There were no chairs, so we sat on the floor. Elaine (not her real name) shared the three-room, basement apartment with her five children. The only furniture was a bed and a coffee table, on which were a few cheap ornaments and a greeting card. It was a Mother's Day card, and inside, in a child's handwriting, was the simple message: "To our best friend."
Nothing I could write conveys what I want to say so eloquently as that card.
To be a single parent can be a difficult and often lonely job. You must be parent and friend, judge and jury, counselor and teacher. And you must do it without the encouragement, support and inspiration that come from sharing the responsibility of parenting with a loving mate.
"I worry sometimes that I'm not a good mother," Elaine confided to me.
"You're a wonderful mother," I quickly reassured her. "Five little people here seem to think you're the best."
A mother's love is love that comes about as close as we imperfect human beings can get to godly love.
But it isn't easy to be someone's best friend when you yourself are struggling to survive. Elaine works hard to support her family. She often works double shifts as well as taking night classes to improve her skills. Even so, there is never enough money for the necessities, let alone luxuries.
If you are a single mother like Elaine, you understand that at the end of a long day, you wish there were someone you could lean on, to share the burden and talk to. Someone to love you. Instead, there is often more worry and more work. The children need food. They need help with their homework. Their clothes need mending. They need new shoes. They need you. And that is what keeps you going. That little boy or girl, perhaps the only good thing to come from a shattered relationship, means everything to you.
You want each child to be successful and to have a better life than you've had. If you are a Christian, you want them to know God as you know him. But there are so many distractions that conspire against success. Negative influences tug and pull at your children, especially in the inner cities where so many single parents live. Sometimes it seems as if it is you against the world, and the world is gaining on all fronts.
|"I feel sorry for my Mom because she has to work hard every day, and still go to school. I love my Mom very much, and there is no one who could turn me away from her. If I have to write a book about her, it would never end." Samantha, 14, child of single parent.|
There is one arena where you hold an unbeatable advantage. The streets may entice your children. Destructive habits may tempt them. Others may pull at their values and emotions. But there is no one else who can love them as you do.
Every teacher, counselor, magistrate and minister knows the power of a mother's love. A mother's love is love that comes about as close as we imperfect human beings can get to the godly love the apostle Paul described in the Bible a love that "always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres" (1 Corinthians 13:7).
Sometimes that love is also blind, refusing to recognize faults that are plain to others. A mother looks for something positive in her children, even when others see little good. Even the biggest no-hopers have a mother who hopes for the best. A mother's love for her children is as unconditional as human love can get. It is your territory, and yours alone. Claim it. Move in. Occupy it. Don't give it up.
People, especially young people, are profoundly influenced by those who they feel really love them. So, what happens within the walls of your family's home, be it ever so poor and lacking in comforts, will be a major influence - maybe the major influence - that decides what kind of people your children will eventually become as adults.
I stress eventually because there will be many times when you may feel you are not making much progress. When it comes to teaching proper values, however, the real progress often can be measured by small wins. Small wins? They are those moments when your child, after an inward struggle, chooses a right course of action. Or offers a whispered "I'm sorry" after a confrontation with you.
SHAFTS OF SUNLIGHT
Such moments are the shafts of sunlight in an often stormy sky. They reassure you that your teaching, hoping and praying are making some difference, even if perhaps not yet the difference. Your children may make many mistakes, and often choose to do wrong. But if home is a place where right values are not compromised, at least they will know when they are wrong.
Never underestimate the influence of a loving home environment, fueled with that special love that you, and only you, can claim as your territory.
In the Bible, God reveals himself to us as a parent. Parental love is vital in helping children develop their relationship with God. "I don't want a father in heaven," a little boy told me once. "Fathers beat you up."
LEARNING ABOUT GOD
Children can learn something positive about what God is like by the way you love them. Your children need to experience unconditional love and acceptance. Help them understand, by the way you treat them, the need for correction and discipline when they do wrong. And give them total forgiveness and reconciliation when they are sorry for what they have done.
Recognize and praise your children when they choose right. This is so important.
An inmate serving a long sentence at a maximum security prison once told me: "As I grew up the only thing I ever got recognition for was the things I did wrong. So even when I became a Christian, it was difficult to have the incentive to do right."
Be careful to set the right example in your own relationships and social life. Your love may be the only safe harbor your children know in a turbulent ocean. Be sensitive to anything that might seem to threaten it.
WE "COME AS A SET"'
A strikingly beautiful young mother in New York told me: "Many men want me when they learn I'm not married. But I tell them that even though I'm not married, I'm not really single either. My daughter and I have a lifetime relationship, and any man who wants me must realize this. My daughter and I come as a set."
It's hard to give love if you have not received it. Perhaps, like so many single mothers, you come from a tragic background of abuse,, and must struggle with your own feelings of inadequacy and lack of self-worth. You need a friend who understands and loves you. Jesus Christ can be that friend. Jesus understands your needs.
Jesus Christ respects and honors mothers. He deeply loved his mother, Mary, the remarkable woman chosen to bear him, and who suffered with him, and stood by him at his death. Before he died, Jesus committed Mary to the care of his disciple John, referred to as "the disciple whom he loved" (John 19:26-27). Jesus showed that he understood the needs of a woman who had loved him with a mother's love, and who now would have to face the world alone.
He loves you like that. So claim his love too.