April 22, 2011, is a day that lives in infamy in my home state of Alabama. Beginning in the dark hours before dawn, 62 tornadoes roared through the state. In spite of all the warnings, the school cancellations, and our statewide familiarity with tornado protocol, 253 people died.
During this pandemic, I’ve often thought of how alone I felt that day, wanting to protect my children from forces too large and sinister for one mom to handle. I was a brand-new widow grappling with overwhelming grief. That fearful day, I felt raw and exposed without my husband to help me protect our kids. We had friends who would help if we needed it, but as the sirens wailed, each of them needed to care for their own families. I felt as if the weight of my children’s lives rested on my weak shoulders alone.
To be fair, everyone in Alabama felt vulnerable that day, just as all of us have some measure of concern about coronavirus now. But being a single parent during a crisis adds layers of anxiety. Everything married parents are doing right now, single parents are doing alone, with no relief and no respite.
Reality of Single Parenting
Single parents make important choices alone, without another adult who loves their child as much as they do. Married parents often don’t understand how crushing, even paralyzing, this responsibility can be.
Everything married parents are doing right now, single parents are doing alone, with no relief and no respite.
Single parents handle everyday chores without help. This pandemic complicates ordinary logistics for all of us, but single parents only have one set of hands to make life happen. Taking toddlers to the grocery store before was no picnic; taking them now is downright sanctifying.
Single parents are usually also breadwinners. Many have lost their jobs, work reduced hours for reduced wages, or live with the threat of unemployment. Every broken washing machine, every outgrown pair of shoes, every electric bill, has to be handled and paid for by the lone parent.
Single parents who share custody may be co-parenting with someone who has lost their job, doesn’t observe the same social-distancing protocols, or is for any number of reasons unavailable to fill their usual role as a co-parent.
Single parents have no one else to care for their children if they themselves get sick.
Roughly 23 percent of American children are being raised in single-parent families. That’s a lot of vulnerable kids and parents. The single parents in your church, neighborhood, and workplace need help, and it will bless you to give it: “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction” (James 1:27).
Begin by praying the Spirit will bring single parents to mind and show you how you can be helpful, “bear[ing] one another’s burdens and so fulfill[ing] the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2).
Draw Near Even While Social Distancing
Start with a phone call or a text and then stay in touch. This pandemic isn’t going anywhere for a while, and the loneliness single parents live with daily is intensified with social distancing. The more frequently you communicate, the better you will know what the parent and child(ren) need.
The single parents in your church, neighborhood, and workplace need help, and it will bless you to give it.
You can establish a commitment to a single-parent family just by checking in regularly, but don’t make them into a service project. Just as you do with any friend, cultivate a mutual relationship where you bear one another’s burdens and share one another’s joys. Simply swapping funny memes and YouTube videos and Netflix recommendations may be your best ministry to a single parent. We all need to share a little laughter right now.
Do What’s Possible
Depending on your ability, look for other ways to help. Take a single parent’s kids for the afternoon, or even just stroll the baby for an hour. Involve your own bored preteen by offering him or her as a playmate. If you’re grilling out, invite the neighbor and his kids for dinner in the backyard, or if you’re grocery shopping, get a list from your co-worker and bring her the groceries she needs for her family.
If your own family is struggling financially, you may not be able to buy groceries for someone else, but you can share information about local services or appeal to your church to aid the single-parent family. If you are immunocompromised or care for someone who is, you may not have the ability to babysit, but you can send your favorite babysitter to their house for the afternoon.
Share what you can: art supplies, a slip n’ slide, your tomato crop, your teen to mow the yard. Even a jar of flowers from your yard or a plate of slice-and-bake cookies makes a single-parent family feel seen.
As you seek his guidance, God may lead you to more radical expressions of love. He may call you to fold a single-parent family into your own small circle of exposure. If you know a single-parent family with a chronically ill child, you may choose to quarantine in order to be available for that family. If you know a working single parent, you can offer regular childcare. You may even feel called to invite a family to come live with yours indefinitely or offer financial help.
God may call you to lay down your comfort and resources for your friends, as he did for you (John 15:13). Your privilege is to be open to that call.
Presence and Prayer
The friends who’ve helped us the most have spent time with our family and prayed for our family. Remind your single-parent friend of God’s constant presence and give them the gift of your own presence. Just knowing you’re praying will make them feel seen and cared for; just knowing you’re close will help them feel safe and supported.
God may call you to lay down your comfort and resources for your friends, as he did for you.
If you really want to minister comfort to a single parent, love their child(ren) well. By God’s grace, family friends (from church and from our community) have spent countless hours with my sons eating barbecue, playing golf, giving driving lessons, and offering them spiritual guidance and friendship. They have done the same for me, demonstrating in tangible ways that the body of Christ is indeed a family.