“The Gospel and the Single Parent,” Ensign, Jan. 2004, 63
President Gordon B. Hinckley, speaking about the demanding role of parents, said, “What a difficult, at times discouraging, but nevertheless wonderful and challenging thing it is to be a parent—a mother, a father of children born and growing in this complex age.”1 Imagine now this dual role required of a single individual: to provide, nurture, and care for one’s children in every aspect of their lives, temporally as well as spiritually. This is the situation many thousands of Church members face each day.
The Ensign asked single parents to tell how the gospel has helped them in their parenting roles and in meeting their challenges. Men and women from all over the world responded with examples of faith and trial, love and learning. In the following pages, members who have lost a spouse through death or divorce share how living gospel principles makes them better parents, providing vital tools that make the difference between struggling on their own and succeeding with the help of the Lord.
Beth McDonald of New Bloomfield, Pennsylvania, the mother of five children, echoes the thoughts of many when she writes that we must “make Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ the center of our lives. No one knows us better than They do nor wants to help us more. Our children need a parent who stays strong in a testimony of the Savior and His commandments. We need to fight against Satan’s attempts to weaken us. We must not forget daily family prayers and scripture reading, family home evenings, and family councils. Our children also benefit by our example of personal scripture study and personal prayer. As we put on the whole armor of God, we receive the spiritual protection we need.”
“While life certainly changes in a death or divorce,” says Matt Brown of Salt Lake City, Utah, “it still moves forward. And whether the parent deals with the changes in faith or despondency can influence how the children respond. When first separated from my boys, I noticed they were uncomfortable and anxious in my home when I would sulk and mope about my situation. But when I was positive and saw my situation as an opportunity to establish a new life with my boys, there was a spirit of joy and camaraderie in our home.
“Just as there is a time to mourn in the wake of a death or divorce, there is a time to get back on our feet, forgive, and move forward with faith that Heavenly Father will watch over us and our children. The scriptures give many accounts of faithful men and women who by their faith in God turned a seemingly hopeless situation into one in which they and those around them were blessed. Joseph, who was sold by his own brothers as a slave, is one example. Just as reading about scriptural examples helped me, I hope my example of making the best of a difficult situation will stay with my boys when they face their own trials in life.”
Along with the proclamation on the family, other latter-day counsel provides much-needed strength to many single parents. Martin Frey of Los Altos Hills, California, says, “President David O. McKay’s great phrase ‘No other success can compensate for failure in the home’2 rang out in my mind over and over as I balanced being a single dad and the demands of starting a new job.”
Brother Frey continues: “There were many times when I had to leave work in the middle of a meeting to pick up my daughter. Once home, the prophet’s counsel of putting family first continued to give me the strength and focus to put my daughter ahead of the endless demands of getting dinner ready and the other household chores. Even when I was totally exhausted, we always made time for bedtime stories and prayers. I’m so very grateful for the Church’s continued focus on the importance of family, because it has helped me set my priorities straight, and over the years, that has made all the difference in the relationship I have with my daughter.”
Patricia-Ann Morrison of Ontario, Canada, tells how following the prophet’s counsel to hold family home evening regularly has helped her family grow closer: “My children have come to enjoy our family home evenings, and so have I. A year and a half ago, I would never have imagined the comfort and love that come from getting together once a week to discuss scriptures and play a couple of games together. At first it was extremely difficult to make the time; now if we miss our Monday evening, my children plead to have it on the next night.”
Lana Burnham of North Ogden, Utah, writes: “Our family nights were sometimes hit or miss, but we tried to hold them faithfully. Always in the back of my mind was the promise made by President Joseph Fielding Smith and his counselors, which said that our efforts to hold family home evening would ‘foster meaningful and close family relationships’ and would ‘help the home serve as a sanctuary from evil and become a source of strength to each family member.’3 Now, as adults, my children thank me for not giving up on family home evening.”
“When money got tight, I knew if I first paid my tithing, everything else we needed would be supplied,” says Stephanie Goodell of Andrews, North Carolina. She explains that everything seems to work out when she trusts the Lord’s promise of opening the windows of heaven. “The schools send gift certificates for new shoes; a huge box of goods is delivered right when we are about out of groceries; a bag of clothes comes right as one of the children is taking a growth spurt.”
Also testifying to the law of tithing, Wilma Britton Peterson of Londonderry, Northern Ireland, says, “When the choice had to be between fuel to keep us warm or paying tithing, I paid tithing, and the fuel lasted until the next time I could afford more.”
Christie Christopherson-Berg of Escondido, California, tells of a particularly difficult time in raising her two teenage boys. While living in Panama, where Sister Christopherson-Berg taught school, she felt her son was drifting away from her and from the gospel. “The turning point came when I felt completely powerless,” she says. “I could not help my oldest son. It was beyond my abilities. And that was exactly the key: It was beyond my abilities to help, but not beyond sharing my yoke of responsibility with the Lord.”
Thinking of the Savior’s words “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, … and ye shall find rest unto your souls” (Matt. 11:28–29), Sister Christopherson-Berg prayed for help: “I pleaded with Heavenly Father on my knees that night to help my son be rid of the heavy darkness that was over him. I pleaded that He would intercede for me because I could do no more for my son by myself. I told Him that I was relinquishing my son to Him and that I would accept with faith whatever the outcome would be. I felt almost an immediate sense of relief. Then I lay back in bed and slept till morning, something I had not done for many nights.
“That was over nine years ago, and we have had many trials together since, but I will eternally remember that night of humbly submitting to Heavenly Father. Both my sons have since served missions, and I can see the Lord working in the lives of my family. Without asking the Lord to share my yoke, my burden, I would never have known how He could ease my soul with rest.”
Nearly every single parent who responded to the call for personal experiences spoke of the powerful influence and strength available through prayer.
Rebecca Maughan Cook of Prosser, Washington, writes: “We can teach our children what to do when we need help. Recently, I was overwhelmed by the responsibilities of providing, homemaking, parenting, and fulfilling Church callings and personal commitments. I felt unable to bear up under them. I told my children that Mommy was having a hard time doing all she was required to do and I needed their help. I asked them to please pray for me and ask Heavenly Father to give me strength. They did, then and throughout the day and ensuing weeks. They learned where to go when you must keep going and from whom you draw strength.”
Nicolle Girdwood of Perth, Western Australia, says: “I am very reliant on prayer and the scriptures with my parenting. I pray constantly to my Father in Heaven, as I sometimes doubt myself and at times feel pushed beyond my capabilities. It is at these times that I pray for strength to continue. I pray that I will have the ability to endure this time in my life and that my daughter will also.
“My favorite scripture, and one that I rely upon heavily, is Doctrine and Covenants 24:7–8: ‘For thou shalt devote all thy service in Zion; and in this thou shalt have strength. Be patient in afflictions, for thou shalt have many; but endure them, for, lo, I am with thee, even unto the end of thy days.’ This scripture has been a strength to me so often. It is a constant reminder that the Lord is with me even unto the end. I am so grateful for this knowledge because it is often a lonely time being a single parent, and to know that I always have my Savior is a great comfort to me.”
“Temple attendance helps me when I am feeling overwhelmed with all the things I have to do,” writes Laura Welch of Port Townsend, Washington. “It takes a whole day, which ought to contribute to the backlog, but it doesn’t. If the boat is floundering, attend the temple. It keeps the boat afloat. The gospel helps prevent everything from becoming overwhelming because I have learned the value of the family, the importance of being there for my children, ways to balance a clean, orderly house and time with my children, and the perspective that each event is more important to the child involved than getting the laundry done is to me. We are an eternal family, sealed together in the temple. The laundry will not be with me in eternity. My children will.”
These examples from members around the world are personal testimonies that living gospel principles provides strength to the single parent. From President Hinckley comes the counsel to all parents: “Love your children. Cherish them. They are so precious. They are so very, very important. They are the future. You need more than your own wisdom in rearing them. You need the help of the Lord. Pray for that help, and follow the inspiration you receive.”4 This is what many members are doing, as evidenced by the testimony from Sister Britton Peterson of Ireland, who says, “There is no more sure way of surviving and succeeding in single parenthood than to share the partnership with the Lord.”
“Now a word to the single parents among us. … You need not be entirely alone. There are many, ever so many in this Church who would reach out to you with sensitivity and understanding. They do not wish to intrude where they are not wanted. But their interest is genuine and sincere, and they bless their own lives as they bless your lives and those of your children. Welcome their help. They need to give it for their own sakes as well as for your sake.”
President Gordon B. Hinckley, “To Single Adults,” Ensign, June 1989, 74.
Discuss some of the challenges a single parent faces. Read the testimonies of the single parents in each of the five sections. How might the principles they discuss apply to any one of us during difficult times?
Invite family members to share experiences when they have felt the power of the Lord help them in times of need.