Is it possible, as single parents, to instil in our children a love for God and for the church?
In essence, a single/divorced parent must do the same things as any parent who wants to pass on religious principles to their children: be an example when it comes to their spiritual life, read Bible stories or stories with a biblical message to the children, pray with them, create pleasant occasions associated with the Sabbath (personally, I believe that the Bible presents the Sabbath as God’s appointed day of worship), as well as attend church.
Naturally, there are specific difficulties that arise in the situation where the other parent (who has other religious leanings) passes on different or even opposite values to the children or encourages different behaviours when the children are in their care.
Passing on different values
We know that values are transmitted both verbally, through theoretical explanations and moral stories, and especially practically, through the parent’s behaviour in current life situations. If you are the parent with whom the children live, you have the great advantage of spending more time with them.
Even if the other parent transmits opposing values through words and deeds, the children will be more exposed to the Christian values and behaviour of the parent with whom they share a household. Therefore, the principles that you transmit theoretically through explanations, exhortations, or reprimands should be clearly applied in your day-to-day life.
Since a potential negative influence must be counterbalanced, the positive values of the single parent must be significant and more visible than in the case of two-parent families. The child needs to see you praying, reading the Scriptures, attending church, showing kindness and tolerance towards your peers, demonstrating understanding towards conflicting neighbours and especially showing kindness towards your ex-partner.
There will be occasions when you will have to state bluntly that the actions and words of the other parent are contrary to God’s moral law, human civil laws, or etiquette. The child will tend to defend the parent with whom they do not live, so always prepare your arguments well and above all show Christian humility.
Do not criticise the other parent unnecessarily and do not place yourself morally above them. I have personally had to deal with my child insistently using a children’s booklet of the Ten Commandments to explain to his father how wrong he was to leave us for other women. Firmly establish that sin is sin, but above all explain to the children that God offers forgiveness and restoration, and although some things hurt a lot, and cannot be fixed, only God has the right to judge us and can “take us all up to heaven” if we receive His forgiveness.
Affirm this so that the child understands it (affirm it even if they do not understand it), but also so that it is ingrained in your own mind! Yes, it is very difficult to show grace to a person who has hurt you indescribably for a long time, but it is the most effective way to pass on authentic Christian values to your children.
Praying out loud, with the child, for the ex-partner and maybe even his new family is the next step and one of the hardest things I’ve learned to do. However, I am convinced that it is a good implementation of the divine principles that I would like to instil in my own child.
Be careful though! Children have a radar that detects hypocrisy very easily. Take these steps in an emotionally sustainable rhythm, with sincerity, and with the fear of God! When my child asked me what I would do if he brought his father’s partner home, I felt my Christianity being put to the test. My theoretical answer was commendable, and I can only hope that, beyond the test my child put me through, I will rise to the level of my own declared principles, if faced with the real thing.
If you do not live with your child, in addition to the suggestions above, there are some practical things you can do. For example, perhaps right from the stage of the divorce formalities, come to an agreement to spend the day of worship together with the children or at least be allowed to take them to church. Make sure that the children can make healthy friendships there, so that, in addition to enjoying the time spent together, there is another reason for their exposure to the religious environment.
During the week, depending on the child’s age, establish routines of prayer in the evening, before bed, and/or short Bible stories or stories with a Christian message, using video or audio applications. Every Friday evening, as the Sabbath begins, you can plan a special activity. These things involve significant effort, but they represent an anchor of spirituality that will count significantly in the child’s spiritual journey. Always consider the child’s needs and mood. Don’t make the few minutes of spiritual education an end in itself!
On the one hand, chances are that they will accept you more easily, because you are the parent they miss, but, on the other hand, it is possible that the influences from the family they live with are stronger. Be creative and don’t get discouraged if you’re turned down on occasion! The younger the child is when you start, the easier it will be along the way.
An example of the conflict of values: the way you spend the Sabbath
Although it is difficult, it would be useful to formally negotiate during the divorce stage to keep the children on the Sabbath, even if they are entrusted to your care and you live with them during the week. However, even if the other parent is understanding, there will still be situations—for example, during holidays—when they will want to (and have the right to) take the child for several days, which will also include the Sabbath.
In this case, the above suggestions regarding using modern audio and video technology to connect with the child at the opening and closing of the Sabbath, for going through Bible study, and for a Bible/moral story, are valid. If they are older, in addition to the Bible and appropriate books packed in their luggage, you can send them links to live or recorded religious programs.
However, keep in mind that for all of this they will need to spend time apart from the other parent and their family—a difficult fact, given the peer pressure, in general, but especially the child’s desire to be with the other parent for as long as possible. Therefore, it is very important not to insist and for them not to feel pressured from this side too.
It is already a win that you have made resources available to them and confirmed once more the importance of the day of worship. Make an effort to provide the child with the necessary resources for worship even when you are convinced that they will not use them—it will still be ingrained in their mind that this day is a special one!
At the same time, ask your ex-partner to make the day of worship a special occasion during their vacation (a special hike, a special meal, a break from other activities, etc.). Trust them, and they might pleasantly surprise you, wanting to respect this particularity of the child!
As a method of persuasion, you can use the analogy with a potential food allergy: if they knew that their son/daughter had a peanut allergy, they would not let them eat them. Likewise, if they know that the Sabbath is important to their child, they are expected to give them a special day during the holiday, encouraging their son/daughter to use the resources you have made available to them.
Pay close attention to the child’s reports upon returning from vacation. They will definitely tell you how they felt on the Sabbath and how the other parent behaved toward it. If the parent did not behave honourably or even pressured the child to disregard the Sabbath, through denigration or irony, you may need to set (firmer) boundaries.
Analyse well the ratio between potential damages, gains, and risks of conflict escalation! In extreme situations, you can resort to at least two solutions: either you do not allow the child to spend the Sabbath with the other parent from the start (you may have legal limitations in this regard), or, with an investment of time and money, you can travel to the area where the child is, to spend the Sabbath together.
It is only after much consideration, prayer, and analysis of the seriousness of the situation that you should resort to extreme measures! If you ask Him, God will give you wisdom in situations of tension and conflict.
It is possible that sometimes you are pressured by circumstances to leave your child in the care of your ex-partner on Saturdays in the town where you live. In this case, ask them to take the child/children to church and arrange ahead of time for a trusted person/family to pick them up and spend the Sabbath together—preferably the family of a friend of the child. It is a situation that will probably be enjoyed by all parties involved. Ask for help! You will be surprised by how much kindness, goodwill, and support you will find in your fellow believers at church.
But above all, always and invariably, you will find support, encouragement, and guidance in God. Through prayer, study, and your own conscience—as well as through the words of your child or those around you—God will find ways to convey to you which way to go in the difficult mission of instilling in the child the love of God, the Bible, and the church.
Emilia Olaru is a single mother who wants to live so that her child is happy. In her concern to create a framework in which happiness can grow like a healthy plant, she knows that God is on her side and is, at the same time, the most precious legacy she can pass on.