1-3. What has led to the growth in the number of single-parent families, and how are those involved affected?
ONE-PARENT families have been called “the fastest growing family style” in the United States. The situation is similar in many other lands. A record number of divorces, desertions, separations, and illegitimate births have had far-reaching consequences for millions of parents and children.
2 “I am a 28-year-old widow with two children,” wrote one single mother. “I am very depressed for I don’t want to raise my children without a father. It seems like no one even cares about me. My children see me cry often and it affects them.” Besides wrestling with such feelings as anger, guilt, and loneliness, most single parents face the challenge of both holding a job outside the home and performing domestic duties. One said: “Being a single parent is like being a juggler. After six months of practice, you have finally been able to juggle four balls at once. But just as soon as you are able to do that, somebody throws a new ball to you!”
3 Youngsters in single-parent families often have their own struggles. They may have to contend with intense emotions in the wake of a parent’s abrupt departure or death. For many youths the absence of a parent seems to have a profoundly negative effect.
4. How do we know that Jehovah is concerned about single-parent families?
4 One-parent families existed in Bible times. The Scriptures repeatedly mention the “fatherless boy” and the “widow.” (Exodus 22:22; Deuteronomy 24:19-21; Job 31:16-22) Jehovah God was not indifferent to their plight. The psalmist called God “a father of fatherless boys and a judge of widows.” (Psalm 68:5) Surely, Jehovah has the same concern for one-parent families today! Indeed, his Word offers principles that can help them to succeed.
MASTERING THE HOUSEHOLD ROUTINE
5. What problem do single parents have to face initially?
5 Consider the task of managing a home. “There are many occasions when you wish you had a man around,” admits one divorcée, “like when your car starts making noises and you don’t know where they are coming from.” Men who are recently divorced or widowed may likewise be bewildered by the multitude of household tasks they must now perform. For children, domestic disarray adds to feelings of instability and insecurity.
6, 7. (a) What fine example was set by the “capable wife” of Proverbs? (b) How does being diligent about domestic responsibilities help in single-parent homes?
6 What can help? Note the example set by the “capable wife” described at Proverbs 31:10-31. The breadth of her accomplishments is remarkable—buying, selling, sewing, cooking, investing in real estate, farming, and managing a business. Her secret? She was diligent, working late and getting up early to start her activities. And she was well organized, delegating some tasks and using her own hands to care for others. No wonder she won praise!
7 If you are a single parent, be conscientious about your domestic responsibilities. Find satisfaction in such work, for this does much to add to the happiness of your children. However, proper planning and organization are essential. The Bible says: “The plans of the diligent one surely make for advantage.” (Proverbs 21:5) One single father admitted: “I tend not to think about meals until I’m hungry.” But planned meals tend to be more nutritious and appealing than those hastily improvised. You may also have to learn to use your hands in new ways. By consulting knowledgeable friends, how-to books, and helpful professionals, some single mothers have been able to tackle painting, plumbing, and simple auto repairs.
8. How can children of single parents help out in the home?
8 Is it fair to ask children to help out? One single mother reasoned: “You want to make up for the absence of the other parent by making it easy for the children.” That may be understandable but perhaps not always in the best interests of the child. God-fearing youths of Bible times were assigned appropriate chores. (Genesis 37:2; Song of Solomon 1:6) So, although being careful not to overload your children, you will be wise to assign them tasks such as taking care of the dishes and keeping their room clean. Why not perform some chores together? This can be very enjoyable.
THE CHALLENGE OF MAKING A LIVING
9. Why do single mothers often face financial hardships?
9 Most single parents find it difficult to meet their financial needs, and young unwed mothers usually have a particularly hard time.* In lands where public assistance is available, they may be wise to make use of it, at least until they can find employment. The Bible permits Christians to utilize such provisions when necessary. (Romans 13:1, 6) Widows and divorcées face similar challenges. Many, forced to reenter the job market after years of homemaking, can often find only low-paying work. Some manage to improve their lot by enrolling in job-training programs or short-term school courses.
10. How can a single mother explain to her children why she must find secular employment?
10 Do not be surprised if your children are unhappy when you seek employment, and do not feel guilty. Rather, explain to them why you must work, and help them to understand that Jehovah requires you to provide for them. (1 Timothy 5:8) In time, most children adjust. However, try to spend as much time with them as your busy schedule allows. Such loving attention can also help to minimize the impact of any financial limitations the family may experience.—Proverbs 15:16, 17.
WHO IS TAKING CARE OF WHOM?
11, 12. What boundaries must single parents preserve, and how can they do so?
11 It is natural for single parents to be especially close to their children, yet care must be taken that the God-assigned boundaries between parents and children do not break down. For example, serious difficulties can arise if a single mother expects her son to take on the responsibilities of the man of the house or treats her daughter as a confidant, burdening the girl with intimate problems. Doing so is inappropriate, stressful, and perhaps confusing to a child.
12 Assure your children that you, as the parent, will care for them—not vice versa. (Compare 2 Corinthians 12:14.) At times, you may need some advice or support. Seek it from Christian elders or perhaps from mature Christian women, not from your minor children.—Titus 2:3.
13. What problem regarding discipline may a single mother face?
13 A man may have little trouble being taken seriously as a disciplinarian, but a woman may have problems in this regard. Says one single mother: “My sons have men’s bodies and men’s voices. Sometimes it is hard not to sound indecisive or weak in comparison.” Furthermore, you may still be grieving over the death of a beloved mate, or perhaps you may be feeling guilt or anger over a marital breakup. If there is shared custody, you may fear that your child prefers being with your former mate. Such situations can make it difficult to administer balanced discipline.
14. How can single parents maintain a balanced view of discipline?
14 The Bible says that “a boy let on the loose will be causing his mother shame.” (Proverbs 29:15) You have the backing of Jehovah God in making and enforcing family rules, so do not give in to guilt, remorse, or fear. (Proverbs 1:8) Never compromise Bible principles. (Proverbs 13:24) Try to be reasonable, consistent, and firm. In time, most children will respond. Still, you will want to take the feelings of your children into consideration. Says one single father: “My discipline had to be tempered with understanding because of the shock of losing their mother. I talk to them at every opportunity. We have ‘cozy moments’ when we prepare dinner. It is then that they really confide in me.”
15. What should a divorced parent avoid when speaking of the ex-mate?
15 If you are divorced, nothing good is accomplished by undermining respect for your former mate. Parental bickering is painful for children and will ultimately weaken their respect for both of you. Hence, avoid making hurtful remarks like: “You’re just like your father!” Whatever pain your ex-mate may have caused you, he or she is still the parent of your child, who needs the love, attention, and discipline of both parents.*
16. What spiritual arrangements should be a regular part of discipline in a single-parent home?
16 As discussed in previous chapters, discipline involves training and instruction, not just punishment. Many problems can be averted by a good program of spiritual training. (Philippians 3:16) Regular attendance at Christian meetings is essential. (Hebrews 10:24, 25) So is having a weekly family Bible study. True, it is not easy to keep such a study going. “After a day’s work, you really want to relax,” says one conscientious mother. “But I prepare myself mentally to study with my daughter, knowing it is something that needs to be done. She really enjoys our family study!”
17. What can we learn from the fine upbringing of Paul’s companion Timothy?
17 The apostle Paul’s companion Timothy was evidently given his training in Bible principles by his mother and his grandmother—but apparently not by his father. Yet, what an outstanding Christian Timothy became! (Acts 16:1, 2; 2 Timothy 1:5; 3:14, 15) You can likewise hope for favorable results as you strive to raise your children “in the discipline and mental-regulating of Jehovah.”—Ephesians 6:4.
WINNING THE BATTLE AGAINST LONELINESS
18, 19. (a) How can loneliness manifest itself for a single parent? (b) What counsel is given to help control fleshly desires?
18 One single parent sighed: “When I come home and see those four walls, and especially after the children are in bed, loneliness really comes over me.” Yes, loneliness is often the biggest problem a single parent faces. It is natural to long for the warm companionship and intimacies of marriage. But should a person try to solve this problem at any cost? In the apostle Paul’s day, some younger widows allowed “their sexual impulses [to] come between them and the Christ.” (1 Timothy 5:11, 12) Permitting fleshly desires to overshadow spiritual interests would be damaging.—1 Timothy 5:6.
19 A Christian man said: “Sexual urges are very strong, but you can control them. When a thought comes into your mind, you must not dwell on it. You have to get rid of it. It also helps to think of your child.” God’s Word counsels: ‘Deaden your body members as respects sexual appetite.’ (Colossians 3:5) If you were trying to deaden your appetite for food, would you read magazines featuring pictures of delicious foods, or would you associate with people who constantly talked about food? Hardly! The same is true concerning fleshly desires.
20. (a) What danger lurks for those who court unbelievers? (b) How have single people both in the first century and today battled loneliness?
20 Some Christians have entered into courtships with unbelievers. (1 Corinthians 7:39) Did that solve their problem? No. A divorced Christian woman warned: “There is one thing much worse than being single. It is being married to the wrong person!” First-century Christian widows no doubt had bouts of loneliness, but the wise ones kept busy ‘entertaining strangers, washing the feet of the holy ones, and relieving those in tribulation.’ (1 Timothy 5:10) Faithful Christians today who have waited many years to find a God-fearing mate have similarly kept busy. A 68-year-old Christian widow started visiting other widows whenever she got lonely. She said: “I find that by making these visits, keeping up my housework and taking care of my spirituality I don’t have time to be lonely.” Teaching others about God’s Kingdom is an especially beneficial good work.—Matthew 28:19, 20.
21. In what way can prayer and good association help overcome loneliness?
21 Admittedly, there is no miracle cure for loneliness. But it can be endured with strength from Jehovah. Such strength comes when a Christian “persists in supplications and prayers night and day.” (1 Timothy 5:5) Supplications are earnest pleas, yes, a begging for help, perhaps with strong outcries and tears. (Compare Hebrews 5:7.) Pouring out your heart to Jehovah “night and day” can really help. Further, wholesome association can do much to fill the void of loneliness. Through good association, one can get “the good word” of encouragement described at Proverbs 12:25.
22. What considerations will help when feelings of loneliness surface from time to time?
22 If feelings of loneliness surface from time to time—as they likely will—remember that no one has a perfect lot in life. Indeed, “the entire association of your brothers” is suffering in one way or another. (1 Peter 5:9) Avoid dwelling on the past. (Ecclesiastes 7:10) Take stock of the advantages that you enjoy. Above all, be determined to keep your integrity and to make Jehovah’s heart glad.—Proverbs 27:11.
HOW OTHERS CAN HELP
23. What responsibility do fellow Christians have toward single parents in the congregation?
23 The support and help of fellow Christians is invaluable. James 1:27 says: “The form of worship that is clean and undefiled from the standpoint of our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their tribulation.” Yes, Christians are obliged to assist single-parent families. What are some practical ways in which this might be done?
24. In what ways may needy single-parent families be helped?
24 Material help can be given. The Bible says: “Whoever has this world’s means for supporting life and beholds his brother having need and yet shuts the door of his tender compassions upon him, in what way does the love of God remain in him?” (1 John 3:17) The original Greek word for “beholds” means, not just a casual glance, but a deliberate gaze. This indicates that a kindly Christian might first become familiar with a family’s circumstances and needs. Perhaps they are in need of money. Some may need help with household repairs. Or they might simply appreciate being invited over for a meal or a social gathering.
25. How may fellow Christians show compassion toward single parents?
25 In addition, 1 Peter 3:8 says: “All of you be like-minded, showing fellow feeling, having brotherly affection, tenderly compassionate.” Said one single parent with six children: “It’s been hard and sometimes I get weighed down. However, once in a while one of the brothers or sisters will say to me: ‘Joan, you’re doing a good job. It’s going to be worth it.’ Just to know that others are thinking of you and that they care is so helpful.” Older Christian women may be particularly effective in helping young women who are single parents, offering them a listening ear when they have problems that might be awkward for them to discuss with a man.
26. How can mature Christian men help fatherless children?
26 Christian men can help out in other ways. The righteous man Job said: “I would rescue . . . the fatherless boy and anyone that had no helper.” (Job 29:12) Some Christian men today likewise take a wholesome interest in fatherless children and show genuine “love out of a clean heart,” having no ulterior motives. (1 Timothy 1:5) Without neglecting their own families, they might occasionally arrange to work with such young ones in the Christian ministry and might also invite them to share in family study or in recreation. Such kindness could very well rescue a fatherless child from a wayward course.
27. Of what support can single parents be assured?
27 Ultimately, of course, single parents have to ‘carry their own load’ of responsibility. (Galatians 6:5) Nevertheless, they can have the love of Christian brothers and sisters and of Jehovah God himself. The Bible says of him: “The fatherless boy and the widow he relieves.” (Psalm 146:9) With His loving support, single-parent families can succeed!
If a young Christian becomes pregnant because of immoral conduct, the Christian congregation in no way condones what she has done. But if she is repentant, congregation elders and others in the congregation may wish to offer her help.
We are not referring to situations in which a child may need to be protected from an abusive parent. Also, if the other parent tries to weaken your authority, perhaps with a view to persuading the children to leave you, it may be well to speak to experienced friends, such as the elders in the Christian congregation, for advice concerning how to handle the situation.