Rearing My Sons Without a Husband
ARE you faced with having to bring up your children without the help of a husband? Do you fear that you will not be able to shoulder the heavy responsibility? This was a situation in which I found myself.
From personal experience, I realized the troubles and disappointments that lie ahead for children as they grow up, and I was determined to prepare them to meet these things.
A TURBULENT, CONFUSED CHILDHOOD
I was born in Austria a few years before the start of the second world war. Still vivid in my mind are the last woes of senseless bloodshed that swept over our country in 1945. War-weary German soldiers, half starved and almost dead with thirst, were led into captivity in what looked like endless columns. The wounded and the dead skirted the roads.
A world collapsed before my eyes, a world that had been praised until that very instant by my parents. Also, the training that I received in the various national-socialistic youth associations extolled it as being the only world for which it was worth living and fighting. But now that world was in ruins. In confusion, I asked myself and others: ‘What is the true meaning of life?’
In those turbulent days no one found the time to show interest in my questions. So I began to search for answers in my religion—the Roman Catholic Church—which up till then had not played any major part in my life. Cleverly, advantage was taken of the still unbalanced emotional world of an adolescent girl. There was exposure to concerts of religious music, impressive services in famous old cathedrals and literature extolling a sacrificial way of life in solitude. As a result, I decided to enter a convent.
A trip to Rome was planned. However, I felt depressed because I knew that my financial situation would not allow me to go. How happy I was when an elderly priest offered to pay for my journey! Further details were to be discussed at his office. Joyfully, and filled with thankfulness and faith in the good, I hurried there. What a shock it was when he began to make immoral advances! I barely succeeded in getting out of the room without being molested! Shaken and deeply disappointed, I began to look at my religion more critically.
I still felt that to love God and to serve him was the most meaningful goal in life. But how could this be realized? Later, while working as a clerk at a court, something happened that further convinced me that it couldn’t be accomplished within the Catholic Church. A priest, who had sexually abused several young girls, was provided by the Church with one of the country’s best lawyers, even though pretrial hearings had established his guilt.
SOURCE OF TRUE WISDOM
Years went by, and in the early 1950’s I married and became the mother of two sons. It was then that the questions about the meaning and purpose of life, which had more or less been pushed into the background, arose again. I began to think seriously about my little ones’ future. I was determined that, when facing life’s situation, they would never find themselves at a loss, without a satisfying answer, as I had been in my youth.
Never was I as conscious of the insufficiency of human wisdom as I was then. I turned to God in prayer. Shortly afterward one of Jehovah’s Witnesses visited me and explained about God’s grand purpose in connection with his kingdom—a real government—that would bring lasting peace to humankind. (Matt. 6:9, 10; Rev. 21:3, 4) In time, my conviction grew that what I was learning in these Bible discussions was the truth for which I had been searching for so long.
At first my husband approved of my activity and even took part in the study of the Bible. However, the situation changed abruptly when he realized the obligation to follow closely the moral principles of God’s Word. An inclination toward a loose way of life finally caused him to give up the Bible study, and even to oppose me bitterly. So I separated from this adulterous mate. As a result, I lost a beautiful home and financial security, but I gained the freedom to teach my children God’s Word without interference.
SETTING AND CULTIVATING A GOAL
Prayerfully, I considered the Bible counsel to parents: “Train up a boy according to the way for him; even when he grows old he will not turn aside from it.” (Prov. 22:6) In keeping with this counsel, I resolved to do my utmost to mold my sons into useful vessels for Jehovah’s service.
This meant, first of all, setting the goal before my boys of taking up the full-time preaching activity when they grew older. Of course, I realized that their own desire to serve Jehovah would ultimately have to be the basis for taking up the full-time service. So, to cultivate that desire, I conducted a regular Bible study with them adapted to their needs.
At the time we did not have the two excellent books Listening to the Great Teacher and Your Youth—Getting the Best out of It. So a lot of research in Bible publications was required to find counsel on certain problems that arose. Realizing that real-life experiences of people make strong impressions on the mind, we would read and discuss together such experiences, especially those found in the Bible.
Thus, in time, my boys became well acquainted with such persons as Achan, Gehazi, Ananias and Sapphira. Why them? Because their experiences reveal how Jehovah views those who are greedy, and those who lie and steal. (Josh. 7:1-26; 2 Ki. 5:1-27; Acts 5:1-11) Then, to deal with the problem of disobedience, we would discuss Adam and Eve, or the people who died in the global deluge and at Sodom and Gomorrah. When it was a matter of envy, considering the example of Joseph’s brothers proved helpful. Also, we would read about men, women and children who were loyal servants of God and who endeavored to reflect his excellent qualities.
As a further part of their training, I never failed to take them to Christian meetings. We prepared comments together, and I encouraged them to share these at the meetings. Also, we kept up with the Bible-reading program in the Theocratic School, and regularly prayed together. I personally trained them to talk to others about the Bible, from showing them how to hand the householder a handbill to giving short Bible sermons, making return visits and conducting home Bible studies.
We would spend our spare time associating with those in the full-time preaching work, or other mature Christians and their families. And despite our modest financial means, I always saw to it that we got to the circuit and district assemblies, as well as the international conventions. There we would sit together and listen to the program.
MEETING PROBLEMS AT SCHOOL
At the beginning of each school year I would go over my sons’ textbooks. I was surprised to find how often they propagated unscriptural views, such as that humans evolved from lower forms of life. The celebration of holidays and patriotic ceremonies were among the matters we talked over. We would discuss the proper position to take in accord with God’s Word on possible situations that might arise. Also, we talked about the use of drugs, homosexuality, dating, the extent of participation in school sports events, and so forth.
Wouldn’t you be worried and filled with uneasiness if your child one day disclosed, “There is a drug addict in our class,” or, “My friend Otto has repeatedly been molested by a homosexual”? I never took the view that my children were beyond being influenced by those things. Quite to the contrary, I viewed the situations as serious. Together we discussed articles in The Watchtower and Awake! that dealt with these matters, and I encouraged the boys to examine the consequences of such practices.
I vividly recall an episode when my younger son Gerfried still attended elementary school. One Christmas his teacher asked the students to write about this holiday. Being well acquainted with the pagan origins of Christmas, Gerfried finished his composition long before the others. The teacher immediately read it, and was astonished. Right away he collected the papers of the other students and gave new instructions: “Write on the subject, A Winter Day.” Later he expressed himself favorably to me about the well-founded argumentation of my son about the origin of the Christmas festivities.
On another occasion every student in one of Gerfried’s classes was required to sing the national anthem. However, due to conscientious objection to singing songs that promote nationalism and tend to idolize nations, Gerfried refused. As a result, he was given a poor grade. I called at the school principal’s office and asked for an explanation. “He was asked to sing the national anthem because its melody has so many semitones which allow for a better test of the sense of hearing,” was the reply. As if there were no other songs with many semitones!
My willingness to back them up in their convictions instilled in my children the certainty that they were never alone in these things, and this helped them to remain courageous advocates of their beliefs. Above all, I endeavored to establish good contact with their teachers. This helped the children to avoid many a problem.
SHARING THEIR FAITH AT SCHOOL
I encouraged the boys to talk with their classmates about their faith. A good opportunity presented itself when the Catholic students received their religious instruction. Those who didn’t take part spent their leisure hour in a separate room. There my older son Manfred had some fine discussions with students who showed genuine interest in Bible truth. He would invite these interested ones to our home for additional discussions. Thus Manfred came to conduct two Bible studies when he was still very young. In time, both of these young persons dedicated themselves to Jehovah despite great opposition from their parents, and they are serving Him faithfully today.
The release of the book Did Man Get Here by Evolution or by Creation? was greatly appreciated by us. One of Manfred’s teachers, with whom he placed the book, examined carefully the evidence presented. As a result, he stopped teaching the evolution theory, and encouraged the entire class to get the book and read it thoroughly. Thus Manfred distributed more than 25 Evolution books to fellow students.
The following year the book The Truth That Leads to Eternal Life was released, and almost every one of his classmates took a copy.
My sons often based their written compositions and oral assignments on subjects from the Awake! magazine. The result frequently was the placement with the class of many copies of Awake! Other students also began using Awake! as the basis of their compositions. Manfred’s influence on some of his classmates became so strong that the Catholic teacher, a nun who conducted the scripture lessons, warned against associating with him. Another teacher took the matter to the headmaster of the school.
Sometime later the nun told Manfred: “I have observed you for a longer time now and I must admit that you are the most polite student at this school. Although I once expressed myself negatively about you, you have greeted me in a friendly way nevertheless. I’m sorry; now I know that I wronged you.”
All teachers who came in contact with my sons in the course of their days at school received a thorough witness, either orally or through our excellent Bible-based literature.
GUIDANCE TOWARD MANHOOD
With the teen-age years, the first “love letters” flew into our house. I did not shrug them off as childishness, but got in touch with the parents of the hopeful writers, talked with them, and, when necessary, also with the elders of the Christian congregation concerned. I thus nipped in the bud the inclination for premature dating. My sons did not always agree with my way of dealing with the matter, and at times lively discussions ensued. Of course, I always endeavored to provide some substitute activity.
Almost every Sunday we invited young Witnesses to our home to talk, to listen to music, or to play some sports. And how happy I was that mature Witnesses took the initiative to discuss with the boys things about which normally a father talks with his sons. I learned to seek help in the Christian congregation, and to accept and appreciate counsel. There is something I never forgot—that one’s own example is the best method of education.
Over seven years ago Manfred finished school. As soon as he did, we both entered the full-time preaching work as pioneers. Gerfried was then in a critical time of his development. How would he decide? Today I can happily say that he, too, has been serving now for over four years as a pioneer.
How happy I am that we are now serving Jehovah as a united family! Only with the strength and guidance provided by Jehovah through his Word and organization could I successfully have reared my sons without a husband. This is why I say with the Bible psalmist: “Let us come before his person with thanksgiving; let us with melodies shout in triumph to him. For Jehovah is a great God and a great King over all other gods.”—Ps. 95:2, 3.