How to … support single parent families

Colin D Jones – Pastor

In the 21st Century it is almost certain that every church will have in its congregation single parent families. These will have come about through a whole host of differing circumstances.

What Causes a Single-Parent Family?

Bereavement – what started out as a two-parent family has experienced the tragedy of the death of Mum or Dad. In these circumstances the grieving process for both the surviving parent and any children may well still be on going. It might even be that both parents have died and a single relative has taken on the responsibility of caring for the orphaned child or children.

Divorce – what started out as a two-parent family has experienced the different tragedy of marital breakdown. It is possible that in these circumstances parents and children will be dealing with feelings of guilt and/or rejection. The child might be living with each parent on some basis. They might be estranged from one or other.

Lifestyle choice – a Toddlers group may have someone who has chosen to have a child but not to live with that child’s other parent. If this was a non-Christian we would be more anxious to seek to win the person to Christ than to set ourselves up as life-style critics. The issue of sin, repentance and forgiveness being a far more reaching issue for this one in particular.

If the situation had resulted in the life of a Christian through a sinful lapse again the approach would be different.

In short life is complex and there are no one size fits all rules that can be applied to pastoral situations.

Temporary situations – One or other parent (usually the father but not always) may be absent for a prolonged period. The causes are legion, military service, prolonged illness, job re-location, or imprisonment. Need I go on?

Some presuppositions

As Christians we believe that:

God’s ideal is for every child to grow up with one parent of each gender. A loving church can provide some measure of the male or female input and a role-model that might otherwise be totally absent. Great care is needed in this area.

Extended families are commonplace in the pages of Scripture and my own children benefitted greatly from surrogate grandparents within the church.

Help can take many forms. Practical support might be anything from baby-sitting to financial help. Don’t forget to enable the single parent to engage in some of the childfree activities of the church.

Listening is at least as important as talking. Let the family tell you what their needs are as an atmosphere of trust grows.

A strong Warning

We should never seek to displace or replace the missing parent. We must always remember that the parent is the parent and we are not. Support must never become a take-over. It is the churches aim to equip rather than to create either conflict or dependency.

This is a role for elders or those under elder supervision. It is a long-term commitment; neither parent nor child will be helped by someone else vanishing from their lives.

Our aim is support by consent. It is vital that no one crosses or is allowed to cross the line between care and control. Strong minded Christians often fail to see that they are running other people’s lives when they should be enabling them to run their own.

Gentle advice is helpful and usually acceptable, controlling behaviour is un-biblical, un-helpful and eventually resented.