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Discussions about fatherlessness are nothing new in evangelical circles, but have become more prominent. Accompanied by statistics, evangelical leaders often highlight the importance of fathers and the detrimental effects of their absence, placing significance on the role of the husband and father as head of the household.

Now I do understand the concerns that prompt this method. Surely statistics demonstrate fatherless boys are more apt to be in prison, experience difficulties in school, drop out, have relational issues…and the list goes on. There are concerns households are not being adequately maintained by a proper head of household. There are concerns about the family breakdown and the impact on children. I get it is about the health of the family and broader society.

A Broader Perspective

While I do appreciate the concerns, I am not sure if those who point out these statistics understand the impact it has on the children affected by fatherlessness and the women who raise them. So I want to write from that perspective. My husband passed away just shy of my son’s seventh birthday. I had hoped for remarriage, so my son might have a father who can give male guidance. But it has not worked out that way. For whatever reason, God in his providence has not opened that door. Now that my son is 17, it almost seems like a moot point. I’m sure the Lord has his reasons.

Being married or not does not change the fact my son is a fatherless black boy, and subject to the statistics that are often so carelessly thrown around. While the prominent reason behind citing statistics seems to be concern for the church and the broader society, a myriad of reasons exist—including death, abandonment, divorce and domestic violence— that contribute to fatherlessness. So the identification of the problem cannot be treated with a simplistic version that dismisses those impacted. In every scenario, there are still those left behind – a single mother who must now care for the needs of a fatherless family.

A Broader Concern

What concerns me is the callous way these statistics are often tossed around. We can’t assume mothers who raise their children alone don’t value marriage, aren’t concerned about their welfare, or don’t take parenting seriously.  We also can’t conclude just because the parents aren’t married, that the father is not involved in the child’s life.

And this leads to my concerns about the impact on whom fatherlessness affects in broad strokes that basically relegates fatherlessness as some kind of disease (yes, I’ve heard it stated that way!).  Basically, decrying fatherlessness highlights inadequacy and tells those who are left with the task of raising children without a father their situation is inferior and is possibly doomed.  A single parent is already burdened with the reality of sole responsibility, not to mention feelings of inadequacy.  They already have concerns for the children’s welfare and the impact of an absence father.  The promotion of fear is often like a noose around a neck.

It also communicates to the children of single parent households they have a lack.  The problem is they already know there is an insufficiency, 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 something is missing? The fatherless see the presence of fathers in the lives of others, and most certainly are impacted by this void in their own lives. To burden the child further with statistics about their situation does not really resolve anything.

I don’t know if those who castigate fatherless households understand the detrimental impact it causes on the psyche of those affected. I want to say concerns for the welfare of the family drive them to do so. But what they need to realize is the welfare of the family may already be undermined. Why invoke more instability into situations experiencing less than ideal stability?

Something Else to Consider

Yes, two parent households are ideal, but the ideal world ended in Genesis 3.  To be sure, sin has impacted us all and produced a myriad of ways in which families have been detrimentally affected.  There is no guarantee 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, where the latter experiences turmoil or worse. I am not promoting single parent households; I’m only presenting the reality in many cases. The question then becomes, “What are we going to do about it?”

I personally would love to see statistics used for good, to encourage the church to take up the slack of families who experience lack because an absent father, to promote the support of the covenant community, community mentorship, and befriending families of fatherless children instead of dismissal, fear, and condemnation.  I do recall reading Scripture about 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 castigating households because of absent fathers?

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