Thursday, February 20, 2014

For Love of The Single Parent

Real religion, the kind that passes muster before God the Father, is this: Reach out to the homeless and loveless in their plight, and guard against corruption from the godless world.
~ James 1:27, MSG ~

I have often joked that upon arrival in heaven, I will promptly ask God why he did not issue parents 2 more  hands with the birth of each new child.  Cooking, cleaning, feeding, diaper changing, and working outside the home all took on new meaning the day our firstborn arrived on the scene.  I never felt the true pressure of being a juggler until I became a mother.  That stress became exponentially greater when my husband and I found ourselves outnumbered with the birth of a third child. 

Perhaps this is why we frequently find ourselves extolling the virtues of the single parent.  We have difficulty managing our children with 2 of us.  We can hardly imagine going it alone as do nearly half of all parents.

Hear me when I say this:  God esteems marriage.  He tells us in His word that He hates divorce.  (If you have ever been through one yourself, you have some idea why.)  But we live in a fallen world.  No one sets out with a broken marriage as their goal.  We are ALL sinners, saved by grace, in need of mercy.

Plain and simple, we are called to offer compassion and support to those who are flying solo through the challenge of parenting.

My own family's recent circumstances have given me a renewed awareness of the challenges my friends face raising their children as single parents.  This fall, my husband found himself between jobs.  Being the diligent, responsible man that he is, he took a job with odd hours that pays less-than-a-living-wage just to make ends meet while still hunting for a suitable position.  The children and I find ourselves without my husband most of the hours that other families are together. 

Because of this time apart, here are some of the glaring needs of single parents that have become most noticeable to me:
  1. It sure would be nice if people would offer to give your child a ride to extracurricular activities. -- There is nothing more maddening than being the only adult available in the household when several kids need to be delivered or picked up at different places on the same evening.  It is especially frustrating when others who live nearby have children also going to some of those same destinations.  Would it kill them to offer to pick up your child and drive them as well?  Think of that next time you are out running kids!
  2. Meal times are a big deal. -- Especially when the children are younger, trying to prepare dinner and get everyone to the table to eat together can be laborious.  If a parent is also trying to run kids to activities, medical appointments or therapies, it's downright exhausting.  Surprising a single parent with a gift card to a nutritious fast food venue or a grocery for convenience foods would really bless them.
  3. There is a HUGE need for back-up when there are medical emergencies or hospitalizations. -- Trying to transport siblings or manage personal affairs when we need to be with our child who has special needs is nearly impossible.  Not everyone has family in town to help them.  If the ex-spouse is not living nearby or involved in the child's life, there may be no help in situations like these.  Extend hospitality to the unaffected sibling, so the single parent can be where they need to be during such stressful times.
  4. Attending church is not easy. -- Plain and simple, being outnumbered by children, or even being the sole adult responsible for one child can be demanding.  Besides working a job outside the home, all of the requirements of single parenting can leave little "down time".  Judgment or exclusion by those who attend as intact families, and lack of special needs ministry at a church would leave a single parent wondering why a person should put forth the effort to drag everyone out to a Sunday service.  Church families could definitely exhibit the love of Jesus in very practical ways by reaching out to single parents to make Sundays easier.
  5. So much is STILL geared towards couples. -- I must confess, Snappin' Ministries does much towards helping preserve marriages.  But what if a parent is single?  In our case, we do still offer respite and other opportunities to those who are not married.  However, I think all of us could to more to include those who are on this journey without a partner.
Now, lest I presume to put words int he mouths of those who truly ARE on this journey as single parents, here is some of the feedback I have received from them:
  • It is easy to feel overwhelmed when you are the only caregiver in the home.  Unlike when there is a married couple in a home with a child who has special needs, a parent often can't just run out quickly to pick something up because their child cannot be left alone, most often not even into teen or young adult years. 
  • Recognition or understanding of what the single parent, special needs family is going through would truly serve to validate and strengthen these parents.
  • There are often many more issues with transportation because shared custody of children is common these days.  Running between households or extra distances due to hospitalization creates tenuous situations with automobiles.  If a car breaks down, there is not another car to use in the home.  Fuel costs tax an already strained budget.  The gift of gas cards could be an enormous blessing to single parent families.
  • Not having a sounding board to discuss medical options can leave a single parent feeling even more stressed.  Never underestimate the power of being able to look at all angles of treatment concerns (or school concerns, for that matter) with a like-minded individual who knows your family.  And oh, what a blessing it would be to have someone just listen to a single parent think it through out loud without offering unsolicited opinions! 
Raising a child with any sort of special need is an enormous challenge.  We could speak ad infinitum on the topic of being a sole caregiver, but at least this brief essay gets us all thinking on the issue and all the unique difficulties involved.  It also gives us a chance to say, "HATS OFF TO YOU, SINGLE MOM OR SINGLE DAD!"  We love you, and we are here to support you every step of the way!

PRAY:  LORD, your perfect plan for families is that both parents would remain in a committed marriage, but it doesn't always work out that way.  Thank You that You love us no matter our marital status.  Thank You that You have a tender heart for those who are struggling to raise a child with special needs on their own.  Unite us in perfect love and mutual support to edify and strengthen families on such a journey.

~ Barb Dittrich
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  1. Thank you for that list!!! I always say that having gone through having a child with cancer, if you want to know how to help your friends who have sick kids...ASK ME! I have all kinds of ideas. I'm glad you wrote out such great ideas here. Now I know better how to help my friends rather than just saying, "Call if you need me!"

  2. I two boys 3 years apart that have special needs I'm a sole caregiver to with no family or the boys paternal side either. My boys are got and having them later in life set a whole different aspect of single parenting.I have more to add just about my particular set circumstances but reading your post hit me hard and just to say thank you I'm going to write a letter to my sets of people in my world before they past judgment on me to understand first instead of telling them here and there or hinting that it a the hardest jobs to do.I looked forward to sending you that letter that will look alot like yours but personal. Thank you for sharing your personal story of your journey in life.