Remembering Our Single Parents This Christmas

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I’ve been doing what a lot of Americans do during the Christmas season: watching cheesy Christmas movies on Netflix. Recently I watched one called My Santa, a movie about a single mother who falls in love with Santa’s son. While I wouldn’t recommend you spend an hour and a half watching it like I did, it reminded me of the difficult time so many single parents have at this time of year.

I was a child of a single parent at one time, and right now I’m solo parenting for a few weeks. Every time my partner goes on a trip, I’m reminded of that time when my mother had to care for three kids and work full time. I remember that she was tired, and while the holidays are still really sweet memories, simple memories—I don’t think as a child I picked up on the stress that she carried constantly. What I remember is that we listened to Nat King Cole and Harry Connick, Jr. while we decorated the tree. What I remember is gratitude that I was loved.

After my partner had been away for a few days, I shared a thought on Twitter about how hard it is to be parent, and at the end I said, “Please tell me I’m not alone in this?”

A flood of responses came in, parents of all ages telling me that I am not alone, that parenthood is hard and beautiful, that our children are a handful and that’s absolutely okay.  I was given permission to breathe a little instead of telling myself over and over that everything was fine and I shouldn’t be stressed because I have a good life. I was forcing gratitude on myself so that I couldn’t admit that it’s just hard sometimes.

And because we don’t like to admit it when things are hard, we don’t let others admit it, either. We often make it more difficult for our single parents, especially in a society that prides itself on consumerism and the idea that kids can ask for whatever they want from Santa and will get it.

It puts single parents, who are often struggling to make ends meet, in a difficult, exhausted position, not to mention the fact that they are missing out on the partnership that gives them the opportunity to receive their own gifts on Christmas morning.

It snowed here in Georgia recently, and that morning, I noticed a lot of birds flocking to our empty bird feeders that hang from hooks out front. So I refilled all of our birdfeeders out in the yard, and watched as birds flocked to the newly filled feeders, stocking up on food before the snow began to fall and the temperatures dropped. I watched, with great honor, the creatures I had the chance to care for. I was in awe that I had the energy to care for creatures other than my two boys and our puppy, because while I’ve loved our time together, it’s been exhausting.

I remember single parents who do not always have the ability to step back and rest and care for others because they are exhausted and this season requires so much from them. I remembered that the years when I had a single mother, we struggled but found grace in the kindness of others who took the time to care for us, whether it was our  landlord or family friends.

So during this holiday season, let’s remember our single parents. Let’s remember that those of us who have partners shouldn’t take it for granted. Let’s practice sensitivity over judgment, and follow a few simple rules in honor of the single parents around us:

Don’t Assume.

This isn’t a time to wonder if a parent is single because they are divorced, or because they had a child out of wedlock, or because their partner died. It’s not a time to wonder how much they’re putting in the offering plate or why they seem so exhausted around their kids. This is a time to hold space and to give as much grace as possible. It’s a time to listen instead of talk. It’s a time to embrace the idea that our souls are connected to one another because of our humanity, and that is enough.

Let go of consumer culture.

One of the best things we can do for our children, for our culture and those who are less fortunate in it, is to pull ourselves away from the constant consumer culture that involves Black Friday sales and expensive shopping malls. For those of us who love gift-giving, consider shopping at antique malls or thrift stores, making homemade gifts or sharing an experience with a loved one. If we can change our culture, maybe we can make space for the single parents in our midst to do what they can for their own families with our full support.

Offer Holiday Help.

If you know people in your life who are single parents, reach out to them. Let them know that you see them, that you’re aware of the difficulties they face during this time. Offer your time so that they can wrap some presents or have an afternoon to themselves, or invite them over for a holiday meal. Drive around and look at Christmas lights together. Bring them into your spaces, put yourself in their spaces, and learn what it means to be community to one another.

 Be Kind to Strangers.

As a general rule, right now everyone needs to be kind to everyone else. This goes beyond social, political and religious circles. We cannot afford to continue living in such a toxic, dual mindset that seeks to divide anywhere we can divide. Actions and attitudes like this begin in the heart and trickle out to everyone around us, creating waves of chaos and hurt.

Often, our children get caught in our fights, and this holiday season, we need to make space for our children to simply be children, and for our single parents to have peace to care for them without worrying about being judged by their neighbors or a stranger on the internet. So we practice kindness in the grocery store, in the airport where a single parent is traveling with their children. We buy someone a cup of coffee. We practice it at the park, standing in line at the post office to mail packages.

Maybe if we put on Christ-likeness this Advent season, we’ll take on the work of being blessing to those who are tired and in need of that kindness, and we will remember that God chose one single woman to bring the Savior into the world in the most beautifully humble way.

May we remember that as we care for the single parents in our midst this holiday season, as we thank them for the hard and beautiful work they do every single day. 

To My Sisters Who Mourn on Mother’s Day

Sister,

I wish you could have been with us in that room, four walls surrounding a Hannah Service to acknowledge the grief of children lost, never born, sometimes not even named. We gathered because someone said she did not want to leave you out of this Mother’s Day experience, because you may very well be more deeply affected by it than others.

Sister, I lamented with you, for you, because I have not known what it is like to lose a child, to lose a baby or a pregnancy, to struggle in this way. I cannot understand it, so I hold the silence with you and for you.

I was there to lead worship; I was there to sing a few songs about the faithfulness of God in seasons that are so raw.

Someone said, “I don’t want a hope that will make me deny my grief,” and I thought that so many people should hear this message.

It is universal. It would calm so many hearts and ease so much pain, just a little, if we were allowed to out-loud-grieve and wail and try to make sense of what doesn’t make sense– together.

I cried for you in that space. I grieved with you in ways I didn’t know how, but still, I tried.

We remembered Hannah, who was not afraid to come to God and demand to be heard. We remembered her courage, and I thought of you, of all of you who have been courageous.

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We lit candles to mark our lament. There were only a few of us, but we lit more candles than I’d imagined, because I realized there that you are hurting with more than one kind of hurt today. We counted our grief and I so wish I could sit with you and count yours, so that you know you are not alone.

We remembered how our grief burns like fire, how we carry heavy loads as women. So we demanded there that God hear us, and we turned to trusting that God does.

We had three strings to braid together to remember that grief, hope and trust are often intertwined in our lives. As I braided it, not for my own grief or loss, but for yours, I challenged the church to be better to you and for you.

I challenged myself to remember, to not forget, to hold silent space, to learn what it looks like to lament beside others who lament.

I prayed for everyone who may not know what it’s like to hold their own child, let alone two, like I do.

I thought of women in my life who have fostered and cared for children in their homes, who have tried to adopt and it has fallen through; I thought of you, how loss comes and comes again and it hurts.

We ended the evening with hope, but we asked what hope looks like.

Is hope the realized dream of a baby of your own?

Is hope finding that the pain hurts a little less?

Is hope that Mother’s Day will one day feel different than it does now?

We sang, “You make me new, you are making me new,” over and over again as a proclamation– not that we know the answer to what newness looks like, but that we trust in a waiting God who hears the lament, the cry of grief brought from the people.

This Mother’s Day, I pray that the church does better by you, sister.

I pray the church sees you, I pray that the church is quiet and humble enough to understand that we can’t possibly understand, but walk beside you.

Nevertheless, we are here.

You are not alone.

Daily my work is to try to make the church better, to see things she didn’t see before, to notice the things she’s been missing.

I believe the church has work to do to get closer to the call of Jesus, and wrapped up somewhere inside of this call is the challenge to better learn how to grieve with each other.

At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what we believe politically or religiously, how our views of God are different.

We literally set it aside and we wade into grief together, unashamed, unafraid, to let it do its slow and steady work.

And along the way, we pray for hope and trust to settle in somewhere, to make a home among our grief, to commune with our grief so that we know that we are not alone.

This Mother’s Day, I’m leaning in with you, sister.

I’m holding space that I don’t understand toward a God who holds space far better than I ever could.

For you.

 

Let Loose and Dance, Mom

You can be sure that in this house, when mom’s stressed, everyone else is, too. Paper’s due tomorrow, the dishes are piled high, and there’s not enough coffee to fill my thirsty throat. I still can’t find the right person to interview for that project, and Charlie is getting his brown doggy hair all over the kitchen floor.

Travis makes me laugh and exaggerates my sour attitude with sarcasm.

Eliot whines more because, well, that’s what mom’s doing.

So this afternoon, we just need to dance.

Travis is gone to fill his students’ heads with wonderful things, empowering them to change the world. (I really love him.) Eliot’s eating blueberries and a “baked organic cheese & grain snack” that’s got him smiling.

So we turn on Pandora. First, the Lecrae station. A little headbanging and jiving, and we’re done.

Next, Gotye– that’s better. Now he’s hiding behind the curtain and laughing. Eating his puff off the floor and wiggling his little legs, clapping all the time.

The party’s just not quite right without his new dog– the plastic one that scoots and barks at him. We invite him into the kitchen, and Eliot’s in bear crawl position, bouncing his booty up and down.

I dance while I put away the dishes, he dances while he bangs on the refrigerator. Now it’s “Lights” by Ellie Goulding. Hands in the air. Celebrate something. Howl like the dogs do. It will make it more fun. And feel every beat.

We keep jamming. I can’t wash the dishes because I got a spray tan this afternoon (go ahead and laugh), but I can clean while I dance. Cleaning is sort of my hobby, my de-stresser. I wonder if Eliot will pick up the habit.

He watches me, wants to know when I’m smiling, when I’m glaring, frowning, worried and stuck in my own head and circumstance. I smile, he smiles. I dance, he dances, and the world appears right. It’s a piece of God in the brokenness, and it’s what I need. What we’ve always needed.

Maybe when he’s 11 he will pick up my habit of worry. He will be up until 12 trying to write a paper that he knows he will get an “A” on. I will teach him the lessons I’m still trying to learn at age 24 now, at age 35 then. But right now, the lesson for both of us is simple.

Let loose and dance.