As part of an outreach project at Ancient Faith Ministries, I recently started a private Facebook group for Orthodox single parents. As our conversation began, it quickly became apparent that it is as hard to be a single parent in the Orthodox church as out of it. One member described the life as a kind of asceticism that’s between marriage and monasticism, with elements of both vocations but without the religious or social support system that comes with either. It’s like being “a hermit with a kid.” It is not a vocation that is chosen.
There isn’t one solution to the myriad struggles associated with single parenthood. But we can offer the kindness of listening. In that spirit, I asked the group members to share what they wish their fellow Orthodox Christians knew about Orthodox single parenthood. This post is a compilation of major themes from their notes.
- “I didn’t want to be a single parent.” “I wouldn’t wish what I went through on my worst enemy.”
- “I do believe in marriage.” “It’s possible to stand firmly for the sanctity of marriage and yet get divorced. Many of us struggle daily, for years, with what it means to have this covenant broken. We’re just as not-ok with it as you are.”
- “Don’t assume anything. Ask questions, and then really listen to the answers.” Both single mothers and single fathers commented that people assume something is wrong with them, morally and spiritually.
- “We are more than our circumstances. Try to get to know both parent and child(ren) as people, not just as ‘the single parent family.'”
- “Please, oh please, when I say something is happening/happened, believe me. Don’t try to downplay it because it makes you uncomfortable. I’m asking for help.”
- “There’s already a ton of shame, self-doubt, and self-reproach, and more from the people around us can be unbearable.” Consistently, people in the group asked that you refrain from judging the single parent. Each situation includes multiple factors that are not visible to you. The people in the situation know what happened. They are already hard on themselves. Your judgement is an added burden. It is not edifying, qualified, or helpful.
- “While we need care, compassion, and love, pity is unhelpful.”
- “Not all single parents were married, and we would appreciate kindness and graciousness.”
- “For those sharing custody with spouses who are not Orthodox, the disjunction in how faith is presented to and practiced by the children is agonizing, particularly when the Orthodox parent came to the Church too late to raise the children in it. We are sometimes unrealistically expected as faithful believers to bring our children into the Church anyway.”
- “Please do not ask us to take food and meals to sick parishioners/new moms. Most of us can barely find time/energy to feed our own kids! In fact, consider bringing us meals now and then as a kind gesture.” Others commented on “the utter exhaustion” of single parenting and the severe economic and physical hardship of maintaining a family without two adults.
- The “unraveling of a marriage takes a heavy toll.” Do not assume that once the divorce is final, everyone will now be OK.
- “Please, please do not offer dating advice or ask when we’re getting remarried. Everyone’s goals, priorities, and healing is different and should be respected.”
- Being a widow/widower is not the same as being divorced. There are struggles that are specific to each situation. For example: “With the devastation of a divorce, in most cases, a structured schedule comes where each parent shares time. With widowhood, there is no shared time. All responsibilities falls on the living parent and they have to do it while grieving.”
- “Single parents are doing double duty and doing things that they may not know how to do. Please offer to help. Don’t make me ask constantly.”
- “Holidays can be really difficult and lonely. Check in on us, and maybe even extend an invite to join in your own festivities.”
- “Isolation” is a recurring word in their comments, “long-term isolation” with no end in sight.
- “The church is one stable piece of my life and I need it more than you know.” “Even with all that, I wouldn’t give up my faith. I’ve traveled too far and experienced God too much to turn away, even if it is awfully lonely.”