Whether your entry point into single parenthood is through divorce, relationship breakdown, the death of a spouse, adoption or choice, your children can recover and thrive, and can grow in faith!
A challenging parenting journey
Raising children is challenging, but even more so if you are doing it alone. Single parents carry the weight of responsibility of the family fully on their shoulders, doing everything 24/7, 365 days a year, including leading the family in their faith journey.
Many single parents fear the concerning statistics and competing claims about the impact of single parenthood on child development and outcomes for their children. Will they be OK? Will they keep their faith? Although concerning, these outcomes are not inevitable. The good news for single parents of faith is our trust in a God who reminds us he is control and has plans to prosper our children’s lives, giving them hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11). Scripture reminds us God knew our children before they were conceived (Jeremiah 1:5). They can succeed, flourish and grow in faith. Our faith in God helps us look beyond daunting statistics with hope and renewed confidence.
As single parents, we are not helpless or alone. Jesus promises to never leave us nor forsake us. He is with us on this journey, every step of the way and tells us that we can do what he has called us to, through Christ who strengthens us (Phil. 4:13).
There are also some key factors that positively influence children’s wellbeing and faith and that you can have control over.
- The quality of the relationship between the parent and the child
- The quality of parenting they receive
- The effect of a home environment that is warm, harmonious and peaceful. Faith and family life are intertwined. Studies have shown that, “parental religious commitment to faith was significantly correlated with the development of morality in their offspring for both single and two-parent families.” (1)
Your faith as a single parent, lived out in front of your children, can be a counteracting force to any potential negativities and help your family stand firm in times of crisis and give you the resources to bounce back and move forward after going through a difficult period. Studies show links between strong parental faith and good outcomes with children such as increased resilience, better grades and healthier choices.(1)
What are the issues in raising faith as a single parent?
- The children’s other parent not sharing the same faith, has no faith or a different faith. This can give rise to animosity between parents.
- Doing it alone for those widowed young or lone parents can lead to self-doubt – “am I doing it right? Am I doing enough? I feel like a terrible Christian parent”.
- Exhaustion and not enough time in the day
- Not having anyone to talk to about the issues we are facing
- Where children have memories of their dad being abusive, neglectful or absent; this can affect how well they can relate to God as a loving heavenly Father
- Many single parents are troubled with guilt about behaviour problems they experience with their children, thinking it’s due to the children being brought up in a single parent home. (However, the fact is that all children can be challenging at times. The issues we experience with our kids are often exactly the same as those experienced by all parents – not just because we’re single parents. That’s not to say that the task of parenting is the same for single parents as for those in relationship.)
- Parenting from a distance or not having the children often enough to feel like you are able to make a difference in their faith journey
- Get support
Build yourself a strong network of Christian friends, family and leadership. Studies show connection in the community has a positive impact. (1). Try to find an understanding church. Although they may not always get it right, being willing to listen and learn is a great start. Be proactive in explaining what your struggles are and how to give practical help and support. Let them know your children can’t attend when with the other parents and invite them to offer ways your children can stay connected and catch up on what they missed. When you feel guilty about not being a “good enough “ Christian parent, find friends who can encourage you , dispel the guilt and pray for you reminding you that you are doing a great job!
- Be open and communicate with your children
Give them a safe space to discuss their feelings and their faith. Practice active listening by giving full attention and putting phones away!
- Pray together and encourage spiritual traditions
You can give thanks before a meal or praying together before bed. When things are good, give thanks together, when things are more challenging, ask God for help.
- Be an example and live out your faith in front of your children.
Model an authentic faith that impacts your daily decisions and choices. Our children are sponges and absorb lots of what we do. Back up your words up with actions. Apologise when you get things wrong. Let your children see you reading your Bible and praying. Help others and encourage the family to do things together such as helping out at the local food bank, inviting someone around for dinner who is lonely or going through a difficult time or visiting an elderly person in a nursing home.
- Resolve any differences that may exist with the other parent if it is in your power to do so.
Work on a healthy co- parenting relationship with clear boundaries where possible. This can help model principles of forgiveness and doing unto others as we would wish done to us.
When your religious views differ from your ex, don’t force the issue. They have the right to choose their own religious views when your children are with them. If you force the issue it may lead to the opposite response and increased resistance to any compromise. Show respect for your ex and avoid put downs or ridicule in front of the children. This may make your kids uncomfortable and feel they need to choose between two people they love. Pray, trust, have patience and compromise if possible. Trust God that the seeds being sown will bear fruit. Remember that although you want your child to share your faith, they will have to make a conscious choice for themselves in the future.
One mum says,
“When my husband left, he also left the faith. When my son would go to his dad’s at the weekend, he would allow him to watch things that I would never have let him watch. My heart was so grieved and concerned for my son. I had to trust God with him and prayed. A little over two years later, he chose to be baptised. God was at work; he never stopped working and was in total control.”
- Encourage relationships with adults of the opposite sex
Choose people that you trust and who you know will be good Christian role models to your children. They may be grandfathers, sisters, uncles, cousins, friends, club or youth leaders.
- Look after yourself both physically and spiritually.
Make time to rest and receive from God. Let him know your concerns and struggles and allow him to ease your load. “Come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest” Matthew 11:28. Set aside time for you and try and get some exercise in. When you have more energy, it’s easier to care for your children.
- If you are a parent who is not the primary caregiver
When you do have your children, make sure to spend quality time with them. All of the tips above are relevant to you when you are with them. Make sure to try and stay in touch regularly with them. You might want to send hand written cards with scriptures in them or write a prayer they can take with them to read at bedtime.
To encourage you
- You are not alone – you have a God that stands with you side by side and promises to never leave you nor forsake you. There is also a faith community who can support and stand with you, whether it be your local church, family or friends.
- Your faith affects how your children see the world. Living out your faith can help your children to develop a sense of purpose and calling.
- There is hope. God has a plan to prosper both you and your children, to give them hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11).
General support for single parents:
https://www.gingerbread.org.uk/ (this is not a Christian organisation)
Surviving and Thriving on the Single Parent Journey, Kat Seney-Williams
When Your Child Is Grieving: God’s Hope and Wisdom for the Journey, Dr. Amy Ford
(1) Single parenting and faith: does it have an influence on their college-aged children’s life outcomes? Starla Kay Quinn, https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/58824393.pdf
(2) Helping children see God as relevant to their lives, Alex McFarland and Jason Jimenez, https://www.focusonthefamily.com/parenting/helping-children-see-god-as-relevant-to-their-lives/
Join the movement
Sign up to receive regular emails and inspiration from Care for the Family.