As a Christian and a single parent, I’m convinced that if we fail to accept this truth, our efforts at rising above our circumstances and raising our children well will prove futile. We will continue to experience a daunting level of paralyzing frustration that immobilizes us. Our lives will become the worst kind of self-fulfilling prophecy.
Recent conversations about the ills facing families, particularly minority families, focus heavily on the absentee father phenomenon and its devastating consequences. No argument there. Boatloads of statistics, polls, and surveys document almost ad nauseam the poverty, social maladjustment, and emotional fallout that can’t be denied. Given all the hell breaking loose, you’d think we’d be beating down church doors and wearing the pages of our Bibles ragged, searching for His answers to our problems. Sadly, that doesn’t seem to be the case. A survey conducted by the National Fatherhood Initiative indicates that churches and spiritual leaders are not high on the list of sources dads consult for help with fathering issues. In one survey, mothers were asked to name the sources that fathers of their child look to for help. Only a third indicated that the father had “consulted a place of worship, minister, or rabbi.” Similarly, when fathers were asked who they go to for help, just a little more than half said they relied on a place of worship. It stands to reason that if God is not consistently and actively involved in our parenting, He’s probably equally absent from our children’s lives.
So, the hard truth is this:
The absence of an earthly father, while sad and unfortunate, can be overcome. The absence of God the heavenlyFather cannot be overcome and is deadly. There is no substitute for Him. It’s vital we shift our focus to include the absolute necessities of: (1) Our children knowing, loving, and following God; and (2) parents making Him the foundation of our homes. Not necessarily to the exclusion of everything else, but most certainly preeminent to all else.
How will our children’s lives be affected when God is the absent, forgotten Father? Consider:
•Psalm 127:1 tells us that if God Himself is not the builder of our lives and homes, everything else we do is vain and accomplishes nothing.
Practical application: If no one in a home seeks God’s wisdom about priorities and strategies that will make a child’s life what God intends — and no one introduces that child to his true Father — then having a present, active, involved father doesn’t accomplish anything. There aren’t enough workshops, programs, lock-ins, websites, or resources that will make an ultimate and eternal difference in that child’s life.
Action steps: Single-parent families and dual-parent families, first let’s take stock of our children and our homes. Have we allowed God to be the master-builder of our homes? Does God’s will and desire to determine our behaviors? Do our children know Christ? Do they understand that their lives must be anchored in Him for them to be meaningful and influential? If in a single-parent home, do they experience the power of overcoming obstacles created by the absence of a parent? If we must answer ‘no’ to these questions, it’s time for a new game plan. Second, go to the Word of God and see what He says you should be doing as a mother or father. Third, pick one thing and pray specifically about it every day for one week. See what He will do.
• A child’s life built around the absence of a father rather than obedience to the Word of God has a shaky foundation that cannot sustain him against the winds of circumstance.
In Matthew 7 the Lord Jesus Christ compares the life of an obedient person to someone whose house is built on a rock. This house, though buffeted by the storms of life, will still stand, providing security and safety. In contrast, one who hears and knows His word but does not obey it foolishly relies on something that will not withstand the strong winds and adversities of life. This one will find himself without protection when trouble comes.
Practical application: While God clearly indicates the role of fathers, nowhere does He instruct us to completely build our lives on their presence or absence. God and His word alone are our foundation, and upon Him alone, we must rely. When we frame our children’s lives in terms of a father’s absence, we are in effect making that fact a foundation of their life. If we make them feel that their father’s absence or lack of involvement is the determinative factor of their success, safety, and quality of life, should we be surprised when they, in fact, succumb to poverty, and poor choices? We’ve drunk our fill of the liberal social science Kool-Aid that tells us poverty and incarceration are caused by fatherlessness. Think about that. My child does not live with his father. Therefore, he will be poor, angry, aggressive, and land in jail. Come on now. We are laying a false foundation in our children’s lives with this faulty mental paradigm. What about God’s instruction to be angry and sin not? What about His promise to comfort and heal the brokenhearted and to provide all our needs? It’s time for us to skip the Kool-Aid and drink the living water the Spirit gives, which offers a life-giving alternative to what we are now experiencing because our collective house has come crashing down.
Laying the false foundation of father-absence victimization reflects a heart and mind that have not yet fully grasped the absolute power of God. If God cannot give us victory over circumstances that come with absent fathers, how can He be who He claims to be? Friends, God is waiting for us to fully trust Him with our children’s lives, no matter the circumstances of their conception, birth, or life. If you’ve laid this false foundation by internalizing the horror-story statistics: (1) Go to God, confess your fear for your child’s life and bewilderment over what to do. (2) Ask Him to renew your mind regarding your child’s future. Keeping a journal will help you keep track of answers you get in prayer and as a result of prayer. (3) Find resources that give practical and biblical strategies for parents. (4) Most of all, actually begin todo what God tells you.
That’s it for now. Truth is hard to hear, hard to digest, and harder still to implement. Everyone’s talking about “speaking truth to power,” but I say let’s speak the Truth from Power. Next time, I’ll highlight one more way in which our children’s lives can be adversely affected if the Lord remains the forgotten Father. Until then, I close with this prayer for us all:
May God give us all spiritual wisdom and insight so that we may grow in our knowledge of God. May our hearts be flooded with light so that we can understand the confident hope he has given to those he called—us his holy people. Lord help us to understand the incredible greatness of your power for us who believe you. Your power to save our children, to heal their and our brokenness, to make our children mighty and a praise in this earth, no matter what situations they are experiencing now. And surprise us, Lord with your unique answers to our unique situations (adapted from Eph. 1:15-20).
As a single mother of two boys, we have serious work to do in the Black community and there are some very deep wounds festering among us. I sense hurt, resignation, resentment, anger, confusion, and emotional fatigue.
Though we may disagree on root causes and solutions, I believe there’s one thing we should all be able to admit: single parenting and the attendant and antecedent dynamics are longstanding and complex, especially as they relate to relational issues between Black men and women. I certainly don’t pretend to have all the answers, but I do think I have at least some level of understanding of these issues, and a degree of empathy for both sides. So in that spirit I offer some words to us all.
It’s futile to attempt to dialogue on the issue of single mothers, their children, and the men who fathered those children, without speaking truth into the situation. So from that point I begin.
Some Hard Truths
1. Strictly speaking, mothers are not fathers. This is true whether the parents are married and raising a child together, or separated. The truth of this statement lies not only in function, but in form. To insist that somehow mothers can be fathers is to ignore some very basic realities.
Fatherhood, like motherhood, originates and is defined not just by what a parent does, but also by who the parent is. So then, gender is a foundational underpinning of parenthood. Men are fathers; women are mothers. Acknowledging this truth in no way minimizes or detracts from the unavoidable reality that there are some women who do things that we would traditionally associate with a male role in a child’s life, just as there are some men who perform some of the actions associated with a female role.
But there’s more to parenthood roles than what we do; indeed what we do, and how we do it, is bound to be influenced by who we are. For example, I can teach my son to shave or tie a tie. I can show him a razor, explain how to put the shaving cream on his face, what to do if he nicks himself, etc. I can cover all the technicalities of the process. His father can explain those same things to him, using exactly the same words I use. But it’s not just about the mechanical process; it’s equally about the nuances that come out while father and son are going through this ritual. His father can tell him about the first time he shaved, who helped him learn how to do it, how it feels to get razor bumps. As a man, his father can help our son identify as a man who now does things that other men do. These are things that as a woman, and by virtue of the fact that I am a woman, I simply cannot do. We desperately need to come to terms with this because as long as we resist this truth, we perpetuate a number of undesirable consequences. These are just a few of those consequences:
• We short-circuit the identity formation and development of our children. It’s important for kids to understand how men and women function differently in families and in society.
• We potentially rob fathers of the opportunity to fully grow and develop in their role. Sometimes all a man needs to step up is for the mother to step back … even just a bit will often be enough.
• As women, we overtax ourselves trying to fill roles we weren’t designed to operate in. If we are indeed the only parent in our child’s life, then of course there are actions we must do. But we can do them while acknowledging that as a woman, there will be something missing because we are not a man.
• Sometimes people and resources that could fill some gaps in our child’s life go untapped because we believe that we are indeed mother and father. Simply put, we don’t look for what we feel we haven’t lost.
2. Mothers and fathers both need to determine if they’re really putting the needs of their children first. I know this one is challenging. So much hurt and pain often passes between parents that our emotional baggage piles up on our sons and daughters, and we often don’t realize what’s happening. When fathers are absent or uninvolved, it causes an incredible strain on everyone involved, including grandparents, siblings, and other extended family members.
But the strain is equally damaging when mothers are hostile, resistant, or overstressed. Let’s commit to being better parents. We must ask ourselves some tough questions, for example:
• Am I willing to let the other parent perform his/her role in the way he/she wants to and is able to? Or do I insist that my child’s father/mother parent like I do?
• Do I pray for my child’s mother/father, that they will be the parent my child needs? Or have I made it difficult to pray because I have unresolved issues that I can’t let go of?
• Do I consistently support the other parent’s efforts, no matter how small I think they are? Or do I instead focus on what I believe the other parent leaves undone?
• Do I make every reasonable effort to overcome obstacles that challenge me as I try to be a good parent? Or am I making excuses for why I’m not taking care of business?
• Do I accept constructive criticism and feedback from the other parent on how I could make our relationship and interactions as parents healthier, and then work diligently, and without resentment, to address those issues? Or am I more interested in being right and winning arguments?
• Do I have a martyr complex? Do I find reasons to refuse help so that my child will see me as the better, more committed parent, and therefore shower more love on me? Or am I actively seeking the other parent’s input and suggestions with a true intention to work with him/her?
Pray, Think, Talk
There are, of course, many more questions that will give us insight on the position of our hearts. But the ones shared here can at least get us started on a road that leads to more transparent, effective parenting. In a future column, I’ll outline some additional ideas to keep the conversation going.
So, what do you think?
Do me a favor. Read this article all the way through, and then put it aside for 24 hours. During that time, pray about what you’ve read and how you feel about it. Ask the Lord to give you insight on what applies to you and what He wants you to do about it. Then read the article again. Please share your thoughts by commenting at any point in this process.
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