Recently, a friend of mine caught the dreaded Covid 19. Her biggest concern? What would happen to her children were she to have to go into hospital, because she is a single parent. There was no other adult in her household who would be able to step in, and her family live overseas. Thankfully, she made a full recovery and stayed out of hospital. But her story highlights some of the many additional stresses put on single parent families as a result of the Covid 19 crisis.
Although initially seen as a great equaliser, as our understanding of the pandemic has developed, we have become aware that this is far from true. BAME communities, the elderly, and those shielding for health reasons are amongst those who are suffering disproportionately at present. I have seen first-hand that the same is true for many single-parent families.
Now, let’s get this straight… countless people are struggling who are not part of single-parent families, with the quirks and consequences of their own specific scenarios. But I want to shine a light on single-parent families, as they have not much discussion in the press. And as Christians and church families, there are great opportunities to step up for them.
Gingerbread, the national single parent charity, saw calls to their Helpline rise by 130% during the first week of lockdown. And having run United Parents – a support group for single parents in Southampton – for the last few years, I can testify to the overwhelming pressures that myself and other lone parents have been feeling.
One Parent Families Scotland have produced some really helpful research into some of the main challenges thrown up by events of the past few months. In particular, their report emphasises the massive financial challenges that have been imposed on many single-parent families through job uncertainty, furlough, or a reduction in child maintenance. This is supported by research published last year by Gingerbread into the finances of single-parent families, that concluded that around half of single parents constantly struggled to keep on top of their bills, and that 73% would not have a sufficient financial buffer to cope with an unexpected £300 bill.
It's not all about the money
Now imagine dealing with that on 80% furlough pay; or whilst not being able to do cash-in-hand jobs such as cleaning in people’s homes; or having had to reduce your working hours to look after your children, now that the schools have closed. Imagine doing this all by yourself, with your usual emotional support system all but completely stripped away, and small people depending on you.
But it’s not all financial. In fact, so much of it isn’t. Although the current ‘bubble’ laws in England are such that there is increased flexibility for socialising between households, the reality is that a lot of single parents rely on support from their own parents, many of whom are in the over 70s ‘vulnerable’ bracket.
The loneliness of the last few months has been palpable, even with loved ones at the end of the phone. Somehow, it just isn’t the same as seeing friends and family face-to-face, and I can honestly say that these last few months have been worse than that devastating time after my divorce, because there have been no hugs or uplifting evenings with friends, and no more precious weekly visits to my parents.
Many single parents are trying to work from home whilst homeschooling, or trying to homeschool children of different ages, without anyone there to give them any break, encouragement, or support. Now, probably until September! They are being pulled in different directions, struggling with mum guilt, and the weight of carrying this load alone. For those who are also ‘shielding’ it is even more crushingly isolating.
Support those in need
In Acts 6:1-7 we see the early Church’s intentional provision for widows, a continuation of important values found across the Old Testament. Over the last few months, today’s Church has had to evolve in perhaps its most rapid and versatile way since those days of the earliest Jesus-followers, and I believe we will look back positively to this response, and also with awe at how much God has shone through this crisis. Virtual church, telephone befriending services, and countless food packages delivered, all in Jesus’ name.
Whilst so many people are running on empty and dealing with their own Covid-related challenges, if you have any capacity I ask you to please spare a couple of minutes for the single parents you know, drop them a message, and show them that no matter how lonely and overwhelming some of them may have found this time, they are seen, supported, and loved.
After all, we love because He first loved us.
Rebecca Harrocks heads up United Parents – a support group for single parents in Southampton.