As a Catholic single parent, it’s difficult on many levels. It’s hard, exhausting, and challenging work. Unfortunately, single parents in the Church are a minority who have few support resources.
By Donna Caito
Single parents in the Catholic Church are a small minority who don’t have a lot of resources. Curious, I went to a few diocese websites and looked under their “marriages and families” portals. Mostly, it was resources for marriage, which is wonderful and as it should be. But, the lone ministry I’ve found for single Catholic parents was in a Google search. They were in Colorado and the article was written in 2015.
Marriage is beautiful and wonderful. I love marriage. But, sometimes it’s in the best interest of the children for their parents to separate. I did go to a Catholic counselor to talk about my relationship with my children’s father. When I explained everything the nun said quite clearly, “Please do not marry that man.”
I haven’t regretted my judgment for one second of my life and am exceedingly happy I didn’t marry him. It’s been hard work to show my own daughters actions have consequences. One of the consequences of my actions is parenting by myself. Single parenting is hard, exhausting, and challenging.
Mostly it’s lonely.
As a Catholic I feel like an odd woman out. My sins, which are more obvious than most, are still being held against me. Imagine walking into Mass every Sunday with a scarlet letter pinned to your chest. I feel that sometimes when going with my daughters and no ring on my finger. God has forgiven me for what I did. He even blessed me with two beautiful children.
I wasn’t prepared for people who think I need their forgiveness.
I’ve had inappropriate questions about my previous relationship. People have asked my daughters where their father is, when they’ve seen him last, do they talk to him, and so on. It’s as though not having a father figure means there’s an open invitation for intrusion under the guise of concern.
Pope Francis once spoke to a woman in America about being a single mother. She stood before him and explained the shame and guilt she carried. I felt her words as if they were torn from my own lips. How courageous she was to stand in front of the world and admit it hurt when people judge her!
Pope Francis told her she was brave. He said, “I know that people can sometimes look askance at you…You respected the life you were carrying inside of you and God is going to reward you for that and he does reward you for that. Don’t be ashamed…I congratulate you.”
I felt the Pope himself was vindicating me and every single parent I knew who the Church had turned away. I wasn’t the wayward woman any longer. He said someone like me was brave. Brave! Hearing that was amazing.
I look forward to a time when every parish welcomes single parents with open arms. Here are some ways we can achieve that:
• Watch for them at Mass and make them feel at home.
Henry was an usher who seemed to know everyone by name as we walked in. I took to sitting in the back because it was easier for a quick exit when one of my children got fussy. Of course, my first day there, my youngest began to cry. I was about to leave when Henry tapped on my shoulder. He reached out for my oldest and whispered, “I’ve got her. You do what you need to do.” My two-year-old played happily with Henry as I fed my eight-month-old. When it came time for Communion, he kept my oldest in his arms as I carried my baby. Because of Henry, we kept going back to eleven o’clock Mass well into my children’s teens even though we had a church much closer to our house.
• Praise them.
One time I was at work and was talking to a new co-worker. She told me about the adoption of her sons. I’m usually an introvert who simply states, “I’m a single parent,” and deflects further questions. But this time, I explained why I was a single parent. After my story she said, “Thank you for choosing life.” She rubbed my back and asked if I was okay as I wept. I explained, “No one has ever said that to me before.” Praise for single parents comes few and far between. A simple, “You did the right thing,” is treasured beyond words.
• Don’t try to compare your situation to theirs.
I was struggling to convey my frustrations as a single mom when the person I was talking to said, “I know how you feel. My wife works a lot during the summer.” My thought was to snap, “Just because you’ve taken martial arts doesn’t mean you’re a ninja.” Listening and trying to empathize is great but comparing situations makes the other person feel unheard.
• Ask them to help
You cannot comprehend how excited I was when Father asked me to become a part of the Alpha committee. I was practically jumping up and down with glee when he pulled me aside after Mass. My notepad was filled with suggestions before I went to the meeting. It was good to feel wanted and needed. Single parents often have to say no. It’s exhilarating when we can say yes. We feel like part of a team, something we rarely feel.
• Make it work
Being a single parent often means money is tight. Even with something like Alpha, paying a babysitter would have been cost prohibitive. I asked that we include childcare with every session. We found some daycare workers who wanted to earn extra money. Every night during Alpha we had a room full of children. Making it work may mean some creative solutions but feeling included was astounding!
• Offer a barter system.
When my daughters were younger, my sister and I would trade off Saturdays. I worked on schoolwork and she did CrossFit competitions. Now I have a single mother friend who I exchange babysitting for pet sitting. I’ve helped another mother work on her resumes and applications, and she’s helped clean my house. When someone asks me barter services, I feel like we’re on an even ground. This is wonderful if you sometimes feel like a burden. Single parents often can’t offer money, but we can offer our time.
• Offer support groups for single parents.
Usually, the diocese I’ve been to have several groups for fathers, mothers, husbands, and wives. I’ve never heard of anything for single Catholic parents even at a parish level. Mostly they are singles mixers. Not many single Catholic men want to date single mothers. What would be amazing is if a parish opened their doors, had childcare available, and let single parents talk openly about their battles in a supportive environment.
• Be kind.
A babysitter turned me away because she felt I would be a bad influence on her children. I’ve been denied involvement in various activities. People have called me a welfare case, a drain on the system, a leech, and a waste of taxpayer dollars. People have smiled to my face while making snide comments. They’ve even done it to my children. These same people march at pro-life rallies. At the same time, they treat those women like outcasts. I shouldn’t have to tell Catholics to be kind to one another, yet here we are.
The Catholic Church has a long and arduous history with unwed mothers.
Until very recently, single pregnant women were shipped off to a hidden place far from home. Frequently conditions were deplorable. The women were punished, made to feel less than human, and used as examples of what “bad girls” are. Women had to go through months of pain and hours of labor only to have the baby ripped from their arms. Unwed mothers were exiles of society and were told to never speak of it again. Criminals were treated better.
It’s awful to think had I been born sixty years ago; I’d have been in the same position.
Catholic single parents belong in the Church just as much as their counterparts do. We need just as much help, sometimes even more, than nuclear families. Yet there is little to call our own. We’re told we must have our babies but there’s not much help after the child is born. Have the child, they say. When we subsequently ask for help, we’re called leeches.
Being a single parent is hard. It’s even harder trying to prove I’m not the woman I was twenty years ago. Are you? My children are bright, respectful, and loving young women. They’re innocent victims. They shouldn’t have to justify their place in the Church. Even I shouldn’t have to justify mine.
I made the right decision to have my children and would do it again a million times over. In Luke 15: 7, Jesus tells his followers, “I tell you, in just the same way there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance.” I’m thrilled heaven is rejoicing over people like me. It’s time the Church does as well.
Donna Caito has a B.S. in Management and a M.A. in Theology. She’s a Catholic revert who didn’t want to be a Catholic but couldn’t come up with a good argument otherwise. She lives in the middle of nowhere with her children, her black cat named Midnight, and her white dog named Jack Frost. In her spare time, she enjoys writing about her unique place in the Catholic Church as a single mother and giving good reviews on Google.