Marriage and the Family – The Challenge of Single Parenting

The state of single parenthood is brought about by varying circumstances. Each situation will abruptly introduce its particular griefs and traumas. The death of a partner, as seen in 2 Kings 4:1, is a common and heart-wrenching cause of single parenthood. At times, separation and divorce have occasioned the sad result of single parenting as experienced by Hagar long ago (Gen 21:14). Tamar certainly would have known the difficulty of raising twins alone as would all unwed mothers throughout history (Gen 38).

In the beginning the Lord had decreed, “It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him” (Gen 2:18). Doubtless the most difficult thing in being a single parent is being one instead of two, being alone. One is in charge alone, thus facing the many and varied responsibilities of raising a family. The single parent faces the problem of trying to be both a father and mother to the offspring. Alone, you must care for crying babies and toddlers, discipline and nurture little ones, and face rebellious teens. Later, when the family is raised and has left the home, the single parent must experience the empty nest syndrome alone.

The single parent faces the heavy responsibilities of rearing, training, educating, and nurturing children alone. Long nights must be spent with a crying infant without the help and support of a partner, depleting needed energies for daily tasks and clear thinking. Children must be comforted who miss the absent parent. The single parent struggles with the pain of entering into the childrens’ hurts while attempting to deal with his or her own. In a divorce case, one has the added stress of dealing with conflicting messages from each parent. The single parent faces confusion with regards to setting acceptable standards. Such a parent must guard against the extremes of being overprotective or too lenient. Without a partner’s advice and input, the need for balance is often a serious reality. One may be too permissive regarding things that matter in the child’s life and far too strict in things that are less important. For example a young teen may be allowed to spend hours with unsaved friends at their homes or elsewhere, yet not be encouraged to have his friends home. Sometimes the reason is the regrettable fact that the parent is more concerned with maintaining a tidy house than fostering the development of a child who is responsible, appreciative, and mature. The foregoing statement certainly would be true in any situation whether it be a single parent home or otherwise.

The needs, feelings, and fears of any parent are very real but generally these are magnified in the life of a single parent. Throughout scripture the financial needs of the widow are unmistakably evident. We all have a responsibility toward the less fortunate as Job himself could declare: “I caused the widow’s heart to sing” (Job 29:13), even though Eliphaz unjustly stated: “Thou hast sent widows away empty, and the arms of the fatherless have been broken” (Job 22:9).

The emotional needs of love and care are genuine but often unmet for the single parent. Unfortunately and shamefully they are seldom included at social gatherings. In the experience of the widow of Nain (Luke 7), we see how the Lord Jesus was conscious of her needs of understanding and compassion by stopping her copious tears and raising her son to life again. The single parent needs true friends to communicate with, but has no need of busybodies and gossips. The need for strength, wisdom, guidance, and support is ever present. The situation would be impossible if it were not for the promise of our Savior: “Your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask Him” (Matt 6:8).

The feelings of the single parent are also very demanding and often unique. There may be feelings of anxiety, coupled with a sense of hopelessness and inadequacy. One may constantly have feelings of guilt, shame, embarrassment, and of being a failure. Feelings of grief, insecurity, loneliness and confusion have the potential of robbing the individual of any true peace of mind. How necessary it is then for any believer to heed the gracious words of the Lord Jesus in Matthew 11:28, “Come unto Me all ye that labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.” In addition one must grasp the basic and sublime truth expressed in Ephesians 1:6, “He hath made us accepted in the Beloved.”

If the reason for the state of single parenthood is separation and divorce there will be added fears and stress. There may be legal battles over support and custody of the children. There will be problems relating to visitation rights of the children with the other parent. This in itself has the potential of making it very difficult to see the children saved and living lives for God.

The state of single parenthood places great demands on one’s time and energy. Consequently, the danger of developing sinful and negative behaviour is constant. One may have a desire for revenge and even use the children as bargaining tools. Bitterness, anger, and malice may be displayed toward the parent who has departed. Then, when the believer reflects on her negative behaviour and thoughts she likely will face battles with depression. As in any believer’s life the daily feeding on the Word of God and earnest prayer is a necessity. If thoughts of bitterness or anger arise they should be confessed as sin. Earnest prayer should be made to God in which the believer asks that his thought pattern will be fashioned after the pattern given in Philippians 4:8.

Some suggestions to other Christians who are blessed with a partner to share life:

1) adopt a single parent and his/her offspring
2) include them in your family outings and plans
3) be a big brother or sister to the sons or daughters of the individual (fishing, shopping, camping.)
4) offer assistance and mean it
5) enter into the individual’s special concerns and seek ways to help
6) offer godly advice and counsel
7) be there for the single parent

Ultimately the single parent has to come to the understanding that God knows our every need and has promised to take care of His own. Thoughts of self-pity or bitterness must be judged as sin and one’s life then yielded totally to God. Only then can we know what Paul learned: “For I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content” (Phil 4:11). What a joy to know that the Lord “doth execute the judgment of the fatherless and widow, and loveth the stranger, in giving him food and raiment” (Deut 10:18). “A father of the fatherless, and a judge of the widows, is God in His holy habitation” (Ps 68:5).

May we be imitators of our heavenly Father by visiting the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep unspotted from the world (James 1:27).