By Sue Schlesman, Crosswalk.com
About 7 million dads (20%) don’t live with any of their biological children. At least 10.3 million single moms in America have households with school-age children; over half those women are owed child support from the father. (U.S. Census Bureau)
Single mothering is tough. As if financial stress weren’t enough, a woman alone with kids must also manage her own feelings of abandonment and fear, while shielding her child from the emotional impact of being separated (maybe forever) from his father.
Growing up without a father present is a difficult, but not insurmountable, obstacle.
Why Fathers Matter
Statistically, children without fathers suffer increased emotional and physical trauma, which left unmet, develops into dangerous patterns. “Children who live absent their biological fathers are, on average, at least two to three times more likely to be poor, to use drugs, to experience educational, health, emotional and behavioral problems, to be victims of child abuse, and to engage in criminal behavior than their peers who live with their married, biological (or adoptive) parents.”
Does that mean kids with absent dads are destined to be the drudge of society? No, but the most vulnerable people in our society are primarily the products of fatherless homes. Fathers who are present make a huge impact on their children, particularly on sons.
Can Your Sons Succeed without a Father?
So if you’re a single mom, how do you solve this dilemma? Since we are addressing “fatherless sons,” let’s assume that your child’s father is dead or permanently uninvolved. They’re gone, and your sons and daughters have only a single mom or grandparent to care for them.
While this family situation is not God’s plan, the Bible is full of non-traditional family structures that we can study for encouragement and wisdom. The Bible specifically highlights strong mothers who raise godly sons in spite of a father’s absence.
Moses was brought up in Pharaoh’s palace (away from both parents during his school years). Joseph’s older brothers sold him and told his parents he had died (he didn’t see them again until he was grown and married.)
Samuel’s mother gave Samuel to the High Priest Eli to raise (his parents saw him once per year).
Josiah became king at eight years of age because his wicked father Amon was assassinated (he was mentored by politicians).
Daniel was kidnapped during his teen years and lived the rest of his life in another country away from all his family (and lived in fear for his life).
Timothy’s father was a non-believer, so his mother sent him around the world with the Apostle Paul. All these men grew to be mighty men of character.
How to Mold Sons of Character
Building boys of character requires intentional parenting, just as building girls of character does.
The difficulty for single moms lies in the innate problems associated with teaching boys about manly things. Women can’t pretend to understand being a man. And that’s fine.
Here are some easy do’s and don’ts to help you navigate the troubled waters of parenting sons without a man in the house to levy the fire:
Do's for Single Moms
1. Invite role models into your son’s life. Yep, this is the opposite of # 4 above. It is also different from #3. Through known relationships, you could encounter a man who is uniquely gifted to befriend or mentor your son. Depending on the age of your child, a mentoring relationship could look like a fun activity, a working relationship, or a group event. Be sure you know the adults and older teenagers in your son’s life.
Vet them appropriately, but don’t let fear keep you from utilizing the honest and decent men in your family or church who can step into a fathering role to your son. Don’t rule out uncles and grandfathers, if they are good men.
The fathering/adopting role pervades Scripture. Eli fathered Samuel; Moses mentored Joshua; Jesus befriended John; Paul fathered Timothy; even Joseph fathered Jesus, who was not his biological child. There are many mentoring relationships in the Bible that show how an older man can teach a younger man to be honorable, hardworking, and successful.
Do your homework and discuss with a possible candidate if he would take seriously the opportunity to influence your son for the Lord. Set perimeters and keep tabs on the relationship. (Deuteronomy 7:11-12)
2. Prepare your son for situations. Before our sons had a sleepover, went to camp, joined a club, tried out for sport, went on a date, or attended a school function, we walked them through possible scenarios they might encounter. We have continued to do this right into their adulthood. Not only does this model wisdom and planning, but it also provides a security net for the unexpected. “Just say no” works when the element of surprise is missing and the escape plan has already been set.
Otherwise, your sons might not have the wisdom to manage the risk well. (Boys tend to operate “off the cuff.”)
When our kids went to play at a friend’s house and something unexpected or uncomfortable happened, they knew to call us and “ask permission”; that was our cue to either forbid them (which gave them an out) or come and pick them up (which also gave them an out). This pattern developed into prepping them for more serious scenarios, like adults who made them feel uncomfortable or activities like drugs and alcohol, which we did not want them around.
Inform your son about age-appropriate things that can happen and load his lips with sentences to help him navigate through temptations or possible panic situations. Give them statements like “I have to call my mom and ask,” or “I’m not comfortable with that,” or “I’m about to leave anyway.” When you empower a child to extricate himself from something stressful, harmful, or dangerous, you empower him to become a pro-active man of integrity and determination. (Proverbs 1:10-15)
3. Expose your son to positive role models. I’m talking here about heroes. Boys will gravitate toward sports icons or rock stars. You can start early setting the standard for the type of man your son should admire. Read or listen to biographies of famous leaders.
Learn about experts in the field of study that interests your son. Expose your son to local men of integrity and leadership. Your son doesn’t have to have a personal relationship with a great man to benefit from his character and expertise. Expose your son to podcasts, lectures, books, documentaries, and stories of men who inspire greatness. Whenever possible, find great Christian men to admire.
Help your sons recognize the differences between men who live for themselves and men who live for God. (1 Corinthians 11:1)
Don't for Single Moms
1. Don’t baby your son. Don’t solve his problems, defend his behavior, or lobby for him when he could lobby for himself. I have three sons, so I get it: little boys are super-sweet and fun, and they love their mamas. You want them to stay that way forever. But they can’t and shouldn’t.
All moms—but especially single moms—must train themselves to let their sons struggle through issues and problem-solve difficulties on their own. You can give advice, but then back away. Babying a son sets him up for a push-pull relationship with his mother to achieve independence; as an adult, this can turn into a co-dependent relationship, where he feels guilty for not meeting your expectations.
It also handicaps him for the real world and sets him up to marry a bossy woman because he will not feel capable of handling life on his own. (Proverbs 3:11-18)
2. Don’t rely on your son to meet your needs. Single moms naturally share a lot with their kids. Struggling to make ends meet and help one another through emotional trauma creates strong emotional ties between a single parent and her children. This is fine, as long as the mom remembers that her children cannot help her carry her load. She must insulate them from much of her burden and ask another adult or parent to help her.
Kids who carry their moms’ emotional needs will suffer anxiety, bitterness, and resentment later on in life. They will feel guilt for trying to set boundaries with you. If you do not set boundaries now for what you will and won’t share with your children, you will create a dysfunctional home scenario; your kids—and particularly your son—will have to distance himself emotionally from you when he grows up, in order to get healthy.
3. Don’t remarry just to give your son a dad. Marriage is a holy union designed by God to reveal himself to us and through us. You will make your situation worse if you marry someone strictly because you want a man in the home, you want to be loved, or you want your kids to have a dad. Becoming a step-parent is a particular calling from God. The wrong stepdad can do worse psychological damage to your son than no dad at all.
Furthermore, introducing various men as boyfriends or live-in boyfriends generates profound insecurity and confusion for children. If you decide to date—and it’s a good idea to wait until they’re grown—manage the relationship carefully. Your children should be your top priority; if you fall in love without fully understanding the implications of this new relationship, you will lose all perspective to do so. Seek professional counseling if you want to date, and let God determine your next step.
He may want to show you that He is enough for you. (Jeremiah 3:14)
4. Be careful choosing your son’s friends or mentors. Many a child has been molested or abused by a man who claimed to be interested in filling the hole left by a father. In fact, predators often take positions in teaching, coaching, and student work to avail themselves of vulnerable youth. Just because a man is a teacher, coach, scout leader, or church leader, that does not mean he is safe or suited to befriend your son. Choose carefully.
On the other hand, don’t avoid good opportunities to find manly examples for your son simply because you’re afraid he will be hurt. Access wisdom, advice, references, and the Holy Spirit. (Acts 16:1-5)
5. Don’t ignore or downplay your son’s emotional stress. If your son shows depression, hostility, withdrawal, insecurity, or defiance, enlist a professional to find out what’s happening and why. Teach your son how to express emotion in a healthy way (you need to model this). Show how to establish healthy rhythms and routines to create a safe space to live and handle conflict.
Side note: if you are an emotional mess, you prevent him from accessing his emotions; he will have to stuff them away just to help you navigate yours. Don’t put him in that position. (Galatians 5:22-24)
6. Don’t play the helpless female in hopes that it will make him more responsible and “husbandly.” Teach responsibility by being responsible for your own problems and by giving your son age-appropriate responsibilities. He can share in household chores, cooking, and getting a part-time job (working for a great man is a good idea) on top of being a kid. A parent’s job is to manage adult stress, like paying bills, providing, and establishing a safe living environment.
A child is learning how to do those things; show your son how to become an adult by gradually teaching him everything you know when he is emotionally capable of handling it. Do not lean on him for decision-making, emotional support, or male companionship.
That is not your child’s role. He is not your regular date to events; he is not your defender; he is not your soul mate. While sons of single moms often fill these roles for their mothers, it is not a healthy lifestyle for them because it causes co-dependency for both of you. (1 Timothy 5:1-16)
Jesus himself was raised by his mother and step-father, who pointed him toward his calling. You, too, can intentionally propel your son toward a life of personal significance and spiritual calling.
Sue Schlesman grew up without a dad. She is a Christian author, high school English teacher, pastor’s wife, and speaker. She has a BA in Creative Writing and a Master’s in Theology & Culture. Her second book Soulspeak: Praying change into unexpected places released in August. Sue writes for various online and print publications and has a passion for missions, social justice, traveling, reading, and the local church. Sue has been married to her husband Shane for 30 years, and they have 3 adult sons. You can find her writing about life, education, family, and Jesus at sueschlesman.com.
Photo Credit: ©Unplash/Randy Rooibaatjie
Sue Schlesman is an award-winning author, speaker, blogger, English teacher, and pastor’s wife. Her second book, Soulspeak: Praying Change into Unexpected Places, won a Selah Award in 2020. Sue was also a top-15 contributor at Crosswalk.com in 2020. Sue has a BA in Creative Writing and a Master’s in Theology & Culture. Her material appears in a variety of print, online, radio, and podcast mediums. She has a passion for poetry, missions, justice, traveling, reading, and the local church. You can find her writing about life, education, and Jesus at sueschlesman.com.