Since writing the post on Loneliness — the theme picked as most-vital for single parents in the Facebook group when we first began the Living Water blog — both single parents and those who love us have challenged me with the question “So what now?”
Simply acknowledging our ostracization, isolation and deep loneliness is a mere bandaid when we wake up alone every morning and go to bed alone every night. Reminding ourselves (or worse, when other well-intentioned folks tell us directly) that everyone feels alone and many others besides single parents feel ostracized and isolated—think of parents of special needs children or those caring for aging/disabled adults—just us has shutting ourselves up!
Who are we to moan and groan? And, anyway, what is to be done about it?
To the first question I boldly and directly say this: heart cries kept within us turn into bitterness and eventually explode into outright disdain, faithlessness and rebellion. The process David shows us in the Psalms, however—the format of moving from outright despair, intense fury, bold honesty and even deeply confessional bareness of soul always comes around to statements of faith and calls to trust.
Psalm 26/27 (depending on which Psalter or Bible referenced) is a favorite of mine. Even before I converted to Orthodox Christianity the phrase “For my father and my mother have foresaken me…” made me feel seen and heard. I came from a very broken home—and I don’t use that term lightly. Not only were my parents eventually divorced, the years between my birth and their separation were constant chaos and I suffered physical and sexual abuse on a daily basis. More deeply than anything done to me physically it was the emotional abandonment that wounded me most. In their own woundedness my parents were obsessed with the conflict between them and then later in trying to escape that conflict and I, along with my siblings, were lost and ignored.
So when David says “Hearken, O Lord, unto my voice!” It feels like my own heart cry. Hear me! See me! Can anyone see me??
Then he writes: “For my father and my mother have forsaken me, but the Lord hath taken me to Himself. … Deliver me not over unto the souls of them that afflict me, for unjust witnesses are risen up against me, and injustice hath lied to itself.”
The Lord hath taken me to Himself!
If that isn’t a description of our experiences with divorce, family court, our “friends” old and new and the entire process I don’t know what is!
But in an amongst all these expressions of deep torment, barren heartache and desperation David goes on to end this Psalm this way: “I believe that I shall see the good things of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait on the Lord; be thou manful, and let they heart be strengthened, and wait on the Lord.”
Don’t give up. Hold on a little longer.
When I hear from so many of the excruciating reality of being alone, especially how deeply terrifying it is to sit with a sick child as the only adult in the room or to wait up for the teenager late coming home as the only one on their knees begging for their safety, the only saving Grace that we all go back to over and over is God’s presence in that desperate place and the truth that time moves forward.
Yes, there are remedies that alleviate our suffering. I’ll get there—we will focus on better bandaids and truer solace as well.
But in the midst of those seemingly endless moments of absolute blackness I don’t know even one parent who hasn’t cried out to God “Lord have Mercy!” Who hasn’t been given another breath and another heartbeat within themselves to then cry out again…this time with a little less shrieking “Lord have mercy on me” breath. “Lord have mercy on my child” breath. “Lord have mercy on us all” deeper breath and slower. And finally—many prayers and breaths later the terrifying blackness has lightened just a little and suddenly we’ve survived the worst. Again.
Oh yay! I survived. Now what?? I’m still alone!
When I was challenged to add to these meditations some action steps I confess that my first reaction is a snippy retort: “Nothing is to be done. I mean, are you going to find me a husband?” And I well know that a similar response is thrown out by the single dads as well!
I mean it’s very tempting as single parents to give in to the idea that the only fix for us is a loving spouse to carry this burden with us. Not only do we fall into this delusion but so do those who love us. When we all focus on our single parenting status, and on how un-fixable it is—or on the ongoing injustices done by the children’s other parent or others who have hurt us—we miss mini-fixes that offer true and practical consolation in the here and right now.
What can I do?
A short and incomplete list from other single parents of comfort-bringing measures we can take on our own:
(Email me or comment below this post with your additional coping-with-aloneness methods!)
- call/text or email a friend (even if we can’t say how bad it is just saying “hi” breaks that chain of isolation)
- reach out to our spiritual father or priest (ask for prayers in a quick text or write a novel-length email or leave a voicemail—again, breaks the isolation AND gives our shepherds a chance to know we are hurting)
- jump into a single parent or church related Facebook group (reminds us we aren’t alone AND gives us opportunity to pray with each other almost instantly!)
- attend a service (even better beg/borrow/barter for a sitter and attend a service without the children for once)
- stream or play a YouTubed service, Akathist or other prayer (definitely better than no services in our lives!)
- cuddle with our kids (It is ok to be comforted as we offer them comfort and love. I didn’t always know this.)
- stop by Living Water to remind us we aren’t alone (Use the resources offered us, don’t hide from the light.)
What can you, those who want to support us, do?
Now, what can others do? What about those who wonder if we are ok and who might be afraid to “poke the bear” by asking us?
- ask us “how are you doing?” sincerely and two or three times, anyway, remembering that saying out loud how tough it is can be consolation for us in and of itself!
- invite us over and over and over again even if we say “yes” every time or almost always say “no” (Single parents often have nearly insurmountable obstacles to coming to dinner at your house, joining you to see a community play or even making a play date happen with the kids but not inviting us makes us feel invisible.)
- ask us specific questions — “What do you need? A meal? A night away from the kids? Someone to pick up groceries? A handyman? A godparent/grandmother type to schlep the kids to a service when you are sick? Which bill is about to be shut off, your phone or electricity?”
The bottom line is that transforming our Loneliness into Togetherness is the responsibility of us all—those of us who feel ignored and isolated AND those who shake their heads and wonder “How does he/she do it all? I could never be a single mom/dad!”
Join the conversation
What do you do in those black, terrifying, paralyzing moments when you are completely alone? Maybe you aren’t a single parent but you’ve faced something horrendously terrifying…how did you call out for mercy and get through it? And for the single moms and dads—how do you do it? How do you get through those awful moments, how have you survived them? Let’s share our weak hope and wobbly faith to strengthen each other.
And what about “doing something” about loneliness and isolation? What do you DO about it?? How have you developed togetherness?? Where and how have you formed connections with other single parents or with friends or your church family?? What efforts to a single mom or single dad have you done that were appreciated? Rebuffed? Awkward? Loved??