feel Better Now

The good news is that we are affected by others’ decisions as well as our own, yet 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, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you,”

James 5:1 NIV.

Healthy decisions create a healthier life. 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 be calm because you can only control yourself, 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 its essential job. 

Pause for a moment, breathe, and ask yourself, “What am I thinking?” Then, prayerfully ask, “What is the next right thing to do?”

History buff, tropical island votary, PeggySue Wells parasails, skydives, snorkels, scuba dives, and has taken (but not passed) pilot training. Writing from the 100-Acre wood in Indiana, PeggySue is the bestselling author of 29 books, translated into eight languages, including The Slave Across the Street, Slavery in the Land of the Free, Bonding With Your Child Through Boundaries, Homeless for the Holidays, Chasing Sunrise, and The Ten Best Decisions A Single Mom Can Make.Radio talk show host, author, and speaker, she interviews industry experts, entrepreneurs, and exceptional voices to help people live better, together. Connect with PeggySue on Facebook, Linked In, Single Mom Circle.com, and at  [email protected]

What is She Thinking? The Trauma Effects Single Parents Experience