Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Church and the Single Mom

When I was in college a couple of friends were brainstorming about where I could meet a nice, Christian man, since it was clear to them that I was single, 25, and committed to my faith. The face of one of them suddenly lit up as she exclaimed “I’ve got it! You should go to church, I’m sure there are lots of Christian men there!” She smiled at me, the satisfaction obvious in her face, and when I told her that I did go to church, every Sunday, she looked confused. She frowned slightly, and asked with a certain degree of trepidation “They let you go to church?” See, it’s not just that I was 25 and single, but I was also a mother. I suspect many Christians would hear this story and laugh, possibly remarking about how those who aren’t in the church don’t understand that it’s all about grace, mercy, and forgiveness, so of course a single mom would be welcome in church. But really, is this the case? Fortunately, it’s been my experience, across denominations, that I’ve largely been accepted and treated with respect, but for many women this isn’t the case. I know the stories, and they’re not mine to tell, but suffice it to say I know of plenty of women who were forced to confess their sin before the congregation, who have been kicked out of the house when they could no longer hide the pregnancy, who were forbidden from teaching Sunday school because they were of “questionable character,” and on it goes. Sure these are simply anecdotes, so make of them what you will, yet, I find it odd, given the statistics which seem to indicate the abundance of single parent homes, that we do not see more single moms in church. Particularly the single moms of the especially fallen variety—those like myself, who got pregnant while violating the sixth commandment. Given how unequivocally pro-life many of us are, I find it bizarre that church isn’t a safe haven for these women and their children. Really, when women like myself choose not to have an abortion, and instead elect to raise a child a single parent, where is the church? Apart from the suggestions about the feasibility of adoption, the church seems to have little say to actual single moms who, like any other parent, are doing the best they can with what they have. 

There is a lot of concern about the rise of single-parent households, and rightly so. Single parenthood is hardly the ideal, and every single mom I know is well aware of this. Yes, I know there are Hollywood starlets and the like who will proudly proclaim that they can do just fine without a husband, but I think most of us can say we don't live in the Hollywood star's world, and this is no less true for your run of the mill single mother. Whether she would phrase it this way or not, the law is truly let loose in a single mom’s life—she must work, usually outside of the home, because the luxury of being a stay-at-home mom is not afforded to her. She often must enroll her child in public school because there simply is not enough money for private school, and homeschooling is not an option. Then she is the only one to make decisions for her child, as there isn’t another parent as invested in her child, and who espouses the same values. There are the battles with mental and physical exhaustion when you know the full burden of parenthood falls solely upon you. I’ve heard a lot of talk today about the rejection of fatherhood, and often the finger of blame is pointed squarely at the single mom, either implicitly or explicitly, yet, ironically enough, no one knows the value of fathers like a single mom, because we live without them. We have to make do without the security and wisdom a father affords. And on the back of this day-to-day reality comes the ever-present battle with guilt. Guilt that you can’t make it to every event at school because you have to work, guilt that your child has to feel the pain of living without a father, guilt that perhaps your child will become another statistic used to trumpet the dangers of single-parenthood. It’s enough to make a mother wonder if she should just don a scarlet A and buy real estate close to the nearest federal prison.

I’ve been told that the solution to single parenthood is marriage. This may seem easy to someone who isn’t juggling 15 things at once, but it’s not so simple. In order to marry, one must usually date, in order to meet and get to know a potential spouse, yet to do this the single mom must take time away from her child in order to spend it with a guy. So the solution is, in short, to sacrifice whatever little time you have with your child, pay a sitter, and go out on dates, on the off-chance it will work, and you’ll get married. Then there’s the question of introducing men to your child. Would the experts on this suggest that the single mom bring every guy home to meet the child, have him get involved in your child’s life, then further wound the child if it doesn’t work out? Or is it better to wait until it’s serious before making such introductions? How is a relationship to get serious when the mom is (like me) largely unwilling to sacrifice the 4 hours a day I have with my son, or the weekends which are the only real “quality time” we have together? Do you see the quandary?

As the single mother of a son, I know how important it is for him to be around men that present a healthy influence to him—so I’m grateful (for many reasons) that I am in a denomination which does not ordain women, so he can see men of God dutifully serving the gifts of God to the people of God. I’m grateful that his teacher this year is a man (the only man at his school that teaches at his grade level). I’m grateful for the male basketball coaches he’s had. I’m beyond grateful for my father, his grandfather, who absolutely treasures him. In this regard, we have been tremendously blessed, but I know this is not the case for many single moms, because the men are absent, not just from their personal lives, but from their social circles. There could be a lot more complaining about the rise of single parenthood, more chicken little hand-wringing about the demise of the family, or real men of God could step alongside the single mom to actually help and support her.

One of my favorite books is To Kill a Mockingbird, and in this novel we see a single father trying to raise two children, with the help of the maid and the community; Atticus is rarely seen as a threat to the nuclear family, instead he is seen as a hero, doing the best he can for his children, despite the circumstances that have befallen his family. I would submit that instead of seeing the single mom as a threat to America and apple pie, we simply see her as a person who loves her children, and is fighting an uphill battle against the circumstances that threaten to devour her and her children.