Mother’s Day is right around the corner, but for many faithful Catholics the picture perfect, Hallmark version of Mother’s Day will never happen. For many single moms, Mother’s Day is another day of housework, quibbling children, stress, and exhaustion exacerbated by misplaced hopes that this Mother’s Day will be special.
For faithful, abandoned single dads, Mother’s Day is a day spent without their kids. It is a reminder of just how wrong broken families are. In divorce, kids always lose, even on Mother’s Day. The same is true for Father’s Day.
There is no magic formula to make Mother’s and Father’s Days special, but the Catholic Church and its members can lighten the load of single parenting and welcome the divorced. More importantly, none of these break Church doctrine as giving the Eucharist to the divorced and remarried would.
9 Ways the Catholic Church Can Help Single Parents:
Single parents need help but struggle to ask for it. Many have shaken self-esteems and survive minute by minute. They are not sure how to delegate or who to turn to. When single parents don’t get needed help, children lose.
Maybe you’d love to take a toddler to the park but would be nervous driving a bunch of teenagers around. Maybe you love gardening and would like to bring beauty to the family yard or you have extra produce from your own gardens to share. Maybe you can’t babysit every Tuesday night, but you could check on the family cat during a summer vacation.
Brainstorm! Things that seem obvious, silly, or insignificant are often needed and overlooked. Little offerings can remove heavy weights from a single parent’s shoulders. Reassure the single parent that you offer in love not because you think she’s a bad parent or her garden is a disaster because single parents can be especially sensitive.
Be there to speak for the single parent. Attorneys slice apart family homes, retirements, income, and children. Judges look at worst case scenarios and approve of parents who don’t fall to lowest standards. Phrases such as, “best for the child” and “maintain the same standard of living” are tossed about despite their impossibilities when the covenant of Marriage is destroyed.
Nothing is off limits in divorce courts, and dirty laundry is aired in public. Single parents face this alone and may need help speaking clearly in conferences or when confronted by gossip. They can easily succumb to emotional, mental, and spiritual exhaustion which puts them and their children at risk. Simply having help talking over paperwork makes a world of difference.
Having someone to listen quietly is as important as having someone speak for you. Be a trusted confidant. Hold whatever is said as if you are in the Confessional. Let the divorced person cry, scream and vent to purge pain privately. Don’t judge, but be strong enough to listen sympathetically, sensing when to step in and make gentle corrections or firmly push towards a positive direction.
Offer a Way Out
When life falls apart, many will encourage the griever to get onto the playing field again. Even if dating is not pushed, the divorced are pressured to socialize to forget or numb the pain. Sometimes socializing is welcomed. Sometimes it is intimidating. Help the newly divorced formulate and practice an acceptable response to occasional last minute no-shows. Having this in their arsenal allows them to accept invitations they might have otherwise rejected and regretted.
Annulments can be healing for some, traumatizing for others. In most cases though, there are questions about what the annulment process entails, what grounds there are for annulments, and why annulments are required before dating can begin. Even many religious don’t understand this deep call to Marriage and give well-intended and wrong advice.
Childcare is essential for Churches that encourage single parents to join programs. Asking for help is hard when a single parent needs to work or bring a child to an activity. In many circles asking for help to attend religious events can present greater challenges. Friends and family might offer to babysit for a date but be reluctant to offer to babysit for Church activities they don’t understand.
“Childcare” must also refer to pastoral outreach. Children are shattered by divorce and need Church support. They need to be taught coping skills and self-worth. They need to learn valuable lessons on heavy topics such as redemptive suffering and on hopeful topics such as the Love of the Holy Family and how it is possible to model their future families on those of the great saints. They also need to understand the annulment and what that means for them.
Be a role model for single parents and their children. If you are in a loving relationship, show that love is possible. Don’t complain about your spouse or try to compare your life to that of the single parents’. Don’t deny when things aren’t perfect in your marriage, but speak with gratitude, humility, and love.
Men, teach boys and young men practical things like holding doors, calling to check on moms or siblings, and making birthday cards. Teach them vital things like how Saint Joseph must have struggled, how to love and protect a woman’s entire being including her virtue as Christ Loves the Church, and how manly it is to stand by your family.
Women, teach girls and young women practical things like letting the man open a door, calling to check on moms and siblings, and making birthday cards. Teach them vital things like the power of submission, the allure of modesty, and the call to seek first the Kingdom of God.
Teach both how to play fair rather than play games, the strength and vulnerability of the human heart, the ease with which we succumb to temptation and the value of a Confession with nothing held back and its subsequent Reconciliation.
Some things are better taught by someone else. Lessons traditionally taught by the opposite sex parent cannot be taught in single parent homes. This does not just affect the lonely, disappointed, single parent, but generations of children who never learn valuable lessons until eventually the lessons ingrained over centuries are lost.
Pray for the single parent and let him or her know you are praying. Don’t wait! Stop immediately to pray for them or with them. Hearing your words and knowing you care is powerful. Pray in front of their children. Pray for their children. Pray for the disloyal spouse. Sometimes the pain of single parenting is so great a parent cannot yet pray for her abandoned spouse. Remove that burden by letting her know you will pray when she cannot. Let children who are torn in two know that their family is united in your prayer.
The number one thing you can do to help single parents may be the most difficult: Stand by Marriage. Patching up broken lives is never going to be as powerful as preventing brokenness. Never be lukewarm in your own Marriage or in anyone else’s. We have become a society that looks at others’ lives with an unwillingness to judge. We mistake unhappiness for abuse. Real abuse means one needs to leave, but a miserable spouse and nasty episodes, even nasty years, do not equate abuse. Attempting to do so not only destroys families but diminishes the cries of those who are actually abused. If you are a witness to the wedding, you are called to stand for the Marriage!
I have recently been asked to co-admin an online support group for those in struggling Marriages. I know firsthand the pain of abandonment and the lasting effects of divorce as both a child of a broken home and an abandoned wife. The pain is real. The crisis in our families and of our faith is here. What will you do to lighten the Cross of those in the trenches?
If you would like more information, on faithful parenting, divorce recovery, or strengthening struggling Marriages, please contact me. God Bless…