HEART HUGS FOR SINGLE MOMS
By Sandra P. Aldrich
Published by Revell
THE SINGLE-PARENTING TIGHTROPE
Don’t Quit Now!
I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God in whom I trust.” Psalm 91:2
Many of us who are single mothers find ourselves in a life we had not planned, were not prepared for and did not want. And even if you chose single motherhood through adoption or rejection of abortion, you still find yourself facing unexpected challenges. Yes, most of us pictured life far differently than the way it has turned out.
Occasionally, a married friend asks me what single parenting is like. So I describe a tightrope strung across a deep gorge. A single parent—in this case, a young mother—gingerly walks across the rope, concentrating on the numerous balls she’s juggling. Some have labels: “child care” or “work” or “debt” or “health.” Perhaps even “rejection” and “custody battles” are included, but always she’s worrying about keeping all those balls in the air.
On each side of the gorge run folks clamoring for her attention—children, parents, bosses, friends. Then one smooth-talking type beckons for her to step off the rope. At places where the rope dips close to the stony path where he stands, it would be easy for her to drop all those balls and join him. But she continues on, looking only at the responsibility coming down toward her hand at the moment, knowing if she looks away, she can lose her balance.
Often as I describe this scene, my married friend will take a deep breath and say, “Oh, I hope I never have to face that. I wouldn’t survive.”
My response is simple: “I never thought I would either. But we conquer challenges by putting one foot in front of the other while we hang onto the Lord.”
We single mothers know about frightening challenges. In fact, just hours into my own single-parenting, I clutched my hands together as I confided to my friend Darlene that I was overwhelmed by all of the tasks swarming toward me. Darlene put her hand on my arm and said, “Keep the children clean and fed. The rest will fall into place.”
Her gentle, wise directive calmed me and pulled me back from panic’s abyss. And gradually, I learned she was right about the other tasks. Surprises were still ahead, though.
My daughter, Holly, was in third grade when she came home one day in tears. The room mother had handed out directions to an event and said, “Take these home to your families.”
Then she’d glanced at Holly and said, “Sorry. I mean to your moms.”
In our Michigan kitchen, my 8-year-old sobbed as she said, “I want to be a family again.” I put my arm around her. “Holly, we are still a family,” I said. “We’re just a family of three now.”
She leaned against me in relief. That was a turning point for both of us.
That incident, along with others, made me realize if we were going to survive as a family, we’d have to fight unexpected emotional battles along the way. And the only way my kiddos could develop their own strength was by watching me.
As I share what I learned, please understand I have no perfect solutions—and beware anyone who says they have all the answers. But I can tell you what has worked, or didn’t work, for me and for the other single mothers who shared their experiences with me. And remember, whatever successes and achievements came our way rarely were the result of any personal innate wisdom. As a rule, they came because of grace on God’s part and much trial-and-error on ours.
This I know for sure, though: All women raising children alone have too much stress, too many responsibilities and too little time. And none of us have identical family situations or face identical concerns. So as you read my smorgasbord of various do’s and don’ts, select those ideas and options you feel will benefit you and your family. And then cheerfully ignore the rest.
I realize the world has changed rapidly, often to the point of seeming to spin out of control. But whether single parenting arrived on the mid-1800s Oregon Trail, in the 1920s Kentucky coal camps or just last week, it is filled with hurdle after hurdle. In my own life, I didn’t have a clue how I was going to handle all the things single mothers have to do. I had married young and gone from my childhood home to a college apartment complex. And even though I’d taught in a Detroit suburban school and had handled numerous professional duties, I knew nothing about paying bills, budgeting, balancing a checkbook, doing home maintenance or repairing a car. Those had been among my husband’s responsibilities.
So how could I raise two children to be healthy adults without their father? How could I teach my 10-year-old son to be a man? Even an extended family filled with uncles and cousins did not offer a close-at-hand male relative who could provide the father-figure Jay would need.
So I worried and prayed a lot in those first years. I kept us all in church, and trusted those couple of hours each week would provide both my children with glimpses of what true manhood is like.
Several years have passed since his dad’s death, and Jay’s grown up with a mother, a sister and a neutered cat. Yet he has turned into a masculine, responsible young man.
As I’ve said before, I didn’t know the good outcome in those early days. I knew only I couldn’t quit. And whenever weariness or frustration caused me to forget that God brings His good out of whatever we give Him, something would happen to encourage me. Sometimes it was a biblical verse seemingly aimed right at me. Other days, it was a friend’s comment. And sometimes it even was a goofy experience—such as the Saturday when my writing wasn’t going well. That day my most persistent thought seemed to be whatever made me think I could write?
Unexpectedly in the middle of that sluggish morning, Holly, by then a student at a nearby college, arrived home and insisted we go horseback riding.
“Might as well,” I muttered. “I’m not getting anything else accomplished.”
Within the hour, we were at our favorite stable here in the Colorado mountains, but the docile brown horse I usually rode already was on the trail for the entire day. That gentle horse had two speeds—slow and stop—so I was disappointed he wasn’t available. There was nothing to do but request the second most docile. Soon a large black horse was brought out. We eyed each other for a moment, then I took the reins and led him to the mounting block. There, I placed my left foot in the stirrup and had just started to swing my right leg over the saddle when the horse decided he didn’t want me on his back. And he cleverly, and quickly, began to sidestep away from the block. There I was, one foot in the stirrup and the other poised in midair. Even back then I didn’t have the agility, nor the dainty figure, to shift my weight quickly and throw myself into the saddle. Instead, I was perched in midair for several moments.
The stable owner danced back and forth below me, arms in the air as though to catch me when I fell. There was only one convenient part of my anatomy to push, but he knew me well enough to know he better not touch that. So with arms waving, he hopped from foot to foot and yelled, “Don’t quit now, ma’am! Don’t quit now!”
Holly was bent forward in her own saddle, howling with laughter at the scene so, of course, I started chuckling and then had an even tougher time hauling myself into position. But finally, with a surge of adrenaline, I shifted my weight and shoved my right foot into the stirrup.
The horse gave a defeated snort as I tugged on the reins and followed a laughing Holly up the trail. That ride, even with its tenuous start, proved to be exactly what I needed to finish the wearisome writing assignment. In addition, it has since provided an extra push when I’m tempted to give up. So please hear me as I shout from this page, “Don’t quit now.” I’m convinced good days are ahead for you, too.
Prayer: Father God, thank you for walking with me as I juggle my many responsibilities as a single mother. Thank you for reminding me, “Don’t quit now!” Thank you for showing me that through you, I have greater strength than I ever imagined.
Thoughts to ponder:
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