Please welcome my friend Erin from A Single Mama’s Life as she shares her first hand experience about the best ways to encourage single moms in your community!
Today, one-third of American children – a total of 15 million – are being raised without a father. Nearly five million more children live without a mother according to the 2010 Census. What does that mean for how we impact our communities? How can we help single parents lighten the burdens that are unique to their circumstances?
The way we arrive at single motherhood is different for each person. Some of us had children outside of marriage and chose to keep and care for our child (which takes a great deal of strength and conviction), some of us were married and chose to leave an abusive situation, some were married and left behind by an unhappy spouse, some of us survived infidelity in our marriage, some of us were widowed… the circumstances are as varied as the women who experience it.
I was a single mother of infant twins and an 18 month old when my husband suddenly left me for another woman, and I raised my children for 5 years on my own. During that time, I had to learn resiliency and ingenuity like never before in order to meet my needs.
I learned how to coupon, made all of my own baby food, used cloth diapers, did college courses as my children slept and scrimped and saved to provide my children with as normal a life as I could. During that time, I learned a new level of empathy for those going through economic and circumstantial hardship.
Now I am happily remarried, and still incredibly grateful for the lessons that I took from that challenging time.
7 Ways to Encourage Single Moms in Your Community
Now, my focus in ministry is primarily to help and encourage single moms to get back on their feet. I’ve been asked by a friend what we can do as a community of mothers to help other single parents in need…
1. Build a Relationship
The most important thing you can do for a single parent is to refrain from judgment and criticism. I can guarantee you, they are more critical of themselves and their circumstances than you could ever be.
Get to know her. If she trusts you, she will gladly open up about her struggles when she is ready.
Involve and include us, even if we are “flaky” or unable to attend all events. Just knowing that we were included is such an edifying experience, and all it takes is but a few words.
Emotionally, it can be very difficult for us from day to day, and these “down” days can be unpredictable. For example, “Dads with Doughnuts” day at school can bring us to tears, knowing that our child will not have their father there to attend with them. It is extremely painful to bear the weight of our children’s emotions when it comes to things like this, let alone our own.
Developing a genuine fellowship with those who are enduring heartache of any kind is always the first step to best help them through it. That said, there are a few practical things that can help single parents when you have developed a solid relationship with them.
Offer to watch their children for an hour or two per week or per month to allow them to run errands like going to the grocery store, get to a doctor’s appointment or get a haircut. It can be impossible not only for us to afford a sitter in addition to our basic bills, but to find a reliable, trustworthy one who is available consistently.
Being able to plan appointments and important errands is an enormous help.
If you have gift certificates to restaurants or coffee shops, leave them for us anonymously when you feel led to do so. If you do this without making us feel like we “owe you”, it is a display of true generosity and compassion that leaves us breathless with gratitude.
We do not want to feel like a charity case, as that is debilitating in itself. Giving us the gift of time to ourselves or a meal out is a rare treat.
3. Be Sensitive
When it comes to relationships, try to refrain from displaying affection constantly with your spouse around us, or gushing about how amazing they are. It can crush our spirits. We can already see the joy in your eyes when they are around, and the loving way that they treat you without the PDA.
Additionally, we are not “contagious”. Being around a single parent does not make us more susceptible to becoming single ourselves. The single most helpful thing that my friends did was to continue to keep me involved in our social gatherings without feeling like a pariah.
4. Share Generously
Offer clean, working items as hand me downs if you have them available. Do not use us as a “dumping ground” for your junk. Carefully think of what might be useful to us, and offer it without strings attached.
We don’t want to worry about what might happen to it – if we need to replace it or return it, that just might not be feasible on our budget.
5. Help with Household Tasks
We rarely ask for help with household tasks (such as yard maintenance or small household repairs), because being turned down is often more painful than the tasks we find nearly or actually impossible to complete on our own.
So, please mean it when you say, “Is there anything I can do for you to help?” If a particular day doesn’t fit your schedule, find another one that will. If a task is beyond your reach, seek out someone else you know who can fill that role.
6. Again Be Sensitive!
Do not, under any circumstances, bash the use of public assistance such as Food Stamps or Medicaid. Unforeseen circumstances that make us vulnerable to poverty are the true intention of the system, and in many cases, we are recipients of this aid until we are able to provide for ourselves. Until I was in this position, I did not understand how humiliating it could be. The day I “graduated” from using Food Stamps was a day I celebrated!
7. Be Encouraging
Leave little notes of encouragement when they come to mind. I had a friend send me inspirational quotes every week for two years during my time of struggle, and I have saved them all.
She didn’t have many resources herself, and they were written on folded scraps of old wallpaper, but they were incredibly precious to me.
They reminded me that someone was thinking about me and cared about me. Something so simple can make all the difference in the world.
There is an unusual gift in struggle and hardship both for the person enduring it and for their support system when we look for it and are open to learning something new. Think carefully about the time and talents you have to give, and offer your assistance when you feel led to do so. The gesture alone will encourage single moms, even if they never take you up on your offer.
Erin blogs at A Single Mama’s Life.