As a single parent, when I poll or survey other single parents with the simple question of, “How did you get here?” I am always blown away that each of our stories are so unique and different. However, one thing that we all nod in agreement to (emphatically), is regardless of how we ended up in our single parenthood, we are all left with some incredible gaps and voids to navigate through as we lead our families moving forward.

Some of these voids are more emotional. I remember when my wife passed away and within days wrestling with the wonder of, “will I be able nurture and love my 3 girls like a mother would?” Some voids are more physical or task driven. My family has always been an Advent Family, so the month of December we lock in and dial down on celebrating the Jesus’ coming. I was always responsible for the teaching of the lesson and my wife was always responsible for the activity we’d do as a family. I remember the anxiety that swept my girls and myself as we struggled with whether or not Advent would even happen this year with mom not around or would it even be fun because who in the world would do the activity?

Regardless, of the voids we are left to deal with I have lived and learned that they produce in us self-doubt, anxiety, fear, and worry, which often leads to our stuffing and avoiding these struggles.

Sometimes I find myself fighting, striving, and willing myself through all of it on my own strength and trying to become exactly what my family needs in this. But what I found is I would often fail and be left to wonder if my inability to not fulfill this “need” for my girls would lead to the fall of my family.

Where we must challenge ourselves as single parents is that we are not intended or expected to walk alone in this. Identifying these voids left in our lives and inviting the Lord to walk alongside us in it is not only our best remedy for healing, it’s our best opportunity to overcome.

In Matthew 5:4, straight from the mouth of Jesus, he reminds us, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” Not just an invitation to grieve these holes in our families, but an offering! Not just an offering, but He is gifting himself as a place holder for those areas that just seem too much for us.

I have learned a ton in my own single parenthood that I am just not able to be a lot of things to my girls. It pains me to admit that, however, what I am not for them, He most definitely is! And His “comfort” is so much greater than anything this world, myself, my wife, anyone, could possibly offer.

So how do we do this? How do we allow the Lord to really be who He promises us he is? Well we first need to start by inviting Him to be a part of our family. Full disclaimer, this is not the remedy for perfect kids and great behavior. However, this will start the necessary process to remedy broken hearts.

Prayer

One of the best things we can do as parents is pray for our kids and pray with our kids. This looks like a couple of ways in my home. One is what I call convenient prayer. In my house, my kids need to eat, my kids need to sleep, and my kids need to go to school. I have three isolated times in my day where I have my kid’s full attention and sitting in front of me: mealtimes, bed time, car ride to school.

If you don’t feel comfortable praying out loud, use guided prayer, which may come from the Bible (Psalms), in the form of books or even through an App. In addition to this, I build what I call Unconventional Prayer. This simply is a prayer that is out of the ordinary. When escalation happens in my home with my girls and I cannot seem to get through to my kids, we might stop in that moment and pray over the situation. It may also simply be praying for someone who is sick or having a rough day. The purpose in prayer isn’t to make things perfect, but instead to give the Lord space in our already chaotic day, to speak directly to our hearts.

Boundaries and Routine

One of the best things we can do for our kids in overcoming voids in our family is creating routine and boundaries. One of the biggest voids for my kids is the anxiety of the unknown and what is going to happen next. One way we can help in that is building in space and structure around certain activities in our home and walking our kids through that. Bedtime might look a certain way, Sundays look like this, or dinner might look a certain way.

Building in the routine allows our kids to know exactly what they are walking into. It also serves as a means for parents to always have a baseline to come back to when we feel like we’ve strayed some. When bedtime feels chaotic for days at a time, you always have a place to reference to get back to.  Routine also helps with transitioning our kids back into our home. Our kids are at school all day or shared with a co-parent. Those routines help us transition our kids back into our home and back into what we believe the Lord wants to do with us in our home.

Build in safe spaces

To help my family in navigating voids I’ve built in places or moments in our routine where my girls have opportunities to talk. For us that is dinner and bed time. This is a time where I can be 100% available to listen to them talk. As a single parent we get home from jobs, etc. and often that’s when our real work begins. These safe spaces are great opportunities to engage our kids. We do “highs and lows” at dinner where we go around and talk about the best and worst part of the day. We play question game, and make it fun. At bedtime, we do devotionals and go over questions. I also use this time to affirm my kids.

We spend so much time correcting, teaching, disciplining, and doing, that we often forget the value of expressing how grateful we are to be our kids’ parents and how much we love them. These safe spaces are also for me to express my gratitude for the blessing my girls are in my life.

Say Sorry

A byproduct of navigating voids is the reality we are going to mess up a lot and unfortunately that plays out a ton in front of our kids. We will effort to avoid that, however, when it does we want to model for our kids the power of asking for forgiveness and the gift of being forgiven!

Just like our stresses will spill over in front of them, theirs will do the same in front of us. We want when circumstance is hard to not hide in shame or guilt or just assume everything will be okay with time or if we just avoid this it will go away.  Our kids seeing our willingness to ask for forgiveness will give them comfort in time to ask for their own.  This sometimes serves as a great time to pray together. For them to hear you say, “Lord forgive me for…” and then praise Him by saying “Lord, thank you for loving me and extending your grace and mercy to me to start anew!”

In addition to building in time and spaces in your family for the Lord to come alongside you, finding community to get plugged into is a huge help when navigating voids. One of God’s greatest gifts to us is people who actively desire to be an extension of His grace in our life.

I remember at times after my wife passed away feeling like familiar places felt fractured or feeling somewhat displaced because it felt like no one around me could truly understand what I was going through or I was being judged because my family circumstance was so different from everyone else. This thought process was not only false, but it could potentially lead us to a place of isolation, which again is not God’s desire for us. He wants to comfort us in our struggle.

Start small

This is a process you want to ease into at your own pace. We’ve been through a lot and we want to wisely move into situations that the Lord wants for us, specific to our needs. This may be asking a family member or friend with help on a single task. This might be getting into counseling or creating a safe space for you to guarantee you have a scheduled time to talk every so often. It may be sitting in the back row at church and being a fly on the wall, but that’s okay because you’re sitting in a space with a ton of people and hearing a similar message. The important thing in this is to start the process and give yourself grace as you allow others to help you in your own journey.

Get plugged into places with similar circumstance

Over time, as you grow more comfortable with the idea of getting plugged in and letting others walk alongside you, I would highly encourage getting plugged in with groups of people who are currently walking in or have walked in similar circumstances as you. This is a great platform to hear someone else’s stories and receive blessing in their experiences knowing that you’re not the only one and to take things back into your family that you never thought about.

It also gives us the opportunity to personally encourage and be a blessing in someone else’s life. Do your homework on this. Reach out to a church. Grief Share

Pray continually and discern

We need to give ourselves grace in this process. The last thing we need to do is run ourselves into something our hearts may not be ready for. Our objective in finding community is being in the exact place the Lord wants us to be. That doesn’t mean it will always feel good, or you won’t be challenged in it, but to incorporate prayer and wisdom in this process is the greatest way to make sure you are staying in line with God’s will in this process.

You want to set the expectation and pray the expectation that you want your community to be an extension of God’s wonderful grace and mercy. That is His desire for us, to provide that. It’s also our responsibility as we are shepherding our family to make sure we are purposing our community to grow closer to Him, not just make us feel happier.

Scripture:

Isaiah 43:1-3a, 4b: “Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name; you are mine. When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you. For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior…because you are precious to me. You are honored, and I love you.”

Psalm 103:13-14, 17- “The Lord is like a father to his children, tender and compassionate to those who fear him. For he knows how weak we are; he remembers we are only dust…But the love of the Lord remains forever with those who fear him. His salvations extend to the children’s children…”

Psalm 139:1-5: “O Lord, you have examined my heart and know everything about me. You know when I sit down or stand up. You know my thoughts even when I am far away. You see me when I travel and when I rest at home. You know everything I do. You know what I am going to say even before I say it, Lord. You go before me and follow me. You place your hand of blessing on my head.” 

Resources:

Bible Focus: Psalms

Books:

  • Bringing Up Girls by Dr. James Dobson (also has a Bringing Up Boys)
  • Parenting: 14 Gospel Principles That Can Radically Change Your Family by Paul Tripp
  • Power of a Praying Parent by Stormie Omartian

By Bryson Blowey

For more on this topic, view the teaching session on Single Parenting Together.