They had recently purchased their first single family home in a tidy neighborhood. A sign hung in their new kitchen: The best thing a parent can do for their kids is to love their spouse. My newly married heart squeezed whenever I saw it.
But soon he left her with eight and eleven-year-old kids — and before long his new wife was pregnant. Bren was devastated, but she had an inner resolve to not make a horrible situation worse by giving in to bitterness. Oh, she had bouts with understandable anger and temptations to deeply resent the man she had married at age 19 when he decided that pursuing someone else eight years younger (“and almost as pretty” as the mother of their children) was more important than keeping their family together. But Bren knew the last thing her kids needed was to hear ugly, hateful things about the daddy they loved — which meant she had to cry out to God regularly to guard her own heart. The truth is, though we talked regularly and she was pretty open about her struggles, I never heard hateful, vengeful words about him.
As a young woman in my early 20’s I was introduced to the common heartaches of single motherhood. Some moms become single by choice or experience relief when a bad marriage ends. Yet in my years of knowing and loving numerous single moms, the vast majority have something in common: they never planned to parent alone.
Bren was no exception. Watching her over the years following the divorce brought me both joy and heartache. Our close relationship gave me a front row seat to the unfolding drama that became her daily life. I watched her try to figure out how to effectively parent kids with an absent but involved father whose priority was building a new family. I saw the mixture of faith and uncertainty as she cried out to God for grocery money or school supplies for the kids. I wondered how she coped when there was no one to wrap his arms around her to offer comfort when she was tired or discouraged. Her kids spent many afternoons at my house so I saw the fatigue when she picked them up — knowing she was now headed home to start dinner and use whatever energy she had to make her way through laundry or dirty dishes.
I was too young and immature to ask how she did it. How she dealt with desires to have a husband. What kept her going when she had to pray that gas would last longer than it should. Who she confided in. How she found the strength to juggle being mom, provider, daughter, friend, sister and ex. How it felt when she still had to write his last name next to hers knowing another woman was doing the same.
During this series I’ve been doing for moms of young children I have often thought of single moms. Motherhood is hard enough when you have someone with whom to share the load. When you don’t, the challenges are harder and the decisions are weightier — even if you find yourself glad that you don’t live with him anymore and especially if you wish you still did.
I’m purposefully writing to single moms because I know most of my readers are women. Whether you’re a single mom or dad I want to share something with you: single parenthood is God’s plan for you and your children right now. I’ve never been a single parent. I don’t know what it’s like to fall into bed at night alone and wonder what my kids say when people ask where their daddy is. I’ve never spent Christmas without my kids because it was his turn to have them. And I don’t know how it feels to take my kids to church alone and longingly notice godly fathers holding their kids with one arm during worship while the other rests gently on the shoulder of the wife beside them.
No matter why you’re parenting alone, God is with you and you becoming a single mother didn’t take Him off guard. Whether death, premarital sex, adultery, needed separation to protect yourself or your kids, or divorce has left you raising a family alone, you and your kids aren’t disqualified from being the object of God’s nearness, comfort, provision, wisdom and help. Perhaps your children lost their dad to a new family; to death (oh, how I hated to type that); to work or money or pleasure or “freedom.” Or maybe you made the choice to leave and you deal with the guilt of wondering if it was the right thing to do after all. Whatever the reason, kids suffer when dad doesn’t come home anymore.
But please hear this: whether kids have one at-home parent or two, stuff happens. Kids suffer at the hands of flawed and weak parents, whether they live with one or both. As I mentioned in a previous post about my friend, Diane, we can’t protect our kids from all suffering. Being raised by a single mom — with or without the involvement of their dad — doesn’t mean they can’t have a wonderful life. Yes, they will miss having both parents in their lives on a daily basis but you are the one God has chosen to nurture and raise your children for now. You are the one who has been called and graced by Him to provide the encouragement, mentoring, correction, teaching and affection they need most. So you are the recipient of the outpouring of grace needed to do what is being required of you.
Single motherhood doesn’t mean your kids are getting only half of what they need. God is their heavenly Father and He is fully able and eager to make sure they are cared for — inside and out.
Bren taught me that single motherhood can produce glorious fruit. Today her two children have given her a combined total of nine grandchildren. She lives with her daughter and son-in-law, along with their five children. The deep dependence on God that got her through those hard years of single motherhood is still sustaining her as she approaches age 70. She has battled loneliness and endured tough times. But all who know her are struck by her robust faith and seemingly endless supply of strength to serve others with joy.
You see, Bren (not her real name) is my sister. During her years of single motherhood she also became the “go to” person in our large extended family whenever anyone has a need. She has lived a life poured out for the sake of others. Single motherhood taught her that God is always faithful, never lets a need go unmet and is perpetually near. And it taught her that giving your life away day after courageous day brings fulfillment and meaning that keeps you going even after your nest becomes empty.
Bren’s children are godly parents who are raising their kids to know and love their Savior. I’m sure they would say they wish Dad and Mom had stayed together. Yet, if you could sit down over coffee (or a Jimmy John’s sub in my nephews case) to talk to them you would hear a glorious testimony about how God has “caused all things to work together for good” in their lives. What if they are better parents today than they would have otherwise been if the hardships of growing up in a single parent home hadn’t forged into their hearts the desire to do whatever it takes to be there for their kids?
So it’s not just your kids that will be the beneficiaries of God’s work-it-all-for- good commitment. Think about it: little ones not yet born will also reap the benefits of the sacrifices you are making today to keep loving and serving and training your children alone. Just like Bren’s grandchildren are.
I hope this post doesn’t seem preachy. That’s not my desire. Rather, the longing of my heart is to see you gain faith (if needed) that parenting alone can be the path to greater growth and joy than you can imagine, for yourself and your kids. Through the loneliness and fatigue and working to forgive and resist bitterness, something beautiful is being forged in you. You probably don’t see it now but I bet others who know you do. They see Christ in you, the One who sacrificed all for you — His child — so you could sacrifice all for yours.
For over three decades I’ve watched God’s faithfulness on display in my sister’s life. My niece and nephew are trophies to His grace. Everything they walked through together has been used by God to produce a legacy of godliness that is now benefiting another generation.
All because God’s plans for her kids and your will happen. Period.Those who call you Mom won’t needlessly suffer because Dad isn’t there. And the One who gave them to you, knowing you would end up in this place, has promised everything you to do for them what you can only do with His help.
Thank you, Bren, for showing me by your life and example that single motherhood, while hard, is met with supernatural strength to those who trust God. Thank you for raising your kids to follow and love Him. Thank you for protecting their relationship with their dad by guarding your heart and tongue, and for putting their desire to love him over your desire to vent. But, mostly, thank you for persevering through it all; for continuing to give your life away when you needed others to serve you; for growing in faith and joy in the midst of sacrifice and suffering.
Because of God’s faithfulness in your life I have been able to comfort and encourage many single moms over the years.
And if you’re a single mom reading this post, the same God who sustained Bren and her children is helping you and yours. He won’t let your family go without anything you need, including His help and grace.
I know it feels at times that you’re doing this alone. But if you are a Christian, He promised He would “never leave or forsake you.”
You are not alone.
“Our bad things turn out for good. Our good things can never be lost. And the best things are yet to come.” (Tim Keller)