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What Fatherless Statistics Communicate to the Fatherless

(Lisa Robinson)

As May dwindles down and we flip the calendar to June, it reminds me that Father’s Day is just around the corner.  To be sure, the praise of fathers will be extolled and the importance of father’s highlighted.  One method that is often used to highlight the importance of fathers, is to cite statistics on the effects of the absence of fathers.   Whether it be in a sermon, a podcast or a blog entry, there will be those who choose this method so that their Christian audience understands why the presence of fathers is so important.  This is particular true in evangelical circles that place a significance on the role of the husband and father as head of the household.  After all, isn’t this what inspired the movie Courageous?

Now I do understand the concerns that provokes this method.  Certainly, there are situations in which a father has the ability to be present, but for whatever reason he is not available.  I also recognize that children become innocent victims of divorce, thereby losing wholly or partially the presence of the father.  There are concerns about selfishness.  There are also concerns about the impact that the absence of a father has on a child.  For some, there are concerns that a household is not being adequately maintained by a proper head of household.  I get that it is about the health of the family.

While I do appreciate the concerns of this type of exposure, I am not sure if the promoters of such statistics understands the impact it has on those affected by the absence of fathers and the women who raise them.   While the scenarios I just stated may be the motivating factor behind such a method, one of the problems is that it does not wholly capture the reality behind the absence of fathers in a household.  The identification of problem cannot be treated with a simplistic version of the cause as if it is applicable to all situations.  There are those, such as myself, who become widowed and children are fatherless.  Divorce happens for a variety of reasons and in some cases is better for the health of the family involved, especially where it involves abuse.  In some cases, a spouse abdicates his responsibility.  But in every scenario, there are still those left behind – a single mother who must now care for the needs of a fatherless family.

Now I confess to filtering this somewhat through my own lens of experience though I strive to write generally and objectively.  I have had to raise my son alone, since he was 7 years old in 2004.  I have not liked being a single parent and I have prayed that I won’t be.  I have prayed that my son might have a father who can give that male guidance to him.  For whatever reason, God in his providence has not opened that door not even for a consistent male mentor in his life.  It has puzzled me at times but I do know that God in his infinite wisdom and loving care has his reasons.  He is good and provides.  My job is to trust him and raise my son.

However, what I’ve recognized is that one of the motivating factors behind this desire is the promotion of the concerns raised by the recitation of such statistics.  And I don’t think I speak just for myself.  How many have heard statements such as fatherless boys are more apt to be in jail, experience difficulties in school, drop out of school, have relational issues…and the list goes on.  I most certainly do not want that for my son.  I don’t want my son to be impacted by the ramifications of fatherlessness.  I do not want such inadequacies to exist.

And that leads to my concerns about the impact that such promotion does to those whom fatherlessness affects.  Basically, it is identifying two types of households, of which the single parent household does not measure up.   It is highlighting a deficit and telling those who are left with the task of raising children without a father that their situation is inferior and is possibly doomed for failure.  A single parent already is burdened with the reality of solo responsibility not to mention feelings of inadequacies.  They already have concerns for the welfare of the child and how the absence of a father may impact that child.  The promotion of fear is often like a noose around an already burdened neck.

It also communicates to the children of such households that they have a deficit.  The problem is that they already know there is a deficit, especially if the child is exposed to two-parent families.  What child is going to compare the realities of a one-parent and two-parent home and not conclude that something is missing? The fatherless see the presence of fathers in the lives of others and most certainly is impacted by the absence in their own lives.  To burden the child further with statistics about their situation is both unloving and unconscionable.

I don’t know if the reciters of these statistics understand the detrimental impact that it causes on the psyche of those impacted by fatherlessnesss.  I want to give them the benefit of the doubt and say concerns for the welfare of the family drive them to do so.  But what they need to realize is that the welfare of the family may already be undermined.  Why then encourage fear, inadequacy, deficits and failure?  Why invoke more instability into situations experiencing less than ideal stability?

I think the notion of ideal has also communicated some false hope.  The cause for male headed households is touted as ideal.  But the ideal world ended in Genesis 3 and what is left is met with brokenness, undesired circumstances, and failures.  To be sure, sin has impacted us all and produced a myriad of ways in which families have detrimentally been affected.  There is no guarantee that two-parent households are more secure, loving or able to circumvent bad outcomes for their children.  In some cases, a single-parent home can be more stable and loving than a two-parent home.

Now please don’t get me wrong, I am not promoting the existence of single parent households over those of two-parent households.  I think it is better for children to have both parents together.   But we must understand this is a reality for many, regardless of the circumstances that caused it.  The question then becomes what are we going to do about it?

I personally would love to see the recitation of statistics to promote family health cease and desist.  It does nothing but promote fear and highlight inadequacies.  If they are to be used at all, I would rather the pastor or evangelical leader use them to encourage the church to take up the slack of families that experience deficits because of the absence of a father.  Let it be use for good, to promote body life where there is needed.  I do recall reading in scripture God’s heart for the fatherless and about how his covenant people should care for the widow and orphan.  Is this not what the church should be concerned about rather than statistics about the absence of fathers?

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26 Responses to “What Fatherless Statistics Communicate to the Fatherless”

  1. “it does nothing but…”

    Yes, you are filtering through your experience.

    I always have heard “but there is a heavenly father who can fill this void.”

    Perhaps you’re listening to the wrong people, perhaps your own anger at your situation causes you to “tune out” to what is actually said? I don’t know, I don’t know you, but based on your post, I don’t think you have a balances view here.

    No, divorce is never “better” for the family. No no no, it never is. Or I guess the question is “better for the family than what?” as in, if they don’t call it quits on their promise “to death do us part” it will only get worse?

    I’m sorry for your obviously miserable situation, but why not use this time as an opportunity to be inspired by Mary, or Timothy’s mother?

    May I just offer hope to you? This is a sore spot in your soul and I’m sorry your husband died, I’m sorry you can’t find a man… but Jesus really is all you need, the Father is enough to fill the gaps…

  2. Lisa Robinson 2012-05-25 at 8:36 pm

    John,

    Gee, I wasn’t miserable until I read your comment. That’s quite some over-projection. Thanks for commenting.

  3. John Mark,

    Easy to preach if you haven’t been there and done that. I was also in Lisa’s situation, raising a child alone. Believe me if folks had any idea at all of how hard it is to wear two hats they would be humbled. Men like you should be coming to the aid of folks of folks like Llsa in helping mentor these children, not acting holier than thou.

  4. Talk to Mary? Who knows how miserable she was.

  5. Delwyn X. Campbell 2012-05-25 at 11:22 pm

    @John – “Jesus is all you need” – REALLY? I guess God didn’t mean it when he inspired Paul to write “Therefore I desire that the younger widows marry, bear children, manage the house, give no opportunity to the adversary to speak reproachfully” (1Ti 5:14 NKJV). More significantly, was God mistaken when He said, “It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him” (Gen 2:18 NKJV).
    I don’t agree with everything that Sis Robinson said, for I dont think that we need to make single parenting something “heroic” for the sake of the delicate egos of those who are dealing with that situation. I am a single parent, and I am not a hero. I am a human being who was part fo a marriage that failed. I chose to marry my son’s mother, and she chose to end the marriage in hopes that she could be happier. The fact is, for various sinful reasons, we were both unhappy, neither of us did all that we could, and no one else does either, because none of us is…

  6. John Mark,
    I don’t mean to offend but perhaps you’ve never met a woman who was tired having herself and her kids be used as punching bags by her raging drunk of a husband, or a man who kept getting STDs from his wife due to her adulteries. As far as kids are concerned, due to experience as the child of multiple divorced parents, I can’t say that divorce wasn’t called for in my parent’s situations. No it wasn’t great to see those marriages crash and burn but it was worse to be constantly in the middle of the fighting and other nonsense. If society had the views you appear to espouse, that divorce is always bad and should be avoided at all costs, who knows how many more women and children would be suffering or even dead due to domestic violence. Certainly you cannot be saying that it’s ‘better’ that such marriages stay together, if not, do explain why you appear to have such a heavy handed approach….

  7. Delwyn X. Campbell 2012-05-25 at 11:27 pm

    …perfect. What I am, by the grace fo God, is forgiven, repentant, and hopeful. I am forgiven because God says so in His Word. I am repentant because I know that I made mistakes, starting with my decision to marry her simply for teh sake of companionship. I am hopeful because I have nowmet a woman who I do see as a helper comparable to me, who loves my son, and is willing to give him the love that he was not getting before, and I intend to marry her.
    I never thought it would happen, but it is. I pray that, in teh right time, God will bless Lisa to meet a man who feels called to be a helper for her, to the praise of His glorious grace.

  8. Lisa Robinson 2012-05-25 at 11:45 pm

    Delwyn, thanks for the kind sentiment

    Also, you said

    “I dont think that we need to make single parenting something “heroic” for the sake of the delicate egos of those who are dealing with that situation.”

    Goodness no, I hope that is not how my post reads. I am not trying to glamorize or prioritize single parenting. But I was merely pointing out that single parents face certain realities that already make them feel deficient, especially for their children. Hearing about the detriments of the absence of the father only enhances that. The intent was for those who are prone to cite such statistics to realize the impact it has on those who already experience a deficit and feel like their situation is inadequate, especially for their children.

  9. Truth Unites... and Divides 2012-05-26 at 12:28 am

    “I personally would love to see the recitation of statistics to promote family health cease and desist. It does nothing but promote fear and highlight inadequacies.”

    For some people, that might indeed be the case.

    And most other folks benefit from knowing family health statistics.

    Some folks hate Mother’s Day recognition at church. And most other folks appreciate Mother’s Day recognition at church.

    Churches and society run better when it’s tyranny by the minority.

  10. Lisa,

    Thank you for this post. You powerfully articulate the pain single mothers feel when reminded of possible consequences to their children on account of the fact that their children are fatherless.

    It is even more excruciating when the biblical principle applies, that God is visiting the sins of the parents on their children (Exod 20). In that case, it is essential to claim God’s forgiveness without expecting that the aforementioned principle loses effect. It doesn’t.

    Rather, by trusting in God’s grace and forgiveness a path is opened up whereby the promise that God showers blessings on those who love him and obey his commandments to the thousandth generations overwhelms the effectiveness of the other transfer.

  11. Another comment.

    It is hard to be a single father. Children need a mother in their lives, too. Yet a single father is more likely to put his own needs first, that of having a wife to meet his needs of companionship.

    It’s complicated. In any case, the concept of seeking out a mother (or a father) for one’s children goes very much against the priorities of our society (though not of more traditional societies; the Bible embodies a set of traditional values, which is why it finds a place for household servants but also, in both Testaments, makes it clear that God abhors divorce).

  12. Lisa Robinson 2012-05-26 at 10:30 am

    John, yes I agree that scripture dictates some values unpalatable to contemporary society. I think we should take that serious. I think that some of the world’s philosophy of self-achievement and independence has crept into the church, which has impacted single parenting. Meaning, some are quite content without male representation and to some extremes have the “I don’t need a man” attitude. On the opposite end of the spectrum, there are those who take male leadership very serious such that they seek out a husband. But in the middle, you have a lot of circumstances where the desire may be there but the care and concern for children place high standards on who can fill that role. Better to parent single than to subject children to instability. We have to deal with the hand that has been dealt and with contentment though at times there is tension. For some single parents, it just works out that way as they wait or as God ordains them to have a mate.

  13. Lisa Robinson 2012-05-26 at 10:44 am

    I just made some edits since I think the tone was being misconstrued and also to correct some grammatical discrepancies.

  14. I also have a question that is personal. How is a single mother to handle a male mentor to her child? I speak as a mentor to a fatherless child. He is a first grader; the mentoring relationship was set up through the public school system; the mother acquiesced but did not seek a mentor (“big brother”) for her son. After a year, she has yet to contact me though I know that her son talks about me with her on a regular basis. I have become for him a precious figure in his life. I am the closest thing he has to a father in his life. There is something deep inside me, I can’t explain it, which draws me to his mother even though I have never met her (and I am married and have three children of my own). Why does his mother keep me (so far) at arm’s length? I think I understand, but maybe not: I can be like a father to her son, but I cannot be like a husband to her.

    If we as Bible-believing Christians cannot talk about these things with honesty and compassion, who can?

  15. Most of the time the statistics on fatherless society is slanted towards fomenting blame for men leaving their families. However, over 2/3rds of divorces are filed by the wife (down from 75% in the 1970’s) and women file 90% of the divorces among couples where both are college educated. Here in CA a recent study focusing on the “Move-away Mom Syndrome” found that 3 of 4 mothers moved a significant distance from the father within only 4 years, making visitation even more difficult. My point is is this: Even when citing the so-called statistics on the “fatherless,” we too often promulgate the misunderstanding that men are wantonly abandoning their wives and children. This is one of the many reasons that men have left the church in droves.
    Second, even with the statistics, how many of the fathers in the pews are *really* going to risk befriending an unmarried mom to play “dad” in the life of her kids? Yeah, exactly. Not too many, at least not from what I’ve seen over the…

  16. @John Hobbins: At the risk of stating the obvious: This single mom probably keeps you at arm’s length because you’re married and have kids of your own. Why? Of the many single moms I know most would feel wary of getting, shall we say, “a bit too close for comfort” to a married man in church. This is yet another are where marrieds are out of touch, so to speak. Many (I would dare say most) single Christians feel the cold steel wall that goes up around married members of the opposite sex. Ever woman knows that men who play “dad” to their kids gets a special spot in their hearts. Win the kids, win the mom. Rather than risk terse looks from your wife (have they interacted?) perhaps it’s easier to just keep you at a distance. That’s one one of several possibilities I can imagine. You could, of course, just ask her point blank for an honest reason for her distance.

  17. Hi Phil,

    I wasn’t describing a situation within a congregation. I was describing a “big brother” kind of arrangement in a school context. And, should I have the opportunity to speak to the child’s mom (it would be inappropriate for me to take the initiative; the ball is in her court, where it should be), I would only do so in the presence of her son and other family members who have met me, and in a public place.

    My question, though personal, tries to address some of the difficulties involved in helping the fatherless. How is a single mother to handle a male mentor to her child? The answer, of course, depends on a lot of things.

  18. i would ask how do the statistics, although they may show some slight bias against men, affect the overall growing up of the child, who is told he/she may be more vulnerable to drugs. crime or dysfunctional relationships because he or she has been raised in a dingle parent home? I think we are missing the real point here.

    Seems to me, either way we want to interpret statistics on single parent homes they give the child the idea that they are not good enough because they are somehow not as ‘normal’ as other kids who are raised in two family homes. This assumption is what I object to.

  19. Should be single parent homes, of course.

  20. As one of these “fatherless” I can tell you this author is SO right! It hurts, that’s it. Nothing more. I already knew the issues in my family, it only made them seem worse when others pointed them out. Now after almost 25 years I feel I have a father, someone DID pick up what my father left. THAT has made a difference. I can’t even begin to tell you the difference it has made. I agree with this author rather than preach about how horrible families are who don’t have a father or a good father, men: step up. be a good father. And consider being there for someone you consider to not have a father. THAT can make a difference.

  21. Alyce-Kay Hanush 2012-05-28 at 9:32 pm

    Just quick comments …

    Lisa, I want to thank you so much for your post. This was an enormous encouragement to me and to several other single moms that I know.

    John Hobbins, you are remarkably understanding for a married man. God bless you!

    I always find it interesting when people quote “til death do us part” (as one comment did, above), without any consideration for the rest of the marriage vows (or what the Bible says marriage should consist of). I have personally found, in my own experience, that the only part of the vow Christians care about is “til death do us part.” It doesn’t matter if every other part of the marriage vow and the biblical exhortations are violated … as long as you stay together. Wow!

    I have said many, many times and I’ll state it again here: I believe it’s a miracle that I’m still a Christian and even more of a miracle that I’m involved in a Church, after what I have personally suffered from Christians in this particular area…

  22. I really appreciate the honesty in the post; it helped me see this issue from a different perspective. I can understand how hearing these ‘statistics’ might make a single mother feel additional burdens in raising her children. I really like your suggestion of pastors encouraging their people to “stand in the gap” for the fatherless among them.

  23. Lisa,

    Outstanding post! BTW, another area the church needs to address are the fathers who do not live with their children. The church can help with single mothers to a degree, but there is absolutely nothing in terms of non-custodial fathers. The “recitation of facts” (great term!) cuts us non-custodials, too. How is a non-custodial father supposed to discharge his responsibility before God? How do we define fatherhood for non-custodials…or do we simply say that he has been de-fathered (see “Fatherless America” where this is actually argued).

    Perhaps the church is creating its own deficiencies with the “recitation of facts.” 2 cents.

  24. hans weston 2012-06-15 at 2:22 pm

    Thanks for sharing your heart in this post.
    I am seeking advice for hownthis should be handled.
    It is difficult enough being widowed (a path I have walked myself), but you raise some valid points on how destructive some communication can be when not carefully planned and filtered. Everyone seems to be jumping on John enough for his comments but I think his post is case and point – some truth muddied by not considering full implications of comments being made.
    All that being said, can there not be some middle ground – you suggest the complete dismissal of statical citations being used to communicate need but isn’t that possibly what some people around your situation need in order to be moved to action in supporting you. You are no less competent as a parent because of the loss of your husband. God truly can make up for what you cannot provide (that is needed in every home btw). Part of the call I would give in citations like this would be to support those “left behind” by fatherlessness and deal with the needs that are not being met. Am I wrong in wanting people to be broken over that and moved to action? Please give me your thoughts because I in no way am convinced I have it all figured out. I believe the body of Christ has the answer for this and would in no way want to communicate that your son is destined for jail and/or homelessness.

  25. I think that many people are missing the point these statistics are trying to make. There are many fathers in America, far too many, that avoid or are absent from their children of their own free will and choice. Many have no choice, but many others do and shirk their responsibility. The reason why people recite these statistics isn’t to brag about two-parent households or belittle one-parent households. They do it hoping to shake some sense into the fathers who don’t want to be bothered with being a father. We live in a society where, despite all the statistics, research, and the celebration of Father’s Day, today’s feminist movement seems to try to sweep fathers under the carpet as unnecessary or just a nice extra. What’s worse, many of the fathers themselves fall for it. I think these statistics need to be shoved in their faces so they know different. Will it make single mothers feel warm and fuzzy? No, but if it makes just a few absent fathers reignite contact with their children, I believe it’s worth it.

  26. Lisa Robinson 2013-06-26 at 10:42 pm

    Greg, I don’t know that it is safe, loving or even biblical to segregate treatment of single parent households based on how they became that way. If there is a need for church discipline then yes, apply that. But to say that households of divorce should not be helped? That’s kind of what I hear you saying.

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