Come Alongside

After writing last week about how we often overlook teaching basic skills to our children, I thought about the missed opportunities created by single parent homes. I’m not against single parents; I just feel that we need to speak honestly about these missed opportunities instead of arguing that two people aren’t required in order to raise a child.


Hear me out. This is a plea for friends, coworkers and grandparents to come alongside any young family to support the learning curve that exists. I just want to say clearly that single parents need this support as well.


Usually, two heads are better than one. Unless one partner is a complete zero and never lifts a finger to think, speak or help, having the life experience of two adults increases the number of skills available to share with a child. It should double the possible experiences but no two people are alike so I’ll just leave that one there.


Our assumptions and prejudices can get in the way. My daughter reminds me of this every time she goes to the auto parts store to fix her car. Suddenly there are male helpers coming from all sides to help the incompetent, ignorant female, she says. Wrong again; she knows enough to take the part off and which replacement she needs to put it back on. To assume that someone of another gender lacks any particular skill set is just foolish.


Most two parent homes divide the tasks on the list and each one becomes the “go to” person for certain tasks. One might do the budget while the other keeps the yard mowed. One takes out the trash while the other fixes the car. Now remember, you need to watch making assumptions.


Other tasks might need to be shared by two parents in a household. One might prepare a meal and allow the other one to clean up after eating. One might put the wash in the dryer while the other one folds the dry clothes. Single parents don’t get this luxury because they are responsible for the meals and the laundry and until the children are old enough to help, there’s no one to share.


I’m saying that young families—especially single parents–often need a grandparent, friend or coworker to come alongside to help with the things no one has time to do. Because the meals and laundry require more time for the single parent, the teaching time might suffer. Who has the energy to play catch and hone the throwing skills of the budding athlete? Who fixes the car when the laundry still needs to be folded? Who demonstrates the skills a single parent lacks so that the child has a well-rounded upbringing?


Young parents and single parents deserve the independence of being consulted and the opportunity to refuse any help from the outside. Unless you are just mowing a little more of their front lawn when you mow your own, you should probably get permission before diving in to help. That being said, find a task that increases the time available for a parent to spend time with her children. Try asking if she needs something at WalMart before you make your trip there. Saving a trip for a stray item or two could give an hour to a single mom who would have to prepare children, load the car, manage the children through a large store and drive home to unload. Sometimes the energy saved is just as important as the time saved.


Come alongside and help. Get permission, but help where you can. We need one another’s support.

Dr. Matt Crain writes weekly for the Sunday newspaper from his Connecting Fathers and Families ministry.