Q: What encouragement can you offer to those of us who are single parents? Each day seems more difficult than the one before it. Can you help plead our case to those who don't understand what we're facing?
A: In my view, single parents have the toughest job in the universe! Hercules himself would tremble at the range of responsibilities people like you must handle every day. It's difficult enough for two parents with a solid marriage and stable finances to satisfy the demands of parenting. For a single mother or father to do that task excellently over a period of years is evidence of heroism.
The greatest problem faced by single parents, especially young mothers like yourself, is the overwhelming amount of work to be done. Earning a living, fixing meals, caring for kids, helping with homework, cleaning house, paying bills, repairing the car, handling insurance, doing the banking, the income tax, etc., can require 12 hours a day or more. She must continue that schedule seven days a week, all year long. Some have no support from family or anyone else. It's enough to exhaust the strongest and healthiest woman. And where does she find the time and energy to meet her social and emotional needs - and how does she develop the friendships on which that part of her life depends? This job is no easier for most fathers, who may find themselves trying to comb their daughter's hair and explain menstruation to their preteen girls.
There is only one answer to the pressures single parents face. It is for the rest of us to give them a helping hand. They need highly practical assistance, including the friendship of two-parent families who will take their children on occasion to free up some time. Single moms need the help of young men who will play catch with their boys and take them to the school soccer game. They need men who will fix the brakes on the Chevy and patch the leaky roof. They need an extended family of believers to care for them, lift them up and remind them of their priorities. Perhaps most important, single parents need to know that someone cares about them and is willing to help share their burden.
Thankfully, churches today are becoming more sensitive to the needs of single parents. More congregations are offering programs and ministries geared to the unique concerns of those with special needs. I'd advise every single parent to find such a church or fellowship group and make himself or herself at home there. Fellowship and support can be the key to survival.
Those among my readers who want to help mothers or fathers raising kids alone might start by giving them a subscription to Single-Parent Family magazine, from Focus on the Family. Write us in Colorado Springs for information at P.O. Box 444, Colorado Springs, CO 80903 or visit www.family.org.
Q: We have always laughed a lot in our family, sometimes at each other. Is that good or bad?
A: It is healthy to be able to laugh together in a family. We ought to be able to tease and joke with each other without having to worry about getting an angry overreaction in response. But when the laughter is always at the expense of the most vulnerable member of the family, it can be destructive.
Even innocent humor is painful when it's the same child who is the object of ridicule. Unfortunately, that's the way it often happens. When one youngster has an embarrassing characteristic, such as bed-wetting, thumb-sucking or stuttering, the other members of the family should be encouraged to tread very softly on the exposed nerves thereabouts. And a child should never be ridiculed for his or her size, whether he's a small boy or she's a large girl.
This is the guiding principle: It's wise not to tease a child about the features that he or she is also defending outside the home. If that youngster is hearing about some obvious flaw all day long, he or she certainly doesn't need more flak from the family. And when that child asks for a joke to end, the request should be honored.
Being the butt of everyone's ridicule is a formula for lifelong resentment, and there's just nothing funny about that happening.
- James Dobson is chairman of the board for Focus on the Family, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation of the home.