One of the most difficult things I had to do after becoming a single mom was go to church.

I had been an active member at my church since my oldest was a baby. We’re all wired a little differently, and sitting in a church service has always left me feeling more connected to God. But the summer my ex-husband left us, I couldn’t go.

I didn’t go for seven weeks. I wasn’t mad at God. In fact, He and my kids were the only reasons I got out of bed that summer. I trusted Him and that He had a plan for my life. No, the reason I couldn’t go to church that summer is because I couldn’t be around the people.

It wasn’t their fault. The people at my church are wonderful. They all meant well. I think many of them just didn’t know how to be with me. They didn’t know what to say, so many of them said the things you say when “you don’t know what to say,” followed by quickly finding something else to do.

“I’m so sorry!”

“Wow, that must be really hard.”

“I’ll pray for you.”

“Everything will be okay. God will take care of you.”

The other thing I couldn’t handle was seeing all the complete families. It didn’t matter that nothing had really changed; I had sat alone in church for years. But now I didn’t “fit” there anymore. We didn’t fit there. We were a broken family. There isn’t a place for broken families at church. There’s a moms group, and a singles group, and a married couples group. But I felt like I didn’t really belong there anymore.

Personally, I hate the terms “broken family” and “broken home” and would like to meet the person who first added those terms to our lexicon. I would tell them how incredibly awful and hurtful those words can be to a family.

If you’re a single parent, maybe you know what I’m talking about. I’ve seen estimates that say 67 percent of single parents do not attend church (and I read one estimate that was even higher: 95 percent!). Most of the single parents I know, both online and off, don’t go to church. And very few churches have single parent ministries or small groups equipped to help single parent families get connected to the support we need.

Now, if you didn’t catch it, there is  something wrong with the statement I made before. “There isn’t a place for ‘broken families’ at church.” Actually, two things are wrong with this.  One, when you feel broken, church and the people there are actually the best thing for you even though it feels impossibly hard. And two, my family wasn’t broken. We were hurting and scarred, yes, and firmly planted in “survival mode.” But we weren’t broken. Not really.

We have had to learn how to be a different kind of family — different from our original family but not broken.

I did go back to church. I cried through every service for two months, and a lot of people avoided me; but I went. I attended a DivorceCare class there and met another single mom friend. I met with people who I knew cared about me and my children — people who spoke wise words and didn’t pity us but loved us even though we were different.

So yes, going to church was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do as a single parent, but it’s also one of the best things I’ve done for my family.

What about you? Are you a single mom who stays away from church? What has your experience been? And for our married readers, how do you reach out to single parents at your church or in your community?

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12 Comments

  1. angengland says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your perspective with us! I never considered how it would feel for a mother in that situation before – it's an interesting thing. I know some churches that would feel like having a Single Parent ministry might somehow "encourage divorce" but I would see it as a huge outreach potential currently being ignored by the vast majority of our local church communities.

  2. My mom experienced this too. There was no place she felt she truly fit in. We attended one church for 3+ years and when we stopped going, no one called or noticed and that sort of sank my mom's ship for church. It took her almost 20 years to go back to church and ironically, she was married when she finally started reaching out for God again. I have a single mom friend. Her husband died so she's not divorced and we try to invite her to come over for dinner, to go walking with me, etc. We need to treat those who are single just as well as we treat anyone else. They NEED people and they NEED God so if our church isn't welcoming, they won't come back. One church we attended doesn't allow divorcees to be in any sort of leadership, can't usher, etc. It bothers me that they treat these folks like they are less than. Such a great topic that needs to be discussed!

    Blessings,
    Mel
    Please feel free to stop by: Trailing After God

    1. KatiefromTexas says:

      We all need people! You are so right. Thank you so much for sharing this (and for being such a good friend to others).

  3. When my marriage ended 2 years ago, my new church family was such a source of strength and support. I received so much comfort and encouragement from everyone. I joined a small group with a nice mix of women with no particular commonality other than our love for the Lord.

    As time went on and I grew stronger through my walk with Christ, I was given the opportunity to reach out to other women who were needing support as their marriages struggled or ended. I actually began to receive informal “referrals” from others in the church and will get the occasional random phone call from someone saying that a friend had told them that i might be able to help them. My lawyer has actually sent clients to me as well.

    I can’t tell you how much it has helped my healing and faith that God has given me the opportunity to use my experiences to help others and to offer hope. That I can be a living testimony to how He uses all for good and that we can find purpose and hope if we trust in Him.

    1. KatiefromTexas says:

      Cindy, I'm so very glad this has been your experience! This isn't the story I hear usually and it made me smile, so thank you for taking the time to share it! Keep loving people where they are and helping them. I'm so glad you are allowing God to use you and your experiences to help others.

  4. So much of your story has rung true for me. It’s been 3 and a half years since my husband left. I have two kids, now 7 and 10, and yes we struggle with going to church. I felt so disconnected and like you, clearly no-one knew what to do with us. I had a few friends there (my counsellor attends that church too, and my financial advisor and some friends) but outside of that, I felt more like a problem than anything. Most weeks if I didnt make the effort to smile brightly and go up to someone, no-one would really talk to me. And sometimes getting together the effort to be bright and sociable was just too hard. (Luckily Im naturally a bright and outgoing person, so that helps, but when you are heartbroken even that is an effort). Altogether I had been attending that church sporadically (or programs offered by the church) for about 9 years, but ironically it was when my ex left that I was able to start going more regularly (he had not liked going to church so more often than not we didnt go). So it was a great blessing in some ways to be able to renew my commitment to my faith, and consider what I believe to be truly important. But still I felt out of place… for many of the reasons that you stated.
    So with a deep sense of guilt that I was “jumping ship” just after Easter this year I decided to try a different church. One that didn’t know our story, and that I could start fresh with hopefully less a sense of judgement. Part of my motivation was that my kids werent really enjoying the kids program at the other church, and getting them to tag along with me on a Sunday had turned into a battle. My 10 year old has settled in to the new program really well.. she prefers it. My 7 year old boy is still not completely comfortable, although it is improving. For a few weeks he took off rather than stay in the program, or they called me out of church to get him because he wouldnt settle. But they are working really hard with him and me.. they have dedicated a teenage boy to get along side of him and take an interest in him. This is huge to me… that they are prepared to put resources in place to help my kids through this transition speaks volumes. The teaching at the new church is awesome. I wouldnt say that I am feeling fully connected at this point, but it is certainly an improvement on where we were before.
    Sadly I dont think many would have actually noticed that we no longer attend the other church. One of my close friends that still goes there said that the other day (so about 6 months after we left) one of the Sunday School leaders asked where the kids had been.. and my friend said that we now attend a different church. The response was “Oh?” and a look of surprise.
    Going to church for me as a single mum is an emotional and challenging assignment. I am determined to keep at it, but it’s not easy. It brings up so many feelings that are hard to deal with. But I believe that God wants us to keep going, so we will.

  5. Maybe one day I will have these sweet stories to tell. I’ve tried became a member of 2 churches in the past 5 years and it’s not been a good experience. It leaves me feeling depressed and rejected and more alone than before I entered the doors. I don’t fit in and no one seems to care. Still love Jesus more than anything tho.

  6. Im a single mom of 4 boys. Their dads left for selfish reasons. I only got two in church and they didnt stay long. I was raised baptist. Im about to be 35 and still super lost. I did all I was told to do until abuse happened with me and my sons with church members. Me the verbal abuse, love scams, mental cruelty publicly, banishments for divorcing my sex addict husband who was abusive towards me and having a child by a married man( he lied about the divorce). I feel like God messed up with most of us. The Bible to me is a book of public shaming and filled with slavery by laws and pure evil and hate. Theres nothing in there nice about single moms and her kids(Hagar for example). All the other women like the Samaritan woman at the well(distant from others because shes a gentile with a track record of men, God puts her on blast for lying). The adulteress oh yea many label single moms as this woman(caught in the act) gets stoned by passer bys. God tells her to go and sin no more.(How when everything is at your feet?) Ruth hmmm her husband dies and shes to follow behind her mom in law taking care of her like a punishment for being a widow til she finds another man to marry. Oh yea the rules of marriage. You have got to be kidding me. Most women i know practice premarital sex daily and at church. Plus has abortions. Also sleeping with the pastor and other married men in and out of the church. But are visible in sin because their sin isnt shown through their love childs. When youre a single mom you dont do anything until u apologize for being an unwed mom in front of church. really? After i did that 3 times, Ive still been mistreated ever since(11 yrs counting). My sons yelled at by members mistreated and me given verbal abuse for whatever they did that annoyed the Mothers of the church or childless women. Also the offering is ridiculous(couple hundred a month expected to give to church). Never have time at home due to accessive church meetings events and afternoon services. Broke, worn out, irritated, and lonely. Since when single moms were forced to be in such shape? Her only choice is to be an indentured slave to the church for her sins and never to marry again or have an idea of becoming more in church or in life for dusobeying God the Word and the church. Naw Im gone. Thats how I feel. Church for women is a place not meant for us even though we make up most of it and do a better job at bring people in if we kill the diva spirit in the church. Im bored, I dont see the importance of it for single women and moms other than a club like on Saturdays(get your dance on and find someone to go home wit at the end). Were struggling and all we have is entertainment and sermons that dont pertain to us? thats a pure waste of time and the sermons r mostly lies. then you pay for it in offerings. not me. Im just sick in tired of giing to a place where my help isnt coming from there nor is my actual change and strength.

  7. WOW. Thanks for the article. It encouraged me. ‘m a single parent and church has been hard for me for the past few years because I feels so alone and awkward when I go but my son loves going so I keep going. I thought it was because I’m extremely introverted but I find others who aren’t introverted have the same issue.

  8. The problem I find even in my own church is that they assume because you are a woman and a single mom that you should be volunteering in the children’s ministry. My frustration is I am raising a autistic child alone and the church makes me feel guilty for not wanting to volunteer. I work all week long, i am the only person in my child’s life her father has not seen or spoken to her since she was a year old. When i go to church i just want to be able to hear the word of God it is the 1 hour a week I have to recharge my soul and I feel overwhelmed all the time then they make me feel guilty for not volunteering. Ready to leave church because cant take one more demand on my life.

  9. I also cried so much I couldn’t drive home leader said he loved each1 of us and invited us to his new house for pizza come x see me after church for address so I did . But he told me privately its for our own chirp I had done all his wedding flowers for free , celebrated new church building etc over 10 years so why was it now for their own church and not me and my son excluded us not in family of god