Have you ever had the conversation that starts off normally enough? You know, one minute you’re making plans for play dates with new families at school or carpools for soccer practice and then suddenly the dreaded phrase comes up: “So, why don’t you check with your spouse…” In that moment, when you look them in the eye and say you’re not married, it feels like there is automatic judgment. It’s not easy, particularly in Christian settings, and for me there is a full cycle of emotions that goes with these innocent conversations. Fear of judgment, shame, pain, weariness, anger… Although people may gloss it over and apologize, you can see the opinions in their eyes, in body language and in the tone of their voice more times than not.
Yes, I am a single parent.
When you read this, what “story” have you already written in your mind?
In my case, I had no choice about becoming a single parent – I was widowed. Suddenly. Unexpectedly. And you know what? I know so many others who are walking through parenting without their spouse for exactly the same reason. Cancer has stolen mothers from being there to raise their families, random infections have snuffed out the lives of fathers who were fully involved, tragic car accidents have devastated families, the list goes on. These losses leave a huge void in the lives of those left behind. And honestly, chaos can reign during the transition.
Of course, there are many single parents through divorce as well and I have many friends raising kids on their own, with no support from the other parent. Providing stability when they feel completely overwhelmed, encouraging their kids when they are on empty themselves. Waking up every day dealing with their own pain yet pulling it together to be both parents for these kids. Working all day, making sure the kids understand their homework, cuddling up to read books, making meals together so the kids know they are there for them. Never giving up, it’s no small feat.
For most of my friends in these situations, we have endured the judgment of those who know nothing more than we are single parents.
The good news is that most of us have also been loved and encouraged by friends and family. Those who know when to help, when to listen, when to give space and most of all, to simply keep praying for us through it all. One of my neighbors is an amazing single mom and this was the year that her daughter was spending the week of Christmas away with her dad. For one reason or another we had run into each other and I had invited her to join us for a Christmas service. She in turn invited us to share Christmas dinner with her and her parents. Love, connection, support, it can happen as easily as that.
My challenge to each of us is to check ourselves when we are in that place of meeting with or talking to single parents. Don’t let the story start in your head. Let’s try walking in each other’s shoes, try to understand one another and pray for one another whever we are, regardless of our situation.