One of the toughest roles anyone can have in today's culture is that of a single parent.  It's hard enough to rear a child—especially a teenager—with two parents; but with one the burdens and pressures and problems multiply.  My hat is off to every single parent.  But more than praise for the difficulty of their task, I know from talking to so many of them that they need someone to walk with them and encourage them.

In almost every case, a single parent is walking down a road they didn't plan to be on.  They started with two parents, but something happened—death, divorce, abandonment—and now they are struggling to fill two roles that their children desperately need.  They are trying to do an already difficult task without all of the resources they need.  (If you know a single parent, go to them and find ways to encourage them.  They won't always know how to ask for the help they need, so take the initiative yourself.)

Practical Steps

There aren't any easy answers.  There isn't a magic verse of Scripture that will fix all your problems.  There isn't one "cure all" that will remove all of the challenges that a single parent faces.  But there are some practical steps that can offer help and hope in this very difficult job.

1) Hold firm to what you believe. Set rules and boundaries for your child and establish the consequences ahead of time.  Don't make the mistake of giving up on those standards because you are tired or discouraged.  It is quite common for the other parent who is gone not to be supportive of your efforts as a parent—hold firm anyhow.  Don't allow that discouragement and the lack of positive feedback and support to make you give up.

2) Don't be too lenient. Yes, your teens are missing something by not having both parents in their lives.  You will not make things better by allowing that to be their excuse to get away with damaging and destructive behavior.  You can't "make it up to them" by letting them use your sympathy for them as a "get out jail free" card that allows them to do whatever they want.

3) Don't lose sight of the value of time.  One of the biggest impacts of single parenting is the economic impact.  Most single parent families have a harder time making ends meet.  I understand that you will have to work, perhaps longer and harder than before.  But spending one on one time with your teens, asking them questions and letting them ask you questions is more important in this setting than ever before.  Make time for your kids.

4) Find a source of input and encouragement. In a two-parent home, each parent gets feedback and input from the other. Ideas can be exchanged and one can pick up the slack of the other or fill in when one needs a rest.  In the absence of that, find a group or an individual that understands your situation and can give you encouragement and good advice on the extra challenges you face as a single parent. Find someone -- an extended family member or a sitter -- to fill in for you once or twice a week, to give you time away to recharge your batteries. And don't forget to take time to pray and meditate on God's Word on a daily basis.

My friend Michael Card likens single parenting to a wilderness experiences.  He says, "When you're out there alone and isolated, it can be a little scary not knowing where you are or where to go.  But when you're out there with your kids, it's terrifying.  They are looking to you for guidance and direction, and though you would desperately like for someone to have kept you out of that situation in the first place, you have to be the leader and make sure they make it out safe and sound."