Greetings, everyone. The Thanksgiving season is almost upon us when people of faith will again celebrate the blessings bestowed upon the Pilgrims by our Heavenly Father. He had brought them through a long, cold winter and helped them establish a bridgehead in a new land. This historical account is what led President George Washington to designate a day for Americans to remember a time of great deprivation and give praise to the Almighty for securing the survival of our forebears.
Today, school children are usually taught that the early settlers were thankful to the Indians for teaching them how to grow corn, or else they are told nothing at all about our ancestors or the meaning of the holiday. Either way, reverence for God is removed from the history books and the younger generation remains largely oblivious of His role in the founding of this nation.
May I suggest that you make sure your children are told the truth this year, and that Thanksgiving is more meaningful than a meal of turkey, dressing, cranberry sauce and apple pie? I hope you will.
As a way of commemorating Thanksgiving, I want to dedicate this letter to single parents, unmarried adults, and all those struggling little families who are alone at this time of the year. I want you to know we at Family Talk care about you and we reach out to you in love today. I was reminded to do this by a telephone conversation with a woman a few weeks ago. She thanked me graciously for helping her deal with the stresses of single parenthood many years earlier. She had been desperate, impoverished, and terribly lonely that year. This mother is now married again and her children are grown, but her bitter memories linger from the past. She still recalls our kindness to her and others in her time of need.
Then this mother recalled a ministry letter I had written in November of 1994. It had been very meaningful to her. I had long since forgotten it, but we searched through our archives and found a copy. It was indeed written and sent to two million people exactly 20 years ago this month.
I am sending you a reprint today to remind you, too, of the needs of lonely, despairing people around us. I am also addressing it to men and women and their children who need to hear a word of encouragement today. This is what I wrote:
Many years ago when Shirley and I were newly married, she was at home alone late one afternoon. The doorbell rang unexpectedly, and my wife went to answer it. Standing there on the porch of our little house was a poorly dressed young woman in her late teens. She immediately lumbered into a memorized sales pitch for a variety of household brushes.
Shirley let her talk for a few minutes and then said politely, "I'm really sorry, but we don't need any more brushes. Thank you for coming by."
The girl dropped her head and said, "I know. Nobody else wants them either."
Then big tears welled up in her eyes as she turned to leave.
"Wait," said Shirley. "Tell me who you are."
"My name is Janice," she replied. "I have a little boy, and I'm trying to earn a living for him. But it is so hard."
Shirley invited the young woman to come inside and get better acquainted. Coffee was served, and Janice began to talk. She turned out to be a single mother who had dropped out of high school at 16 years of age. She had gotten pregnant and was hastily married to an immature boy. He soon abandoned her, leaving her with a baby and no visible means of support. Being desperate and having no marketable skills, she had taken a job as a door-to-door brush seller. Shirley’s heart was touched by the plight of this young mother.
When I came home that evening, Shirley told me the story and expressed concern for her new friend. We got in the car and drove to the address Janice had given. She lived in an apartment above a garage on a busy street. We climbed a flight of stairs at the side and knocked on the door. Janice appeared holding her toddler, Charlie, and she invited us to come in. After chatting awhile, I asked what they had eaten for dinner. She took me to the kitchen and pointed to an empty can of Spaghetti-O’s. That was it. I opened the cabinets and the refrigerator. There was no more food in the apartment. Nothing!
We packed Janice and Charlie in our car and drove to a nearby market. We bought several sacks of groceries and then returned them to their home. During the next few weeks, we involved Janice in our church activities, and I helped her get a job at Children's Hospital, where I served on the pediatric staff. Gradually, she got on her feet and later moved out of the Los Angeles area.
It has been many years since I have seen Janice and Charlie, but the memory of their pitiful situation has stayed with me. It was the first of many close encounters with mothers who are struggling to raise children and earn a living – alone. Thousands of women in this situation, and a surprising number of men, write to us each year. Many are facing the crises that confronted Janice when she appeared at our front door.
There are also hundreds of single parents working at our ministry [at Focus on the Family in 1994], which gives us a personal connection to their hardship. One of them, whom I'll call Sharon, came to us in 1988 at a low point in her life. Her husband abandoned her for another woman, leaving her with two small boys, a tiny rented apartment, and no child support. Her youngest son was so starved for the love of his father that he would attach himself to men who reached out to her, spontaneously referring to them as "Papa." He would cry when a designated "father" had to leave, breaking the heart of his mother. When Sharon heard I was writing about single parents this month, she sent me something she had written several years ago. These are her words:
As a divorced single mom, Christmas is a mixed bag of emotions, joy, pain, and the death of my dreams, trying to create new traditions, having my boys with me one Christmas and being alone the next, bracing myself for the fact that there will be no presents under the tree for me – and wondering if I have enough money to buy each of the boys a gift. And watching – alone – my boys' excitement as they raced to discover what goodies they will get this year.
I can't use the china from my marriage to set the Christmas dinner table. Just looking at it brings back cherished memories, causing excruciating pain. Setting the table for three instead of four is absolutely devastating. The empty chair is only a painful reminder that the head of our home doesn't live with us anymore.
During the first Christmas on my own, I bought a withered tree for a pittance – instead of paying the utilities. As I took the lid off the box of ornaments, happy memories from the "former life" spilled out, along with my tears. Just opening the box was exhausting emotionally. The children were delighted. As they decorated the tree, most of the dried needles fell to the floor. There were no presents to put under the barren tree. Cheerful, familiar Christmas tunes struck a painful chord, but the togetherness of our family was gone – forever.
Around Thanksgiving, I am always saddened by something dark that invades my being. Memories of Christmases past collide with reality, and I slide down the slippery slope to the pit of depression. Surviving the holidays is hard. There is no special person to say to me, "You are loved."
My precious sons were anxious to go Christmas shopping for me one year. They were full of love – but I had no money with which to fulfill their generous wishes. I had robbed Peter to buy my little "Pauls" their gifts. I assured my sons they were the best Christmas gift I could ever receive. But they wanted to buy me presents. I put them off and delayed a time when they could go Christmas shopping. They kept pushing, "Mommy, when can we go Christmas shopping for you? We're going to buy you pretty diamonds." I felt ashamed. I didn't have any money to give my boys.
When they returned from their dad's house laden with gifts, my older son asked, "How many presents did you get for Christmas, Mom?"
"Two," I answered.
Anger and hurt flashed in my eyes. ‘I counted how many presents Dad bought for his new wife,’ one of the boys said. He listed the presents he and his dad used to buy for me. I tried to assure him that how the other two-income household spent their money was not our concern.
During the holidays, the hardest part of all is not being able to shield my children from their pain and loss. For me, the loneliness has become a time I dread. Holidays are an expensive trial of my strength. My only satisfaction comes from survival. Each January 1, I feel so relieved. I always pat myself on the back and say, "I made it! This year was better than last. Maybe next year will be better."
How incredibly difficult it is to be poor, lonely, and stressed to the limit by the responsibilities of parenting. I can hardly imagine how teenage girls and women in that situation are able to meet the challenges of everyday living. They must seek out available child care services, go to work for eight or more hours every day, pick up the kids, stop by the grocery store, then come home to cook dinner and wash the dishes, change the diapers, help with the homework, bathe the preschoolers, read a story, dry a tear, say a prayer and tuck the kids in bed. Then, after perhaps 16 hours of work and mothering responsibilities, the household chores must be tackled. Washing, ironing, vacuuming, and project work, such as cleaning the stove, must get done during those "off" hours – or else the weekends will be nightmarish. And who is there to help when the car won't run, and the refrigerator burns out, and the roof springs a leak? Finally, a mother must find a way to address her own needs to be loved and cared for and intellectually challenged. She's not a machine, after all. I'll tell you frankly that the task of the single mother, especially those who are young and poor, is the toughest job in the universe, and my greatest respect and admiration are reserved for those who do it superbly. Single fathers deserve our commendation as well, trying desperately to "mother" their needy kids.
What we're describing here involves a huge number of people in the United States and Canada. According to Heritage Foundation and Pew Research, 44 percent of single mothers have never been married! This is 11 times the percent of never-married single mothers in 1960. Today, over 40 percent of all children are born to single mothers, compared to less than 10 percent in 1960. Fewer than half (46 percent) of American children who reach the age of 17 have been raised by their continuously married, biological parents.1,2 This is taking a toll. Children do best when raised by their married mother and father. Those children have lower risk of engaging in substance abuse, delinquent behavior, and early sexual activity. They are also less likely to drop out of high school or suffer abuse. The primary reason for the number of children born to unwed parents is the dramatic increase in cohabiting relationships. Sin wreaks havoc on those who toy with it.**
Clearly, the American family is dying! Does that alarm you? It terrifies me. The connection between single parenting and poverty is also undeniable. Children in single-parent homes are more than five-times as likely to be poor, compared to their peers from married parents. According to the Heritage Foundation’s 2014 Index of Culture and Opportunity, nearly 41 percent of unmarried-female-headed families with children were poor in 2012.3 Half the unmarried mothers in the United States live below the poverty line. Many others teeter on the brink of economic disaster from month to month. Indeed, divorce is the primary contributor to poverty, producing a drastically lower standard of living for most women and children. And, of course, poverty is only one of the devastations that accompany divorce. It is a cancer on the soul of the nation despite the claims of those who advocate the "restructuring" of the family.**
My heart goes out to millions of boys and girls who have seen their world turn upside down by the disintegration of their families. One of them wrote a letter to us last month. He is a 9-year-old boy who capsulized his life story in two paragraphs:
A long time ago even before I was born my parents had three kids. Then they had me, but they lived in a very poor place and couldn't afford to keep me. So I was adopted by another family. We lived happily until that dreaded day came.
My adopted mother died. We had just started singing at a church school. Then she died right there. Now it is just me and my dad. It has been four years. My dad is still looking for a new wife. Every time he gets to know a single woman he hopes "She is the one." I know that God will find me a new mother. Someday.
The Lord Himself, the great God of the Universe, has a special tenderness for little boys like Jerry, for their sisters, and for their beleaguered parents. How do I know? Because He has told us so repeatedly in His Word. There are many references in Scripture to the plight of the fatherless child, for the oppressed, and for women who have no husbands to support them. For example:
Deuteronomy 10:17-18: "[The Lord your God] defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing."
Deuteronomy 27:19: "Cursed is the man who withholds justice from the alien, the fatherless, or the widow."
Psalm 68:5: "A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in His holy dwelling."
Zechariah 7:10: "Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the alien or the poor."
The message is very clear, isn't it? The Lord is watching over the oppressed, the poor, the downtrodden, and the child who has no father. And yes, He is watching over Jerry. I pray that God will answer his prayer.
Some individuals from intact families are inclined to discount the circumstances I've described. Their attitude seems to be, "Single parents have made their bed and now they have to lie in it." I strongly disagree. Many are victims of irresponsible spouses. Some were widowed at an early age. Others yielded to a moment of passion as teenagers and are now trapped by the fallout of their irresponsibility. Whatever the cause of their present situations, we as Christians must show compassion and love to those who need us. Isn't that precisely what Jesus communicated to the woman actually caught in an act of adultery? Sexual sin was a capital offense in that day, yet, in compassion, Jesus told her to go and sin no more. Earlier, He revealed the same kindness to the woman at the well who had been married five times and was living unlawfully with yet another man. Jesus didn't minimize or excuse the sins of these women, but He freely forgave and then met them at their point of need.
And the message comes down to our day. Even in those cases where the single-parent situation resulted from sin, we must reach out in love. I'm not condoning divorce or premarital sex, by any means. But God loves the sinner. And He loves the victim of other’s sin. Indeed, His Son came to seek and to save that which was lost. And now He asks those who know Him to be part of that healing process.
Blessings to you and your family this year. Just remember, someone loves you, and His name is Jesus.
P.S. If this letter arrives before November 4, please remember to vote in the national election. It is our
civic duty and privilege to participate in this democratic process. So much is on the line again this year.
** Statistics used in these two paragraphs were updated from the original 1994 letter data.
This letter may be reproduced without change and in its entirety for non-commercial and non-political purposes without prior permission from Family Talk. Copyright © 2014 Family Talk. All Rights Reserved. International Copyright Secured. Printed in the U.S.A. Dr. James Dobson’s Family Talk is not affiliated with Focus on the Family.