Rearing Children Without a Mate—the Pleasures and the Pains
“I SAID ‘No,” Cheryl, and that’s final!” So spoke Dorothy, the sole parent in a household of five. However, the 13-year-old Cheryl shouted back, “I hate you!” and stormed out of the room.
“When she says that I just fall to pieces,” lamented the mother, adding, “I hurt her, so she tries to hurt me—and she does. I have tried to hide my feelings and not show how much it hurts, but I just can’t help it.” Then after a slight hesitation, “I know she really needs her father. Every little girl needs a father—he is the first man in her life. With him gone she is so frustrated.”
Dorothy well describes some of the pain endured by those who must raise children without a mate. Yet one who had observed and interviewed a number of single parents stated: “In a number of cases single-parent families are doing better at raising children than families with both parents in the home. Undoubtedly this is because single parents are often more keenly aware of the problems they have and put forth a greater effort to compensate for them.”
Single-parent families have dramatically increased in the past decade in many countries. Almost 10 percent of all families in Great Britain, Australia and Canada have single parents. In the United States it is nearly one out of every six families, and their number has doubled within the last 10 years. With the prospect that two out of every five children now living (at least in the United States) will spend some of their lifetime in a single-parent home, a major concern should be about their rearing.
Concern for the problems confronted by single-parent families prompted a recent series of interviews with several hundred single-parent families among Jehovah’s Witnesses around the world. The results provided not only a vivid insight into the problems of rearing children alone, but also a number of helpful suggestions. One point of advice frequently mentioned was to
“I found that by taking the children into my confidence, telling them exactly how things stood, they were more than willing to help, and everything ran much smoother in the home,” reported one divorcée with a 9- and a 12-year-old. Confiding in the children, appealing for their help, is one way to keep the lines of communication open. Oftentimes problems arise because children of single parents do not fully understand the limitations, financially and otherwise, their situation may bring.
To guide the children skillfully, a parent must know what’s on the youngsters’ mind. To do this, one single parent said: “In the evenings after work I do all I can to penetrate my daughter’s little world. She tells me what happened at school, and her problems with the teachers and fellow students. I take a keen interest in her life. And I listen. Then I tell her about my work and the people there.”
However, it does not happen automatically for a child to tell all his or her problems to a parent. Those parents who have successfully achieved this rapport with their child found that they had to display the following attitude described in the Bible: “Answer me, if you can; set your words in order before me; take your stand. Behold, I am toward God as you are; I too was formed from a piece of clay. Behold, no fear of me need terrify you; my pressure will not be heavy upon you.”—Job 33:5-7, Revised Standard Version.
Here is expressed a very warm, open and honest frame of mind. When a child detects such an attitude on the part of a parent, the youngster will usually respond, because he has no ‘terrifying fear’ of the parent. The parent does not try to project an image of perfection. This is the attitude one widow took with three teenage boys to rear: “I found it was easier to keep a close relationship with the boys when I showed a willingness to admit my own mistakes.”
At times the parent may have to insist that a child do something for his own good, something that the youngster resents. For instance, the single parent of a 17-year-old boy insisted that he terminate a relationship that was detrimental and would get him into trouble. After several weeks of intense discussions, the boy responded: “Mom, you can’t imagine how mad I have been with you, but now I understand you.” Open communication made the difference.
Show Your Love
When a child loses a parent, especially through divorce or separation, the situation can shatter his or her fragile emotions. One divorcée described what can happen: “A child’s reactions are so often tantrums, inexplicable outbursts of tears, fits of jealousy, a desperate clinging and reversion to babyhood.” Often the child may feel the breakup is his fault. He may fear the loss of the other parent too, and that he may be left an orphan. This one needs reassurance, attention, genuine concern—in a word, love.
To be effective the love has to be shown openly by deeds. “Let us love, neither in word nor with the tongue,” recommends the Bible, “but in deed and truth.” (1 John 3:18) This does not mean never telling your children that you love them, but deeds, what you actually do, say more. Children know that talk is easy. Those in single-parent homes as a result of a divorce know the reality of a broken promise. But how can a single parent show genuine love?
“With small children physical contact is important. I hold her when I talk to her,” wrote the single parent of a five-year-old. Another agreed, saying, “Occasionally I’ll just stop and put my arms around the child.” Expressions of endearment like this may help convince the child of the parent’s lasting interest.
Empathy or “fellow feeling” by the parent will also show love. (1 Pet. 3:8) One teenage daughter of a single parent lashed out at her mother with a verbal barrage when the girl was asked to perform certain chores. The mother responded: “Regardless of how you’re acting, I still love you. I don’t love how you’re behaving, but I love you. There’s nothing you can say or do that will make me stop loving you.” The girl immediately dropped her head, struggled to hold back a tear, and then calmly did what her mother asked. Deep inside she knew her mother cared, her mother loved her.
“I’ll never forget the morning my smallest child said to me, ‘Don’t go to work today, Mommy.’ That was a real plea from an insecure heart,” reported one single parent. How did the mother react? “I considered it more important to keep my relationship with her as close as possible,” she said, “so I decided to stop work and manage on less.” Naturally, not all single parents can solve the problem in this manner. Yet many single parents have taken a realistic look at their secular employment’s effect on the rearing of their children.
To provide for their families, some single parents have worked at home. These have provided services* or sold their own homemade products, as one single parent with four mouths to feed, who, along with the help of her children, made doughnuts and other tidbits and sold these to restaurants. Others have sought part-time work so they can be home with their children when these are not in school. Still this is not always the answer, as Joyce Miller, president of the Coalition of Labor Union Women reported: “Over forty-two per cent of working women are the sole support of their families. How can you tell them to accept a part-time salary when they still have to pay full rent?”
Yet, despite having to work full time, many single parents are able to keep very close to their children, like one who said: “I explained over and over again to the children that the only reason I was going to work was to buy food, clothing and provide a place for us to live. I told them that I would be staying home with them if working out were not absolutely necessary. They finally got the point, even my little two-year-old, and now they cope much better with the situation.”
Children can sense when the parent prefers to work rather than spend the time with them. It may mean adjusting one’s living standards somewhat, even on the part of the youngsters, to be able to get by on less. Yet many parents, as well as children, have recognized the truth of the Bible proverb (Pr 15:17): “Better is a dish of vegetables [not very much] where there is love than a manger-fed bull [an abundance] and hatred along with it.”
Firm yet Loving Discipline
“Loving is not enough,” warns Dr. Arnon Bentovim, an authority on child care. “The child must have discipline and be offered guidelines which build up security.” Some single parents try to make up to the child for the loss of a parent by being overly permissive. Often it is not easy for a mother to discipline the children, especially boys, who may resent the loss of their father.
One mother who successfully and single-handedly raised five children admitted: “It’s only natural that the children will try to do things that they would not do if my husband were there. I had to be very determined. Sometimes I found it better to sit them all down and appeal to them rather than clash head-on. I really got their respect this way.”
Children recognize—though usually it’s much later—the need for discipline, which includes punishment. One group of youngsters who had gotten into trouble with the law made up a code of rules for parents. They acknowledged: ‘Be strict and consistent in dishing out discipline. It gives us a feeling of security. Kids don’t want everything they ask for.’ This expression echoes the truth of what the Bible said long ago: “The one holding back his rod [of parental authority] is hating his son, but the one loving him is he that does look for him with discipline.”—Prov. 13:24.
Putting forth the needed effort in rearing a child as a single parent is not easy. But many single parents who put forth the effort are getting satisfying results. They’re staying close to their children and are seeing these grow up to be principled individuals. One single parent said: “A great source of comfort to me was the loyalty of my children. They treated me not only as their mother but as a friend. Their conversation and truthfulness brought me much joy.”
Often children of single parents mature faster, as these are forced by their circumstances to assume more responsibility in the home. One single parent, after distributing to her children daily tasks that she could no longer care for, observed: “The children are now used to their chores, do these efficiently and there is no problem in the home. They know where to put their clothes when they finish wearing them and to keep the home straight. They know how to wash dishes, prepare meals, wash and iron clothes, do shopping and even weed the garden.” Such well-trained youngsters become responsible grown-ups and are well prepared for their roles in adult life.
Naturally, at times even among a close family, serious difficulties may arise. Not all the answers are covered in this one article. However, those parents who have tried their best to follow guidelines set down in the Bible, by the Originator of family life, on the whole have found pleasure in rearing their children. By holding Bible studies with their children, by instilling these principles in them, single parents can do much toward protecting their children from peer pressure to indulge in wrongdoing.
If both parents and children follow the divine injunction given at Ephesians 6:1-4 much heartache may be avoided: “Children, be obedient to your parents in union with the Lord, for this is righteous: ‘Honor your father and your mother’; which is the first command with a promise: ‘That it may go well with you and you may endure a long time on the earth.’ And you, fathers, do not be irritating your children, but go on bringing them up in the discipline and mental-regulating of Jehovah.”
For suggestions, see Awake!, August 22, 1975, pages 9 through 11, in the article “Making a Job for Yourself,” and the September 22, 1975, issue, pages 9 through 12, “Finding Work That Affords Greater Freedom.”