Being a successful single parent can be daunting. We worry about our kids, we worry about our finances, we worry about our time, and we worry we won’t be able to provide everything our family needs. Our fears can manifest themselves in different ways; some of us handle our anxiety by getting easily irritated and controlling, needing to do everything a certain way, while others of us just ignore the fears and hope the nagging anxiety will go away if we pretend it’s not there.
Luckily the Bible has answers for everything – even single parenting. I find that being a successful single parent actually has less to do with our strength and ability and more to do with our faith. Successful single parents are not perfect; they have weaknesses, challenges, hard times, and make mistakes – but they also have a belief inside that helps them keep going.
Let’s look at a single parent in the Bible for some insight into why being a successful single parent may not be what you think.
1. A successful single parent sometimes hates their circumstances
Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. But she had an Egyptian slave named Hagar; so she said to Abram, “The Lord has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my slave; perhaps I can build a family through her.”
Abram agreed to what Sarai said. So after Abram had been living in Canaan ten years, Sarai his wife took her Egyptian slave Hagar and gave her to her husband to be his wife. He slept with Hagar, and she conceived.When she knew she was pregnant, she began to despise her mistress.
Then Sarai said to Abram, “You are responsible for the wrong I am suffering. I put my slave in your arms, and now that she knows she is pregnant, she despises me. May the Lord judge between you and me.”
“Your slave is in your hands,” Abram said. “Do with her whatever you think best.” Then Sarai mistreated Hagar; so she fled from her.
Genesis 16:1-6 (NIV)
Without getting too distracted by the back story, at this time in history it was customary for a wife who couldn’t have children to provide a concubine for her husband. However, as we see in the story, just because it was culturally acceptable or even expected it wasn’t easy. Why do you think Hagar began to despise Sarai? Perhaps she felt obligated to do what was asked of her and entered into a situation she didn’t want to be in. Can you relate? Have you ever despised your circumstances or the people you feel got you into this spot?
Being a single parent probably wasn’t our first choice. It can lead to not only a lot of stress but also feeling judged, criticized or misunderstood by people around us. For Hagar, it meant being mistreated, so she took off, probably frustrated, angry and disillusioned.
Have you ever felt that way? One of the encouraging things about the Bible is that it describes normal people who go through the same ups and downs we do, albeit thousands of years ago. Being a successful single parent doesn’t mean you handle everything perfectly or never feel a negative emotion. It’s what you do with those emotions that counts.
What do you do when you feel angry, frustrated and disillusioned? Do you try to run away from your feelings like Hagar, or have a healthy outlet with God where you can let down and find faith?
2. A successful single parent trusts God more than their emotions
The angel of the Lord found Hagar near a spring in the desert; it was the spring that is beside the road to Shur. And he said, “Hagar, slave of Sarai, where have you come from, and where are you going?”
“I’m running away from my mistress Sarai,” she answered.
Then the angel of the Lord told her, “Go back to your mistress and submit to her.” The angel added, “I will increase your descendants so much that they will be too numerous to count.”
Genesis 16:7-10 (NIV)
Hagar was honest about her emotions, but she didn’t live by them. Her hard and lonely time actually turned into something good – she got to know God, and that he really cared about her. When she was alone, discouraged and angry, she actually got closer to God.
God will always come through in hard times, even if we have made mistakes in how we got there. In Hagar’s lowest moment God strengthened her hope by telling her his plans for her and her son. He always works through our challenges and struggles. When you go through hard times, do you get closer to God, or more angry and discouraged? Are you listening more to God, or your own emotions? You know you are listening to God when you have hope despite your circumstances.
One way to listen more to God is read more of the Bible. Try studying the book of Ephesians to learn more about God’s heart and ability to do the impossible.
3. A successful single parent looks beyond the hard times
The child grew and was weaned, and on the day Isaac was weaned Abraham held a great feast. But Sarah saw that the son whom Hagar the Egyptian had borne to Abraham was mocking, and she said to Abraham, “Get rid of that slave woman and her son, for that woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac.”
Genesis 21:8-10 (NIV)
Once again Hagar faced trouble and persecution, except that this time she also had to take care of her son through difficult times!
Can you relate? As a single parent, you don’t get a break from difficulty to take care of your kids. You have to keep going and keep parenting despite what’s going on in your life. One thing that helps a lot with this is focusing more on what you’re grateful for in your life and what’s going well than on what’s going wrong.
Take a minute to think about these three questions:
- What has been the most joyful moment that you and your kid(s) have had together?
- What has been the most challenging moment you and your kid(s) have had together?
- Out of these two events, what has been the most significant for you and why?
We tend to spend a lot of our energy thinking about the challenging moments in our lives, but the joyful moments are important too. Take time to pray about and reflect today on the moments with your kids you are most grateful for. Remembering these moments will help you persevere through the challenging times.
4. A successful single parent doesn’t go it alone
Early the next morning Abraham took some food and a skin of water and gave them to Hagar. He set them on her shoulders and then sent her off with the boy. She went on her way and wandered in the Desert of Beersheba.
When the water in the skin was gone, she put the boy under one of the bushes. Then she went off and sat down about a bowshot away, for she thought, “I cannot watch the boy die.” And as she sat there, she began to sob.
God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid; God has heard the boy crying as he lies there. Lift the boy up and take him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation.”
Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. So she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink.
God was with the boy as he grew up. He lived in the desert and became an archer.
Genesis 21:14-20 (NIV)
Again, Hagar can relate to our most hopeless and desperate moments. But even when it seemed all hope was lost, God heard Hagar. When no other person cared or understood, God did. He is there when we reach the end of our rope. He hears our children’s cry for help and he will provide for them. He keeps his promises.
It’s easy to blame God for our circumstances or jump to thinking he doesn’t care, but he does. Hagar just needed to open her eyes and the help was there. What help is God trying to give you? How has he been trying to help you? Are you responsive to help or do you stubbornly resist and stay hopeless?
As single parents we don’t have to go it alone; God will provide for us a strong community of friends if we want it and also a relationship with him that can never be taken away. We just have to open our eyes and not refuse the help he is trying to give us.
He tends his flock like a shepherd:
He gathers the lambs in his arms
and carries them close to his heart;
he gently leads those that have young.
Isaiah 40:11 (NIV)