Seeing the Unseen: Single Parents
Throughout the month of February, you may have noticed that our blog has covered a number of sensitive subjects. Staff and a number of our significant ministry partners have waded into some of the most difficult, and sometimes, non-discussed matters in Christian culture. Today will be no different as we consider the very difficult reality of single parenting.
Before you click away thinking this isn’t for me, I’m going to ask that you pause. There are some needed considerations in here for every Christian. So I’m going to encourage you to allow yourself to wade into the waters of a difficult subject, and reflect a little bit on what God would have you do. I assure you, dear reader, this is for all of us.
To begin, it seems prudent to outline the standout data that necessitates our consideration of this. As of May 2020:
This is but a fraction of the startling information out there, organized well in the link within my first footnote below. This alone could provide a wealth of content for our consideration if I broke this down to how it specifically affects the church, and even further, my initially intended audience of Bethel Church in Northwest Indiana. But I would like for us to use it as a platform to instead think biblically about what it means to be a single parent, what they need to be focusing on, and now singles or married couples can help.
Single parents are stuck in an astoundingly difficult position. From a psychological perspective alone, they have the person they grew up intending to be, the person they were in the relationship or sexual encounter they had resulting in pregnancy (and all of the complications, years of life, and all manner of other factors thereof), and the person they are thrust into being as a solo parent. This is no less than three different identities, each with their own struggles, joys, and needs. All to say nothing of the real, practical challenges that they face.
In my time as a counselor and pastor, I have spoken to many single parents. Often, the above psychological and identity-oriented realities result in them feeling like second-class citizens, an invisible people-group, or entirely forgotten. If that is you, reading this right now, I am deeply grieved, and I hope what I address throughout the remainder is of some help and encouragement to you. I long for this not to be the case for you, or anyone. Thus, when I am in dialogue with those in this position, I strive to encourage them to remember who they truly are.
To accomplish this, the first thing I strive to bring to their/our remembrance is that any earthly designation a human has is always secondary. Human life, as we know it, is a temporary state. At the end of our lives, whether single parent or otherwise, we are presented with the ultimate reality of being an enemy (Romans 5:10) or heir (Romans 8:17) or God. Everything in life revolves around this. It is inescapable to being human.
In Galatians 3:28-29 (ESV), Paul outlined this reality with some precision. He says: “[In faith] there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, [there is neither single parent nor married-parent] for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise” (emphasis mine). The identity designation here is clear.
Additionally, consider Psalm 68:5 (NLT),
“Father to the fatherless, defender of widows— this is God, whose dwelling is holy.”
And Psalm 146:9 (ESV),
“The Lord watches over the sojourners;
he upholds the widow and the fatherless,
but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.”
It is God who we live for, God who protects and defends us, God who orchestrated the events that led to single parenting, and God who assigns our ultimate identity. It is thus, God to whom our primary identity must be focused.
As I have outlined elsewhere, as Christians, we have to remember we are first sons and daughters of God. Everything in life is spiritual. Everything else is secondary. If we start at the wrong place and live by the wrong identifier, if we forget or neglect that God is protecting and watching over us, and instead strive to simply do that for ourselves, we’re going to come to the wrong conclusions about not just daily life, but our spiritual life. The results of this are usually nothing short of distressing. And practically, they all but assuredly result in someone living as if a secondary identity is primary.
So please, dear reader—single parent or otherwise, allow me the opportunity to remind you: if you are a Christian, you are first and foremost a daughter or son of Jesus. And this should define you, inform how you parent, and orchestrate your priorities, whatever those may be. Anything short of this as your foundation will result in a merry-go-round of discouragement. All of life should be living out our primary identity as heir, to and for the glory of God.
Now, if you’re a single parent, you may be reading that and thinking: thanks Pastor Stephen, I appreciate the theological encouragement, but do you have anything practical for me? Absolutely! But if I jumped right to the practical, without the gospel-centered foundation, I genuinely believe I do you a disservice. If we’re going to say Jesus is our foundation, then it needs to be everywhere. He must be our filter for everything.
The following then, are some practical thoughts that I believe may be helpful as we live out our primary identity and subsequent responsibilities. The first three are for single parents specifically, but I encourage you all to consider them. The fourth is for others, who God may be calling on to serve single parents.
1. Lay out your specific priorities
It is easy to get lost and overwhelmed by the busyness of life. Between one or multiple children, the likely need to balance employment, the potential of kids’ and/or adult homework, bedtime routines, getting everyone to and where they need to be and when, keeping some semblance of your own identity, the hope of reading or listening to one’s Bible, or watching a single episode of a 22-minute sitcom, there is almost certainly something vying for your attention all the time.
Among the most significant and helpful things you can do for yourself is lay out your priorities. To do this, I urge you to utilize something like a Google calendar or the Calendar app on your mobile device; something that will give you an hour-by-hour breakdown. This will enable you to schedule in all of the specific priorities that you have throughout your day and week, see when you need to be where, and give you the ability to discern where you can create some margin for yourself.
Sometimes, it is simply a matter of getting everything out of your head, decluttering your mind, getting it down into a format where you can see it, and then planning your priorities accordingly.
2. Keep the main thing the main thing
This may be difficult to read. It was certainly difficult to type. I have re-written what follows a number of times. However, I believe the best thing I can do is just say it: the main thing is not finding another spouse. The main thing is not finding companionship in a husband or wife to help you or do life with. That may be a desire, but is should not be the main thing until the below is accomplished.
Children need stability. They need to see that whoever the gospel-centered parent is, is going to be a rock for them. They need to see some level of continuity from that parent. This demands that, after one’s relationship with Christ, the children are the main thing. This means that until you as a single parent find yourself believing your children to be in a stable and consistent place mentally, emotionally, and practically (and hopefully spiritually), dating and finding companionship in that way should be a secondary priority.
Furthermore, as the children are watching how the Christ-following single parent is responding to their situation, they then, are responding in kind. It is assured that this is a significant, emotional, tug-of-war occurring within everyone. If this goes unaddressed, it is likely to become a bone of contention as children emerge into their teenage and young adult years. As such, there should be an ongoing prioritization of communication. Discussion of how everyone is feeling, where they are struggling, and what they are doing about the struggles, should be a regular thing. This takes time. And it is time that would be lost if the single parent is too consumed in finding a secondary companion, and not consumed with the primary responsibility of the children in front of them.
Again, I cannot emphasize enough how difficult this is to type, let alone read. But as one who has done a significant amount of counseling in the distressing situations involving hurting families (as well as spent some time growing up in one), I cannot emphasize enough the practical realities of what I am describing. Though it may be difficult, it is almost certainly what will be best for raising up emotionally healthy, God-fearing children.
3. Where possible, pursue help
Parent, I cannot encourage you enough to find yourself a group of other people that you trust to check on you, decompress with, and encourage and help you. How do you do this?
4. A word to everyone else
There are many people in the world that need help, encouragement, and a shoulder to lean on. You can be that person. Single parents are among the most discouraged folks around us, and we’d never know it because many suffer in silence.
I cannot encourage you enough to pursue the single parents in your life, and ask how you can help. That might mean cleaning gutters, free oil changes, home repairs, babysitting, and all manner of practical, tangible support. It also might mean just sitting, listening, and not offering any advice, or as I like to call it: “the ministry of presence.” Just…be there. Be available. Run to these opportunities. They promise gospel dividends in a way we will never know, having not walked a mile in their shoes.
I recognize that even a blog of this length is but the tip of the iceberg. So please allow me to summarize the whole of my thoughts with these brief points:
My prayer is two-fold. First, that this provides some encouragement to the single parents who may read this. You are not alone. You are seen. You are heard. And we want to do more if we can. If there are other ways that we can speak on your behalf, please do not hesitate to reach out. But in the meantime, know that you are prayed for. And second, to others: Christians should be the best community in the world; I hope this has motivated you to welcome some single parents into yours.
 A. Whyte, “National Single Parent Day 2020.” Evolve, (2020). https://evolvetreatment.com/blog/single-parent-day-2020/