We don't know when, but at some point, Mary became a single parent. We never see her that way in certain religious groups. Mary is exalted, high on a pedestal. She's almost unreachable as a person. They make statues of her and so on and so forth.
Most of the time we were not even aware of her. She's kind of a footnote, but she was a real person. She was a real mom. The wedding in Canaan suggests that she was alone. She was without a husband. Otherwise, her husband would have been there to direct that wedding.
How do we come to this idea that Mary was a single mom. Jesus began His ministry at 30. Leaving home so late suggests that he had responsibilities at home as the head of the family, because the father wasn't there, suggests that Mary was alone for a long time. The fact that Joseph is not mentioned after Jesus, his 12th birthday, such an important figure suggests that Mary was alone. And when you read in Mark and so on and so forth about his sisters, his brothers you get the picture that she was widowed with seven children who were adolescents to young adults.
I mean, talk about being a single mom. She was a single mom before that was like a thing. And we know she didn't remarry. So I believe all parents, including single parents can learn some important things from Mary, the single mom.
We always talk about Mary before she had Jesus and her courage and her faith and this and that. But we ignore the longer part of her life that we don't have a lot of information about. That was, that is so significant that can actually teach us something about our own everyday lives.
Here are some lessons we can learn from Mary, the single parent:
1. Becoming a single parent can happen to anybody
A lot of times we're saying why me? I'm a good person. I did my best. I tried hard. It can happen to anybody. Some see single parents as, strange, perhaps less than whole as people hard to fit in. But God shows that this state can happen to anyone regardless of their effort. Regardless of their age or their faith. Even the mother of Jesus experienced this thing, we don't believe however that she experienced it through divorce. But she experienced it nevertheless.
If you're a single parent through the death of your spouse or whatever way it happens, it doesn't change the experience. You're still there alone with your children. So when it happens to you, it's never an issue of God's love. Would anyone doubt that God loved Mary? It's simply the result of that of life.
Life happens to us and because we are human, because we are weak, because there are things we know and things we don't know, things we do well, things we don't do well, all of this comes together and we find ourselves where we are at.
A friend of mine said to me recently, "I never thought I'd be where I am at this age. I had other plans for my life. I thought I'd be somewhere else." But you know what, we are at where we're at and that's the way it works. It doesn't mean, God, doesn't love us.
Perhaps another thing we can learn about Mary, the single mom is that:
2. Half a parenting team can raise a whole family
Mary's children included Jesus and James, the writer of the book of James and the leader of the early church in Jerusalem and the martyr. Some people say, well, anybody can raise Jesus. He's the Son of God. He's perfect. No teen crisis or anything like that. The worst crisis he's in the temple talking to the teachers. I wish my kids would be in the elder's conference room, asking questions to the elders when they are 12 years old. I could deal with that.
But she also had James and James wasn't the son of God. He was an ordinary man. And yet he grew up to be a faithful leader in the church. It's hard to raise children by yourself, absolutely. But it's not impossible to raise children.
My mother was a single mom. She was 42 years old when my father died suddenly one night. One night, he was there and the next night he was gone and she was left alone at 42 years of age. No money, no insurance policy, nothing with the 15-year-old boy.
In a perfect world, no one would die. No one would leave. No one would fail at relationships. However, God knew that there would be single parents eventually just like the body has been designed to compensate. When one eye fails, if you go blind in one eye, well, it's a difficult thing, but your life doesn't end. You can still drive a car. You can still work. You're limited in the range of things that you can do, but you can still do. You can still function.
God has designed the family that when one partner fails, the family can still accommodate that loss and survive and succeed. Being a single parent is not a certificate of failure. It's a challenge.
Single parents can still achieve the same results with their children as two parents can. It's simply more demanding.
3. Parenting is the same in every age
We can't say it was easy for Mary. She lived in a very different social, religious and economic time than we do now but her parenting skills can be used as effectively now as then. For example:
- She was faithful to her calling as a parent
- She maintained her role as mother
- At 12, she admonishes Jesus for worrying her
- At 30, she seeks him out to help at the wedding
The intervening events did not drive her to try to become anything else except being a mother. Oh yes, you have to work but you never changed the role of being a mother. The idea that single parents have to become father, mother and friend is not true.
If anyone says to you, "Oh, well if you're a single mom, well now you have to be mom and dad."
That is wrong because you can't be mom and dad. You might as well ask a person to grow another eyeball in the middle of their forehead. People are trying to encourage you with that, but they're wrong. Parents need to become, if anything, better moms or better dads, not both mom and dad. The challenge is to step up. So many single parents become exhausted trying to be both mom and dad. They whip themselves but they can't do it.
Mary maintained a steady and clear role of mother for her children.
Another thing about her was that she was faithful to her children. Mary was at the wedding with them and she was at the cross. Through the ups and downs she reassured her children that she was there. Even when she didn't understand their passages from the spreadsheet, she stored these things up in her heart. There were things she didn't quite get. She didn't quite, understand, but she persevered.
Children of single parents have, for one reason or another, lost a parent. For you, it might have been a relief or a way out but for the children, this is rarely the case.
I've counseled people going through a divorce or losing a spouse for whatever reason and things are going very badly. And sometimes the feeling is, "Oh, good riddance. It was more trouble than it was worth" or "I was suffering." But realize that children rarely feel like that. Children rarely feel "Oh, finally we got rid of daddy, he was a pain." Even in abusive situations, despite the abuse, children want to love their parents.
The greatest fear the children have is that of abandonment. And in single-family homes, whether kids say it or not, this is the reassurance that they need.
They've just suffered some form of abandonment. And we know all the issues about them feeling guilty, I won't go into all that. The idea is they need to be reassured by actions and words and so on and so forth.
Like Mary, whether you understand them or not, whether you agree or not, you must continually reassure them that so long as it depends on you, you're staying.
Kids can put up with less things because a single parent has less income, but they can't deal with the thought of less parents.
So many single parents will kill themselves to try to provide exactly the same things. Things that the children had when they were a two-parent family and sometimes a two-income family. And they don't realize that what the kids want and need is not the same number of things they need. They need you more.
Another thing about Mary:
4. She was faithful to her Lord.
Of course, in the end, Mary was in the upper room with the believers on Pentecost Sunday. She began her marriage full of hope, full of faith, full of love for God. She lost her reputation. She lost her husband. She lost her son, her firstborn, but she never lost her faith.
That faith saved her soul and modeled a lifestyle for her children who also were in that room with her on that. Who do you think led them there? His brothers and sisters were up in the room. Who do you think led them there.
More than wanting my children to have two parents, I want my children to go to heaven.
Succeeding at a first or second marriage is not what will make a difference in your children's spiritual life. Succeeding at following Christ yourself is what will teach them what they need to know for their own salvation.
Because your children are watching you. They may not have been paying a lot of attention before, but boy, after a marriage breakdown, they're paying attention. Now they're watching you. They're watching your faith. They're watching how you deal with things and they are learning. They're learning to deal with adversity. They're learning how to deal with disappointment. They're learning how to deal with failure. You're teaching them with everything that you do with your courage, with your ability to renew yourself with the ability to keep on going, the ability to persevere, a childhood perseverance to get through tough classes and to graduate from high school and persevere, they'll learn that perseverance from watching how you deal with your adverse.
If you're sitting around and whining and self-centered and angry and resentful, don't be surprised if you'll have an angry, whiny, resentful child, because that's what they're learning.
Stay faithful and stay focused on the Lord and your children will know where to go when their search begins for the upper room of salvation.
Parenting isn't easy and it's especially difficult for those who must bear the responsibility pretty much by themselves. But just remember the responsibility may be yours alone, but you're not alone in carrying it out, look around and see the spirit of the Lord in every person that's around you.