Today’s post comes from one of the winners of the Her.meneutics Summer Writing Contest, responding to the question, “What do you wish the local church knew?” Winning entries will appear on the site each Wednesday through Labor Day. –Kate
Next Sunday as you take your seat at church, scan the pew. Do you see her?
She’s the one holding three jobs, despite being racked by the pain of abuse. Or the one overcome with shame from having a child out of wedlock. Or the one who entered the US illegally for a better life, though she still lives in poverty. The one widowed with four children. The one who was raped or trafficked, and kept the child. The one who never dreamed she’d be divorced.
America is home to approximately 15 million single moms. A recent Census Bureau report states that a quarter of US kids are being raised without a father, and half of those live below the poverty line.
That mom was my mom. She became a single mother when I was 17. Married young, she suffered verbal and physical abuse. She fought to establish herself financially and eventually filed for divorce. Once single, she continued to care for her three children, while working hard to advance her income and skills.
Women like her are all around us, as we know from the statistics and news headlines, but sometimes, it feels like they are invisible. The kids remain well-dressed and well-fed. They come to church. And Mom shows no sign of distress beneath her stiff upper lip.
The problem is, if we don’t recognize these families and their needs (both practically and spiritually), we probably won’t hear about them otherwise. In my experience serving in women’s ministries, single moms are among the least likely to speak up and make a request. Writing for the women’s site XOJane, one single mom confessed, “I don’t like asking for help. As a single mother, my biggest fear is that I won’t be enough for my children.”
But the reality of life presents countless opportunities for us to help these moms and their kids. Single moms need support for the feelings of abandonment, anger, and fear that can come from their often-unexpected family situations. Even for the happiest, well-adjusted single moms, running a household on your own can get lonely.
Plus, single moms are far more likely to live in poverty. With one income, it can be a struggle to pay for education, medical care, and ongoing living expenses for themselves and their children. These responsibilities weigh heavy on single moms, enough to affect their health and wellbeing.
They also fear the judgment they might face for a “failed” marriage or having children outside wedlock—especially in the context of the church. One friend described to me the shame of walking around with four kids and no wedding ring. “There are many women like me who tried to keep everything moving and held together for the security of her children,” she said.
Christian communities champion the significance of the family and understand that pain comes when families get torn apart. We know that these kinds of single moms sit among us. But often, we expect that existing church structures and existing ministries will be enough to reach and help and comfort these women.
The truth is, they often go overlooked. Our traditional family-centric structure doesn’t always fit the new normal for American families. What happens when all the examples in adult Sunday School revolve around marriage? Or when there’s not childcare for women’s groups and events? How can these moms appreciate and teach to their kids God as Father, when their father is out of the picture?
Author and founder of The Life of a Single Mom, Jennifer Maggio, offers resources for both single mothers and churches, exploring several ways to care for women who are raising children alone. Some suggestions include educating the church on statistics and needs, advising the church on how to start a single mom ministry, and offering Bible study curriculum for single moms.
Having participated in a variety of initiatives to help single moms, I believe the real reason any outreach works is because it says to that single mom: We see you. We care, we may not know how to help, and we may not do it perfectly, but we can do something.
For some women, it doesn’t just feel like their needs are being overlooked, but that they themselves are overlooked. There is such power and God-reflecting value in seeing the people around us.
Our call goes back to Jesus instructing his disciples, “A new command I give you: Love one another” (John 13:34, ESV). Jesus made visible the love of the invisible God (1 Tim 1:17). He spoke to and spoke up for the people around him—including the fatherless, the orphans, and the widows.
Single moms are tempted to believe that everything is up to them, that “God helps those who help themselves.” The church can offer a radically different message by saying, “Let us help you.”
Lori Harding is a freelance writer and speaker currently working as a communications manager in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, where she lives with her husband, Peter. She is an MDiv student at Knox Theological Seminary. Lori blogs about how faith intersects real life, and her articles have appeared in The Good News FL, The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, Droppingkeys.org and Liberate.net. Find her on Twitter, Facebook, and her blog.