Dale Johnson: I am joined by Dr. Robert Jones, a professor of biblical counseling at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. He’s here with us today to talk about this very difficult task of being a single parent.
There are a lot of different issues that single parents might face, and Dr. Jones is going to give us wisdom about how parents can respond appropriately in God-honoring ways with the grace of God to deal with those issues that are so prevalent with being a single parent. Dr. Jones, we are so delighted that you could be with us today.
Robert Jones: Very glad to be here and to be part of ACBC.
Dale Johnson: As we look at this issue of single parents, obviously in our culture we see that single parenting is on the rise for a number of different occasions. What we want to do is to try and help some of our counselors think biblically through some of the issues that they will encounter as they try to care for and minister to single parents. Dr. Jones, to start, set us up with some of the problems that we consistently see as counselors in the lives of those who are single parents.
Robert Jones: There are many kinds of problems. We can think about any kind of problem that any of us would have but multiply that by 10 when you have the lack of the support that a typical family would have of a husband and wife. Some of the main issues that we should be thinking about include the question of how the person became a single parent in the first place. How did that happen? Did it come about from being pregnant outside of being married? Did it come from a divorce or separation? A widow situation? Each of those need to be handled differently with the work of the Scriptures in that case.
The parenting issues themselves obviously are going to be huge for a single parent, and four out of five of these single parent cases are going to be a single mom trying to raise children on her own. Then the whole relationship with the church, many single parents are going to feel somewhat ostracized. They don’t fit the ideal, the typical, so to speak, so there are just a handful of the main issues we need to begin to think about.
Dale Johnson: Those are critical issues that you raised. Sometimes as counselors, we hear all the spectrum of issues and we get a little confused about where to begin. How do we start in the counseling process as we are ministering to a single parent and we are looking at all the possible issues that could be here? Give us some tips on where we begin to minister, to discern, and to care for single parents.
Robert Jones: One starting place is to truly learn how to enter into the person’s world. Here is one that I would throw out to us as counselors—we do not counsel single parents. We counsel Tanya, who happens to be a single parent. In other words, let’s not start with categories. Let’s not start with research topic. Let’s start with Tanya herself.
One of the most valuable things that I have found to do when I’m meeting with a single parent, particularly a single mom, is to ask her, “Walk me through your week hour by hour. Let’s start on Monday morning. Tell me what time you get up. Tell me what your day is like. Help me understand.” Because most of us, and you and I Dale, certainly, haven’t had that kind of experience in our adult years. “What does that really look like for you?”
That does two things. First, it shows the single parent how much I do care about you. I care about the details of your life. But secondly, it allows me to feel the weight of this, and it’s sobering me. It drives me to Christ, “Oh Lord, this woman needs your help in her life. How can I help her Lord?” So, I think that’s a great starting place to try to enter the person’s world.
Dale Johnson: One of the critical things that you just mentioned is, you talked about how we superseded those categories of single parenting, to seeing the single parent as an individual, a person made by God, created by God to do a task, to lead this child, to provide for his or her family. For us as counselors, we must have some critical, biblical perspectives that guide the way that we think to help them. Can you walk us through a couple of those key perspectives that would couch the way that we think, that help us discern and guide with wisdom that we would provide for them?
Robert Jones: Fundamentally, we don’t only want to view Tanya as a single parent, but Tanya is a person. We want to view Tanya as a daughter of God. The starting place for us is to recognize, if we’re dealing with a Christian, what it means to be a daughter of God. I often start with Galatians 3 as a reminder where Paul says that we all have been baptized into Christ. We’ve been clothed with Christ, and then He proceeds to talk about three common social distinctions in his day of Jew/Greek, slave/free, male/female. But what he says is there is no more Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female.
Now, of course Paul is not stupid; he understands that there are ethnic differences and the socio-economic differences and gender differences. We certainly understand that, but what he basically says is those things have been relativized in Christ. I want to look at Tanya as my sister. I want to look at her as a part of the body of Christ. I want to look at her, fundamentally, as a daughter of the Living God. How can we bring hope for her? How does a daughter of the Living God handle this circumstance that God, in His Providence, has allowed her to have to deal with?
Dale Johnson: Those are critical as we think about biblical perspectives that not only guide the way that we listen but guide the way that we minister. Let’s talk for a second about ways that we can empathize. You mentioned earlier that we would have a difficult time entering in, experientially, to the world of a single parent just because we don’t deal with those stressors. Often, we might describe some of those stressors as being multiplied by degrees, just because that parent is doing normal tasks, but normal tasks of a single parent. Talk for a second about how we empathize with the stresses that are multiplied in a situation where a parent is trying their best to lead their child, to provide for their child in daily life.
Robert Jones: One way we can grow as believers is to take opportunity to enter the world of single parents, even if they’re not coming to us for counseling. My hope is that our churches would be churches that would have a commitment to fellowship, a small group life, for example. A place where the believers are connecting with one another so that I have single parents in my home group or my small group, whatever you call it, and try to understand what it’s like for them. Then as I have a counseling situation, I feel a little more able to handle that.
In particular though, with the counselees we face, we need to be able to enter into their world, really understand and try to express back to them our understanding of their experiences they’ve shared with us. We need to recognize those pressures that we’ve begun to identify. Let me pick on one area in particular. Most parents I know feel guilty that they’re not a good enough parent, and that’s true when you have two parents together. That doubles in many ways. I don’t know any single parents who say, “Hey, I’m doing a great job.” They feel guilty. Sometimes they do fail, obviously we all do, but often their standard is set in their own mind. They feel the weight of responsibility for the outcome of their children. That comes down to the matter of how we entrust our children into God’s hands so that we’re not taking responsibility for how they turn out.
Dale Johnson: I’m so glad that you brought up the issue of the church and the involvement of local church in this process. The counselor can see that they have a ministry that is dealing with the acute problems of the single parent, but to help to assimilate them into the life of the body so that the church now ministers. That’s a phenomenal point. Let’s conclude with one final, we’ll call it a case study or a way to help our counselors think through a specific issue.
Let’s take Tanya, for example, as you mentioned her. She’s the primary breadwinner in her home. She has a son, maybe he’s seven, eight, nine, ten. He’s unruly, he’s acting out, she feels guilty. She’s not home often because she’s out providing and she’s looking for help. She’s getting stressed because she’s getting notes from school. All these things are happening. Talk us through some of the key things to help her with those issues that she is facing.
Robert Jones: As an individual counselor, and this would be true whether I’m counseling as a pastor, but even if it were a single or a woman counseling her, the counselor is never enough. We have to mobilize the body of Christ. That involves helping the church see its responsibility, but also helping Tanya to be willing to accept that responsibility, the help that we want to offer. There’s various ways we can help. Particularly couples, particularly those who have solid marriages who can come alongside of her, who can provide some help with childcare, to provide mentoring. We certainly don’t want to rely upon secular friends, Boy Scouts, who may or may not belong to Christ, to be the role models. We want to help her find that.
Dale, I grew up in a single-parent home. My dad died when I was only two and my mom never remarried. I stayed basically in that home until I left. God brought into my life some caring adults and a caring youth pastor that meant the world to me. That’s where we must, as a church, have a burden for these situations. There are 12 million single parent families, and 80% of those are going to be single mom situations. There’s an unreached group there, right in our community. Our churches are not going to reflect that demographic percentage at all, and so we really do need to step that up as a church.
Single Parents: Daily Grace for the Hardest Job  by Robert Jones