Single Parents Coping in Today’s World
“The woman who is actually a widow and left destitute has put her hope in God and persists in supplications and prayers night and day.”—1 Tim. 5:5.
1-3. (a) What did one widow write? (b) Has there been an increase in single-parent families, and what are some of the problems these face?
“I AM a 28-year-old widow with two children. 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. I know I can’t go on feeling like this, but what should I do?” This letter expresses a common plea from some who are facing many problems—single parents.
2 Worldwide reports show a rapid increase in single-parent families. In 10 years the number has almost doubled in the United States, and has more than doubled in Canada. They make up about one tenth of all families in Australia and Great Britain. It is estimated that two out of every five children now living in the United States will spend some of their life in a single-parent family.
3 There are many reasons for this increase. Wars and car accidents have robbed many homes of a father. As family life decays, desertion, divorce and separation have become commonplace. Some unwed mothers, rather than having an abortion or giving up their child for adoption, have chosen to rear the child instead. A single parent must cope with many problems. Loneliness, rearing children, making a living, sexual desires and managing a household are just a few.
CHRISTIANITY BRINGS RELIEF
4. What conditions during the first century produced many single-parent families?
4 In the first century, during the infancy of Christianity, the ravages of war, sickness and moral decay likewise produced countless widows and fatherless children. Divorce or abandonment was often the rule. Usually children of tender years were left with the mother who now had to bring them up alone. The world of the Roman Empire was a heartless society that despised the weak. So widows were subjected to harsh abuses. Some even turned to prostitution for support.
5. In what two ways did Christianity help?
5 Christianity brought a real change. It showed compassion to the less fortunate. But even beyond this, by its teachings, single parents were infused with the moral strength to break free from the vices of the time. Instead of producing shameless women, Christianity produced women who were self-controlled, chaste, who loved their families. Even non-Christians recognized the difference, as one of these exclaimed: “What women the Christians have!”
6. What Christian principles can help single parents, as well as all Christians, to cope with today’s pressures?
6 What Christian principles helped? The apostle Paul, in offering counsel about widows, said that the exemplary widow “has put her hope in God and persists in supplications and prayers night and day.” He indicated that a widow not less than 60 years old could be placed on the list for assistance if, among other things, “she diligently followed every good work.” (1 Tim. 5:5, 9, 10) Here, at least three principles stand out: (1) Trust God now and anticipate the hope of eternal life that he has promised; (2) maintain a close personal relationship with God; (3) keep involved in beneficial work. We shall see how these three principles, if applied, genuinely help not only single parents but all Christians to cope with today’s pressures.
COPING WITH LONELINESS
7. (a) Why is loneliness especially difficult for some single parents? (b) How does the principle suggested at 1 Timothy 5:10 help?
7 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. Though becoming closer to the children helps, many yearn for adult companionship. Keeping involved in “every good work” is one time-tested remedy. First-century Christian widows ‘entertained strangers, washed the feet of the holy ones [through personal acts of service] and relieved those in tribulation.’ (1 Tim. 5:10) Noting this, one 68-year-old modern-day Christian widow took to visiting other nearby widows and rest homes 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.”
8. (a) Why does Kingdom preaching help us fight loneliness and depression? (b) Does it really work?
8 Kingdom preaching is a “good work” commanded by Jesus, a work that can relieve loneliness and depression. (Matt. 24:14; 28:19, 20) One lonely and depressed single parent who had become withdrawn was urged by her friends to get started in the house-to-house witnessing. She did. At her first door she was invited in by a badly crippled, yet unusually cheerful, woman. How could she be so happy? “It is because I have my life, my dear. I am alive,” was her jovial reply. This was a turning point for the Witness, who reasoned: “I have my health, the love of the congregation, two fine children and, above all, Jehovah. Why should I be unhappy?” Helping others spiritually can prevent our becoming self-centered and giving in to self-pity. Teaching others keeps our own hope alive and fresh; so we continue to “put [our] hope in God.”—1 Tim. 5:5.
9. Will loneliness always go away with hard work? What also helps?
9 Yet one widower stated realistically: “Loneliness does not go away with just hard work. Often you have to live with it. It must simply be endured with the help and strength from Jehovah.” Such strength comes when one “persists in supplications and prayers night and day.” (1 Tim. 5:5) Prayerfully recounting our activities throughout the day, and knowing that Jehovah is always there listening and that he cares about the details of our life is truly comforting. Pouring out our heart to him “night and day” helps—especially at night when, as many report, the problem of loneliness can become serious.
COPING WITH SEXUAL DESIRES
10. (a) When can sexual desires become a serious problem? (b) How does one ‘go in for sensual gratification,’ and to what can this lead?
10 Many single parents ache for the warm companionship of marriage and the intimacies of the marital bed. Certainly such feelings are not wrong in themselves. The desire to remarry is natural. The problem comes when a person decides to satisfy these “sexual impulses” regardless of the cost. This happened in the apostle Paul’s day. Some younger widows allowed “their sexual impulses [to] come between them and the Christ.” (1 Tim. 5:11, 12) This was serious because, in effect, such an individual was saying: ‘My sexual needs are just too great. I have to do something to give my body relief!’ These bodily or sensual desires gradually became the big thing in life, even bigger than spiritual interests. These desires could build up to the point where one would ‘go in for sensual gratification’ and thus become “dead though she is living.” (1 Tim. 5:6) That person’s interest in spiritual matters would die. The same thing can happen to any Christian (male or female) today. One can commit ‘spiritual suicide’ by ignoring Bible standards of morality, because of being so absorbed in satisfying “sexual impulses.”
11. How can a person ‘deaden his sexual appetite’?
11 Therefore, the Bible urges: ‘Deaden your body members as respects sexual appetite.’ (Col. 3:5) But how? By guarding your mind and heart. If you were trying to diet and control your appetite for food, would you read magazines containing pictures of delicious foods, or would you watch TV shows about cooking? Would you associate with people who constantly talked about food? Hardly! It is the same with “sexual appetite.” One widow frankly stated: “We are in a world that just never stops talking about sex. So I am quite careful about my choices of entertainment and with whom I socialize. A diabetic would surely not want to press his nose to the window of a candy store.”
12, 13. (a) To cultivate a personal relationship with Jehovah, what is needed? (b) Why are “supplications” so important, and how can one work in harmony with these?
12 However, to keep overcoming these desires, day after day, an individual must develop a close personal relationship with God. Besides personal study and meditation, this requires persistence in “supplications.” (1 Tim. 5:5) Paul not only mentions prayers in general, but says “supplications.” These are petitions to God conveying an intense need. They are earnest pleas, yes, a begging for help, perhaps with “strong outcries and tears.”—Heb. 5:7.
13 Are your prayers for self-control and strength as intense as that? Do you persist in them? Do you pray at the very moment these desires become strong? Are you specific, perhaps revealing to our Father things that you would not confide to another human? Also, do you work in harmony with your prayers? One Christian woman said: “Don’t ask for Jehovah’s help to overcome sexual desires and then constantly think about sex. True, certain times during the month your sexual urges may be very great. Activate your mind by doing something else. Go visit someone. Go for a walk or do anything that will change the subject. Keep as busy as you can during this part of the month.” Another who also saw the value of keeping busy in “every good work” agreed, saying: “Scrub your windows. Scrub your floor. Dig in the dirt. I’ve done it. It works!” When you see Jehovah helping you with this problem—no, not by performing a miracle, but at least by giving you the strength to cope with it each day—you will be drawn closer to him.
14. (a) What can happen if a person fails to have a close relationship with Jehovah? (b) What can single parents do while waiting for a Christian mate?
14 Without this precious “intimacy with Jehovah” a person could begin seeking a marriage mate regardless of the cost, perhaps even dating worldly persons. (Ps. 25:14) One who did this admitted: “The real problem was my not being close to Jehovah. When I had a chance to get married, it sounded so good. I forgot the moral standards I’d been taught. Then one day I realized that the man was only interested in himself and not marriage. Then I had to live with a guilty conscience.” True, being single can be hard, but as one divorced Christian woman warned: “There is one thing much worse than being single. It’s being married to the wrong person!” There is always the possibility of finding a mate among devoted Christians, someone “in the Lord.” (1 Cor. 7:39) Some have waited for many years for such a mate. Meanwhile, they have not become bitter or been overwhelmed by their circumstances. They wisely have used the time to develop the qualities that would make them better mates. As one single parent said: “I ask myself, ‘Am I the spiritual woman someone would choose?’ If I’m miserable while I’m single, then I probably would make someone a miserable mate.”
MANAGING A HOUSEHOLD AND REARING CHILDREN
15. (a) What have some single parents done to manage a household successfully? (b) Do you have any additional suggestions?
15 Though it is a taxing job, many single parents have imitated the capable woman described in Proverbs 31. Although married, she had the general supervision of the household. She saved money by shopping carefully, making her own goods from raw materials and not wasting food, for she prepared a “prescribed portion.” (Pr 31 Vss. 13-15, 19) She started early and worked late. (Pr 31 Vss. 15, 18) She made items and sold them. (Pr 31 Vs. 24) She used “her own hands” to care for chores. (Pr 31 Vss. 17, 19) Today, to learn to use their “own hands” skillfully, some single parents have read how-to-do-it books and have consulted professionals for advice. (Often, after explaining their status, they have received free expert instructions.) Others have told their needs to fellow witnesses of Jehovah who had certain “know-how,” and, when available, these have kindly given assistance. All of this keeps expenses down.
16. Why is it vital to trust in God, and whose example illustrates this need?
16 Yet, despite all that a widow can do, with times becoming harder, she must trust in God for daily provisions. A good example of one who “put her hope in God” was the single parent who lived in the city of Zarephath in the days of God’s prophet Elijah. By Jehovah’s direction, Elijah asked for her last bit of food, promising her that God would provide. What would you have done? She had enough for one last meal. At least that one meal was something she could count on. Yet, because of her faith, she gave up what was certain for the uncertain. God’s word through the prophet came true. She and her son never lacked food. Similarly today, single parents, along with all Christians, must put confidence in God by seeking his kingdom first and by complying with his righteous standards. Then they will see that he will provide.—1 Ki. 17:8-16; Luke 4:25, 26; Matt. 6:31-33.
17. What must single parents never forget if they are to rear their children successfully, and why?
17 The difficult task of being both “mother” and “father” to the children and rearing them properly can be accomplished only if the parent never forgets what should be of highest importance in the home. Note the Bible answer:
“Better is a little in the fear of Jehovah than an abundant supply and confusion along with it. Better is a dish of vegetables where there is love than a manger-fed bull and hatred along with it.” (Prov. 15:16, 17)
The true value of a meal is not what is on the table, but what is in the heart of those who eat together. Love and a wholesome fear of God are what really count.
18. (a) What have some single parents done to have money and yet have the time to care for their children? (b) What else do you feel can be done?
18 To have the time to help their children to develop an awe for God and yet have needed money, some single parents, often with their children’s help, have sold their own homemade goods or have performed services at home.a Others have taken advantage of any government assistance to which they have a legal and moral right. A number have lowered their living standard to get by on part-time work, like one Christian woman with four children. She said: “I wanted to be with the children as much as possible. It was bad enough their not having a father without depriving them of a mother too.” Of course, not all may be able to find such convenient work. But by confiding in the children, explaining why secular work is necessary and by spending as much time as possible with them, these parents can maintain a warm atmosphere of love in the home.
19. (a) What does ‘loving their children’ mean for parents? (b) Why is this not always easy for a single parent?
19 ‘Loving their children,’ which includes giving needed discipline, is essential. (Titus 2:4; Prov. 13:24) It helps to prevent the children, who have already lost one parent, from feeling insecure. Because some women tend to be sentimental, it may require real effort to give discipline. But remember, discipline, which may include punishment, tells the child that you love him enough not to let him get into trouble.
20. (a) What have some done to keep close to their children? (b) What twofold blessing comes from staying close to one’s children and rearing them properly?
20 Single parents who have stayed close to their children suggest:
“Set a special time aside to be with the children and don’t let anything interfere with it. The housework will always be there; the children won’t. Concentrate on building the children up spiritually.” “My discipline had to be tempered with understanding because of the shock of losing their mother. I talk to them at every opportunity, no matter what time of the day or night. We have ‘cosy moments’ when we prepare dinner. It is then that they really confide in me.”
Such love comes through. Children can see and feel it. Though all of this effort in rearing children is exacting, the parent has the rich satisfaction of seeing them grow up to become responsible praisers of Jehovah. Also, such work is a moral protection for the parent.—1 Tim. 2:15.
THE COMPLETE ANSWER—THE NEW ORDER
21. (a) Are the problems of a single parent easily solved? (b) What does a faithful course accomplish?
21 “I share in the preaching work almost every day. I study and pray constantly,” said one widow, who confessed: “Yet I still cry myself to sleep every night.” Yes, the problems that a single parent must cope with are hard to solve. Often it is a daily battle. Yet, each day that a Christian displays endurance is another slap in the face of Satan who charged that persons would stop serving God when circumstances became difficult. (Job 1:9-11; Prov. 27:11) Realize that no one has a perfect lot in life now. “The entire association of your brothers” is suffering. (1 Pet. 5:9) Someone else’s problems may be different from yours, but they are just as intense to that person. Regardless of your problems, conditions could be worse. So try to dwell on the positive aspects of your life as much as you can.
22. (a) What should we keep our eyes on, and why? (b) What will be considered in the following article?
22 Above all, we must keep our eyes fixed on the living hope of a coming system that will bring perfect satisfaction. As the apostle Paul says: “We keep our eyes, not on the things seen [the tribulations that can perplex us and throw us down], but on the things unseen [the hope of eternal life]. For the things seen are temporary, but the things unseen are everlasting.” Yes, the pressures of today’s frustrating system will eventually end. The blessings of the New Order, so near at had, will be endless. Keep these in clear focus and you will “not give up.” (2 Cor. 4:8, 9, 16-18) But what can others do to help those who are single parents? This will be discussed in the following article.
a For suggestions, see Awake! of August 22, 1975, pages 9-11, and September 22, 1975, pages 9-12.
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HOW TO COPE
□ Trust God now and anticipate the hope of eternal life that he has promised
□ Maintain a close personal relationship with God
□ Keep involved in beneficial work
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Single parents can train their children to help care for household duties
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“Set a special time aside to be with children . . . Talk to them at every opportunity”