A Cry For Justice

Awakening the Evangelical Church to Domestic Violence and Abuse in its Midst

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.

Jeff S:

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.

Barbara Roberts:

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!

Jeff S:

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”.

Barbara Roberts:

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!

Joe Pote:

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.

Anonymous:

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?

Barbara Roberts:

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.

Just Me:

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.

Barbara Roberts:

Just Me, I have no words of reply for what you wrote, but I’m sitting here ‘beside’ you feeling for and with you.

11 Comments

  1. Joyce

    Good discussion! I joined the church near the shelter I stayed in and it has been good and bad. One family kind of adopted us, which has been great.

    One hard thing for us is holidays. A lot of people don’t want non-family around for their celebrations. Or if they do, their children don’t. Some don’t have room for 5 more, I understand. But my kids love these people like family and we have to accept that we are not. Also, we often are not included because I am not part of a couple. It is just difficult.

    I had lower expectations than my kids, so it has not been as hard on me. But the other kids have been really mean to my kids, to the point where their therapist suggested we find another church. I have let the leadership know of issues, however, and they all responded well and and changes were made in the programs. My kids are starting to finally fit in, sort of, after we have been here a year and a half.

    One weird issue we had was that there was an inspired goal for the men of the church to reach out to the fatherless children. So these men who wanted nothing to do with me were trying to reach out to my children and wouldn’t interact with me on any level, which I understand. But you can’t be friends with someone’s kids without at least a friendship with the parent, I don’t think. I need to sort of know someone before I let them take my son fishing, you know? I’m not interested in dating, but before I was separated, the men in the church I was in were like brothers to me. I know I was safely married at the time but I really appreciated those friendships.

    Also, when I first got here, I would have uncontrollable bouts of crying and would have to leave a church service because it made people uncomfortable. And for a while it was hard to make small talk when I felt my life was in danger and I was processing losing my home and everything that had been familiar for almost 20 years. People like their happy little lives and like to focus on positive happy things. I’m doing better at keeping my facade up now. As I heal, I find I have more to give to others.

    Another issue is stereotypes of women in my situation. Because the church is so close to the shelter there have been many women from there who have cycled through. An attorney who agreed to help me and then backed out, did so because of being burned by one of those women. I felt like I was on trial to see if I was genuine.

    However, tonight, when we were at our church friends’ house, my youngest told of a traumatic experience he had with his dad. It was hard to listen to but one of them said – “Oh that means he is processing the event, so that is good he told us.” It meant a lot.

    • oh boy, those uncontrollable bouts of crying! So many.
      My daughter got really uncomfortable with me crying in church. I felt okay about it, because I felt I was healing by crying, and could sometimes feel God doing deep things in me while I was crying (healing things). But my daughter didn’t understand, and she wanted me to shush up.
      A few women in the church would sometimes come and sit beside me with an arm around my shoulder. That was nice, but I would always have my guard up a bit in case they might start offering pat advice or comments like “It’ll be alright.”

      Joyce, I think you deserve a certificate of perseverance for sticking it out at that church despite the ups and downs. It sounds like they are trying. But that push for men to get involved with the fatherless children sounds ill thought out. It should have been an encouragement for couples to get involved, not just men. I would have felt just as wierded out and uncomfortable as you – especially knowing the risks of pedophiles lurking in the church.

    • Oh and holidays! Father’s day was the worst. Really really bad. The sermon always being focused on happy families stuff. Yeeeeeech — get me outa here!
      The Christian school did special stuff in every classrom; my daughter made a card for . . who? She didn’t want to give it to her dad, even though she saw him every fortnight. She ended up giving it to the male partner of my then best friend, a non-Christian woman I’d met at a survivors’ recovery group. But she agonised about giving it to him because the lady’s own kids, who were good friends with my daughter, were seeing him as “Dad” and she didn’t want them to feel she was muscling in. Oh, the agony. That was when she was in tears.

    • Anonymous

      “And for a while it was hard to make small talk when I felt my life was in danger and I was processing losing my home and everything that had been familiar for almost 20 years”. This is precisely it. Sometimes you find someone who is willing to listen. But even they start to tire after a while. The senior pastor is always willing to listen, but when I tried to ask him to pray for wisdom for some financial decisions, his immediate response was that money wasn’t the most important thing. When you have several young kids and the child support is not enough, oh yes, it is!

      I have always thought that churches should encourage the men to reach out to fatherless kids and fill that role. It didn’t occur to me that they would do it in a way that would feel like another slap to the victim, being made to feel invisible. Let me at this point not forget to mention that it must be equally a problem for a single dad to try to find women to nurture their kids.

      The holidays are a little problematic, but I have found that it is an opportunity to be imaginative and do something totally unique. Still haven’t established new traditions yet, but it can be exciting letting the imagination go wild.

      Barbara, thanks for putting up this post. It’s good to know that others are also struggling and wading through the same stuff. Just Me, I hope you don’t get too put off by what is being shared. It is certainly a worthwhile journey, even with its ups and downs. I would not trade my life now for what it was before: the experience of finding the right church might be scary, but I love the way I can seek God in such a fresh, living and authentic way. Sometimes the experience is painful, but pain means I am alive. I was like a dead shell before, living in numbness and disassociated most of the time. At least now I am alive!

  2. Re-Posting this for the original thread:

    Just Me, I understand the fear. It is such a hard thing opening yourself up to a new church. I almost wanted to just start calling pastors of churches and asking what their belief about divorce was, but the thing is that I didn’t want that to be my identity.

    Regarding being strong enough to determine what is Biblical, man that’s a tough one. I’m struggling with that myself. I’m challenging a lot of things I’ve always believed, and maybe I’m getting some of it wrong. And I know that the teaching of any church is going to have its errors, but it’s the errors that turn into co-abusing victims that concern me most (along with errors that deny fundamental Christian doctrines such as the deity of Christ and the need for atonement).

    It would be wonderful if we could compile a list of yellow and red flags for churches that may not be safe for abuse victims.

    • MeganC

      Just Me — I have thought about you a lot in the last few hours. I understand how frightening it is to separate when it seems like your entire focus is on the church. My ex-husband was a pastor for a while, we were both seminary students and we were SURROUNDED by a highly fundamental system of belief. I had ONE friend outside of this system when I left. It felt like someone cut something off from me and I was utterly alone. But, I will tell you — there IS life outside of that church and your husband’s family. I know it is very difficult to see it — but it is there. When you are entrenched in a paradigm, you often think it is the only paradigm in the world. But, it is such a small part of the world and I see it now. I am praying for you this morning — right now. I understand your fears.

  3. I also want to say that at church yesterday I was both invited to a men’s bible study with an offer for child care, as well as asked to join the worship team to get more involved with other believers (it’s not a spot I’d normally fill, but the worship pastor just wants me to be involved- I appreciate his heart).

    So right now, I really see my church being intentional about my situation and they deserve a lot of praise for that.

    • They sure do! Pat them on the back from me!

    • Still scared

      Awesome!!

    • Joyce

      Wow that’s great!

  4. OYE… I feel for all ! I know the “pit in the stomach” when you want and try so hard to interact in the church following the ordeal of making the choice to leave and then actually doing it. I have always been a firm believer that especially in my deepest darkest moments of hurt and darkness, I NEED to serve! I had stepped out of very visable ministry. Many knew me. I needed to get back there, but in little steps and incriments. I tried to do that when I felt ready to eek back into the church, but was met with … you can serve in “private” where you have no interaction with others. What a knife to my servents heart. It was then I grasped onto the concept that I could serve and would serve , but just not within the confines of the church building! So I did!

    Might I add that I think it is terribly disheartening that if I walked into a church as a single mom and divorced… usually (not always) the church will embrace and try and help out the best they can… however… go through the process of divorce in the church you “consisider your home church”.. you may as well consider yourself a leper and cast aside to the outskirts of the city gates. Unless of course you conform to their “picture” of how it should go down!
    One counselor as my old church told me ” well it looks like you have made up your mind, so I can’t help you anymore.”

    It has been terribly uncomfortable trying to find friendships that are real and not superficial… especially in the church. Hard to see who is in it for the geniune christ like LOVE and who is just there to “get the details”. From being married so long and having all married friends… to now being a single parent has been a huge challenge. I am praying for ALL of you!! This too shall pass, HE loves us desperately and has beauty waiting in the wings!!!!!!!! We wait so we can SOAR!!

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