Six years ago, I found myself in a role I never anticipated. I was a solo parent.
My daughters were seven, five, and six months. Virtually overnight our entire world changed, and I was primarily parenting my kids alone.
It was a journey that I had not anticipated and was, quite honestly, the most difficult season of my life.
One thing I realized quickly was that, while I felt alone, we were not the only family in this type of situation. According to Pew Research Center, 26% of kids live in a single-parent home.
Some kids are born into solo-parent homes and many more end up there as the result of divorce, death, or abandonment.
While these are the most often recognized causes of solo parenting, these are not the only ways parents end up parenting alone.
Medium.com states that solo parents may have partners who are “disabled, deployed, or incarcerated” or even just travel frequently.
Each Solo-Parent Family Is Unique
There is no one-size-fits-all for solo-parent families. And there is no one-size-fits-all approach for ministering to them. Every family is unique.
The journey they have been on is unique, as are their needs. Some parents have been solo parenting since they first became parents, and some are just beginning the journey.
Likewise, kids are in different stages of this journey as well. Some kids may be well adjusted, but some are enduring fresh trauma.
Because every family is so different, the first step in ministering to solo-parent families is to take the time to hear their stories.
Avoid generalizations and negative stereotypes. Instead, create opportunities to connect.
“Tell me about your family,” is a simple conversation starter. And you will likely be surprised that their story is different from what you might have assumed.
Solo Parents Share Some Common Struggles
Once you have learned families’ stories, you can begin to discern some of the realities they are experiencing.
As I found myself in the solo parenting world, I began to discover several realities that were a common thread in these varying situations.
1. Solo Parents Experience Shame
Solo parents have no reason to be ashamed of where they are in life. But being a solo parent at church can be intimidating.
All too often church attenders put on a happy church mask to make it look like they’ve got it altogether. But solo parents obviously don’t have it all together.
Even though they should not feel this way, many single moms are embarrassed that their families don’t not look like they are “supposed to”.
Unfortunately, the church can add to that feeling when church members make inconsiderate or judgmental statements.
2. Solo Parents Are Tired
Most solo parents are working fulltime—possibly even multiple—jobs and raising kids on their own or primarily on their own.
Many of them have the weight of every decision, every homework assignment, every ball practice, every field trip permission slip, every effort to prepare and get their kids to eat healthy meals, every dentist appointment, every discipline issue, etc. . . . on their shoulders.
Solo parents do a large majority of this alone, and it is exhausting. This doesn’t even touch on the many facets of their own careers and personal lives!
3. Solo Parents Fight Loneliness
Everyone needs community, but especially solo parents. Marriage has a level of built-in community. It typically provides someone who you at least share space with and who you can talk to about anything, anytime.
Solo parents don’t necessarily have any built-in community support. They may be so entrenched in getting through day-to-day life that they have little time or energy to connect with others.
4. Holidays Are Hard
Holidays can be tough—even the minor ones. These celebrations are meant to be shared. And while time with kids is special, parents miss having an adult to share holidays with.
As a mom who was solo parenting, I was very surprised to learn how hard Mother’s Day was. I expected Father’s Day to be worse, but that wasn’t the case for me.
Mother’s Day is designed for everyone else to celebrate the mom. The kids don’t initiate that, the other grown up in the house plans it.
For solo moms, the holiday is yet another reminder of what is missing in their lives. Solo parents often avoid church on holidays because it is just emotionally easier to stay home.
5. Solo Parents Want to be Involved, But They Need Our Grace
They might be late. Sometimes they may seem more inconsistent than other volunteers, but that’s likely because they are responsible for all of the parenting and adulting duties that are shared in two-parent homes.
Is one of the kids sick? The solo parent stays home.
Unexpected flat tire and no spare? The solo parent doesn’t have a second family car, so the solo parent stays home.
Before they can be the volunteer, solo parents always have to be the parent first.
This does not mean they are less committed. It just means they have to have more strict priorities, but they are doing everything that they can do. And that we need to have grace for them.
6. Solo Parents Want the Very, Very Best for Their Kids
An anxiety that is exacerbated for solo parents is worrying if their kids will be ok.
They see the gaps in their kids’ lives that result from the missing parent. And they stress about how they can’t fill all the gaps on their own.
Solo parents need their church community to step in and help through mentorships or even just friendships.
7. Sometimes Solo Parents Feel Overlooked in the Church
We just don’t talk often about those who are parenting alone. We need to simply recognize the reality of many people in our church body.
Look for ways to just acknowledge that the solo parents in your church exist, whether by mentioning them in a sermon, praying for them publicly, or hosting special groups for solo parents.
What Can Churches Do?
Once we better understand the lives of solo parents, our ministries can create a strategy for sharing God’s love with them and their families.
The greatest thing your church can do for solo parents is create a space for them to connect with each other and with others within the church. Some solo parents have great support systems, but many do not.
God designed the church to provide community for believers, and we must include solo parents in that.
It is very likely that within your congregation you have many solo parents all in the same building who still feel very much alone. Creating community does not have to rely on a highly structured program.
In our church, we simply carved out space and found a leader for our group of solo parents. Our goal was to create a space where solo parents could meet each other, share their stories, and connect.
We wanted to provide a space where solo parents did not feel alone. Recognizing that their plates were overflowing, and they were tired, we did not want to set up a super structured, highly intensive Bible study.
Our church’s solo parents were on varying levels in their walks with Jesus, so we didn’t want to exclude anyone.
We wanted our solo parent group to be safe. We wanted the conversations to be real and raw, but to always point toward Jesus.
Finding the right leader helped give our parents direction as we met together. We saw this group develop a support system and bless each other.
They helped with carpools and shared meals and babysitting, but most of all they were able to encourage each other to prioritize Jesus in their lives.
Provide Encouragement and Recognition
Budget for a special meal or gift for the solo parents in your congregation. Consider taking their families out to eat on Valentine’s Day or sending gift cards on Mother’s Day or Father’s Day.
Use sermon illustrations that feature stories of non-typical families. Look for opportunities to publicly recognize and intentionally include this segment of your congregation.
Meet Practical Needs
Consider providing resources and contacts for solo parents when they need car or home repairs. Mobilize teenagers in your church to assist with yardwork, cleaning, and minor home repairs.
Solo parents might not ask for help or even know who to ask. Make a plan for how your church can be proactive.
When a hurricane was scheduled to hit our area, we assigned every solo parent in our congregation to another family.
The other family’s job was to stay in touch with the solo parent and either help with needs that came up or alert others in the church that help was needed.
Find ways to discover what needs families have and meet those as best as you can.
Provide Stability for the Kids
Kids in solo parent-homes need other adults in their lives cheering for them. Particularly boys being raised by solo moms often need additional male influences in their lives.
How can you partner these kids with safe adults in your church family? Here are some ideas from Chad Owens in his article, Why I Accepted the Challenge of Being a Spiritual Father.
Again, this doesn’t have to be a highly formal process. One man in our church committed to take a young boy on an adventure once a month. They fished and rode bikes, among other things.
These simple acts not only gave this boy something fun to do, they gave him a relationship with man from his church family who he could look up to.
Sure, there are secular programs out there that provide these kinds of interactions, but they are not a real substitute for what church family can do.
Be Considerate with Your Words
It is essential that we reflect our understanding that every family is unique in the way we talk to our students and in what we expect from students.
Charts that track everyone being present every Sunday can be disheartening to the child who has to visit another home every other weekend.
A kid whose solo parent is doing their best just to get to church may not remember their Bible every week.
Even statements like, “Make sure you tell your dads that . . .” can be saddening to a kid whose dad is not around.
I try to use the phrase, “tell your grownups” since we have so many kids from solo parent homes, foster homes, and other unique family situations in our church.
Though life as a solo parent is overwhelming, God promises in Isaiah 43:2, “I will be with you when you pass through the waters, and when you pass through the rivers, they will not overwhelm you. You will not be scorched when you walk through the fire, and the flame will not burn you.”
Your church can be the hands and feet of Jesus to families by recognizing solo parents in your congregation and coming alongside them for support and encouragement.
Though they may be parenting solo, God can use your ministry to point them toward the truth that they are never alone.