5 Ways Church Leadership Can Support Single Mothers
Published on October 24, 2023
In 2022, 15.78 million children in the U.S. lived with a single mother (3.44 million children lived with a single father). Many of these single mothers sit in our churches every Sunday morning. Many do not have the support they need. As a pastor and church leader, ask yourself, "Are we doing all we can to make sure our members who are single mothers (divorced and never married) have the support they need"? If not, here are 5 ways you can begin.
- Be sensitive in your language.
Commit to being sensitive in your language. When you talk about marriage, be sensitive to the fact that not all of the people you lead are married---many of your members may be single mothers (divorced and never married). Be sensitive to this.
Many single mothers, according to Jim Daly of Focus on the Family, have been "abandoned and forced into single parenthood". When you talk about marriage and completely ignore their experience and reality, you feed the stigma that "there's something wrong with me. I am not good enough". Commit to being sensitive to this and to responding in ways that do not re-traumatize those who have been abandoned (two of the 4 R's of trauma-informed care).
2. Demonstrate empathy
I know from my research that many single mothers feel that people are judging them. Many are consumed with grief and guilt (whether it's true or false guilt). They beat themselves up. They blame themselves for the suffering of their children. With all of this weighing on them, many suffer the sting of shame. Shame and vulnerability researcher Brene Brown says the antidote to shame is empathy. She talks about this in her TED Talk: Listening to Shame, which has over 18 million views.
When you demonstrate empathy, you put yourself in the other person's shoes. You don't patronize them (think you're better because you're married). You think about how you would feel. How would you feel if you had to run your household and take care of your children all by yourself? Many single mothers do not even receive consistent child support. How would you feel if your daughter or granddaughter was abandoned and had to raise your grandchildren as a single parent? Treat the single mothers who are your members as you would want someone to treat your daughter or granddaughter.
3 - Commit to provide your members the support they need.
Commit to provide your members who are single mothers the support they need. A good place to start is with a single mom support group. A good resource to help you get started is The Life of a Single Mom organization. Their motto is "Where No Single Mom Walks Alone". Their mission is to improve the lives of single mothers by providing support groups and education in 3 core areas: Parenting, Finances, and Health & Wellness. They provide guidance on how to start or improve a single mom support group. They offer a Ministry Training Kit (for $339). A good starting place is to reach out to them at 225-341-8055.
4 - Care for the children of single mothers
Many children of single mothers are emotionally wounded. They ask, "What's wrong with me?" Stop minimizing their earthly father's responsibility to them. A father has a responsibility to his children, and if he does not meet their needs, he is irresponsible. Children need to know that they are not the problem. The one person in the parent-child relationship who can make it better is the father. He is the one with the agency, so he is the one responsible.
In your language, again, be sensitive to the children of single mothers. How do you think a child feels when he hears you talking about marriage and completely dismissing his mother's experience and reality? How do you think that makes him feel? It shames him and it shames his mother in front of her child. How do you think that feels? Stop it. When you do that, again, you feed that stigma that "There is something wrong with me. I'm not good enough". Children internalize that. Stop it. Be sensitive to them.
5 - Reach out to fathers
The Church must reach out to fathers. So many fathers need healing. Often the problem with unloving and uninvolved fathers is that they have unresolved childhood trauma and narcissistic tendencies. They are wounded, often don't have the communication skills to be a loving father, and they are not open to getting help. But if they don't deal with their issues, even if they are absent, they pass their trauma on to their children. Mark Wolynn addresses this in his National Book Award for Nonfiction winning book, It Didn't Start With You: How Inherited Family Trauma Shapes Who We Are and How to End the Cycle.
Male leaders in the church need to reach out to fathers and say, "Stop talking about your child's mother". Stop saying things like, "I just can't deal with your mother". That devalues a child (especially a boy) and can lead to these narcissistic tendencies. Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist, Leonard Pitts, Jr. in his book, Becoming Dad: Black Men and The Journey to Fatherhood, says one of the worst things a man can do to a boy is hit his mother. I say talking about his mother is right up there. Stop it.
Male leaders need to hold fathers accountable for consistently supporting their children. Say from the pulpit, "Make sure you pay your child support. Make sure you invest in your children by attending their school events and parent conferences, taking them to the pediatrician, picking them up from school, or taking them to after-school activities". Fathers are just as responsible as mothers.
Educate men about co-parenting. Offer a class on effective co-parenting. The Coparenting Survival Guide is a good resource. It’s all about letting go of conflict after a difficult divorce (separation if never married).
In 2022, 15.78 million children in the U.S. lived with a single mother (3.44 million children lived with a single father.) Many of these single mothers sit in our churches every Sunday morning, and many do not have the support they need. As a pastor and church leader, ask yourself, "Are we doing all we can to make sure our members who are single mothers have the support they need?"
If not, here are five ways you can begin:
- Be sensitive in your language. Everybody you lead is not married. There are single mothers in your congregation.
- Demonstrate empathy. Don't patronize them (think you're better because you're married).
- Commit to provide your members who are single mothers the support they need. A good place to start is single mom support group. A good resource to help you get started is The Life of a Single Mom organization. They offer a Ministry Training Kit (for $339).
- Minister to their children. Don't shame them.
- Reach out to fathers. Offer a class on effective co-parenting. The Coparenting Survival Guide is a good resource.
I encourage all pastors and church leaders to make this commitment: Our Church will do all we can to make sure our members who are single mothers have the support they need.