What’s in a Name?

Lauren Jones and kids

Lauren Jones and kids

A young widow wrestles with being labeled a single mother.

This is a controversial statement, but I don’t like being called a “single mother.” I don’t have anything against single mothers. I was raised by a single mother. I just don’t want to be called one. I know it stems from my childhood.

I was embarrassed and ashamed because I had to explain why my siblings and I had different last names. As a result, I vowed never to put my children through the same embarrassment. My children were going to have the same father and they were going to have the same last name.

So when my husband died last year after three years of marriage and two children, I found myself angry and confused. What do I call myself now? I was a wife. Now, I’m a widow, but I’m also a single mother. My problem with the label stems from my childhood, but it’s also rooted in the guilt and shame that some associate with single mothers.

I recall when I called the Social Security office. The man on the receiving end referred to my husband as “my children’s father.” I immediately corrected him so he would know I wasn’t just some “baby mama.” His condescending tone quickly changed. Sadly, this is the same kind of judgment many single mothers face, especially in the Body of Christ. I have friends who disappeared after becoming pregnant for fear of being shamed by the church. I guess that’s why I am afraid. People will not view me as a widow, but as a fallen woman.

The Forum on Child and Family Statistics (childstats.gov) reported that only 33 percent of African-American children lived in two parent households in 2012. More than half of African-American children lived with single parents. However, the statistics don’t tell us the circumstances that led to single parenthood. We don’t know if a parent is deceased, incarcerated, or inactive. Since this trend doesn’t seem to be decreasing, the Body of Christ needs to learn how to address single parenthood with less judgment and more compassion.

The Body of Christ needs to learn how to address single parenthood with less judgment and more compassion.

In no way am I saying believers should ignore God’s standard for the family. However, before we cast judgment or conclude why someone is a single parent, we need to view the person through the lens of Christ and by His redemptive work on the cross.

I am growing to accept my status as a single mother. I no longer wear my wedding ring as a proverbial, moral safety net. My acceptance is rooted in believing what God says about me. He knows my story. We all need to grow to a place where we believe what God says about us. It’s only then we will cease to be so judgmental and consumed by the sins—actual and perceived—of others. When we become less preoccupied with labels and more consumed by love, we will become the beloved community single mothers need.

Lauren Jones (@revlaurelj) is an Itinerant Elder in the African Methodist Episcopal Church and serves in the Washington, DC metropolitan area. As a widow, she balances ministry and motherhood to two rambunctious children. She blogs about her adventures at www.throwupandtheology.com. When she’s not preaching, writing, or changing diapers, she raises awareness about epilepsy and the devastating effects of drunk driving as a volunteer speaker for Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). She self-published “I’m Singing This Song to You,” a letter to her children in honor of her late husband available for purchase on Amazon.

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