How to help single parents move on the ‘control scale’ and accept help

My daughter said to me after they left, ‘You’re not going to accept their help, are you?’ She knows me well. Two men from my church had come to fix a few things around the house. Well, it was a long list of things that were broken, some preventing people from entering and exiting the house like a jammed door and broken door handles. They found out because I hosted a home group. My secret need for help was exposed. But they offered to get my homegroup/cell group/ house church/small group whatever you want to label the group of people who meet often, sharing food, ideas, prayers and our lives, to spend a Saturday weeding. My first thought was the weeds aren’t a problem yet.  They’re not taller than the fence and why would anyone give up their Saturday to help someone else weed!

weed brian-ceccato-unspalsh

Now I teach about this to churches in a Strengthening Single Parent workshop, and pontificate about how the church needs to help meet the practical needs for single parents.  It could be a list of safe, trustworthy home handymen, doing jobs that need muscles, tools, skills or time and energy that single parent may not have.  To understand why see God cares for the single parent, so should the church

It’s a ‘do what I say not what I do’ situation; a battle of wills between those trying to help me and me refusing. There’s a way through, but first you need to understand my theory of the control scale.

The control scale

Now the theory is just a Vicky Legge theory albeit based on spending time with single parents.  It’s a scale about control.  At one end is the illusion you have no control and the other – the independent, stubborn control freak.

My theory says many single parents sit at the independent stubborn control freak end of the scale. The very act of single parenting creates this as the parent must control everything themselves. There is nothing in the household that is not initiated or governed by the parent. From working to provide the money to live, managing the budget, doing all the gardening and house work, organising the family schedule, refereeing every fight (and there is no-one to tag team with if you lose it!), taking everyone to every medical appointment and managing the kid’s health, meeting with teachers, transporting to after school activities, to buying their own birthday present. The single parent oversees it all.

At the other end of the scale is where the person believes they have no control, so they don’t take any responsibility for their life, expecting everyone else to solve their problems and meet their needs. Again, some single parents are pushed to this end of the scale by their circumstances. Poverty (and many single parents live below the poverty line) can create a cycle of welfare and powerlessness. Combine this with the overwhelming load of coping on their own, especially if they are isolated, can make them dependent on others as well as handouts just to get by. This can be humiliating and devaluing, creating a mindset that they have no control, are helpless and need others to supply all their needs.

Neither end of the scale is healthy.

How do you help single parents move to the middle of the scale?

I think the answer lies in relationships. This became apparent at a ‘strengthening families’ workshop. We discussed the importance of knowing the person; their strengths, their needs. From a genuine relationship, the person feels comfortable not humiliated to reveal their weaknesses and weed height! In the relationship, you discover the person’s gifts and what will help them improve their health. You then offer to do a task for them releasing them to self-care and/or live their purpose.

The offer from friends/relationship is important. If it is offered as welfare, ‘how good it is of us to do this for you,’ it is humiliating and can push people towards the welfare end of the scale.

Help offered from a trusting, genuine relationship can move single parents to the middle of the control freak scale, where there is mutual friendship and investment in each other. This is the community of the church caring for and growing each other.

For how to help See next blog for 7 practicals tips to strengthen single parent families on 18th April

Many single parents refuse invitations to meals, offers of babysitting etc. because they can’t reciprocate. You can overcome this – see this Thursdays blog ‘where are you on the control freak scale’ posting for single parents on One Together.

My church home group bargained with me to clean up my garden so I can be released to fulfill my role as church treasurer.

Putting legs on it

Are there single parents in your church? (To be reflective of your local community, it may be up to a quarter of your church families being single parents)

How connected in relationship are they? If not, how can this be changed?

From relationship work out a way to strengthen them.

Resources Pay it forward

Pay it forward day:

Random acts of kindness:

Asset based community development

Bank of ideas

Faith in action

Photo credit: Brian Ceccato

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