Can I do this alone? Will my children turn out alright? Will they have faith in the heavenly Father even if they don't have an involved earthly father? Where do I fit into the Church?
These are questions and concerns many singles mothers face when they find themselves - often unexpectedly - raising their children alone. Author Sandra Aldrich knows these fears and concerns - she sucessfully raised her two children after her husband's death. For decades she has been reaching out to other single moms as a mentor and encourager. Below is an edited interview with Sandra about the updated version of her book, From One Single Mother to Another (Regal Books).
God had a wonderful idea when he put a daddy and a mommy and a family [together], and it provides that balance. I remember so many well-meaning friends at church would say, "Oh, honey, it's so wonderful that now you're both mother and father." Well, I didn't want to be both mother and father, but I bought into that. I even said publically that I wanted to be the type of parent that, on Mother's Day, my children would buy me a dozen roses, and on Father's Day, they would buy me a new 5/8 crescent wrench.
Now, that was just wrong thinking, because we were not called to be both mother and father. We were called to be the best mother or the best father that we can be, and then just desperately pray that God will take up the slack. So, even though I hadn't prepared to be a single mother, I learned the hard way. That is why I wrote From One Single Mother to Another, to just put my arm around a reader and say, "Honey, you can do this. Just keep hanging onto the Lord, keep putting one foot in front of the other."
CW: So, we hear all the terrible statistics of what happens to kids without a father, but your kids have grown up to be quite wonderful.
SA: Thank you, Jesus!
CW: So, is it true that single parents can raise healthy, holy kids?
SA: Yes, single parents can raise decent citizens, can raise well-educated, happily-married young people. My children, now, we had tough years of course as a single-parent family, and I'm not going to say it was just all sugar and spice, but my children, neither one of them turned out to be an ax murder. They are both college educated, gainfully employed, happily married, and I am so grateful for that.
The media, sadly, tells Christian parents that because they are divorced or widowed now, or never married, that their children are going to grow up to do all sorts of horrible things, and that is not necessarily true. Our part is to keep hanging onto the Lord, to pray desperately, to keep them in church, but to know that God is not finished with any of us yet, and I am so grateful for that.
CW: So, what's a little bit of advice that you would like to give to a single mother today who is in the throws of the younger years, wondering what the future holds?
SA: Oh, my! It depends on the day, because some days, I needed encouragement. I needed someone to say, "Now, come on, you can do this, and I'm praying for you!" Other days, I needed help with my checkbook. In fact, one of my friends asked me if I had reconciled the checkbook, and I looked at him with bewilderment, and I said "Why should I reconcile myself to it? I'm not mad at it?" Obviously, I didn't have a clue of how to balance the checkbook.
So, the bit of advice that I would give would be, first of all, take a great big deep breath, pray the most profound prayer we can pray, and it's one word - Help! Then, be open to the help that the Lord sends.
I remember when my son was 13. We were vacationing on the lake in Michigan, and he came home just so excited. He said, "Mom, we got this great new game. While Andy drives the boat, we take turns jumping off of the back!" Well, I went into hysterics. I kept saying, "Oh, you can't do that! That's dangerous!" I hauled out in typical mother style every story I had ever heard about boating accidents, dismemberment, etc. Well, he was looking right through my head at the wall behind me and just totally unimpressed with my hysteria.
Finally, I took a deep breath, and said, "Oh, Lord, help!" The thought came to call the Coast Guard. So, I called the Coast Guard. I explained to the officer on the other end what the situation was, and I said, "I am tired of trying to shout him down. Am I being just a hysterical, out-of-it mother?" He said, "No, ma'am. You put that kid on the phone! I'm tired of fishing bodies out of Mona Lake!"
So, I put my son on. He is sitting there slouching. He's listening, and he's saying, "Yeah." All of the sudden, he sat up straight, and he said, "I mean yes, sir!" I couldn't hear what the officer was saying, but I could hear the tone. To my knowledge, Jay and his friends, (notice to my knowledge), never played that game again, because I asked for help. That's one example.
Sometimes, we need to get a counselor involved. Sometimes, we need to get a big brother involved. Sometimes, we just need to say, "Okay, Lord, give me your fresh idea how I'm going to handle this." As long as we are hanging on to the Lord, we are not in this alone. I claimed Isaiah 54:5, "For thy Maker is thy husband. The Lord Almighty is His name." I would say, "All right, Lord, you are my husband. That means you are their Father. So, help me with this situation." As we ask, the help comes. I am so grateful.
CW: I am wondering if you have any words you would like to share with children who have been raised by single parents, who are still reconciling that in their own minds. They maybe have some wounds from that.
SA: The biggest thing I would just say is forgive your parents for being human, that they do love you. Just because they are no longer together, just because they don't love each other anymore, does not mean that they don't love you. They do love you, and they do want what's best for you.
Also, know this - Because parents are human, sometimes they will not tell you everything that you need to know. Hear this - it was not your fault that they got divorced. If you had been a better child, if you had been an all-A student, if you had been the opposite gender, it still would have happened. It was not your fault.
Also, as gently as you can, don't let them use you as a pawn. Don't allow them to say, "Well, what happened this weekend while you were with your dad or while you were with your mother?" Just say, "Mom or Dad, I love you very, very much, but if you need that information, I would rather that you talk to Mom or to Dad yourself, because I love both of you, and I don't want to be caught in the middle." Say it with love, say it gently, but don't allow yourself to be a pawn.
Finally, know that you are going to grow up, and you will be able to get out of this situation. Along the way, just forgive them, know who you are in the Lord so that you're not making mistakes, and you're not acting out, and you're not rebelling, because the decisions that you make today will follow you into your adulthood. I do promise you, you will grow up. So, keep hanging onto the Lord in the meantime.
CW: What are some ways you think the church can better reach out to single parents?
SA: The church can reach out to single parents by understanding that this is not a situation that we have dreamed about being in ever since we were 6 years old. It is something that happens. First of all, I want to say, whether we have come into single parenting through widowhood, as I did, through divorce, as my sister and several friends have, or through never having been married, we are all in the same boat. Before I go on, I want to thank those single mothers who have never married. Thank you for not aborting that child! God is not finished with any of us yet.
Since we are on the same boat, then we need to not get into a them-versus-us situation. So many times, the widows are saying, "Well, I'm so glad I'm not divorced." The divorced then look at us and think we've been left tons of insurance money. Believe me, that's not true either. The single mother who never married is feeling ostracized by both groups. Let's stop judging each other and band together and say, all right, what can we do to help the church know that while we have a great many needs, we are not needy? We have strengths that we can offer.
As we come together and socialize together, as we have a Sunday school class that is just for us, as we are finding out who we are in the Lord, that's when good things happen. That's when our children see us hanging onto hope instead of fear. If we are hanging onto fear, we are looking to be rescued. So many times, it breaks my heart to see single mothers who are so desperate for a rescue that they wind up in a worse situation than before. So, we need each other's strength. We need each other's friendship. As we find out that truly we are all in the same boat, that's when good things happen within the church.
What the church members can do is pray for us. Please don't judge us. Once you pray for us, then listen. Sometimes the Lord will want you to give us a call and say, "Hey, why don't I take the girls to get their hair trimmed Saturday afternoon?" Other times it will be, "I'd like to take your son to the football game this Friday night." Just whatever the Lord tells you to do, please reach out.
Please don't say, "If there's anything I can do, give me a call." We won't call, because we have so many needs, we don't know where to begin.
CW: The last question. You mentioned not being a mother and a father, and I was wondering if you could share a few ways that single mothers can find a father role for their children, because they can't fill that role.
SA: You start this search with prayer, but understand that everyone is busy today. So, you can't just expect that the men of the church are going to step up because, sadly, they don't have enough time to spend with their own children.
What I did is I kept my children in church. When we lived in New York, Jay loved going to church there, because there was a gentleman who understood chemistry, and I do not. That was my son's favorite subject in school. So, every week, Jay would look forward to that 2-minute conversation that he would have with him. The man would come to pat him on the shoulder, and say, "Hey, what [did you] learn in chemistry this week? Are you still doing logarithms? That's what we did all the time when I was in school way back when." I don't know what logarithms are, but Jay did, and they could talk. Jay would look forward to those conversations.
I am not asking you to raise my children. That's my job, but I am asking that you pray for me, that you listen, and that you be available. If there is something new and different and exciting coming up that you include my children because, again, this was not the life that I had planned, but suddenly I [had] to deal with all of this and juggle all of these balls.
The folks who came alongside of my children and me for even a few moments at a time were God's messengers, and they were instrumental in keeping our little boat afloat.
CW: Thanks, Sandra! For more information about Sandra Aldrich and her books and ministry, visit here.