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The Role of the 21st Century Single Parent in Bringing Up a Family


Ian Coker

What a timely topic! Yet how sad it is that such a topic should be timely! Certainly such a predicament is not in the ideal pattern that God designed for the home, yet it must be observed so many forces have wrought great damage to the family. So many children are being raised in single-parent families. Statistics in our school classrooms are disturbing. A teacher in the Toowoomba congregation told me that in a particular class in the school she teaches at, those raised in a home with mother and father are a decided minority.

The disrespect for the sanctified nature of marriage is the source of so much of this problem. Irresponsible men walking away from their responsibilities as fathers and husbands, irresponsible women walking away from their responsibilities as mothers and wives - this is the cause of so much of it. Of course, the fortunes and tragedies of life also result in single parent families, as has always been the case.

The Bible speaks of those who have struggled alone. Hagar was a single mum. Lot was a single Dad. Others found in scripture were Tamar, Naomi, two prostitutes who came before Solomon with one live child and one dead child, the widow of Zarephath, and perhaps even Jesus' mother, Mary.

Certain options have opened up for the single parent in the 21st century. There is the option to become a parent whilst choosing to be single. Of course there has always been this option via the means of fornication. But to practice evil that good may come has never been an option that God has allowed. Those who naively adopt this course of action will find there are struggles that accompany it and a price to be paid, both by themselves and the child or children in the home. But it is the reason for suffering that makes all the difference. It may not be easy to distinguish between the suffering for sin and the suffering for righteousness' sake (as in the case of Job), but there is obviously a difference. And a child who is raised by a single parent because the other parent has died can appreciate that it is the circumstances of necessity that have caused the trial, not the selfishness of divorce etc. Of course, having said that, divorce can sometimes be a unilateral action, and those so betrayed need empathy, but in all cases of divorce the children suffer.

There are those who believe that by artificial insemination the sin of fornication can be avoided thus making the act of choosing to be a single parent legitimate. This is not so. God is not haphazard but works to a design. The fact He designed a man and a woman to produce a child, and not just any man and woman but those joined in holy wedlock, indicates that this is the framework He wanted children to be born and raised in. I believe medical science can be used to aid and abet in the producing of what is in accord with His design (provided no other principles are violated), but it is not to be used to violate an express design.

It seems to be a penchant with man to think that technology can be used to circumvent God's morality - so we search the laboratories for a cure for V.D., AIDS etc., not only to help those who have such diseases, but so that people may continue to practice such activities that spread such diseases, without fear. And probably God will give them up and allow them to do so and reap yet greater tragedies in our communities. Some years ago there was a TV program (I never watched it - the ads were enough) called Murphy Brown. In that show Murphy Brown decided that she would choose to become a single mum. It wasn't because of an unplanned pregnancy out of wedlock, but a deliberate choice to be a single mother. Dan Quayle condemned it and he was vilified by the liberal press. But what Murphy Brown did, and by the powerful influence of the TV media influenced others to do, was to choose a situation that God never did envisage. I see where Princess Fergie is also thinking about having another child, saying that "one doesn't need to be married these days". The actress Jodie Foster and others are in the same league. God's laws are "for our good always" (Deut. 6:2,3,24) and are not to be flouted without repercussion and injurious legacy. I'm not trying to say that every case of one-parent families has resulted from the same sin or the same degree of sin. Tamar was accounted by Judah, her father-in-law, as more righteous than he. She had been married to two brutish husbands whom the Lord had removed from her life and in her desperation for an heir she had used her father-in-law to impregnate her. This is not to exonerate her but it is to say that her motives were better than his since he operated solely from lust. Statisticians say that half the children in Australia will be reared by single parents at sometime before they reach 18. Can a one-parent family carry the load and absorb the shocks that are designed to be carried by two? (cf. Eccles.4:9-12). Simple reflection and statistics say "no". What are some of the effects?

In a 1988 study published in the Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, Douglas Smith and Roger Jarjourna found that the proportion of single-parent households in a community predicts its rates of violent crime and burglary. Nearly ninety per cent of preschool children admitted as psychiatric patients in a particular study over a 34 month period came from fatherless homes.

Other factors also are involved. Sole-parenting usually involves a drop in financial status. Most Australian families end up purchasing their own home. For many, separation and divorce leads to a massive interruption of this pattern. Because of relatively low income levels, many sole parents renting private houses and flats carry a rent burden not encountered by two-earner families. Forty percent of Australian sole parents live in after-housing poverty. Lack of security in the rental sector leads to sole-parent families moving more frequently than couples. Generally these moves disrupt family life and break links with the local community. Employment often seems to offer no solution. It is commonly believed that a sole mother and her children will be secure as soon as she finds work. Emphasis is placed on job retraining for mothers, who left the workforce to care for their children. But upon marital separation the needs of the children compete more strongly with paid employment. Social services are no solution either. One mother wrote, "it's financially demoralising because, if you make extra money, social security takes away some of the benefits. There is no way for me to get ahead. If things break around here, they just don't get fixed. I waited six months to get the oven fixed because I couldn't afford to pay someone". Very few employers are very sympathetic to single parents of sick children. One mother said of her sick child, "I gave her antibiotics and quickly tried to make her better and sent her to care. I had little choice. It was very hard to get leave. The child was often ill and often caught things off other kids in cars. I couldn't complain. I had nowhere else for my sick child".

There is also some concern that the lack of role-modeling, due to the absence of a mother or father in a family, affects the emotional and psychological development of the child. A survey of Australian teachers revealed that they saw one-parent students as socially and academically disadvantaged, more prone to problems and less adjusted than children from two-parent families. They also judged home environment to be less satisfactory than those of two-parent families.

Also, society tends to organize social life on the basis of couples and two-parent families. Divorced people are often viewed as being ill-suited for participation in social events and, therefore, they eventually lose contact with, and support from, friends associated with their former married life. Having said all that, things concerning the downside of single-parenting, we need to look for solutions to problems.

Does God care for the single-parent and their children? Of course! In the very first book of the Bible we come across single parents. It is not a new problem. As far as I know, the first single parent was Hagar. She never chose to be a single mum - she was used as a surrogate mother by Sarah and Abraham. Eventually she has to leave the household of Abraham. What did she face (Gen. 21:14)? In the end the future of the child was assured (cf. 17:20), but the immediate prospects probably did not look good. 21:15-21 depicts a scratchy, even despairing start, but it turned out alright. It is evident from this story and numerous examples of homes with a single parent, that though struggles of various sorts are characteristic of such a home, good outcomes can result. No one is doing a more difficult but important job than the person who is taking seriously the responsibilities of being a single parent. Perhaps because of the high percentage of such families there is developing a feeling that single-parent families are no different from two-parent families anymore than a family with two cars is different from one with one car. There is considerable difference. Considerations that arise; Whom does the single parent talk to for adult conversation when he or she needs a sympathetic ear or when issues of child-rearing loom large? How can one person assume the burdens of parenting when such often seems too heavy for two? So the questions and dilemmas go on, from those of great stress all the way down to such everyday problems as who looks after the children while the parent goes to the shop? What can be done?

First, the single parent needs to realize that though the family is incomplete, it is still a legitimate family unit and the children need to have a positive family experience. Single parents can resolve to do all in their power to ensure that their children do not go through what they have gone through. Children of divorced parents have a higher divorce rate themselves than the general population. Part of this process will involve ensuring that the children marry Christians. Lot is an example of a single father who did not concern himself with the future prospects of his daughters. Consumed by his own fears, he lived in seclusion in the mountains oblivious to their needs and desires. Whilst the daughters are not to be exonerated for what they did, Lot himself was partially responsible for the sorry episodes of drunkenness and incest.

Single parents will probably have to work hard at not being bitter about their experiences. By doing this the love of God will be manifested to the children with the spirit of forgiveness. To not hate those who have wronged us will also supply a wonderful example and instruction for children growing up in a home where one partner has departed.

What gaps and deficiencies that exist in a single-parent family need to be filled as best as possible. A trap to be wary of would be the 'rebound marriage'. To replace a lost spouse would indeed be a good thing in many cases, but in some cases it is not permissible. Some divorced single parents will have to remain single in order to remain in a right relationship with God. Even for those who have a right to remarry, haste in finding a new spouse is inadvisable for a wrong partner can be worse than no partner.

Other solutions to be considered involve the extended family. Grandparents, uncles and aunts can oftentimes help fill the needs of children and supply role-models. But the single parent needs to see the church is also to be a support group. A child can be terribly hurt by a departed dad. Men in the church need to be positive role models so that the child can see that a man can be loving, caring and trustworthy. The church also needs to keep any eye on the financial disadvantages of the single-parent home and ensure that needs are supplied where the parent is unable to cope. Even something as simple as being there to listen to the concerns of the single parent can be as a cup of cold water to a thirsty traveller. If I were a single parent I would believe the condition and promise of Matt. 6:33 applied to me and mine as much as anyone else. I would therefore ensure that I was involved in the church and her work, for in that I and my children would be blessed, including receiving mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, houses and lands a hundred-fold. (cf. Matt.19:29)


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