You can raise amazing kids as a single parent, but you can’t do it alone. Find out how to shepherd your child’s heart instead of control their behavior, and why partnering with God and others is key to leading them into a thriving adulthood.
Parenting is the toughest job on the planet.
Being a single parent is even tougher.
But for all the ways you may feel overwhelmed playing the role of two parents, know that you don’t have to be in this alone. God is the perfect parent whose leadership you and your kids can rest in, and he offers truth and guidance that is timeless and always trustworthy. I love what Tedd Tripp, author of Shepherding a Child’s Heart, says about our role as parents:
Our culture has reduced parenting to providing care. Parents often see the task in these narrow terms. The child must have food, clothes, a bed and some quality time. In sharp contrast to such a weak view, God has called you to a more profound task than being a care-provider. You shepherd your child on God’s behalf. The task God has given you is not one that can be conveniently scheduled. It is a pervasive task. Training and shepherding are going on whenever you are with your children. Whether waking, walking, talking or resting, you must be involved in helping your child understand life, himself and his needs from a biblical perspective.
This may sound like a lot of work, but when you shepherd your kids instead of just trying to control them, it is actually life-giving instead of draining. Here are some things God has taught me that have made my single parenting journey less stressful and more joyful and rewarding.
1. Our kids do not belong to us. They actually belong to God. That’s good news to single parents because it means we are not fully responsible for their lives. God entrusts them to us as his gift, to be raised under our care and leadership, with the hope that we will lead them back to him.
“But Jesus called them to him, saying, ‘Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.’” –Luke 18:16
2. Our most effective parenting tool is our example. I remember sitting in my car waiting for a left turn arrow that had just turned green and hearing my then 8-year-old son blurt out, “C’mon people!” In that instant I realized I had never taught my son one lesson on how to respond when stuck behind a slow driver, but he had “caught” the lesson loud and clear. As a single parent we can never underestimate the power of our example. Our kids look to us as the model for how to navigate life. For good or for bad, they are essentially saying to us, “Your actions speak so loud I can’t hear what you’re saying.”
“Never let evil be your example, dear friend of mine, but always good. The man who does good is God’s man, but the man who does evil does not know God at all.” –3 John 1:11
“Don’t lord it over the people assigned to your care, but lead them by your own good example.” –1 Peter 5:3
3. We must discipline our children for their good. The word discipline actually comes from the word “disciple.” So discipline doesn’t mean getting mad at our kids when they mess up and unleashing our wrath on them. In fact, anger never even has to play a part in discipline and probably shouldn’t. Godly discipline is actually a much deeper responsibility that includes leading, teaching, encouraging, setting boundaries and expectations, allowing our kids to experience consequences when they make wrong choices, and helping them understand where they went wrong so they can choose better in the future.
“My children, listen when your father corrects you. Pay attention and learn good judgment, for I am giving you good guidance. Don’t turn away from my instructions.”
“To discipline a child produces wisdom, but a mother is disgraced by an undisciplined child.” –Proverbs 29:15
“Those who spare the rod of discipline hate their children. Those who love their children care enough to discipline them.” –Proverbs 13:24
4. Get past the misbehavior to the deeper heart issue. So much of what the world offers as good parenting strategy is actually just behavior modification. The truth is, we may be able to temporarily control our child’s behavior through punishment and reward or manipulation, but until we address the heart issue that is causing the wrong behavior, there will be no true or lasting change. When our kids demonstrate “hard-heartedness” by being willfully disobedient, deceptive or selfish we should always be leading them back to the cross and helping them see their need for Jesus and the heart transformation only he can bring.
“Pharoah’s heart, however, remained hard. He still refused to listen, just as the Lord had predicted.” –Exodus 7:13
“I’ll give you a new heart, put a new spirit in you. I’ll remove the stone heart from your body and replace it with a heart that’s God-willed, not self-willed. I’ll put my Spirit in you and make it possible for you to do what I tell you and live by my commands.” –Ezekial 36:26-27 (MSG)
“What you say flows from what is in your heart.”—Luke 6:45
5. Let grace be a constant companion in parenting. We all fail as parents. Daily. What gives us the hope to keep going is that God promises to redeem our failures as we lean on him and are quick to forgive our kids, our ex, and ask forgiveness ourselves. God does not want us to beat ourselves up or berate our kids over insignificant shortcomings. Instead, we should create an environment for our kids where it is safe to make mistakes and where those mistakes can be opportunities to draw closer to Jesus and learn something new from him.
“For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.” –Romans 3:23
“Each time he said, ‘My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.’ ”
–2 Corinthians 12:9
6. It is our responsibility to teach and lead our children spiritually. We cannot lead where we haven’t gone. That’s why the best gift we can give our kids as single parents is to invest in our own spiritual growth and development. Then we can be a parent who establishes our children on a solid foundation and who is spiritually equipped to lead them through the trials and sorrows and temptations of life. Part of this spiritual leading also includes speaking words of life and encouragement to them instead of criticizing, and praying for them and with them daily.
“God knows how often I pray for you. Day and night I bring you and your needs in prayer to God, whom I serve with all my heart by spreading the Good News about his Son.” –Romans 1:9
“So commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these words of mine. Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders. Teach them to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates, so that as long as the sky remains above the earth, you and your children may flourish…” –Deuteronomy 11:18-21
“You have been taught the holy Scriptures from childhood, and they have given you the wisdom to receive the salvation that comes by trusting in Christ Jesus.” –2 Timothy 3:15
7. Learn how each child is unique and how they best receive love. God made each child with special gifts and a unique personality. One of our greatest privileges as parents is to help them discover and develop these. We should spend time watching and listening to our kids to learn how they’re wired and what their “love language” is. Do they respond best to words of affirmation, physical touch and affection, quality time, gifts, or acts of service? We all long to be known, and it is our calling as parents to know our kids better than anyone and to love them the way they need to be loved, not the way that is most familiar or convenient to us.
“You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb. Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it.” –Psalm 139:13-14
“Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions.” –1 John 3:18
8. We have a role in protecting our children from evil. Only God can truly protect our kids, and he does so in ways that we mostly never see. But we also have a role in protecting our children’s minds and hearts from being ambushed by all the negative influences in our world. Three years ago I had to make some big changes in my budget, and one of the things I decided to cut was our cable TV service. Now I think it’s one of the best decisions I ever made because it has protected my son from all the disrespectful and downright sleazy programming and commercials that he would have seen and absorbed. Yes, our kids will protest at first when we set up these protective “guardrails” in their lives, but in the end they will be better people for it.
“Who will protect me from the wicked? Who will stand up for me against evildoers? –Psalm 94:16
9. We aren’t raising a child, we’re raising a future adult. Our vision as parents must always be set on the final result. Our children will one day be adults, and we have to ask if what we’re teaching them today will set them up well in life. If we do everything for them and don’t require them to take ownership and learn responsibility, how will they be able to live on their own? If we don’t teach them how to wisely manage money, who will? If we don’t model the right way to love and respect the opposite sex, how will that equip them for their relationships or marriage? The good news is that even if we were never taught any of this, when we follow Jesus and point our kids to biblical examples, we can raise them to be healthy, strong and wise adults!
“Where there is no vision, the people perish.” –Proverbs 29:18
“There the child grew up healthy and strong. He was filled with wisdom, and God’s favor was on him.” —Luke 2:40
“Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” –Proverbs 22:6
10. Decide to co-parent well for your kids’ sake. If our children have two parents who both want to be involved in their lives at some level, we need to put aside our fears, preferences and resentments and give our children the best chance to have a strong relationship with both parents. In cases where there are safety issues with letting children spend time with the other parent, it is probably wise to make sure supervised visitation measures are in place. Ultimately, our kids want and need both parents. So here are some things we can do to make this “timeshare” lifestyle easiest on our kids hearts: Have conversations about child support or other issues of potential conflict with the other parent when the children are not around, do our best to honor the other parent in front of our kids, and refuse to be offended and react defensively if the other parent is behaving irrationally. Over time, our kids will understand the truth and God will honor us for doing our part to be fair and show grace.
“If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you.” –Luke 6:14
“If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” –Romans 12:18