Today, researchers claim that nearly 40% of children under 21 are being raised by single parents. The majority of those parents (up to 83%) are single mothers. Consistently over the past few years, about a third of mothers with a newborn infant are single (either unmarried, divorced, or widowed).
But statistics don’t really help you feel better about mothering alone.
In addition to the monumental task of raising children and earning a living, there’s the grief, abandonment, bitterness, anxiety, and/or hopelessness of shouldering the massive responsibility of providing a positive culture where your children can grow up emotionally and spiritually healthy.
I am not a single mother, but I was raised by a single mother. In 1969, when my mom was widowed, I doubt if she knew one other living soul who was parenting alone. I was only one of two children in my elementary classes who had a single parent, and both of our parents were widowed. Society then didn’t understand the effects of single parenting on parents or children. (I’m not convinced that the issue is understood any better now, for all the research on it.)
My childhood experience is no longer unusual. If you are a single mother, your children are not an anomaly. Today, half of all children will experience the divorce of their parents, and half of those kids will experience a parent’s second divorce.
If you are a single mother, you are most likely divorced (only 7% of you are widowed), and you have numerous friends or co-workers in similar situations. So you are not without company.
But I’ll bet you still feel alone.
Here’s some advice for mothering alone, from a kid who grew up without any father figure whatsoever:
1. Find role models and mentors for your children. Give your kids perspective, another voice you trust that’s not your own. For reasons beyond your control, your kids will stop listening to you on occasion, so you need to make sure they are listening to the right voice when they’re not hearing you.
In Acts 16-17, Paul arrives in Lystra to preach and meets a godly young man named Timothy, who was raised to believe in God by the influence of his mother and grandmother. His father was apparently an unbeliever. By the next chapter, Paul has taken Timothy under his mentor-ship. Timothy travels with Paul and becomes a leader in the church. Paul calls him “my son Timothy.” In two letters specifically addressed to Timothy, Paul counsels him on his physical, emotional, and spiritual health, as well as his leadership. Find some “Pauls” for your kids.
2. Live in community. Don’t be afraid to socialize with healthy, in-tact families, as well as single-parented families. If your kids don’t see marriages working, they won’t know how to be a married person. I know this is awkward, hard, and undesirable. Watching marriages that work may make you feel angry, bitter, and embarrassed. Don’t be! Find a community to join that loves you for who you are. The best place for this is a good church, because this is how the church was designed to work. The church community was designed for encouragement, not judgment.
James addresses true religion and the single mother issue in the very first church, with this provocative command: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” (And by the world’s philosophies about single living, I would add.)
3. Get a mentor (or counselor) for yourself. (I know, like you have time for that.) Make time. You need a place to dump, vent, get advice, and get perspective (and your other single parent friends, while sympathetic, will not be able to give this to you). Your soul-mates and confidantes should NOT be your children. Your burdens are too heavy for them to bear, even if they are mature for their age, are college students, or are married. They already carry baggage from growing up in a single-parent home. They cannot handle your emotions, even though they might want to. One of the most damaging, long-term results of children of divorce comes from having to grow up too early because their parents needed parenting, or at least befriending. I can honestly say that my mom never once, in my whole life, complained about being single or shared the burden of being single with me. I’m sure it’s why I grew up without the burden of guilt or bitterness concerning our family culture.
James also reminds us, “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault.” (Jms. 1:5) Our trials are producing patience and endurance, if we go to the source of wisdom while we endure the difficulties.
4. Don’t put your kids in the middle of your “ex” relationship. Don’t play tug-of-war. Don’t vie for their affections. Don’t make them choose sides. (I know, this is WAY harder than it sounds.) Take the long look for them—what will help them become balanced, healthy adults? If you have an irresponsible ex, you don’t have to tell your children. (They know.) But they still want a relationship with both of their parents. It helps them to heal. So be the better person. You are modeling for your children how to forgive and thrive (two valuable life skills) when life isn’t fair. And if your ex has an unhealthy or ungodly lifestyle, you will have to engage in honest but grace-filled conversations about what you’re willing to expose your children to. Your relationship with them will need to be honest and non-judgmental if you expect them to keep you in the loop about what happens at Dad’s house.
Ephesians 5 talks about relationships. Paul admonishes believers to choose carefully how to live—“not as unwise, but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” (Eph. 5:15-17)
5. Be wary of a love life. I’m not saying you shouldn’t remarry or can’t remarry or aren’t entitled to remarry. I’m saying that many a child sustained longterm emotional trauma because a parent remarried too early, remarried the wrong person, etc. (“The Brady Bunch” and “Modern Family” were written for television. They are not real life.)
1 Corinthians 7, Paul talks about the struggle of celibacy and discusses the benefits of marriage and singlehood. The issue for Paul—and for all of us—is that regardless of our marital status, our life’s goal should be “to live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord.” (1 Cor. 7:35) My goal, regardless of my marital status, should be to glorify the Lord.
Single parenting is a courageous undertaking. A noble calling–godly mothering absolutely commences generational transformation.
Paul invested years into developing Timothy into a strong Christian leader, who pastored the church at Ephesus. Yet Paul credits Timothy’s spiritual character to his formative years, overseen by his mother and grandmother. “I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also.” (2 Tim. 1:5)
God never intended for us to mother alone. With friends and family around us, mothering can yield dramatic and effective change.
image from Lift Up Your Day
Check out statistics at these sources: http://www.children-and-divorce.com/children-divorce-statistics.html, https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/series/sr_21/sr21_046.pdf, http://www.aacap.org/AACAP/Families_and_Youth/Facts_for_Families/FFF-Guide/Children-and-Divorce-001.aspx