Last week Dallas was away at a conference and I experienced eight days of single parenthood. I cannot pretend that I can understand the life of a single parent after my mere week of going solo; however, I am thankful each time I “go it alone” that I’m given a glimpse into the journey of many people that I love. I look at single parents with a new-found respect and admiration. They are my Olympic heroes. They are my marathon runners. They are the people that make me say “How do they do that?”
In the Bible God talks a LOT about helping out those who need support. A frequent admonishment to God’s people is to help “widows and orphans.” In the Ancient world, the number of young mothers who had lost husbands to war, disease and tragedy was much higher than today. I think we are still supposed to support widows and orphans, but I also think that today we can broaden that category to include the single parent. They are also journeying as parents without the support of a partner beside them.
One thing that I appreciated this week was the number of people who made an effort to encourage me and help me out. They made me think about ways that I can support people for whom this journey of single parenting is long term. Here are some of things that I got to thinking that we all could do:
Twice this week friends had us over for dinner. This blessed in me three ways. It meant I didn’t have to cook. It meant I didn’t have to clean up afterwards. It meant I had some connection time with adults. I think it is a huge blessing to either give a meal, or gifts cards for a meal, to a parent with young children. I think inviting a family for a meal is very special. It builds connection and is a special break from routine. Is there a family that you know that you could love with food during this Mother’s Day month?
A great gift for a single parent would be the gift of a cleaner. Another blessing is to offer support with specific tasks, such as yard work, or snow shoveling. The author Anne Lamott wrote about being a new single mom and being asked the question: “Think of the one job in your house you don’t want to do right now and I’ll do it.” She picked cleaning the bathroom. Can you call up a single parent and offer to do one task for them? Remember to be specific. Saying “I’m here if you need me” rarely gets a response. People don’t want to ask. Call and say “I have an hour on Tuesday evening. Tell me what you’d like me to do.” OR “I am coming to clean out your yard. I’ll be there on Saturday afternoon.”
Well this one is a no-brainer, but so important! Parents need help with childcare so that they can get errands done, go to work, etc. But I think one of the things a single parent needs most is time for them. Offer to babysit so they can go to a movie or get a coffee or just go for a walk. Or take their kids so they can stay home and nap. And, again, if you can, be specific. Tell them a night you are available. Don’t make them ask you if you can offer first.
Because there is not a partner to watch children in the evenings, some parents miss adult company. Instead of asking a single parent out to dinner or coffee, offer to stop by after the kids are in bed and bring a snack to share. Take the pressure off them having to find a sitter.
You know what all parents worry about? If they are doing a good job. For single parents, I think it must be even harder, without the support of someone encouraging them in their house. When you see a single parent give them a pat on the back. Tell them you see they are doing well. Encourage them every change you can.
Bonus: For church folks:
- Leave the parking
You know who finds it hard to get to church on time on Sunday mornings? Single parents. You know who finds it hardest to cross a busy street? Single parents. If there is a spot in our parking lot on a Sunday morning and you are able bodied, instead of thinking “Yay! A spot for me!,” think: “Yay! A spot for a single parent! I’ll leave it for them.”
- Leave the seats
You know who finds it hard to get into church before the service starts? Single parents. You know who finds it most stressful to have to walk to the front looking for a seat with kids in tow? Single parents. Leave the back and aisle seats for them.
- Be the village
You know the expression “It takes a village to raise a child?” Let’s be the village for our kids with single parents. This means that we can make a special effort to say hello to children and get to know their names. It also means we can watch out for them. Help a single parent enjoy their coffee after church by offering to keep an eye on their kids.
And, of course, love them, pray for them, be there for them.
Because we are more than a village. We are a family. And none of us who are in a church should ever feel we are on our own in parenting. Instead, let’s help create an environment where children are blessed to abundance with parents, grandparents, friends and siblings – where no one feels “single” or even “orphaned,” but we all feel that we belong to the great big family of God.
When I was done I thought: I need to know what an actual single parent thinks. I asked one of our single moms to add to this discussion. Here are some thoughts from Melissa Robertson, mom of Silas (6), Sloan (2) and Micah (2 weeks!!!):
As a single mother of 3 boys, I would agree with everything that Leanne has experienced over the last week and written about in this post. It IS tough. But it IS also infinitely rewarding. The one thing in this post that really resonated with me personally was if you want to offer something to a single parent (or any new parent, or any person in need), it is best to be specific. Not only is it hard for someone (and me, in particular) to actually take a person up on their wonderful offer to ‘help out somehow’, it is sometimes just one more thing to think about in an already full day/ week/ life. It is so wonderful when someone says “I’ve made you some food- I’m stopping by with it this afternoon”. I also fully endorse Leanne’s idea of hiring a cleaner!
But please also realize that being a parent, and especially a single parent, is emotionally and physically exhausting- so be aware and gracious with them if they take a while to get back to you. Or, if they are feeling too overwhelmed at the moment to take you up on your thoughtful offer. Know that they are eternally grateful for you and your thoughtfulness, even if they can not take you up on your generosity at the moment. Just knowing people are thinking/ caring about you means so much. I am SO blessed to have so much love and support in my life. And I am so thankful for my faith, that I believe is stronger as a single parent than it has ever been. God has become my partner, my confident, my friend. I am blessed. – Melissa
Would you like to weigh in? Do you agree or disagree with these ideas? What have you found helpful as a single parent? What would you like people to understand?