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I’ve long had a particular admiration for those of my friends who are single parents. I even wrote about single parenting here.
Let me be clear: I have a husband, and parenting STILL stretches me to the end of my resources and then some. (In fact, sometimes I say I have five children, because – quite frankly – the hubs feels like yet another person to manage.)
It is the incessant nature of parenting that I find so tough. The constant cries of “Mum! MUM!!” as if someone’s just tipped boiling water over themselves – which, when answered, turn out to be motivated by the remote control being five paces from where they’re sat, and somehow, suddenly, they’ve lost the use of their legs to go and fetch it.
This is tiring. (Understatement.)
But at least I have someone else around for part of the time. Someone to delegate to. Someone to recommend as the perfect parent to read that story, fetch that snack, wipe that bum. Someone to send on the time-consuming goose-chase of discovering which simple task our children have suddenly forgotten how to do on their own this time.
For my friends who go it alone, whether by choice or not, there is no such let-up in the non-stop cycle of parenting. No sharing of the responsibilities. No sounding off to another adult equally invested in your children’s lives.
So when I came across the book Surviving and Thriving on the Single-Parent Journey by Kat Seney-Williams, I was intrigued. Could this be the sort of Christian support which might encourage and equip my single-parent friends?
Of course I wasn’t the right candidate to answer that question. So I roped in my friend Xanthe, whose husband died of bowel cancer two years ago. She’s a Christian, and a mum to two primary-aged children. Here she is:
Over to Xanthe…
Thank you Lucy for asking me to review Surviving and Thriving on the Single-Parent Journey, by Kat Seney-Williams, not least because I have had a copy of it sitting on my shelves for a while (given to me by a kind friend) and it kicked me up the backside to read it!
I am not a single parent by choice (and really never imagined this would be my life) and relatively new to it so I was interested to see what Seney-Williams had to say. She is the Single Parent Support Coordinator for Care for the Family and so has come into contact with single parents of “all shapes, sizes and backgrounds” and draws on her work with them for the book as well as her own personal experiences.
Surviving and Thriving on the Single-Parent Journey could be a very useful book for someone at the beginning of a separation or divorce, thinking through all of the emotions as this new chapter of life begins and the issues around raising and sharing parenting. The author writes from her own life in this area and it is powerful.
It could also be useful for the friends and family of single parents (particularly, again, those going through divorce) to help understand some of the issues and challenges faced by those parenting solo, or at least know what questions to ask in order to support them.
There are however several ways you might become a single parent, and while separation/divorce is one of them, it is not the only way. Adopting as a single parent, and bereavement through losing your spouse or partner, are two other routes to single parenthood, both of which present their own challenges.
Seney-Williams has not been through this type of bereavement or chosen to parent on her own through adoption, so while she touches on those themes there are large chunks of the book that are not relevant to people in these or other categories and might want to be skipped over.
In general Seney-Williams raises some important issues – for example, the societal stereotype of a single-parent as a very young adult having children in order to stay on benefits, and the stigma attached to single-parenting in general. She also recognises that circumstances are not the whole of a single-parent or their identity which is something the world sometimes needs to hear.
I felt particularly understood as Seney-William talked about the loneliness of single parenting (not having that one person to talk everything through with), loss of identity and dreams for the future and the loss of freedom for those with young children. She writes of how the journey to single-parenthood often results in children being caused pain or trauma, and how hard that is on top of everything else.
Breakdown of the book
Part one of the book (called “The Beginning of the Journey”) was very well written and would help most single parents to know that they are not alone in what they are feeling, touching on emotions and grief.
Part two, which is about parenting, was mixed. Some of it felt like general parenting advice not specific to single-parents, and at times this annoyed me as I wanted to think about what was specific to my situation. I’ve found other resources on parenting children who have undergone trauma more helpful.
There is, however, a great chapter in part two on parenting children of the opposite sex which I thought was useful and gave me a great deal to think about.
Part three was all about sharing parenting when a relationship breaks down. It all seemed like great advice but having not been through this I can’t comment.
This section is one of the reasons why I wouldn’t universally recommend the book – if someone had given this to me just after my husband died I’m not sure I’d have coped with reading all about the challenges of co-parenting when I was facing parenting on my own .
Part four, about moving forwards, had some helpful reminders about self-care and the particular challenges of single-parenting (and the sobering fact that single parents have the highest poverty rate among working age households).
So, a mixed review. It is well written and easy to read (a bonus as a busy single parent with very little free time!), and has lots of little quotes from single parents that Seney-Williams has met through her work, some of which really resonated.
Single parents come with all different stories and backgrounds; perhaps editing this book to be just for those going through separation and divorce may have been helpful.
I was also struck that there was very little Christian content in the book. I expect Seney-Williams was trying to find the fine line of writing a book that would work for both Christians and those of no or other faiths but I would have loved more about the specific challenges of being a Christian single parent.
In fairness I haven’t come across any book yet, Christian or otherwise, that is as helpful as this one in talking about the real challenges of single parenting after a bereavement. There are lots of books on grief, but not grief as a parent.
Having said that, I’ve not yet read Simon Thomas’ book (Love, Interrupted). Most of what he has said publicly as a bereaved Christian parent has really resonated with me. I am so grateful that he has spoken out, hard as it has been for him.
In terms of books which specifically address the issue of single parenting after bereavement, there seems to be a gap in the market right now. Surviving and Thriving on the Single-Parent Journey would certainly have some helpful things to say to someone really struggling, even if it wasn’t 100% relevant to their unique situation.
Thank you, Xanthe, for that amazingly helpful and thorough review.
Are you, or have you been, a single parent? Are you supporting single parent friends or those within your church community? I’d love to hear more of your experiences in the comments below.
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