A Place for Grace
Removing the stigma from single parenthood.
by Dawn Shanks, MEd
My three-year-old’s voice became increasingly louder.
“But why, Mom?!” he repeatedly asked, though I told him to pick only six books — the limit we had agreed on in the car. Our bag could not hold any more books without ripping.
Not surprisingly, he was not convinced. My five-year-old stood to the side attempting to juggle his six books. Though not yelling like his brother, the fact that he produced a loud thud every time the books collapsed out of his arms was disturbance enough in a library.
Yes, the library, where you’re supposed to be quiet and non-disruptive to enjoy the serenity around you. Well, the boys and I were not doing too well with that today.
The three-year-old had gone on a little “search” of his own already — you know, when they roam even when you tell them to stop walking away from you. Then they hear that little hint of desperation in your voice, though you’re trying so hard to come across as directive and “in control.” Suddenly, the ordeal becomes hide-and-seek.
At checkout, my younger son struggled with transitioning and handling the fact he could not take home the thirty books he had stacked on the chair. So concentrated on redirecting him and using this situation as a character lesson, I did not notice the lady who aimlessly walked by.
“Single parent, huh?” she said quietly, nodding and squishing her face into an odd shape, meant to be sympathetic.
I gave a polite smile and nod. Why would she just assume that? I wondered. Don’t married moms with five- and three-year-olds struggle at the library sometimes?
“Quite a punishment, I can imagine. Makes you want to go back and undo whatever awful thing dealt you these cards, hmmm? Karma can be gruesome.”
With a downcast expression, she walked away, shaking her head.
Time to process
Now, if I were one of those people who could process and respond quickly to strangers, I would have done so at that moment. I am not. I quickly turned my attention back to my children, their library books, and the goal of checking out and getting back to the car.
On the drive home, I processed what the lady said. For whatever reason, she assumed I was a single mom. Probably the no-ring-on-the-left-hand thing gave it away. But I still did not understand why someone would consider single parenting a punishment.
Shedding the stigma
As I drove, I realized the stigma linked to single parenthood in our society and in many churches. This wasn’t the first time someone labeled my role of a single parent as such. However, it was the first time that my heart swelled with love and empathy for all my fellow parents who experience the same stigma.
The truth is, being a single parent is the farthest thing from punishment! By no means does the loving, caring, parental figure of God demand us to be punished because we parent without a partner. Each one of us probably has a few pages in our story we wish we could rewrite. I sure do.
Tears and regrets
I wish I had conducted myself differently in countless events before I became a single mom, or wish that things had worked out differently. I have been tempted at times — especially at the beginning of this journey — to question if my decisions were responsible for my kids not having a dad in their lives and my walking these steps without a parental partner. I have experienced thousands of tears, many weighed down by my responsibility in everything.
But no matter how long I cried, how heavy my heart became, and how many questions ran through my mind as I blamed myself for what had happened and its effect on my children, God slowly began pressing the brakes.
Changed by a baby
I am humbled and thankful that He let me become a mother. Having my first child completely rocked my world and turned it upside down. I no longer lived for myself but accepted responsibility for another human being.
God used my firstborn to bring me to my knees and ultimately back to Him. Though the pregnancy was totally unplanned, God had a plan for a baby boy to completely change his mama’s life — for the better.
Working at marriage
Because of this “new” relationship with God, I tried hard to be the best testimony I could be for my children’s father. I did not give in or give up at the inconveniences and annoyances that came with marriage.
In many incidents I made sure to make decisions by being completely honest with God and myself, making sure that selfish desires weren’t fueling my behaviors. I wanted to be certain I had given this relationship all I could give.
However, some years between being a vulnerable yet protected young teenager and becoming a mother at 23 were not driven by unselfish desires. Memories of that time, and the ghost that came along, haunted my nights and tempted me to believe that because of my past and decisions, I was getting my “payback.”
I thought that God simply dealt out my consequences for all those years, and mine was being a single parent, hurt deeply by the one I loved so immensely. It was justice — what I deserved.
Then God slowed down my thoughts. I felt peace, the incredible understanding that He still loved me even after I had made many awful decisions.
I saw that these events were not consequences dealt out but a way for God to remove me from something bad so I could experience something good. I realized that my children, no matter what circumstances they were conceived under, were loved more by God than by their mother and that He was their Protector too, not just mine.
Lessons from love
That is why as I’ve sat and spilled thousands of tears over many nights, I never felt that I was being punished or that God was making sure karma would get me. I believe in consequences and that God uses times in His children’s lives to teach us lessons — lessons that often hurt.
But these lessons are driven out of love from a caring Father who wants to take us out of a mess we’ve made for ourselves and into the life He originally planned. This transition is not usually easy. But when we allow God to heal us and move us where He intended, He gives us peace and understanding.
To be honest, when someone like the lady in the library feels I am being punished as a single parent, I bristle. I also feel sorry that some people think that way. I would never want to change my story, especially into an ending that does not make me the honored mother of such amazing little boys.
Being a single mom is the most challenging role I could ever play. And my God loves me so much, He provides new grace every day for new challenges. He loves all His children — even when they’re single parents!