Confession #1: I have been trying to find time to write this post for three months. Three months!
Allow me to introduce myself. I am that single mother who lives two doors down from you. I only live two doors down, but I might as well live on another planet. I don’t have much in common with married couples, other than the fact that some of you also have children. I don’t have much in common with singles, other than the fact that I don’t have a spouse. You see me leave for work in the morning, and we wave awkwardly at one another. I don’t know how to approach you, and you don’t know how to approach me…even though both of us are probably craving fellowship with one another. Besides, every time you see me, I appear to be in a mad hurry. That’s probably because I am in a mad hurry. That is also why it took me three months to write a little over 1000 words!
Confession #2: Most of us are not as anti-social as we seem.
Every time you see me, I am rushing off somewhere. We never get to sit down and have a nice chat. Even if you do say that we should get together sometime, it never happens. This could be interpreted as anti-social behavior or a lack of desire to spend time together. The truth is that single parents are shouldering the burden of two people in the family. We have to do all the instruction and discipline for our children. We are often the sole income provider. Contrary to common belief, not all single parents receive child support. May God have mercy on those of us who (like me) are also in grad school! We also do care about our communities and churches. We are often involved in activities outside of the home as well. By the time we have a moment to breathe, we are often far too emotionally drained and physically exhausted to offer much at all to others. Yes, we are often over-burdened and over-scheduled. Please don’t remind us of that fact or suggest that we should manage our responsibilities and schedules better. We often don’t have that luxury.
Confession #3: We are not all offended by receiving help.
Sincere offers of help, such as anonymous gift cards, invitations to dinner, offers to take kids to see a movie, etc. are typically very well received. The problem mostly comes in when it is clear that someone is treating us as a charity case. Also, we often experience well-meaning people who try to give us parenting advice and suggestions. While you may give your offerings of advice as a way to be helpful, many of the things that work in your two-parent household are not even remotely likely to work in our single-parent households.
Often, advice like this is not only not practical, but it can be offensive to someone who is giving everything they’ve got and is still feeling inadequate. Also, bear in mind that when you ask how you can help us, and we don’t have a ready reply, that is not a rejection of your offer. Half the time, we have not stopped long enough to know what we need help with and have been doing everything alone for so long, that we don’t know what to tell you! Sometimes, the best thing to do is when you see a specific need, make a specific offer of help. For example, “I notice you have been even more busy than usual this week. Could I bring over dinner one night, so you won’t have to cook?”
Confession #4: Our kids need to know they can count on other people.
Many times, our children do not get some of the opportunities as children who are in two-parent homes. We can talk about fairness and justice until we are blue in the face, but the reality remains the same. I can’t cart my child around to soccer practice, scouts, martial arts, band camp, and all the various and sundry youth group activities there are. It is difficult for two-parent households to accomplish all that. I am only one person. So, my child and I have to be very intentional to choose what is the very best for us. For our family, we choose to focus on youth group.
There have been many times when people have been very kind to offer to help with transportation and costs in order for my child to participate in some activity. Do not offer this help if you cannot or will not continue to invest long-term! I cannot tell you how many times I agreed to some arrangement like this and watched my son be heartbroken when he had to give up a fun activity after a short time, just because the person was not able to continue taking him. I have also experienced those who told my son they were going to do some activity with him and never followed through. Some kids may not show it, but it teaches them that people cannot be counted on. Many children in single-parent homes have experienced enough of that from an absent parent. Please don’t reinforce it.
Confession #5: Many of us don’t feel awkward socializing with people who are different than us.
If you are having an outing with other people, don’t be afraid to invite us. If we feel awkward about it, we will find a way to politely decline. However, if we ask for a rain check, take us up on it! Our decline may simply be a matter of scheduling. Please do let us know if kids are welcome, or if it is an adults-only adventure. Adults-only adventures can be a huge breath of fresh air for a single parent whose main companionship may be their children. However, child-friendly outings can also be a blessing simply for the fact that the single parent’s kids have someone else to play with.
Confession #6: None of us planned for this to happen.
Please know that none of us planned to be single parents, and the loss of our spouse (whether through death or divorce) is very traumatic to us. Especially with divorce, we feel the weight of guilt and shame often. Even those of us who gave everything they had to their marriage feel like a failure when it doesn’t work. Please don’t make snap judgments about our character based simply on the fact that we are raising children without wedding rings on our fingers. Get to know us. Most of us don’t mind telling our stories to people who are kind and compassionate to us. Mostly, we just want what everyone else wants: to love and be loved.