Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Reinforcements Required!

Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless; maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed. Rescue the weak and needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked. (Psalm 82:3,4, NIV)

Let me this entry by humbling myself with an apology. After ministering to parents of children with special needs for nearly a decade, I must confess that this is the first devotion I have written about or for single parents. It hasn't been for lack of concern. There has never been a time where I haven't had a heart for the enormous weight that single parents bear. Frequently, my husband and I have plopped down frazzled and exhausted at the end of a day asking one another, "How do single parents do this?" So I pray that I can adequately visit this topic with readers now.

It may come as no surprise to you that the divorce rate is significantly higher in homes where a child has special needs. There can scarcely be greater heartache than to not only lose your dreams of a healthy, "normal" child, but then to also lose the person you hoped would be your partner for life. The withdrawal, blame, apathy and dumping of one spouse on another leaves the recipient feeling battered with self-doubt. Once the split is made, that strife between former husband and wife has to be overcome to the extent that care of that special child still needs to be worked out and maintained. The constant head-butting can tear apart a parent's insides for certain!

With all of this in mind, what does life for the single parent need to look like from the view of both the one undergoing the turmoil and the community that surrounds them? Let's begin with what we need to be offering to these parents, especially if we call ourselves Jesus-followers.

Clearly, God mandates in His word that we are to help the weak and the weary. With the prevalence of divorce in this current culture, we can too easily overlook the need for help. Because a child who is medically, emotionally or cognitively challenged can multiply that need 10 times over, our keen sense of observation is required. We need to get our heads out of our own immediate little goings-on, pausing long enough to see the heavy burden of these families.

Simple acts of kindness can go a long way to offer comfort to a single parent. Something each of us can easily give is the gift of an encouraging word. Being isolated with nothing but needy children, these parents don't receive that affirmation of another adult voice in the household. You might express, "You're doing a great job with your kids," or "I can see how much energy you pour into your child - you're remarkable!" While it may not seem like a big deal to you, words like that can be just the thing a person needs to get through a rough day.

Other gestures of mercy can include offering to take the kids in order to give a much-needed break. Driving the children to or from school, clubs or social events can be a helpful gift to a parent as well. And a meal for no reason at all can be that unexpected blessing that reassures mom or dad that they are valued and not abandoned.

Aside from these small ways of reaching out, the biggest kindness could be offering a listening ear to that parent. Withholding judgement, not trying to fix problems, but just allowing that person to share what's on their heart is lovingly generous. After all, who does this person share their frustrations or burdens with at the end of a work day? Who do they get to bounce ideas off of?

For their part, single parents need to do some things that they may not want to do. Realizing that people are oblivious to anything outside of their immediate, daily life, a parent without a spouse needs to make others aware of what they need. Expressing to others how they can be of help to you will bring relief in both directions. Patiently educating people who have not walked a mile in your shoes will not only be of help to yourself, but it will also help other single parents who come along after you. Trying to be a hero or a martyr by handling the challenges of parenting children, especially one with a special need, does no one any favors.

Ultimately, God made us to be social beings. We are to look out for one another. Help each other through the ups and downs of life. When we obey the command to "bear one another's burdens" (Galatians 6:2 ) we make a better world for all of us!

1 comment:

  1. How insightful. Thank you Barb, as a former single mom of seven years.
    I would add, no gift is too small, even if it is second-hand clothes or a certificate for a hair cut or groceries or movie tickets. Single parents usually are barely getting by. Nothing says love like something tangible.