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A Single Mother’s Open Letter to the Synod Fathers

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Single parents have raised saints; they need and deserve more pastoral care than they are getting

I know it seems like a small thing, silly perhaps, but I keep scanning the headlines and reading the news looking for those two small words. Small words with significant meaning.

Single. Parents.

Each time I read a news article about the discussions within the synod of the family yet see no mention of single parents, my heart sinks a little more. They’ve got everyone there—divorced and remarried, same-sex couples, women wanting more authority in the church, Protestant spouses of Catholics who want to receive Communion, representatives of the Church Universal from every part of the globe, and even members of non-Catholic organizations. Every irregular family mix you can think of … except single parents.

Why? Why is such a large group of individuals constantly underrepresented and ignored?

One in four American children are being raised in single-parent households. Those number are significant. These children and their struggling parents deserve to be represented in this synod. So why aren’t we?

The fact that we continually get ignored in larger Church discussion makes me think our bishops don’t think single parents matter enough to be of significant interest. That, or maybe they just don’t know what to do with us.

At last year’s Extraordinary Synod, single parents were given a single, one-line mention in the final document, a vague promise of “special attention” with no clear indication what that attention should look like.

“Special attention should be given to the accompaniment of single-parent families, in a particular way to help women who have to carry alone the responsibility of the home and raising children.”

This year, as near as I can tell, we’ve heard exactly nothing from the synod fathers about single parents. So much for “special attention.” It’s hard not to feel resentful.

One of the four themes of this Ordinary Synod is “Broken Families.” Real gains could be made if discussions on broken families were honest enough to include single parents; the narrow focus on communion for the divorced and remarried seems to be crippling further discussion.

Why aren’t the synod fathers asking questions on how the Church can better serve our needs? If single parents had some representation at the synod these questions could have been asked. Single parents have just as much to offer the Church as the divorced and remarried. We need spiritual guidance and support just as much as they do, if not more, since we are carrying the entire load of the family on our single backs, without the aid of a spouse.

What can the Church do for single parents?

At the most basic, pastoral level, parishes should offer counseling and spiritual guidance to single parents, because not only are we in charge of our own spiritual well being, we are also solely responsible for our children’s spiritual needs and upbringing. When parents are energized in their faith, they can pass that fervor on to their children. Ignoring exhausted, spiritually starved single parents is a vocation killer. Single parents cannot help their children flourish in the faith if they themselves are withering under their own burdens.

Secondly, single parents can benefit tremendously by simple acknowledgment. Raising children with one parent absent isn’t a unique struggle in Church history—the newly canonized Louis Martin raised St.Thérèse and her siblings alone after his wife, Zelie, died; Saint John Bosco was raised by a single mother from the age of two after the death of his father; Pope Saint John Paul II lost his mother when he was only eight. Saints Elizabeth Ann Seton and Edith Stein were both raised by single parents.

The fact that these holy people were raised in a nontraditional, single parent environment—one that is considered inferior by some—yet grew up to be revered as saints in the Church can offer single parents a source of hope to combat the negativity we encounter about our situation.

Hey, we’re trying to raise saints here, just like everyone else. A little help, a little notice, a little consideration would help us to carry on and struggle forward.

I once heard a homily from a priest who was raised by his mother. Hearing about his mother’s struggles through the eyes of child abandoned by his father brought tears to my eyes, because finally, someone who knew. The priest acknowledged how difficult their life had been and was at the same time praising his mother for her strength, strength he said led him to the vocation of priesthood.

That, Synod Fathers: we need more that that. Empathy, kindness, encouragement, and mostly hope.

Lastly, we need dialogue. The church can’t continue to pretend that single parents are being well-sheherded; we are not. You let the opportunity for discussion on this topic slip away, last year. There is still time, to prayerfully, pastorally, persuasively speak to the genuine needs of single parents who exist in every parish and who quietly suffer the indignity of being wholly unnoticed or shamefully avoided.

Show single parents you care about their needs and the needs of their children by bringing the subject to the table. Ask us how the Church can help us; make us feel like our families matter to the Church.

Katrina Fernandez is a single mother; her son is an altar server and a member of the Boy Scouts. She writes at The Crescat.

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