Being a single parent in church, after domestic abuse
Here is a discussion that started in another post and I’ve moved it all to here as other readers might have missed it unless they were following comments at that other post.
The single father thing (and I assume my experience holds true for single mothers as well) – the church (and actually, even the secular culture) isn’t designed for us. It’s not a hostility, but once you are off “the plan”, it’s hard to create and sustain healthy adult relationships. The other men I meet that are around my age are married and just can’t really hang out. They also are not the ones making play dates with their kids, so it’s not like I can get together with other adults even for that- I’m not asking a guy’s wife if she wants to meet me at the park with her kids! My church just had its fall festival and it was great, but I had virtually no adult interaction the whole time because 3 year olds are quite mobile and require a lot of attention.
I don’t really know how the church could do better, but it can be very lonely. And in fact, I truly see that my church has gone above and beyond in this area, but still much is lacking. It’s a tough nut to crack.
The great irony is the church talking about not making romantic relationships into idols, all the while treating people who don’t have them as if they are not whole.
It was wonderful when a married couple at my church who had girls the same age as my daughter, invited us to a BBQ at their place. They both wanted to be my friend. And this friendship has stood the test of time, thirteen years now. I pretty much always see them together, as a couple. I don’t meet up with the guy on his own, though occasionally I meet up with the wife on her own. Our kids became like cousins to each other, and their kids called me ‘Aunty Barb’. We even went on holidays all together.
The reason it worked is that both of them wanted to get to know me, and they have a stable and sound marriage, so the wife doesn’t feel threatened by me. We’ve shared lots of laughs, tears and gripes together. And even though we haven’t been in the same church for some years now, we are still friends.
Is there a married couple in your church who have a son about your son’s age? Maybe you could try asking them all for a meal at your place? You never know, it might be a situation where you all click.
But I agree, the ‘no one to hang out with’ is tough. What I had with those friends did not fill every lonely evening. No wonder I gave myself RSI being a writer!
There is, and I eat lunch with them after church almost evey week (and he is the worship leader so we already have a bond); however, since mom tends to be the primary child care giver it’s not quite so easy to foster adult relationships by involving the two children. I have brough my son over to visit, but usually I don’t stick around unless her husband is also involved.
See, that’s the big problem- for most everything my son is involved, but with couples involvement with the kids usually means mom or mom and dad, not dad alone. And even with mom and dad together it can be difficult to really bond closely the way you can with “guy time”.
Sounds like what you need is a friendship with a couple where the wife will mind both her kid(s) and yours while you have some guy-time with her husband. It would probably work best for a couple who had only one child about your son’s age. If their son is lonely and in need of a playmate, then the wife might be all too happy to take your son while you go off with her husband or some other bloke. Of course, you could return the favour, and take their son to play with your son, while that wife had ‘girl’ time with her girlfriends.
As a single mum of a very sociable little daughter, I used to love having her playmates over to play. She was usually happier when she had a playmate, and it was therefore less demanding for me as a mother. I would do this on holidays too: she would invite a girlfriend on the holiday, so they could play together and I would read books if I didn’t have other adult company. If I ran out of books I would go to the thrift stores to get more!
Jeff S – It is a tough situation, and easy to feel like a misfit, at times.
I was blessed to have a variety of friendships during those years. I spent more time with my siblings, which was really nice. There was one other single dad at my church, and we hung out together, with our kids. There was a couple who invited me over a lot, and the woman would watch kids whiler her husband and I went bike riding.
I was already involved in the church children’s ministry, and that worked well, as it allowed me to be involved with my kids, while also hanging out with the other adults involved.
I was already involved in kids sports activities, so that remained another area of involvement with other parents.
Jeff S and Joe, Wow! Here I am, complaining about my lot as one of the few single mothers in church, and I hadn’t considered how tough it would be to be a single dad in church.
This is an experience I hadn’t thought much about before separation. I knew of many single mothers in my previous church and never thought they were ostracized or marginalized in any way since there was a single parent ministry, so I didn’t expect to go through this experience of feeling like a pariah in church (not the same one).
It really is quite a demeaning thing, and it only dawned on me after reading Barbara’s comment that I have no friends who are couples. We used to frequently entertain and eat with other couples and their kids. I have not had a meal or any social time with a couple for quite some time now. I wonder how you managed to make friends with couples, Barbara?
How I made friends with that couple was an amazing thing. A God thing, to use the cliche.
I think they saw my daughter getting on with their two daughters at church, and decided to ask us to their home for a BBQ. On that day at their house, I told them I was a victim of DV and the wife asked me straight away, “Why didn’t you leave?” OUCH!
I think I had just started reading Patricia Evans by then, and although I was floored, I managed to make some kind of reply about how hard it is to leave and how the church often judges you when you leave.
And they then said “Well, we don’t know much about domestic violence but we are willing to learn.” That was the key. That made every clanger statement or question from them forgivable. They were willing to learn! They were willing to admit they NEEDED to learn! How amazing is that? And how rare.
They were genuinely friendly. The wife’s question was not judgmental, it was simply curious and coming from a place of great ignorance. And they continued to be friendly. Our daughters got on like a house on fire, and I felt SOOO grateful that they had invited me to a meal. No other family in the church did that for many many years, and when later other families did, they didn’t show much interested in my history; I felt they were only showing hospitality for form’s sake.
So it kinda went from there. And then I started running bible studies in my house for survivors of DV, and I mentioned it to this couple and how some of the survivors needed to move house. The husband of this couple then offered his van to use to help these ladies move. So the rubber met the road.
And there’s another nice bit to this story. That wife’s question “Why didn’t you leave?” prompted me, years later, to write my article Why Didn’t You Leave?
I gave it to her to read once I’d put it online, and she read, and learned more. They’ve come such a long way, over the years, bless them.
The fear of not being accepted in church, or of my children not being accepted in church, is one of the reasons why I haven’t moved toward a separation yet. I think our current church (or at least my friends within our current church) would be accepting even if they didn’t necessarily agree. But, my husband’s extended family has deep roots within our church and within our denomination, and I just couldn’t stay there. It wouldn’t be safe to stay there. I tear up just thinking about how scary it would be to walk into a new church with my children and hope that my children would be loved and accepted. And I wonder if I’m strong enough to hear a church’s teachings and discern what is biblical and what is not. My biggest desire for my children is that they grow up to know God’s heart. I struggle so much to know God’s heart. I want them to “get it.”
I know that any church that didn’t accept us wouldn’t be the church for us, but going through that process just seems so…..hard. And my children don’t deserve any of that.
And I have wondered who I could even be friends with. Where would I fit in? Where could I serve? It’s scary.
Just Me, I have no words of reply for what you wrote, but I’m sitting here ‘beside’ you feeling for and with you.