(Misguided) Assumptions

Warning: This is not inspirational or even remotely filled with grace. This is written from that place within every parent that growls when their children are threatened and protects God’s most significant blessings with inexorable ferocity.

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Last week at school, a child stole and fairly savagely destroyed my child’s umbrella. It was clearly a cry for help. Perhaps she was suffering from overexposure to men in her life? Too much dad, if you will. That would make sense, because last week when MY child was merely disengaged in one of her classes, the first thing her coach surmised was that she was suffering from the lack of a dad in her life. Obviously, the role of a man in a child’s life is the sole driving factor for behavior, right? It could not be too much screen time, lack of adequate rest, failure to maintain a routine, poor discipline, learning struggles, inappropriate role models (of any gender), or just the natural processes of identity formation and testing boundaries. Nope, it is obviously and always related to the man in their lives.

I hope you are picking up on both my sarcasm and frustration here.

You see, this is an issue that finds me struggling to find and constantly praying for grace. I have two well-behaved, well-adjusted little humans in my home. Yet, I still find myself defending their adjustment to everyone from well-intentioned friends to perfect strangers who do not elicit the perfect smile or eager hug from my girls. 

“Do you think they are struggling because their dad is gone?” The simple answer is no. I think they have feelings (mostly sadness) about their dad being gone, but they are by no measure, “struggling.” Seriously, I check (and check and check). Their therapist recommended we discontinue therapy to avoid the risk of convincing well-adjusted kids that they are not, in fact, well-adjusted. If a licensed therapist won’t convince my kids that their lack of a dad is impetus for any imperfect moment of humanness, I certainly won’t allow anyone else to do it.

Yes, kids misbehave; including mine. There are so many reasons, but the main one being: they are kids. Could the lack of a dad cause my children pain? Absolutely. But, does anyone have the right to assume that this “lack” is the motivating factor in their (mis)behavior? Absolutely not. Because, in addition to “suffering” from lack of a father, my children also “suffer” from an abundance of love, a healthy diet, a consistent routine, a faith-based household, high moral and behavioral standards, loads of laughter, scant screen time, an emphasis on their overall well-being, and a perspective beyond their years. 

Friends (and strangers), when you ask if my kids’ (incredibly low-level) misbehavior, lack of desire to smile at you, or shyness to offer you a hug is a result of their not having a dad, you are reducing them from the complex, interesting, circuitously motivated humans that they are to the one component of their lives that is out of their control. Do you understand how dis-empowering that is? It tells them that they are what they are missing, instead of them being everything that they are. It sends the message that they can be explained by the choices of others instead of by their own decisions. It is toxic and I need you to stop. Now.

God trusted me to raise these magnificent girls, and, if you are not a single parent, you cannot imagine the enormity of and blessings within that job. I choose to give thanks for my little 3 person family, because, as 1 Thessalonians 5:18 tells us, thankfulness in all circumstances is God’s will. So, please stop armchair quarterbacking a game you know nothing about. 

To drive this home, let me share some brief real-life anecdotes about well-meaning parents who are so concerned about my girls’ parenting:

Yesterday, you were shoving frozen waffles down your kid’s throat in the elevator while running late to school. (I saw you on the way back from dropping off my kids on time, after having fed them a homemade, well-balanced breakfast.) 

Your kid was in the backseat of your Range Rover watching movies while you sat in drop-off, and even that wasn’t enough to stop his fits. (My kids were in the backseat having conversations about the super moon and practicing their spelling words.)

You have been struggling to get your kids to help around the house or are paying them for their time. (I just finished meal prepping lunches for the week while my 8 year old cheerfully prepped our dinners and my 10 year old folded all of our laundry.)

I don’t mean this to shame any mom or ignore my own obvious shortcomings. We all have struggles and failures as parents. I share these admittedly-spiteful observations to debunk the notion that your two-parent family is inherently better than my family in terms of the structure for and behavior of the children. I work hard. I have amazing kids. My life looks nothing like an episode of SMILF, I promise. I will not let you map your inaccurate assumptions onto my children’s identity. 

There are children at my kids’ school who are already using hate speech, who have physically harmed other children, who have taken to identifying as (the most privileged and untouched by actual gang life) “gangs,” who have stolen from other kids, and whose behavior has pushed a teacher to the point of tears. You know what these kids have in common? A two parent household. So, my question is: Who is going to do something about the epidemic of kids acting out in response to the over-parented lives? 

Again, sarcasm and frustration intended.

Yes, my kids lack a dad, and that is painful. But that pain does not define them. God defined them before they were even born (Jeremiah 1:5), and their value is unshaken by their circumstances or your expectations for the composition of the ideal of family. They are not incomplete or driven by what they lack. They are full in (Colossians 2:9-10) and filled with Christ’s love (1 John 3:1-2). It is a message about their worth that they consistently receive from me and one that I will robustly protect. You have been warned.

-A. Smith 

The Significance in Being Seen

I remember the day someone remembered my name.  You’d think something so basic and simple wouldn’t make such a large impact on a person.  People remember people’s names all the time.  But, at that moment in my life it gave hope to my heart.

I recall it was a pastor, I was attending a new church, looking for a home church.  I was in a new city, single now with 3 kids.  I didn’t know anyone here, I missed my old church, I was desperate for connection and someone who could relate to me.  My life, over the years that preceded all this change, had crumbled around me.  I had lost everything I had worked hard for.  My ex-husband’s addiction had stripped it all away, one by one.  First my security, then my spirit.  The only thing that remained constant in all of that, was my faith.  I clung desperately to God in the eye of the storm of abuse, neglect, exhaustion, fear, and insecurity. I recall emerging an empty shell of my former self.  Used up, essentially.  I found myself in poverty, in emptiness, numb. I found a place I could afford in a broken city.  I moved myself with what I could to this place and attempted to carve out a new life.  But I was merely surviving.  I had young children and a job that hardly paid enough.  When that pastor stopped me, as I was hurriedly rushing into service, he asked my name, he asked my children’s names, and a week later when he saw me coming in again he said the sweetest words I could imagine at the time, “Brandi, I’ve been praying for you”.  I felt like I was in another world at that moment.  I blinked and stood and stared and I couldn’t hold back the tears from my eyes.  I wept.  I felt seen.  I felt known.

For a tired mom, who selflessly sacrifices, for a hollow shell of a heart that has lived through a tragedy and hasn’t yet had a moment to heal, for a hurting that is in that messy middle place of when life you knew becomes a life you never imagined, being seen is so significant.  For a woman who feels unworthy, broken, lost and invisible, to be recognized, validated, appreciated, a word and a genuine act of kindness can lift her spirit and give her hope.  I was feeling like I was suffocating under the weight of my pain but with that one act I could take that first deep, life giving breath.  I had called out the week before to God, “I just want to be seen and know I’m not invisible.”  He answered, and used that pastor to do it.

If you’re a believer you may know that one of the names of God is El Roi – “The God Who Sees Me.”  Coincidentally, the first time this name is uttered is to Hagar, the Bible’s first single mom.  As she is cast out, pregnant, from her family and wandering aimlessly in distress the “angel of the lord” meets her right where she is.

I can identify with Hagar.  I can know what it feels like to carry such a weight, a responsibility not only for my own well-being and healing but for my children’s as well.  The compounded fear of what is next, how will I make it, how will I survive, and what kind of life can I give to my children when I can barely take care of my own needs.  What had started as hope for Hagar, became a place of devastation.

We can all identify with Hagar.  When we are in that messy middle place and we feel the oppressive fears.  When we feel the uncertainty of the future loaded with the grief of hopes and dreams lost.  When we hurt for our children as we absorb the shock and pain of abandonment.  We try to shield them, make things right, try to make things okay, stable, certain.  But we can’t, not alone.

I think there is a reason God revealed himself to Hagar, a woman and mother in this way, one who spoke life and hope and hard truth into her life, the truth she would need to hear and be prepared for.  Her life would be very different from the one she was planning in her heart and head, but it was still a significant life.  Women need to be seen.  We need in our heart to be known and validated.  There is nothing wrong with this, this is how we were built.  Beauty companies spend millions of dollars to make us feel beautiful so we can be recognized and appreciated.  The fashion industry too but on a deeper level, our need to be seen and known drives us to a people who love us just as we are, flaws and all.  And in our distress, we especially need to be recognized, we need to be seen as strong and capable and empowered by others around us.

It was this feeling that created a need in me to make it possible for women to have a place where they can be seen.  A place where they can see others as well.  We all need a community to belong to.  A place where we can ease each other’s burdens, love and be loved, cherish and be cherished, grow, lean in, build up.  God works through people, just as he did with that pastor who saw me that morning and unknowingly answered my prayer.  Just as the women that surround me now see me.  God is present and he recognizes where you are in your journey.  He is there to respond to you as you move through your wilderness.  He will plant people in your path who will push you along your destination.

Never get comfortable with where you are, never accept being invisible.  You’re bigger than that, more significant and more worthy than that.  Connect with a support group in your area and get yourself plugged into a community of like-minded people who recognize and appreciate the need to be seen.  Don’t get caught up in the lie that you should give up, or that you have nothing to offer, or that you’re a burden to others.  You are a light.  Support groups and organizations like Singlemomzrock and Thrive Single Moms are eager to embrace you.  We want to help you feel supported, encouraged and hopeful and most importantly, to see you.   How do you want to be seen?

By Brandi Dailey
Founder and Executive Director at Thrive Single Moms