As Catholic Christians, sometimes it is not enough to talk about Jesus. Sometimes we need to be Jesus. One of these times is when ministering to the single parent family. The single mom or dad of today is really quite similar to the widows and orphans of biblical times. These families need their communities to come alongside and help them, to love them for who they are, meet their needs, and witness to them, to be willing to go out to them in order to show them an encounter with the Lord.
Several Catholic organizations, including groups like Catholic Social Services are working to provide support to at risk teen moms, but the single parenting challenge affects over a quarter of households in America and is worthy of community and parish involvement.
When I first became a Catholic single parent, there were a lot of questions swirling in my head, feeling overwhelmed, and anxiety in my heart. I asked myself:
Am I up to the challenge? How am I going to support us financially? Will people at my parish look down on my family? Are the kids going to be OK without their dad around? And there were not any easy or immediate answers to those questions.
Single parenting stretches you in all aspects of your life in ways you cannot have imagined. The physical demands can be relentless, because there is never enough time or energy for everything. It’s like having a blanket that is too small on a cold winter night.
Emotionally, there are all the normal parenting challenges, and then the added challenges around the stigma of being a Catholic single parent, and the reality of doing everything alone.
In the beginning of my journey, there was a big learning curve, probably as big as having my first baby, but not as joyful. I had to learn to ask for a new kind of help. It was a painful process—like creating a stained glass window. At first all the expectations of how life was going to be were shattered into a million bits, and then slowly God took all the pieces and started to make something beautiful in spite of, or in fact because of, the brokenness. I am grateful that he used members of my community as the glue.
While none of the single parents I know want a hand out, they also don’t refuse a hand up, because the need is usually so great. There are not enough resources, time, and energy to go around in one or more areas. A single parent is trying to do it all without dropping the ball. Here are some of the needs they have:
- Child Care
- Yard Work
- Car Repairs
- Home Repairs
- Moving furniture
- Tutoring / Homework
- Sit with kids at church
- Rides to sports practice
- Nap time / Sleep
- Meal Delivery
- After school care
- College visits
- Treat her/ him to a day off – spa, dinner out, museum, game
Single parents have many emotions. These are just some of the ways you can come alongside to bear the burden in friendship:
- Listen to their story.
- Provide emotional accompaniment.
- Invite their family over for a gathering or meal.
- Give them a sense of belonging and normalcy.
- Provide a model good spousal relationships.
- Match family with a grandparent. This can help both deal
- with feelings of loneliness and isolation.
- Speak words of encouragement to kids about their
- significance, encourage their gifts.
- Notice good behaviors and tell the parent.
- Be a mentor or provide mentors for the young men or young women.
- Be a loving authority figure who can re-enforce discipline mom is instilling at home.
- Speak words of encouragement about the children.
- Speak words of encouragement to her/him about how they are managing.
- Come alongside at times they’re overwhelmed. Go to court with them. Help them plan for college.
- Suggest a psychologist if needed for her/him or the children.
- Offer a break from the kids; offer to take them to the park, etc.
- Give Mother’s Day or Father’s Day gifts.
One in three single moms and their kids are below the poverty line. Even though many single parents won’t ask for financial help, that doesn’t mean they don’t need it and that they wouldn’t gratefully accept it. Here are a few things you can help them with:
- Day Care
- Christmas/birthday presents
- Budgeting classes
- Legal help
- Emergency fund
- Grocery shopping!
- Gift Cards
- College tuition
- Car payments
- Doctor’s bills
- Retirement (ha!)
- Offer to pay for a family outing, movie, camping, amusement park, aquarium, etc.
Ministering to single parents depends on the stage they are at. They could be angry, resentful, jealous of other families, overwhelmed, discouraged, and/or looking for a new love interest.
- They would benefit from the small group setting of a Bible study.
- Pray with them, that they may be filled with peace, hope, sense of belonging, and encouragement.
- Offer to pray on a continual basis for their specific family needs.
- If you plan for a ministry, schedule events on the weekends and include child care.
- Refrain from judgment and show love.
- Remind them they are not alone, because God is head of the family. He is their protector, provider, and will fill the need. They will get their strength and balance from this.
- Let them know that their prayers (on the go, in the moment) are still valid.
- Pray for their fortitude, perseverance, trust in the Lord.
- Encourage tithing and depending on God’s provision.
- Help them recount their stories of God’s protection, provision, love.
Don’t judge – A lot of single parents didn’t choose this life, but they are judged. Catholics are no exception. On top of that the chances are they might be judging or shaming themselves. Whatever negative thing someone might be thinking about them, they have probably already thought about it themselves.
Don’t ignore or forget about them – Single parents are thirty percent of the population!
Don’t label – They are men/women and dads/moms first, not just single parents.
Don’t think they are ungrateful – When they do receive help, they are grateful. If it seems like they’re not, it’s probably because they are already on the next problem to solve.
Don’t think they are all the same – Get to know the needs of each family. Be supportive and discern how to help.
None of the single parents I know, including myself, would have chosen the life they find themselves living. I know that some women choose to raise children as single moms, but most of my single parent friends have had to leave a toxic environment for their own physical safety or emotional welfare, and that of their kids. There are lot of Catholic families that are suffering from The Three A’s: abuse, adultery, or addiction. Nobody grows up hoping that their life will turn out that way.
A Vision for the Future
My vision for every parish is threefold: First, to have an advocate for single parent families, a supportive and loving community liaison to walk with single parents and listen to their story. Second, to have a network within the community that could help find a way to meet the need, whatever that is determined to be by the point person at the parish. And finally, to have a prayer ministry devoted to praying for single parent homes, for single parents, and for their children’s future.
Patron Saint of Single Moms: St. Margaret of Cortona (1247-1297) Feast day: Feb. 22
Patron saint of single dads: St. Eugene de Mazenod who lived in France during the French Revolution and became the Bishop of Marseille. His dad raised him after his mother left and took all the money.
Patron Saint of Divorced Moms: St. Helen (249-329)
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I also did not plan to deal with the three “a’s” in my marriage nor with the mental illness and parental divorce which caused those three a’s. After many years of suffering, separation, arrests, DFS, and orders of protection, I changed my game plan. Instead of begging for God to change my marriage and my husband, I asked Him what I was supposed to do. Divorce and annulment was not the answer. Divorce doesn’t fix a bad situation anymore than abortion does. I started to see my husband as a child of God that He gave me in a sacramental marriage and that I vowed to remain faithful to through good and bad. You could say I practiced your advice and I stopped judging, stop ignoring, and stopped labeling my husband. Surprisingly, he received my unconditional love quite well and began working hard to repair the marriage and relationships. Giving him the respect and dignity he deserved, despite his choices, allowed him to make the right choices and received God’s healing. Now marriage is better than ever and eight children healthy and happy. I am glad that my husband did not leave or file for divorce through our hardships. I write this to give hope to those that may be struggling. To let them know that working on the marriage is easier than working on a divorce and single parenthood. Also, to not forget the ex-spouses regardless of their sins, the three a’s as you labeled them.