Bible Study: Single Parent Child Issue

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With the turning around of the events and the socio-cultural situation in our societies today, we are confronted more than ever with the issue of single parent families and children growing up in them.

In most cases it will be a mother.

How is it like for a child to grow up in such a home?

Our text talks about such a situation!

Matthew 1:18 - 25.

18Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit. 19Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly. 20 But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is 7conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. 21 And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS for He will save His people from their sins.”

22So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: 23“Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.”

24 Then Joseph, being aroused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife, 25 and did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son. And he called His name Jesus.

Question: Why was Joseph asked to accept Mary with child?

What is it like to be growing up as a child in a single parent?

What was Joseph’s role in the family and in the life of Jesus?

We see Joseph until he was 12 in the temple

God thought under the circumstance before the society Joseph had to be the husband of Mary and father of Jesus. It was necessary for the protection of Mary and of Jesus.

Considering the kind of life awaiting Jesus, Joseph had to be around until he became independent.

Marriage in Ancient Israel was not a religious or public concern, rather was a private contract. The contracting parties were the families of bride and groom only. If one had enough resources and wants to make it known, he could have a feast and then more people will be involved in the feast as in the case of the feast at Cana.

So no one may have questioned when Jesus was born whether of wedlock or not.

People recognized Joseph as Jesus’ father (John 6:42. Also see. Luke 2:33, 48 etc.).

It was certainly a matter of social stigma those days to have a child without father. Even today in many of the traditional societies, it continues to be so.

What is the definition? Single-parent families are families with children under the age 18 headed by a parent who is widowed or divorced and not remarried, or by a parent who has never married.

The situation: According to Custodial Mothers and Fathers and Their Child Support: 2007, released by the U.S. Census Bureau in November, 2009, there are approximately 13.7 million single parents in the United States today, and those parents are responsible for raising 21.8 million children (approximately 26% of children under 21 in the U.S. today). Approximately 84% of custodial parents are mothers.

One out of every two children in the United States will live in a single-parent family at some time before they reach age 18. According the United States Census Bureau, in 2002 about 20 million children lived in a household with only their mother or their father. This is more than one-fourth of all children in the United States.

Since 1950, the number of one-parent families has increased substantially. In 1970, about 11 percent of children lived in single-parent families.

Globally, one-quarter to one-third of all families are headed by single mothers, calling into question the normativeness of couple headed families. In developing countries also this will be the case in the near future at various ratios. The tendency begins with having fewer number of children, then nuclear families.

Of course I do not give much credit to the statistics as many a time they only represent the tip of the ice berg and can not make an absolute case out of it. How ever it will give a rough picture of the situation.

Role play with three persons each.

Three people each in one group.

A single parent for some reason

A child growing up in single parent family

A representative of the society.

Questions: What are the reasons for being a single parent?

1. What is it like to be a single parent?

2. What are the concerns?

3. What is it like to be a child in a single parent family?

4. How does the representative of the society look at it?

Primary Reason:

Death of the partner and remarriage has not taken place

Divorced mother or father (father fewer in percentage. Divorce is in the rise due to many reason in many parts of the world).

Unwed mother including mother due to rape.

Unwed mother by choice.

Father leaving the family for no valid reason without returning (sometimes religious reason: to become a monk or sanyasin)

There could be other reason too.

Impact on single parent

Over-load, when the demands for work to earn the living, household duties, parenting, deprived personal life, emotional overload etc.

The financial crisis is a major area of dread for most of single parent families.

The traditional society believes that a family with both parents is normal or predominant and the single parent families will be alienated from the normal interactions.

In many traditional communities, blame of the death of the husband will be on the mother (sometimes even blame it on the child too)

As in any other situation, there are advantages and disadvantages too.

Previously, women used to become single moms only by chance, due to divorce, death of the spouse, or unplanned pregnancies before marriages. Being a single mother was not an option to choose.

In India, there was a time when Neena Gupta's (successful movie actress) decision to have a child out of wedlock without even disclosing the name of the father, was a major news. Today as families become smaller and smaller, single parent households are no longer as unusual as they once were. Of course single parenting is not a new phenomenon in India. The death of a spouse was the commonest reason followed by absenteeism, mostly on the part of the father.

In traditional communities more and more people become single parent. There is slow development towards this end. Families which used to have more than five children in the past are having only two or even one these days. This is primarily because of economic and career based reason. If the situation in the societies where currently single parent families are in the rise, we can realize that the present movement in the traditional communities are towards a single parent families.

The Murphy Brown issue.

Murphy Brown is an American situation comedy which aired on CBS from November 14, 1988 to May 18, 1998, for a total of 247 episodes. The program starred Candice Bergen as the eponymous Murphy Brown, an investigative journalist and news anchor for FYI, a fictional CBS television newsmagazine.

In the show's 1991–‘92 season, Murphy became pregnant. When her baby's father expressed his unwillingness to give up his own lifestyle to be a parent, Murphy chose to have the child and raise it alone. This story line made the show a subject of political controversy during the 1992 American presidential campaign. On May 19, 1992, then Vice President Dan Quayle spoke at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco. During his speech, he criticized the Murphy Brown character for "ignoring the importance of fathers by birthing a child alone".

Response was mixed. Quayle's remarks caused a public discussion on family values.  Some, seeing his speech as a moralistic attack on single mothers, responded by insisting that most single mothers work hard to provide for their children and to raise them well. Others considered Quayle’s view of the traditional family as nostalgic and unrealistic, out of touch with the social and economic realities of life in contemporary America. Some of course defended Quayle saying he represents American value. But if it was aired now, it may not have made so much noise as the situation has become common. Many also agreed with Quayle’s argument that the media and popular culture were to blame for promoting loose sexual values and immoral lifestyles. Actress Candice Bergen’s comment was, “What really defines a family is commitment, caring and love.”

The impact on children

According to some sociologist there several adverse impact on children

  • lower levels of educational achievement
  • twice as likely to drop out of school
  • more likely to become teen parents
  • more conflict with their parent(s)
  • less supervised by adults
  • more likely to become truants
  • more frequently abuse drugs and alcohol
  • more high-risk sexual behavior
  • more likely to join a gang
  • twice as likely to go to jail
  • four times as likely to need help for emotional and behavioral problems
  • more likely to participate in violent crime
  • more likely to commit suicide
  • twice as likely to get divorced in adulthood
  • According to Lloyd Eby, assistant editor of the World & I magazine, and Charles A. Donovan, a senior policy consultant at the Family Research Council, “The sociological evidence now available shows conclusively that children suffer when they grow up in any family situation other than an intact two-parent family formed by their biological father and mother who are married to each other.”
  • Many conservatives insist that because most single-parent families are headed by women, society is particularly threatened by the presence of large numbers of adolescent males who have been raised without the guidance and discipline that is typically provided by a father. According to David Blankenhorn, the founder and president of the Institute for American Values and the author of Fatherless America: Confronting Our Most Urgent Social Problem, “Fatherlessness is the most harmful demographic trend of this generation. It is the leading cause of declining child well-being in our society. It is also the engine driving our most urgent social problems, from crime to adolescent pregnancy to child sexual abuse to domestic violence against women.”

However there are people who would say that these are exaggerated statements. While most people agree that children are better off in families with two parents (as long as both parents are non-abusive), many believe that the adverse impact of single-parent families on children has been exaggerated. According to Sara S. McLanahan, a professor of sociology and public affairs at Princeton University, concludes, “the evidence . . . does not show that family disruption is the principal cause” of many of the problems said to be associated with single parent situation. According to McLanahan, “If all children lived in two-parent families, teen motherhood and idleness would be less common, but the bulk of these problems would remain.”

For all to consider: How the Church can address this situation?

We see Joseph with Mary and Jesus until Jesus was 12. Can we make it a model?

Whether we like it or not there are single parents and children growing up in single parent families. The question is, is the Church sensitive enough to meet the needs of such situation?

It is a fact that life for both the single parents and for children of single parent families is hard for several reasons. So what shall we do, set a negative attitude to the every situation many of which are not under the control of either the parent or the children?

Every such situation challenges us to become Joseph to those parents and children who placed in such situations?

We have to see this not as sin or problem rather a challenge and a field for the Church to do mission.