I recently listened to a popular, Christian radio program in which the topic being discussed was family life according to the Bible. The guest was a prominent pastor who has written and spoken on a variety of family-related topics many times before. During this segment, the pastor mentioned one of the practices of the male leadership of his church as being to rally around single moms seeking to provide mentoring to their sons. The justification for this practice was based on the assumption that single moms did not have a godly male figure in their home and thus could benefit from the influence of one of the church’s leaders. On another occasion, a single mom was a guest interviewee in a nearby church. Commenting on her appreciation for her church family, she mentioned how following her divorce, one of the elders requested to take her son out to lunch. During these two interviews, nothing was said regarding an initial inquiry into the status of the child’s father. Moreover, there was no mention of having a preliminary discussion about the circumstances which led to the mom’s singleness. On the surface, the efforts to reach out to these young men sound noble and courageous on the part of these leaders. However, upon further consideration, there are several concerns associated with a ‘coming to the rescue’ approach regarding the national single mom dilemma.
It is common knowledge that the Mother’s Day holiday receives far more attention than Father’s Day. No doubt, mothers are viewed with the utmost value as it relates to modern family life. It is also evident that many children are being reared in fatherless homes with the mother bearing most if not all of the responsibility for raising the child. In addition, many single moms work full-time jobs, making the demands of parenting that much more daunting. Yet, despite these realities, there are reasons to believe that many single mothers may be receiving far too much sympathetic assistance from others.
The first reason for this consideration is that many single moms are in the predicament they are in because of their own decisions. In fact, one author concluded that women once initiated 91% of U.S. divorces. One recent study highlighted by the American Sociological Association concluded that women initiate 69% of the divorces in America. Why did they do it? The author of the study, sociology professor Michael Rosenfeld, stated that many women viewed their marriages as lacking “quality” and were thus “uncomfortable” with the monogamous commitment. For these women, the answer to the low-quality discomfort they were feeling was to abandon the marriage altogether. Rather than work on the “quality” of the marriage with maturity, these women decided to give up on honoring their vows made before God and others. Most assuredly, for single moms in this category, this is not a basis for sympathy.
A second reason that sympathetic assistance may not be best is that many single moms are the contributing factor to why their child’s father is not actively involved in the child’s life. The truth is, some single moms become bitter towards the father of their child such that they make it extremely difficult for the two to stay connected. In fact, I know several men who have expressed to me the hardships and trials they faced in simply seeking to maintain a good, healthy relationship with their child following a separation from the child’s mother. In many cases, the mother’s anger, animosity and immaturity leads her to use missed time with the children as a revenge mechanism towards the father. Indeed, the reason that many children do not have a relationship with their father is perhaps because the embittered mother has essentially pushed him out of their lives. Not only is this a reality among secularists, this is sadly the case even among church-going women. While pastors may be oblivious to these things, they are happening among some of the single moms in his congregation. Again, single mothers in this category do not deserve sympathy, but to be challenged to do that which is best for the child (i.e. balance of time with both parents) and is pleasing to the Lord (James 4:17).
Lastly, some single moms (whether they ever married or not) have found themselves in the situation they are in due to deliberate rebellion against both God and others. For example, the Scriptures make it clear that the people of God are not to involve themselves in a sacred union with unbelievers (Ezra 10:1-5; 2 Cor. 6:14-18). Yet, this prohibition has not prevented some ‘Christian’ women from dabbling in spiritually compromised relationships. Whether the involvement leads to marriage or not, once a child is born, the mother and father are united for life. Often times, single motherhood results from a sexual encounter with an unbelieving man who was never interested in marriage to begin with. Despite knowing/perceiving this, the church-going woman proceeds with the relationship only to possibly find herself dependent on others due to an untimely pregnancy.
Similar to this, some single mothers chose to involve themselves with a man they were warned about in advance. While not every ‘warning’ is valid, the insights of trusted friends and family should be taken seriously since they will likely be the ones whose shoulder she will cry on if the relationship goes south. In addition, other expressions of dependency and support will be needed from the very people she may ignore regarding her relationship decision. Once again, single, impenitent moms in these situations should not be indiscriminately considered as candidates for assistance. Instead, they need to both acknowledge and confess their sins, and seek God’s forgiveness, as well as the forgiveness of those whose concerns were disregarded. Until this happens, sympathy is not necessarily fitting.
In reference to the statistic on over 2/3 of all divorces being initiated by women, how does a Christian woman justify divorcing a husband who wants to stay and work on the marriage in light of the prohibition against leaving (1 Cor. 7:13)? How can she be at peace with such a destructive decision knowing that the God she claims to follow hates divorce (Mal. 2:16)? Again, how is sympathy appropriate for the woman who claims to follow Christ but chooses to disregard her vows to her husband whom she is bound to for life (1 Cor. 7:39)? Could many of these divorces be among women who masquerade as Christians but in fact do not follow the Lord (Luke 6:46)? If so, it is not mere sympathy that they need; these women need repentance over their sins and a genuine embracing of the gospel of Christ.
It is worth noting that the Bible refers to the wife as a “weaker vessel” (1 Pet. 3:7). According to dictionary.com, weaker can be defined as: “not strong; liable to…collapse under pressure, fragile.” The biblical verse, along with the definitions listed, suggest that wives are more vulnerable to negativity and neuroticism when facing marital challenges, and thus more prone to respond to them in unproductive ways. If this is true, that may contribute to our understanding of why wives initiate most divorces in this country. In many marriages, wives have a harder time handling the pressures of holy matrimony, leading many of them to end otherwise salvageable marriages. Not only is this conclusion based on Scripture, but also on qualitative research.
I am not downplaying the seriousness of marital issues that can surface after a couple exchanges their vows. Surely, any couple that has been married for any length of time knows that marriage is difficult. Nevertheless, mere hardship is not an excuse to give up; to the contrary, it is the basis for endurance (2 Tim. 2:3). It is true that adversity introduces a woman to herself, and this is most evident in the context of marriage.
I once heard a pastor explain the first time he had exercised church discipline on one of the members of his congregation; it involved a woman who pursued an unbiblical divorce from her husband. Although she was discouraged from doing so, she proceeded with the separation. Following the divorce, the pastor asked her if she was repentant over her decision. She answered in the negative, asserting that she would do it all over again if needed. At that point, the pastor humbly decided, on the basis of biblical teaching, that she was no longer welcome to fellowship with his congregation (Matt. 18:15-18; 1 Cor. 5). While some Christians might frown upon this pastor’s response, he displayed biblical courage that is to be commended. Indeed, following the Word of God can be tough, but it is better to please God rather than people (Gal. 1:10).
Regarding the radio program discussion, should church leaders position themselves to ‘help’ single moms with their sons? Maybe, but only after a thorough assessment of her parenting circumstances has been conducted. This includes a request to contact the child’s father to ascertain the accuracy of the mother’s story. Why would this be needed? Perhaps the child’s father is already doing what the potential church mentor would seek to do. Without knowing the level of involvement from the father, the church leader runs the risk of positioning himself for a role that is essentially unneeded. Also, every single mom represents a broken family to some extent. The mere fact that the father is not present at home with the mother and children presents an obvious problem. Yet, due to God’s high priority for fathers to spiritually influence their children (Eph. 6:4), this role should always be investigated first. While this may seem like too much work simply to help a young man grow into Christlike adulthood, some single mothers are not always honest about their situation. As such, investigating the backgrounds of broken families is one way to ensure that church leaders are not participating in something that is both improper and even ungodly (1 Tim. 5:22).
While the tone of this article may seem ungracious, the purpose here is to look at the problem of single motherhood with balance and honesty. Many adults (including myself) have been raised by a single mom and learned very valuable life lessons through that experience. However, that does not excuse the realities discussed here. This is especially the case for single moms who profess to be followers of Jesus.
In conclusion, it is fair to say that some single mothers deserve sympathy, depending on their unique circumstances. Yet, in many cases, single moms should be lovingly confronted about the circumstances that led to their single parenting status. Undoubtedly, celebrating single mothers on Mother’s Day is certainly valid, insofar as the aforementioned issues have been correctly addressed by those who love them. Indeed, single motherhood is a national problem that can be lessened, but only with the help of those who love women enough to stand up for the truth.