Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Dear Single Mom

Dear Single Mothers,

I'll start first with my mother. You see, I was raised by a single mother. I could call her many things: strong, persistent, kind, loving and honorable. I can see her in my minds eye as she traversed the many roles of life, from mother to teacher to friend. But most of all I remember her love. Her love that filled my life with light, her love that gave me a happy childhood. It's because of my mother's sacrificial love that I am half the woman I am today.

me and my mom

I am sure I know less than half of the sacrifices she has made. I was a child, and children take things for granted. But with adult eyes I can look back and see how she pinched and saved so we could go on vacation and have fun at the beach. I see how she never bought new clothes for herself, but made sure we had what we needed for school. I see her cooking, cleaning, reading books to me and my sister and gently putting us to bed. She fiercely defended me when I needed it most. She never judged me when I made mistakes as a teen (and there were many) but instead offered advice without ire.

I am probably making her sound like the perfect mother. Of course she had her faults, as all mothers do. But in all of my 31 years I have never doubted her love for me or her devotion to our family. I thank her for her sacrifices, those made and those yet to come—because she still is an ever present light within my life.

But she was a single mother.

I have learned the hard way that single mothers carry a heavy stigma. Growing up in church and throughout school I was ostracized for it, made fun of. And God only knows what my mother suffered. She does not speak of it much, but I know she was repeatedly shamed. In church. By friends. In her workplace.

By Christians. I have learned in my few years that Christians are the most judgmental when it comes to the plight of a single mother. They should be the most loving, the most kind, the most understanding, the most helpful—yet they are not.

Why is that? Jesus died for the single mother just as much as any other mother. God loves and blesses the single mother just like any other mother. Children also are a blessing from the lord.

But no one has to walk around in shame and in “sin” like we Christians perceive the single mother does.

Let me explain it this way. My husband and I recently had a fight. I bought a toddler mattress without consulting him, and we are supposed to agree on large purchases. It was sinful of me to go behind his back like this and buy the mattress without a solid yes on his part (we had talked about it a few times but had not come to a decision). The mattress came while he was at home, and he was understandably upset about it. We argued; apologized. We both spent time in prayer, and tried to communicate amiably.

He apologized for being always busy and never having time to talk about buying the mattress. He said he was sorry for not understanding that I really needed it so we could begin transitioning our three year old out of our bed and into his own. I was so fed up with sleeping with both my daughter and my son—one of them had to go, and the toddler was the best bet as my daughter was still breastfeeding at eight months. I had asked him three or four times to consider buying a mattress for our toddler bed, but each time he had been too busy to consider it.

I apologized for buying it without consulting him one last time and asking for a verdict. I should have communicated better how desperately I needed some space at night. And I should not have purchased something that expensive without a definite yes from him.

We both made up and the issue was never mentioned again. No one outside of our marriage (well, until now) knows about this fight. I can go to church and to the supermarket and a stranger who looks at me can not tell that there is anything amiss in my marriage. No one from the outside can see that my husband and I fought or see that we sin. 

It is not so with single mothers. They walk around with their perceived “sin” for all to see, on display at all times. And people judge.

God payed the price for my sin. He payed the price for the way I treated my husband that day I bought that mattress. He paid the price for my sin of having sex outside of marriage, for I dated many men before I met Christ and my husband. Christ paid the price for all my sins, I am clean before God because he looks at me and sees only his son's sacrifice.

So why don't we look at single mothers as being without sin, pure before God? Why don't we treat them that way?

Many single mothers became single mothers through no fault and no sin of their own. But even when there is sin: let us be over and done with it! There is no sin that needs to be revisited in guilt over and over again, no sin that the barer needs to be consistently barraged with, and no sin that is not covered by the loving sacrifice of Jesus on the cross; so why do we torment single mothers with daily reminders of their perceived “wrong”?

What if I had to wear a shirt that said “sinner” in red letters, and written on the back of my shirt was a list of my sins? Fornicator. Lier. Thief. Slanderer. All my sins for everyone to see and stare at.

That's kind of what it is like to be a single mother. The children of a single mother are without a father, for all to see, and all to judge the mother for it.

I once invited a single mother to my church. She had been looking for a good church, and I was sure mine would be a wonderful fit.

I was wrong.

She came to a woman's bible study. A place full of married, stay at home mothers with husbands, two car garages and gluten free pantries.

The first question she was asked what what her husband did for work. I was standing next to her, and blushed a little. For some reason this awkward line of questioning had not occurred to me.

“I'm a single mom.” She said. I relaxed. Surely things would pick up. Surely these women who had been so open and loving with me would accept my friend, single mom or no.

“Oh.” The other lady said. And I don't know what thoughts were going through her head; but the next question she asked was: “How do you make money?”

Shock ran though my body. In all my years of attending this church I had never been asked how I made money. And I knew these women intimately, and yet they had never asked me. This friend of mine—this was her first time attending. Who asks someone how they make money upon meeting them for the first time?

“My mother supports me right now.” My friend answered.

“That must be hard.” Church Lady responded.

No one (but me) talked to my single mother friend for the rest of the morning. She never came back to my church.

After the woman's meeting was over I apologized to my friend. I told her I was sorry people were rude, and that she had been asked rude questions.

“I'm used to it” She said. “At the last church I attended the Sunday School teacher asked me 'where is your kids father, do they even have one?' (in that tone of voice too) right as I was dropping my son off for Sunday school. Right in front of my kids.”

I had no comment. 

“I had only met Sunday School Teacher one other time. I wasn't even on a first name basis with her yet.” My single mom friend continued while I gaped.

“Wow.” I finally said.

“The church before that—I attended with my husband before he left.” She continued, like she was telling a story about a lost puppy or a misplaced wallet, and not the most tragic tale of her life. “I asked the pastor for some help when my husband just abandoned us. He told me to get a job.”

“Wait. What?” I said. “He said the church couldn't help you financially? He told you to get a job?”

“Yes.” She said. “And of course I want to get a job. But it happened so fast, we were still reeling from Ned's* departure. I hadn't had time to look for work. And you know we struggled a lot even when Ned was contributing. But it was always my dream to stay home with my children.” *name changed

“So your pastor didn't try to talk to Ned, or tell him he needed to support you as your husband? He couldn't supply any funds to help out, even for a month while you searched for a job?”

“No.” My friend said. “We had to go on food stamps and move into government housing the very next week.”

Ned, by the way, used to beat my friend. The night he left he had beat her so much so that she was afraid for her life. So she called the police who, I might add, acted like they were bothered by her call and were nasty to her. Her husband left that night and never returned. Two years passed, and that was the year I invited her to my church. It's been another three since that date and Ned has never contacted her again, never given her or her kids money, and never seen his son or daughter since the day he left. He abandoned his family. And yet she bares the burden, the stigma, the “shame” of being a single mother. The questions. The unsolicited advice. The animosity.

I am angry for my friend. I am angry for the way people treat single mothers. I am angry that we judge single moms for being on food stamps but refuse to help them ourselves. I am angry for every story every single mom has told me: from lost friends to lost churches, to having to explain themselves to strangers while they struggle to make ends meet. It is wrong, it is evil, and it must end.

Being a single mother is not a sin. Jesus loves single moms just as much as any other woman or man! He died for them and for their children! Do you hear that, single mother? God loves you. Jesus loves you. You are valued among women, you have worth and a purpose and a reason to hold your head up just like any other person.

I'll go further. The fact that I have a husband, that my kids have a loving father does not make me a better person than any other mom. It does not place me on a pedestal, it does not give me the right to judge or admonish or reprimand any mom, single or no! There is no mom hierarchy and there should not be. I am not any less, or any more of a sinner.

You, dear single mom, are washed free from your sins if you have accepted Christ as your savior. We are all sinners. And as I said above, being a single mom might have nothing to do with sin! It could be a product of circumstance. Rape. Widowhood. Abuse. Abandonment. The stories of single mothers are as varied as the stories of life itself.

Even if it does have to do with sin, yours or another person's sin: God does not want you to live under the yoke of that sin. You do not need to be reminded of it daily. You don't have to wear it like a shroud. It is over and done with and paid for with the blood of Jesus Christ and you are set free. Free to have a unburdened and joyful heart, free to raise your family without stigma or shame, free to worship Christ with your soul prostrated before the alter of our one true God as any other humble follower does.

God is good and has enough grace and mercy for all. Go forth and love your children and do the work of God our Father, who is in heaven. Yes, you, even you, single mom—God has a plan for you. Go and find it, and don't let anyone get in your way.