I have been a single parent since 1993; just writing that sentence gives me pause. I’m not sure of all the reasons why, but I know that a significant part of my reflection comes from the fact that I have also been a Christian since 1978. Those two facts juxtaposed create a deep well of emotions, questions, struggles, and perceptions not for me alone, but also for some who have watched my journey up close, and others in the public at large who have very strong feelings about single motherhood, especially when color is part of the story.
Being on the path of single motherhood always involves a story, doesn’t it? Although we are all on the same path, each journey is different, and each journey has signposts and mile markers along the way that tell an individual story.
For the Christian single mom, somewhere along the way one of those mile markers is a cross which represents her conversion from an unbeliever to a believer, a spiritual relocation from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light. I represent one of those troublesome, much-scrutinized cases—my Christianity mile marker comes many miles before my marker for single motherhood. People can usually find it within themselves to excuse a woman whose mistake came before she found God, or more accurately God found her. More ready forgiveness is also typically available for those who happened into single motherhood through no wrongdoing of their own. But for those who were already part of the household of faith, and whose pregnancy resulted from intentional non-marital sex…what in the world?! How did this happen?! What went wrong?! Those are often legitimate questions. But they don’t make life any easier for a single mom of faith.
Inhabiting these dual identities has often made me feel like Jacob, one of the Israelite patriarchs who wrestled with an angel and came away limping, but victorious. My flaws and shortcomings bring me face to face with a fiercely faithful, holy God who maintains a standard while also patiently loving me into that standard.
Through the years, at various phases in my life, I have grappled with questions like these; maybe you have, too.
Early on, I wondered:
- How does God, and how should I, view this pregnancy and this child? My Christian family reminded me that every child is a gift from God, but still I struggled to hold onto that truth as I figured out how to separate my sinful action from my innocent, blessed child.
- What does this situation say about my faith? What does it say about me? I had to admit that becoming pregnant was not planned, but the sex definitely was. I was not maintaining a strong spiritual connection at the time, and now my procrastination in getting back on track had cost me, and set in motion a lifelong chain of events that would affect many other people.
- What can I expect from God? Will He still provide for me even though I did not follow His instructions regarding relationships and sexuality, or should I accept struggle and lack as a ‘punishment’ for what I’d done?
My theology needed shoring up. Through prayer and getting back into the Word, I understood that, “He is faithful even when we are not, because He cannot deny Himself.”
Some recurring issues as I’ve navigated my parenting and motherhood:
- Staring down the shame, regret, guilt, and stigma that come from without and from within. Because my Christian discipleship and commitment have grown, I struggle with these demons much less often than a lot of other single moms I know. I’ve just chosen to believe the word of God—that my sin is covered because of the sacrifice Jesus made for me on the cross. His death and resurrection take care of the sin itself and all the unrighteousness that goes along with it. I simply choose not to internalize others’ judgments and presuppositions.
- Honestly and humbly accepting certain natural consequences of my decisions that led me to single motherhood. I think it is unwise to allow people to nudge us into a defensive posture from which we never come to terms with any decisions and/or actions on our part that contributed to our situation. They often have good intentions to protect us from those toxic emotions listed in the previous bullet point, but the equally unproductive alternative is a stubborn blindness to our own failings. My faith emboldens my courage to look in the mirror of the word of God, see my transgression, and receive forgiveness and power to move forward.
- Steering my sons away from the secondhand shame that creeps into our children’s psyche because they are in a single-parent household. I have taught my sons that God tells us that He is a Father to the fatherless, and that this is not an abstract feel-good cliché. They literally can be trained for manhood by God through the people He puts in their lives, the experiences they have, and the insight He gives them on how to maneuver through life as strong, godly men.
Every day of my life, I know that I’m a single mother. The world constantly reminds me of that fact. But what I’m becoming skilled at is not allowing the psychological scaffolding and political infrastructure that supports the societal narrative around single motherhood to seep into my soul and contaminate it. Just like the marginalized Samaritan woman who gave water to Jesus at a dusty neighborhood well, I know my past but I submit it to Him for redemption. And also just like her, I love telling other people who He is and how He changes my life every time I encounter Him.
To other single mom believers: What about you? What feelings and issues do you struggle with as you raise your children and “work out your soul’s salvation with fear and trembling”? How does your faith empower you?
To moms who are not Christian believers: What principles help you deal with the struggles you face?
Chandra is a single mother who is passionate about parenting. She is a columnist for Urban Faith online magazine, and also writes for Managing Your Blessings community website. Her own blog– Hearts Like Water, a resource for moms to support them in praying for their kids–is a work in progress.