5 Ways Church Leadership Can Support Single Mothers

Dr. Chris Stroble / Published on October 24, 2023


In 2022, 15.78 million children in the U.S. lived with a single mother (3.44 million children lived with a single father). Millions of these single mothers sit in our churches every Sunday morning. Many do not have the support they need. As a pastor and church leader, ask yourself, "Are we doing all we can to provide our members who are single mothers (divorced and never married) the support they need? If not, here are 5 ways you can begin. 

  1. Be sensitive in your language.

Commit to being sensitive in your language. When you talk about marriage, be sensitive to the fact that not everyone you lead is married. Many of your members may be single mothers (divorced and never married). Be sensitive to this.

Many single mothers, according to Jim Daly of Focus on the Family, have been "abandoned and forced into single parenthood". When you talk about marriage and completely ignore their experience and reality, you feed the stigma that "there's something wrong with me. I am not good enough". Commit to being sensitive to this and to responding in ways that do not re-traumatize those who have been abandoned (two of the 4 R's of trauma-informed care).


2. Demonstrate empathy

I know from my research that many single mothers feel that people are judging them. Many are consumed with grief and guilt (whether it's true or false guilt). They beat themselves up. They blame themselves for the suffering of their children. With all of this weighing on them, many suffer the sting of shame. Shame and vulnerability researcher Brene Brown says the antidote to shame is empathy. It's worth listening to her TED Talk: Listening to Shame, which has over 18 million views.


When you demonstrate empathy, you put yourself in the other person's shoes. You don't patronize them (think you're better because you're married). You think about how you would feel. How would you feel if you had to run your household and take care of your children all by yourself? Many single mothers do not even receive consistent child support. How would you feel if your daughter or granddaughter was abandoned and had to raise your grandchildren as a single parent? Treat the single mothers who are your members as you would want someone to treat your daughter or granddaughter. 

3 - Commit to provide your members the support they need.

Commit to provide your members who are single mothers the support they need. A good place to start is with a single mom support group. A good resource to help you get started is The Life of a Single Mom organization. Their motto is "Where No Single Mom Walks Alone". Their mission is to improve the lives of single mothers by providing support groups and education in 3 core areas: Parenting, Finances, and Health & Wellness. They provide guidance on how to start or improve a single mom support group. They offer a Ministry Training Kit (for $339). A good starting place is to reach out to them at 225-341-8055.


4 - Care for the children of single mothers

Many children of single mothers are emotionally wounded in large part because they have been abandoned. Subconsciously, they struggle with an identity crisis - "What's wrong with me? Why am I not good enough?" Stop minimizing their earthly father's responsibility to them. A father has a responsibility to his children. Children need to know this. They need to know that the father is responsible for pursuing a relationship with them. Children should not be running in behind the parent.


In your language, again, be sensitive to the children of single mothers. How do you think a child feels when he hears you talking about marriage and completely dismissing his mother's experience and reality? How do you think that makes him feel? It shames him and it shames his mother in front of her child. How do you think that feels? Stop it. When you do that, again, you feed that stigma that "There is something wrong with me. I'm not good enough". Children internalize that. Stop it. Be sensitive to them.


5 - Reach out to fathers

If the church male leadership doesn't reach out to fathers, especially Black fathers, who will? Someone's assignment has to be to help Balck fathers heal. Often the problem with unloving and uninvolved fathers is that they have unresolved childhood trauma and frankly, narcissistic tendencies. They're wounded, often don't possess effective communication skills to be a loving father, and they are not open to getting help. But if they don't deal with their issues, even if they are absent, they pass their trauma on to their children. Mark Wolynn addresses this in his National Book Award for Nonfiction winning book, It Didn't Start With You: How Inherited Family Trauma Shapes Who We Are and How to End the Cycle. 


The Church leadership can encourage men to develop a healthy co-parenting relationship with their child's mother. Offer a class on effective co-parenting. The Coparenting Survival Guide is a good resource. It’s all about letting go of conflict after a difficult divorce (separation if never married). 

Pastors and male church leaders can say, "Stop talking about your child's mother". Stop saying things like, "I just can't deal with your mother". That devalues a child (especially a boy) and can lead to these narcissistic tendencies. Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist, Leonard Pitts, Jr. in his book, Becoming Dad: Black Men and The Journey to Fatherhood, says one of the worst things a man can do to a boy is hit his mother. I say talking about his mother is right up there. Stop it. 


Male leaders in the church can hold fathers accountable for consistently supporting their children. Say from the pulpit, "Make sure you pay your child support. Make sure you invest in your children by attending their school events and parent conferences, taking them to the pediatrician, picking them up from school, or taking them to after-school activities". Fathers are just as responsible as mothers.


The counter argument from the church male leadership is likely, "Black men outside the church don't respect the church and the leadership." Ok. Let's say that is the case. Two things can be true. They can co-exist. It can be true that Black men outside the church don't respect the leadership AND the male leadership can still plant the seed. Some of what is said is going to fall on good ground. Some Black men will hear the message, be convicted, and respond, but if the male leadership never plants the seed, we will never get a harvest. We need a harvest. 


In 2022, 15.78 million children in the U.S. lived with a single mother (3.44 million children lived with a single father.) Millions of these single mothers sit in our churches every Sunday morning, and many do not have the support they need. As a pastor and church leader, ask yourself, "Are we doing all we can to provide our members who are single mothers (divorced and never married) the support they need"? If not, here are five ways you can begin:

  1. Be sensitive in your language. Everybody you lead is not married. There are single mothers in your congregation.
  2. Demonstrate empathy. Don't patronize them (think you're better because you're married). 
  3. Commit to provide your members who are single mothers the support they need. A good place to start is single mom support group. A good resource to help you get started is The Life of a Single Mom organization. They offer a Ministry Training Kit (for $339).
  4. Minister to their children. Don't shame them. 
  5. Reach out to fathers. Offer a class on effective co-parenting. The Coparenting Survival Guide is a good resource.


I encourage all pastors and church leaders to make this commitment: Our church will do all we can to provide our members who are single mothers the support they need.