Being a single woman can be weighty. Motherhood is daunting. But single mothering is exponentially more difficult. The situations of single moms are widely varied and thus their needs—emotionally, spiritually, and practically—will be as well. Caring for the needs of those in our community who are single moms is something we need to embrace with intentionality.
Years ago, when my sister unexpectedly became a single mom, she found herself with a new identity (one she didn’t choose or want) and with needs she had not anticipated. Those years of single parenting were exhausting and vulnerable as she navigated this new life. The reorientation of life and roles and starting a new job—all while managing her home, grieving, and guiding her children through their own adjustment—were difficult.
By learning from her and other friends’ experiences, I share some encouragement and practical wisdom:
How might you care for her emotional needs?
- The circumstances of her singleness (divorce, death, separation, father of children not involved) and her situation (work, money, the age and needs of children, proximity to extended family, and many other factors) will determine much of what she is going through. It’s important to tune into what she needs. So, talk about things and give suggestions for how you might be an encouragement and help to her. Let her think about what would be best. It is critical to ask how she is and where her needs and pain points are rather than making assumptions. However, it is also imperative that we not leave it up to her to initiate or determine exactly what she needs.
- Ask your friend for times of the day/week/month that are hardest for her. Then, initiate entering in. Free childcare? After-kid-bedtime phone calls? Hang out when the kids are at their dad’s house (if they have a dad in the picture)? Don’t assume what she needs; explore this with her.
- Does she want to talk about her situation? Does she not? Does she need a listening ear or advice? What do her kids need? How can you pray for her? How can you encourage her spiritually (sending her verses of encouragement, prayers that you are praying for her, worship songs to cling to, and offering to sit with her in worship)?
How can you practically help?
- Attending a church event might feel overwhelming for a single mom as she imagines it would be exhausting fixing her kids’ plates in the buffet and her own and finding a spot to sit and tend to her kids. She might rather just stay home. But you, as a friend with more margin (or hands available), might be able to check in before the event and offer to sit together and help with some of the tasks.
- Help with the house. My sister had men from the church mow her yard each week without her asking. They set up a schedule and let her know the plan. She felt so cared for through this. In the fall, she hosted a group of families for a leaf pick-up in her yard- where she made a pot of chili and desserts and invited them to bring their families and a rake, and within a couple of hours, her leaf-filled yard was raked, and they enjoyed a fun time together afterward.
- As a married friend who was friends with the woman before she was a single mom, resist the urge to dodge her. Sometimes married friends don’t quite know what to do with a single mom. They might fear it will be awkward to include her in their gatherings with couples or families. Rather than giving her the chance to decide, they exclude her. Let the mom determine if she wants to attend, rather than preemptively deciding for her.
How can the church help?
- With childcare, offer women’s events during the evening rather than only during the daytime when a single mom is at work or without childcare. It is isolating and sends a message that the event is not intended for her.
- Be mindful to not make assumptions about the last names of moms and kids since they might be different.
- The church often doesn’t know what to do with a blended family. While divorce support groups might be offered, oftentimes, when people remarry, there is little to support a blended family. However, that scenario needs guidance and care.
- The church sometimes divides classes and Bible studies into groups by marital status: single or married. This is very challenging for single parents who are caught in-between and still need the community that a small group offers. The more we, as a church, can provide mutual support for people of all ages and stages, the better we can live as a healthy church body.
As I think about these emotional, practical, and spiritual ways to care for single moms in our lives, the greatest commandment found in Mark 12:30-31 bolsters my zeal for this ministry. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is, Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other command greater than these.” As we consider how to love the single moms in our community, may we be compelled to love as we would love ourselves with the wisdom and strength that God supplies.
Julie Hunt is an Associate Professor of Social Work and Director of Field Education at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee. She is wife to Dave Hunt, a worship director and wood worker, and mother to a college aged son and two teenaged daughters. She also enjoys walking, baking, reading, food blogging, thrifting, and enjoying time with friends.