By Weldon E. Warnock
Ogden Nash once said, “A family is a unit composed not only of children, but of men, women, an occasional animal and the common cold.” Families are still composed of children, an occasional animal and the common cold, but in almost seven million households a mother or father is missing, either by divorce, desertion, incarceration or death.(1)
America is experiencing a single-parent explosion. Twenty-three percent of all families in the U.S. are. single parent families and if current trends continue, 60 percent of all children will live in a single-parent home for some period of their lives by the year 2000.(2) In 9 out of 10 cases of single parents, the mother is the custodial parent.
The problems the single parent faces are multiple, among which may be depression, worry, loneliness, self-concern, guilt, anger, and the welfare of the children, specifically, the effects of single-parent rearing, the effects of divorce on the child, dangers to the latch-key child, school performance, adequate day care and custody and visitation rights.
The economic consequences of divorce can be equally devastating as the emotional fallout. After a divorce, mothers who have not been working usually have to find employment, and if they have young children, child care -immediately. Those who have been working already often have to give work a higher priority, perhaps working longer hours and living on half their previous budgets. Child-support payments are too frequently inadequate and poorly enforced.(3)
Dr. Michael Jellinek, a psychiatrist, wrote: “Indeed, the parents whom I’ve seen handle divorce well are those who can put the breakup in perspective and get rid of their angry feelings toward the ex-spouse. They do as much as they can to maintain the routine of their children’s lives by making sure the child keeps up with his or her music lessons or Sunday school or sports. They don’t let themselves become immensely guilty. They continue their own leisure activities – exercise, socializing, as much as possible.”(4)
Those wondering how children fare in one-parent households can draw on a growing body of professional advice and evidence, much of it discouraging. Sociologist Amitai Etzioni, professor at George Washington University, said: “In all my professional and personal experience, I have not seen a single child who did not suffer to some degree, physically or psychosomatically, from divorce.”(5)
On the other hand, Dr. Jellinek said, “Eighty to ninety percent of children recover from the initial shock of divorce in about a year. If there’s no ongoing hostility between the parents and if the child has a positive relationship with at least one parent, most children adjust well to their new situations.”(6)
You who are in the single-parent category may be asking, “Where do I go from here?” A lengthy article by Neal A. Kuyper appeared in Pulpit Helps (January, 1983) on “The One-Parent Home.” Mr. Kuyper was a single parent for a time due to the death of his wife. He offers seviral guidelines for behavior in single-parenting. He suggests:
1. Believe Your Child Can Adjust. Accept the fact that most children have a great deal of ability to adjust to a oneparent home.
2. Take Time to Listen. Children often hunger for conversation with a parent who is not pre-occupied with other tasks.
3. Share Your Child’s Hurt. Accept some of the anger which will come.
4. Do Things Tbgether. Talk freely about money, household chores, and family activities. Bring to these areas some positive excitement. “Tonight let’s celebrate. We are ahead, and we are going out for pizza.” That is welcome news.
5. Help Your Child With Homework. This is the child’s main occupation.
6. Attend Church Together Regularly. Regularity of attendance gives continuity to their religious instruction and a stability to their lives.
7. Don’t Use the Missing Spouse As a Weapon. For example, Kuyper says if the spouse is deceased you do not say, “Mother would want you to be a good boy” or “You ought to live as your father lived.” If the spouse is divorced, try to keep on friendly terms.
8. Make Life Fuller Through Hospitality. Make the home a place for others to visit and enjoy. That may mean having the children’s friends sleeping overnight. Celebrate birthdays with friends and relatives.
9. Find Activities Which Develop Needed Self-Dignity. As an adult you may need to rethink your life and find some activities which give, you self-esteem and dignity apart from the children. Some persons have taken classes in night schools. Others have developed new areas of interest in homemaking, service in community, and service within the church.
In addition to the foregoing guidelines, another important one is – be yourself Let the children know you love them, but also let them know you have special needs for yourself.
What We Can Do to Help
As Christians we must take a vital interest in and a s . concern for the welfare of our brothers and sisters in Christ, as well as all men. Single parents have burdens to bear that we can share in and help carry. Those might be:
1. Providing some physical needs, like food, clothing, medical expenses, assisting in paying the utilities, etc. The church from its treasury may (and should) help in this area when the ex-spouse will not help at all or adequately, or there is no immediate family to help or it won’t help, like parents, brothers or sisters.
2. Keeping the children so the single parent can have some free time.
3. Picking children up at school when the parent has to work or keeping the child when sick so the parent may work. Generally, grandparents, brothers, sisters, aunts or uncles do this, but occasionally, friends must do it.
4. Take children to special events to help the parent and for the children’s enjoyment, like ball games, wholesome movies, fishing, skating, bowling, etc. Include the single-parent (and children) in your social functions.
5. Help the mother maintain her car, like oil and filter changes, greasing, rotating tires and minor mechanical repair. This constitutes a big savings when some of the men in the congregation can do these things for a sister.
6. Repair washer, dryer, stove, furnace, electrical and plumbing problems, and a number of other things around the house.
7. Assisting mother during worship in taking care of children. Sometimes a single mother may have two or three small children and she needs help. Of course, this would also include the father who is in this situation.
Other things could be enumerated where we can also practice pure and undefiled religion (Jas. 1:27). There are many good works that most all of us are in position to do.
Trust in the Lord
Finally, and importantly, may the single-parent, as well as all of us, put his/her trust in God and the Lord Jesus Christ for his/her every need. Realize that:
1. God sees. “For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous” (1 Pet. 3:12). “Are not five sparrows sold for two farthings, and not one of them is forgotten before God? But even the very hair of your head are all numbered. Fear not therefore: ye are of more value than many sparrows” (Lk. 12:6-7). God sees our every need.
2. God hears. “If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?” (Matt. 7:11)
3. God understands. “O Lord, thou hast searched me, and known me. Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising, thou understandest my thoughts afar off” (Psa. 139:1-2).
4. God provides. Paul wrote, “but my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ “us” (Phil. 4:19).
5. God cares. “Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and he shall sustain thee: he shall never suffer the righteous to be moved” (Psa. 55:22). “Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you” (1 Pet. 5:7).
6. God helps. “Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness” (Isa. 41:10). “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psa. 46:1).
We sing the beautiful song:
My Jesus knows when I am lonely,
He knows each pain, He sees each tear;
He understands each lonely heartache,
He understands because He cares.
Single parents can be healthy and happy people and raise healthy and happy children. We who are not single parents can make their job easier by letting them know that we understand and care.(7)
Guardian of Truth XXXIII: 12, pp. 378-379
June 15, 1989