By Stacey Monaco, Crosswalk.com
The needs of the single mother is a subject that can often bring forth deep passion and grappling as it applies to how the church as a missional group, and each individual follower of Christ, can fulfill the call to love in order to meet the needs of a solo parent family.
Over 8.6 single million women in the U.S. are currently raising almost 16 million children under the age of 18. The average income of these families is $45k, nearly half that of a two-parent family. A total of 4.1 million of these solo mother families register as low-income.
The challenges for a solo mother are far beyond the economic strata, and perhaps the greater obstacle they face is managing the finite resources of time and energy.
As a young mother, I experienced the difficulty of walking out the life of a single parent. Through friendships, church ministry, and my own family, I have also had the opportunity to love and care for other single mothers.
The day-to-day responsibilities that make up the job of caring for the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing of children can make any family feel that they are jugglers in a never-ending performance. For those attempting to juggle everything on their own, it can seem that balls are being thrown at them from every direction.
Here are seven secrets on how we can care for and dignify these single mothers as they seek to support and raise up the next generation.
Photo credit: © Getty Images/grinvalds
1. Employ Empathy and Avoid Sympathy
"Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ." Galatians 6:2
Solo parenting comes to a woman in a variety of ways. In a significant portion of families headed by a single mother, there is often some grief attached. It is important to begin at the very core of the matter, understanding that grief and trauma are present both within the mother and in the children in many cases. Often the solo parent and her children may have endured the loss of the partner parent through death, divorce, or some form of a broken relationship.
Whatever the dynamic of the single-mother household, it is essential to take good care that empathic understanding is present. It can be natural to experience sympathy when encountering the difficulties of a solo mother. It can also feel normal to want to jump in and solve her difficulties. However, it is crucial not to assume or generalize that all solo mothers are experiencing like grief.
Empathy avoids pity and dignifies the parent and her experience by seeking to step into a space of understanding her true feelings and actual need.
2. Listen Well
"Listening and trying to understand the needs of those we would communicate with seems to me to be the essential prerequisite of any real communication. And we might as well aim for real communication." Fred Rogers
To the woman who may be struggling just to get through the day, empathy may be most evidenced by a kindhearted friend with a listening ear.
Listening well is far more difficult than one might realize, but it is a primary component of a strong friendship and caring for others. Those who listen well seek to suspend answers that they may find forming in their mind as another is speaking, and to hear with heart and ear.
The most valuable help for any individual often comes in the form of true friendship that is formed over time. Listening without judgment or need to solve, and suspending the idea of being a savior, can facilitate true needs being expressed.
A solo parent is most honored when they are dignified in their role as a parent, and not seen as a project.
In many circumstances, those seeking to genuinely love and build a relationship with the solo mother may ultimately find that God also uses them as an answer to her needs. The solo parent may want to ask for what they need, and know that they are seen as a vital part of the community, not just a project to be completed.
Love is the first command, and God's love always dignifies first, and then when we are ready and at the right time, provides aid.
The church at large can offer aid through counseling, money management, coaching, after-school study help for children, financial aid, and solo parenting care groups. Those serving in these areas should be highly trained in the art of listening, and always aim at bringing honor and dignity alongside assistance.
3. Look to the Future Without Assumptions
The nature of humanity is such that almost every person we know has something in their life for which they are waiting. This sense of waiting may seem exponential for the single parent as they look at the long journey of faithfulness that raising a child to adulthood requires.
As with any parent, the solo mother wants to know that the future holds hope for her and the child or children she is raising. Walking empathically alongside women who parent alone will naturally result in a deeper understanding of her longings and needs.
There will be women who are waiting and hoping for a partner, and also those who have no desire to be in a relationship. There will be those trying to increase their earning potential, finish an education, get a promotion, achieve a dream, or brave an illness. These women are facing the same issues as dual-parent households; they are just doing it alone.
Coming alongside the solo mother and sitting with her in the hard "why" of the wait can be as simple as asking if you can pray for them, and as complicated as honestly admitting that waiting can be painful and hard.
If the timing is appropriate, and you have already formed a genuine relationship with the struggling mama, you can remind her that God is good, that she is seen, and that you are praying for her.
4. Know Their Children's Names
A key component of the Christian faith is the understanding that God knows each of us personally; in fact, Old Testament scripture declares that God says, "I have summoned you by name; you are mine," Isaiah 43:1.
Studies show that learning a child's name causes them to feel valued and welcomed into a community, while increasing empathy and positive behavior. Additionally, the main priority of the solo mother is the children growing up in her care. To dignify the children is to value the mother.
Just as it builds intimacy in our faith to know that God knows our name, the same is true when we value children highly enough to remember their names.
5. Give Fun
As noted earlier, the best way to ease the heavy load of the solo mother is by building authentic and long-lasting relationships. Likewise, the greatest antidote to the loneliness and difficulty that can come with living the life of a single parent is true friendship.
A good friendship always involves fun, and the solo mom and her kids definitely will benefit by being invited into playful and creative outings and activities.
Some of my most memorable times as a single mother involved camping at the beach alongside other families who helped me with the camping gear and tent pitching. My children rode bikes and swam along with their children, and the nights were spent laughing and making s'mores by a campfire. As a solo mother, I would not have enjoyed this experience alone and benefitted from the community who came together just for the sake of fun.
6. Reach but Don't Preach
It can be tempting when we view the ongoing responsibilities of a parent raising children on their own to want to step in and explain all the things that we think that we know will help, ranging from accepting Jesus to reading their Bible every day.
As a church, it is important that we are not just concerned for salvation and pat ways of achieving Christian growth but instead with loving our community in a redemptive and committed manner. The goal should be to reach out in love avoiding the urge to preach.
Adopting careful boundaries that allow Jesus to be the agent of transformation while you show up, and yes, sometimes "shut up" offer the Holy Spirit a fertile ground to work upon the seeds of love you have faithfully sown.
7. Be Present in the Overwhelm
Parenting is a task that requires resources that are both varied and plentiful.
Unfortunately, parenting without the daily presence of another person who is equally committed to the wellbeing and good outcome of both the children and their spouse can be exhausting. The single mother can often find herself coming up short on finances, energy, and the spiritual and personal welfare needed to maintain a thriving environment.
Parenting without a partner requires the solo parent to do whatever is necessary to feed, clothe, house, educate, and provide care, safety, and wellness for their children. There are days for any parent when it all seems simply too daunting.
Exhaustion and decision overload alone can be enough to send any parent spiraling, and for the parent bearing the task on their own, there are without question days when you simply feel like you cannot juggle any longer.
At this point of overwhelm, we can choose to love like Jesus and enter into the deep and hurting areas of the life of a single mother. Because we have built an intimate and authentic relationship based on loving God and loving her, we will find that we see the point of overwhelm and have a welcome opportunity to fulfill the call of Philippians 2:4 to "look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others."
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