“Just You and Me, Mom”
Children of single parents: Can they rise above the difficulty? How can they help create a happier home?
“MY FATHER left us and my mother has been very ill. She is better now, but we are having it bad. We need a father, for we barely make it. Sometimes we have little or no food because most of the money is used for bills and repairs around the house. I hate to see my mom so lonely. Just what is going to happen to us? We are scared.”
This painful letter was an urgent plea from a 14-year-old boy who became one of the millions of youngsters raised by a single parent.
Unless you personally have experienced the situation, you cannot fully imagine the trauma to a young mind when suddenly one parent is gone—perhaps forever. Though many families lose a parent because of death, the vast majority are made semiorphans because of either desertion, divorce or separation. It is estimated that 40 percent of all children now alive in the United States will spend some of their lifetime in a single-parent family. The scene worldwide is worsening.
For a youth to overcome the problems of this situation, which one youngster describes as “a wall of frustration, hurt and anxiety,” is a real challenge. What can he or she do to cope with this new circumstance? If the child turns bad, is it always the parent’s fault? How much control does such a youngster have over his own destiny? The following true-life experiences may help you to find the answers to these questions.
What Can Make Matters Worse?
“If I can’t do it, then I’ll just go live with dad—he’ll let me!” threatened one teenager when his mother disciplined him. Such threats are not unusual. One 14-year-old girl openly admitted: “I have more freedom, too. Dad lets me do more things than mom did. . . . Mothers sometimes just try to raise you the way they think is best, but fathers will let you be more the way you want to be.” Of course, this is not always the case.
However, does ‘being the way one wants to be’ bring genuine satisfaction? Many youngsters, without thinking, will shout “Yes!” So did one 16-year-old who later learned differently.
This boy’s parents were divorced, and the mother was given custody of him and his brother. The Christian mother was firm and set down “house rules,” including a curfew, and required the boys to obey these. But the 16-year-old felt that mom was too strict. He wanted freedom, so he left. He moved in with his father who immediately showered him with material gifts—a new car, a new watch and other things. He had his freedom. But soon this newfound freedom brought problems.
The moral principles he had previously held high were lost. His sexual promiscuity led to a vicious fight with a jealous boyfriend. He ran away several times because of the tension in the home of his father, who had now remarried. In a rush to get away from this tension he hastily married, and along with his young wife engaged in a life of constant partying. Nearly every night they would barhop. He was certainly ‘being the way he wanted to be.’
One night while sitting in a bar, he began to take a serious look at himself, what he had become. “What am I doing with my life; what’s happening to me; where am I really going?” he thought. Soon his wife deserted him. His life fell apart. Realizing where there was security, he returned to his mother’s home, now willing to live by those same rules that he had chafed under before. He now realized that they were for his own good. Happily, he recognized the truth of the Bible proverb (Pr 29:15): “A boy let on the loose will be causing his mother shame.”
Real Sons and Daughters
A 16-year-old girl in Bogotá, Colombia, proved to be a real daughter. Her father deserted the home when she was three, and her mother struggled, without any material support from the man, to care for little Yvonne’s physical and emotional needs, as well as trying to instill Christian principles within her. At 13 the girl was stricken with a paralyzing disease. Yet, with her mother’s care, she recovered. Then, suddenly, when she was 16 the father reappeared—now a successful businessman.
Immediately, he began legal proceedings to gain custody of the girl. Yvonne and her mother were called to court, where the father charged: “She has neglected my daughter’s welfare and her education!”
“When I was sick and needed treatment, where was my father?” answered Yvonne mildly. After reflecting on the moral principles her mother had taught her, she continued: “My mother has given me the finest education I could ever have.”
“But I want to give my daughter all the advantages she needs to have a happy life,” pleaded the father. He added, “She can have a full college education in the career of her choice, fine clothes, parties, social contacts—all she needs to be successful. And I have the means to provide it.”
Quite an offer! Certainly the mother was in no position to compete—peso for peso. “Look what you’re denying your daughter!” snapped the judge as he glared at the helpless mother.
“Yvonne is a big girl now. She can make her own choice,” responded the mother. “If she wishes to go with her father, I will not stand in her way.”
Without hesitation Yvonne spoke up: “I appreciate what you want to do for me, father, but my life with mother is already very happy and satisfying. I have all that I really need materially.” Then, pondering over her own life’s work of aiding others spiritually full time, she said: “But far beyond the material things I have, I now have a genuine purpose in life. This is something money just can’t buy.” Tearfully, the mother embraced her daughter as the father dropped his claim and stormed out of the courtroom.
In Detroit, Michigan, U.S.A., a fatal accident left a Christian widow alone to care for three teenage girls. One of these is a completely helpless paralytic.
How would you feel if you had to hand-feed an 18-year-old, change her diapers, bathe and dress her, as well as carry her back and forth to religious meetings? It is no easy task, and the father had previously been a great help to the mother. Would the mother now have to give the girl up to some institution to care for her?
“We’ll take care of her, mom,” was the response of the other daughters. And that’s just what they did. “I’ve been able to keep the girl simply because of the help of my other two children,” said the mother.
There are many other examples where children of single parents have cared for household chores and substantially supported their parents. Not only does the parent benefit, but a leading child psychologist, Dr. Lee Salk, reported how the child also profits: Some single parents have been very successful . . . They will say, ‘I’ve got so many things to do today that it would be a big help if you could set the table when you come home from school. And maybe you could also go around to the store and get some tomatoes and eggs and a loaf of bread—that certainly would make things a lot easier for me when I get home.’ Children love that sort of thing. It makes them feel important. They gain a great feeling of self-esteem from doing something that makes their parent’s life a little easier, and from being appreciated for it.” Thus life for both the child and the family is improved.
No youngster likes to be thought of as a baby. Though perhaps young in years, most children like to feel that they are becoming more adult in their thinking.
Children of single parents frequently grow up faster emotionally than those with two parents. Why is this often so? In the magazine article “Divorce: The Positive Side” writer Jane Adams states: “The children of divorce are forced to be independent—one parent simply cannot be as attentive, available and helpful as two. . . . I know that both my children—in their early teens—can prepare a fairly nutritious meal. Both can help keep the home we share running smoothly and tackle chores from dusting to washing and ironing their own clothing, to fixing a broken window. They clean up after themselves because they have to—there’s no one else to do it.”
As they mature in their thinking they become especially helpful to their single parent. For instance, one Christian divorcée was faced with rearing five boys and a girl. Though she was cared for financially, problems began to develop. “I was more lenient with the kids because I felt I was in competition with their father who had visitation rights. I didn’t want to lose them,” she admitted.
But one of her sons stunned her by saying, “Mom, you’re spoiling the kids! Mom, just look how they’re acting—they need the ‘rod.’ You have to be firm. Your ‘Yes’ has to be ‘Yes’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.”’ Such grown-up advice was quickly followed, and what a difference it made in this home!—Prov. 22:15; Jas. 5:12.
Those youngsters who ‘put away the traits of a babe’ by maturing in their thinking and conduct always look back thankfully in later years. At the age of four one of these lost his father in death. It was during economically hard times and many wondered how the mother would cope with rearing 11 children alone!—1 Cor. 13:11.
Relatives came and were prepared to divide up the children to care for them. “No,” said the somewhat proud mother, “we will all stay together, even if we have to starve together!”
“I look back on this experience in my life,” wrote the now grown-up four-year-old “and I realize that it was one of the most outstanding events that ever happened to me. We as a family started pulling together so we could survive.”
At first they made sandwiches and snacks and, after obtaining permission, sold these at train stations. Finally, the mother established a small restaurant. The previously mentioned son said, “I well remember the times when someone would come into the restaurant and want an egg sandwich and I would be sent out of the back door to go to the grocery store to buy one egg.”
Now this Christian man not only has successfully reared his own family but is a founder of a multimillion-dollar business chain. Reflectively, he wrote, “I thank God for such a wonderful mother.”
Known by Your Own Practices
The preceding examples certainly show that children of single parents need not be just helpless victims of their difficult circumstance. Though without question the loss of a parent can and does have a dramatic effect on a child’s life, many youngsters agree with the proverb (Pr 20:11): “Even by his practices [not by the status of his parents] a boy makes himself recognized as to whether his activity is pure and upright.”
A so-called broken home does not have to warp a child’s life. Youngsters who reach out to help their parents and respond to proper moral direction and discipline from such a parent can be successful in life. Not only will they have self-esteem, but they will also develop the inner peace of mind that is so critically missing among many youths today. Such ones can contribute to a warm family life. By their actions they can truly say, “Just you and me, mom—but together we can build a rich and meaningful life.”