I have been a single parent for 13 years. For the most part I have not dated because I didn’t want strange men in and out of my son’s life. My parents (who would have adored my son) passed away when he was born, so it has been just him and me for most of his life.
While I have many regrets (and joys), as a single parent, one of my greatest regrets is the loss of “family” photos and snippits of good memories. I thought, until recently, that family photos needed to have a more “complete” family in order to be a real family photo. Growing up, my annual family photo in the church directory (I don’t even know if they do those anymore) had my mom, dad and three brothers. While I always wanted to replicate that same image – a home with a husband and many children – that wasn't in the cards for me.
So, I avoided “family photos” because I thought that further highlighted my failed dreams and broken family reality. And, because that, I have very few photos of my son and me.
A wonderful organization called “Solo Parent Society”, which I was a part of, helped me realize that there are millions of “families” just like mine. In fact, the US has nearly the highest number of single parent homes in the world, with 23% (almost 1/4th) single parent homes. In comparison, China has about 3% single parent homes. While I loathe the fact that I am a part of this statistic, it is in no way the fault of my son, and I want, more than anything, to give him a good childhood and a loving home that sets him up for a successful life with good and long lasting relationships. Solo Parent Society gave me life-long connections to other parents doing life the exact same way and eventually, friends that have become like family.
Solo Parent Society had a photo day where a renowned photographer, named David Dobson, donated an entire day of his time and talent to take photos of single parents, free of cost. I am embarrassed to say that this was the first (after 10 years) “family photo” I have of my son and me. I have vowed since then to take more photos of us. Families look much different today than they did when I was young. I want my son to feel a part of a real family and know that it is ok and that he is ok. Just because a parent isn’t involved like he or she should be or can be, doesn’t mean that a single parent or a grandparent or aunt or uncle or a close family member can’t step in and fill those shoes and be the hero for children in a single parent household.
I have vowed to take more family photos. I also vowed to find people for those special days and events. A few years back (when my son was in 5th grade), I put a post for “Grandparent’s needed” in my Nextdoor neighborhood website to find someone – anyone – to attend my son’s Grandparent’s Day at school. Three wonderful sets of grandparents responded. I’ve also asked a youth pastor if he would come to an important ball game so that my son will have two fans in the stands. A single parent has to “think” this way. I vowed to plan more family traditions. When I was young, my parents would go over to their best friend’s home, Dottie and Smitty, and we would just hang out. I don’t particularly remember wanting to go, but it brings back fond memories today. So now I go over and play cards with my friend Sara and our kids just hang out. We can hear the kids laughing as we play cards, and it reminds me of Dottie and Smitty's house. I spend holidays doing just the same and surround myself with other single parents who love their children. My goal is to create memories and laughter that last a lifetime.
I spent many years in the church trying to find “intact” families to connect to so that my son would have good role models, which proved to be rather futile. In my experience, the church doesn’t have a good place for singles or single parents; their events, their dinners, their after-church lunches did not include (or want to include) a single parent. It is my hope that churches will become intentional about including singles, single parents, and most importantly the children of single parents. While that is still a rather sad commentary for the church at large, I’ve learned that my family is indeed intact and that my son is connected to me and my family and friends that love him. It still takes a village to raise a child, but you have to look, and think, just a little differently when you are a single parent.
Joye Booher is a single mom in the Nashville area. She is passionate about God and connecting singles and single parents in both the community and in the church. She has written a mentoring program for boys from single parents that is Christ-based, called “The Fight Club”.