A Single Parent’s Path to Community

By Michelle Donnelly
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A single mom in search of community for her and her children
A Single Mom's Search for Community
Community is essential for all parents, but especially single parents as we often manage the work of two people on our own.

“I’m so embarrassed to tell anyone that my parents are divorced. I’m the only one in my class like this. I wish you and dad would just get married again so I didn’t have to deal with this.”

Hearing my precious child utter these words grieved my already shattered heart. Just six weeks after I moved across the country with my then-husband and three children, I suddenly found myself in the process of divorce. We had just left behind a tight-knit community of family and friends in Arizona. That community had been our home and safe haven since before my children were born. But now in our new neighborhood in suburban Tennessee, we were all relative strangers. To complicate things, our new situation presented each of us with the unwanted challenge of introducing ourselves as “the divorced family.”

Not exactly a status symbol.

Shame covered my children and me. We felt so ostracized having to admit our familial circumstances. Whether that was truly the way people thought of us or just the way we thought of ourselves, it didn’t matter. We knew finding the type of community we’d had before just wasn’t going to happen. The losses just kept coming, and our grief deepened.

Changing Churches

In an attempt to meet new friends, I decided to lead a Bible study in my neighborhood. I had not been connecting well at the church I’d just started attending. So, I decided to try to make church happen on my own and create my own community. Sensing that perhaps the jumpstart we all needed would come through trying a different church in the area, I thought surely God would show me through these women where my children and I could land.

My distinct prayer at the time was, “Lord, whoever invites me to go to their church, I will go.”

Oddly enough, I did receive an invitation to church, but it came from my son’s piano teacher. He was a fresh out-of-college worship leader, attending a church that was very different from one I would have chosen myself. In fact, had it not been for my desperate prayer, I probably would never have gone to this church.

A New Spiritual Family

To my surprise, my children and I found ourselves comfortably at home in this new congregation, almost immediately. Where my children and I had previously felt outcast, our new community embraced us.

They invited us to dinners. They saved us seats in service. And where I struggled to get my life in order raising three kids alone, they extended their resources generously with babysitting, housework, and meal delivery.

I eventually met other divorced women and remarried couples who understood me. My kids met other children who had divorced parents or were in blended families. All Christians, all people who loved Jesus and discovered in their pain that Jesus still loved them. Where we had felt lonely and rejected, my children and I received compassion and acceptance.

We received spiritual family.

God is Faithful

Psalm 68:5-6 (NKJV) says, “A father of the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in His holy habitation. God sets the solitary in families; He brings out those who are bound into prosperity; But the rebellious dwell in a dry land.”

I smile when I read this verse now because just two years later, the most incredible extended family surrounds me. It includes both biological relatives and our spiritual community. We spend birthdays and holidays together. We pray over and discipline kids together. In it all, we are doing life together.

God’s faithfulness to His promises is evident in the way He brought us into family. It was in a way I could not have manufactured on my own. He truly placed this solitary woman and her children in His family. He offered protection and provision for both parent and child in the process. The hope and healing we are still experiencing is greater than we’d imagined. The shame is gone. The laughter has returned. And despite some things being less than ideal, we are actually living in the kind of prosperity Psalm 68 describes.

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From Generation to Generation

Community is essential for all parents, but especially single parents as we often manage the work of two people on our own. And practically speaking, single parents benefit greatly from being in a community that incorporates members of all generations. Luke 1:50 (ESV) says, “And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.”

The Bible is a book for the generations. It tells us that blessing passes through believers, from generation to generation. While this is certainly clear for biological families, it is also the reason God places those of us who have had our family bonds broken into new families.

It’s why He’s grafted us into His family through the blood of Christ. He longs to bless us and comfort us. He wants us to know how real His goodness and kindness is in our everyday lives. And He does this in different ways through the various generations that make up a family.

The Generation Ahead

For example, let’s consider those in the generation ahead of us. These “grandparents” are able to offer counsel through a long term perspective that develops a character-rich in wisdom. They serve as role models to both a single parent and his/her children. If they raised children, those children are likely now grown. That frees these grandparents to support a single parent’s physical and emotional needs with greater flexibility.

The Generation Alongside

Then there are those people who are doing life right with us, in the same season of life. Members in this generation alongside are the single parent’s “brothers and sisters.”

They are walking through similar issues in parenting and relationships. They offer community, camaraderie and companionship to the parent. But they also help to lighten the load in parenting. They reinforce our efforts as the “aunts and uncles” of our children.

The Generation Behind

Members of the generation behind are the “children” who are walking alongside a single parent’s children. The shared experiences of their own loss and learning are a tremendous asset to the single parent’s children. They offer friendship and normalcy in a time plagued with chaos. For the single parent, the generation behind offers the opportunity to discover purpose in pain. This happens as we seek to share what we have learned for the benefit of those coming along behind us.

Community Brings Blessing

God brought me into a new family through individuals both older and younger than myself. Each brings specific blessings based on their particular life season. In receiving these blessings, I’ve been honored with the opportunity to then be a blessing, as God continues to grow my community.

Though my own family changed in a way I didn’t expect, God has worked through my circumstance to reveal His heart for the bound, the broken, and the lonely. He did so in a way I would have never comprehended without that unexpected change.

© 2020 by Michelle Donnelly. All rights reserved. 

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