Fatherless Families—Breaking the Cycle
IF PRESENT trends continue, fatherless families will soon be the norm. A report by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services claims: “Children raised by a single parent tend to receive lower grades, have more behavior problems, and have higher rates of chronic health and psychiatric disorders. . . . Being raised in a single-mother family is associated with elevated risks of teenage childbearing, high school dropout, [and] incarceration.”
Little wonder, then, that social scientists, family counselors, educators, and even politicians desperately seek ways to halt this devastating trend. Large-scale rallies for men have been held to ignite pride in fatherhood and to confirm men’s commitment to family. Books on fatherhood have flooded the market. Efforts have even been made to force fathers to care for their responsibilities. In the United States, “deadbeat dads” have been castigated by judges, assailed on TV talk shows, and even subjected to public humiliation. Such efforts, though, have produced feeble results.
A quick fix may likewise produce dubious results. For example, a divorced woman may remarry in haste, hoping to give her children a new father. But while remarriage may have its advantages, there can be problems. Children are sometimes resistant to accepting someone new as their father. Sometimes they never do. One study revealed that “nearly two-thirds of women who lived with a stepparent had left home before age 19 . . . , compared to 50% of women from intact homes.” Even in successful stepfamilies, it sometimes takes several years before a stepfather is accepted by the children. *
Similarly, there are no quick fixes to the problem of teen pregnancy. Abortion, for example, violates God’s law and requires a young woman to shut the door of her tender compassions upon the tiny life developing within her. (Exodus 20:13; 21:22, 23; Psalm 139:14-16; compare 1 John 3:17.) How could that not leave emotional scars? Giving up a child for adoption is seen by many as a more humane solution, but it too can leave emotional scars—on both mother and child.
No, quick fixes will not break the cycle of fatherless families. Current family trends will be halted only if people are willing to make profound changes in their thinking, their attitudes, their behavior, their morals. Something more than high-sounding talk and pop psychology is needed if people are to be motivated to make such sweeping changes. That “something more” is found in God’s Word, the Bible. After all, it is God himself who instituted the family arrangement. (Ephesians 3:14, 15) He knows better than anyone else what children need.
Bible Principles Help Families to Cope
But can the Bible really help children who have an absentee parent? Are they not damaged beyond repair? No, they are not. At the beginning of this article, we quoted a U.S. government report that itemized many of the risks these children face. Dire words notwithstanding, the report concluded: “Despite consistent evidence of greater risk, the research also shows that the majority of children in single parent families develop normally.” Yes, the consequences of being fatherless can be eliminated or at least minimized. This is especially so if Bible principles are applied in child rearing.
This requires hard work on the part of a single parent—a prospect that may seem overwhelming at first. But if you are in this situation, you can learn to rely fully on Jehovah God. (Proverbs 3:1, 2) Some Christian women in Bible times faced grievous situations, such as widowhood. Regarding such ones the Bible says: “The woman who is actually a widow and left destitute has put her hope in God and persists in supplications and prayers night and day.” (1 Timothy 5:5) Remember that Jehovah calls himself “a father of fatherless boys.” (Psalm 68:5) You can be assured that he will support a God-fearing woman in her efforts to raise her children.
Conducting a regular home Bible study with one’s children is an essential way to help them grow up to be balanced, mature adults. (Deuteronomy 6:6-9) Among Jehovah’s Witnesses many single parents use Bible-based publications specifically developed for young ones, such as Questions Young People Ask—Answers That Work. * The information therein helps young ones to develop moral standards that can help them to avoid making their parents’ mistakes. As children come to know Jehovah God, they can begin to perceive that they have a heavenly Father who deeply cares for them. (Psalm 27:10) This can enable them to cope with feelings of abandonment. A British girl who experienced her parents’ breakup recalls: “Through all of it, Mum instilled in me the need for prayer and complete reliance on Jehovah. That enabled us to cope.”
Maintaining the Parent-Child Bond
The Bible makes it clear that a child must honor both his mother and his father. (Exodus 20:12) And divorce does not break the father-child bond. Though the ex-husband may no longer live at home, the children can still benefit from having a warm relationship with him. * The problem is that the mother may feel angry toward him and resent his involvement with the children. How can the mother cope with these feelings?
The Bible gives good advice when it cautions: “Take care that rage does not allure you into spiteful [actions] . . . Be on your guard that you do not turn to what is hurtful.” (Job 36:18-21) Granted, it’s not easy to speak kindly of someone who has hurt or abandoned you. But ask yourself: ‘Can a girl learn to trust a man if she is constantly told how bad her father is? Can a boy develop a stable, manly personality if he is chastised by being told, “You’re just like your father”? Can children have a healthy view of authority if they are taught to despise their father or are discouraged from seeing him at all?’ Clearly, undermining your children’s relationship with their father is damaging.
It might surprise you to know that the Bible does not condemn righteous indignation. “Be wrathful,” says the Bible, “and yet do not sin.” (Ephesians 4:26) Being angry is not the sin, but being controlled by “wrath, anger, badness, abusive speech” is. (Colossians 3:8) So avoid ‘father bashing’ in front of your children. If you feel the need to express your frustrations, follow the Bible’s suggestion to share your “anxious care,” but do so with someone other than your children—perhaps a trusted friend. (Proverbs 12:25) Try to maintain a positive attitude and avoid dwelling on the past. (Ecclesiastes 7:10) Doing so can do much to help mitigate your anger.
Finally, remember that the Bible commands a child to respect his father—even if his father’s conduct has been less than admirable. (Ephesians 6:2, 3) So try to help your children to put their father’s shortcomings in perspective. One young woman who grew up in a broken home says: “By viewing my father objectively—as a fallible, imperfect human—I’ve finally come to terms with him.” By encouraging your children to respect their father, you help them to develop a healthy view of your parental authority!
It is also important that you not blur the boundaries between you and your children. They are still under the ‘law of their mother.’ (Proverbs 1:8) Sons can feel overburdened if they are expected to be ‘the man of the house.’ Daughters can likewise be overwhelmed by having to serve as their mother’s confidante. Children need to be assured that you the parent will care for them—not vice versa. (Compare 2 Corinthians 12:14.) Such assurance can make them feel secure, even though their family situation is not ideal.
What if the father is entirely out of the picture? Experts say that children can benefit from having male association. While the kindly interest that an uncle or a neighbor takes in a child can do some good, he will particularly benefit from the wholesome male association that exists within the Christian congregation. Jesus promised that the congregation would be like a supportive family.—Mark 10:29, 30.
In Bible times young Timothy grew up to be an outstanding man of God, without the support of a believing father. The Bible gives much of the credit for this to his loving mother and grandmother. (Acts 16:1; 2 Timothy 1:1-5) However, he also benefited from association with a Christian man—the apostle Paul. Paul called Timothy his “beloved and faithful child in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 4:17) Similarly today, Jehovah’s Witnesses are encouraged to heed the Bible’s counsel “to look after orphans and widows.” (James 1:27) They are urged to ‘rescue fatherless boys’ by taking a sincere, balanced interest in such ones. (Job 29:12) A young woman named Annette recalls the healthy interest a Christian elder took in her when she was young, saying: “He was the only real father figure I ever had.”
Breaking the Cycle
These principles can help fatherless children to succeed. In spite of their disadvantaged childhoods, they can become balanced, productive adults as well as loving, faithful, and committed parents. Even so, prevention is far better than any cure. And ultimately, the cycle of fatherless families can be broken only when men and women make a commitment to apply the Bible in their lives—for example, by adhering to the Bible’s prohibition on sex before marriage and by following the standards the Bible sets for husbands and wives.—1 Corinthians 6:9; Ephesians 5:21-33.
Nowadays, many children have fathers in the house and yet can still be called fatherless. Claims one expert in family issues: “The biggest problem facing . . . children today is a lack of time with and attention from their parents.” God’s Word addresses this issue head-on. It commands fathers regarding their children: “Give them the instruction, and the correction, which belong to a Christian upbringing.” (Ephesians 6:4, New English Bible; Proverbs 24:27) When fathers follow the Bible’s advice, children have no fear of being abandoned.
Is it realistic to believe, though, that people will turn to the Bible on a large scale? Hardly. (Matthew 7:14) But Jehovah’s Witnesses have helped millions to find happiness in their family life through a program of home Bible study. * Of course, the Bible warns that all married couples will suffer “tribulation in their flesh” because of imperfection. (1 Corinthians 7:28) But those who truly respect God’s Word seek to work out their problems, not to divorce at the first sign of trouble. Admittedly, there are times when a Christian may appropriately consider separation or even divorce. (Matthew 5:32) However, knowing the possible impact this could have on his or her children will move a Christian to seek ways to salvage the marriage if at all possible.
Following the Bible will do more than save your family now. It can make it possible for all of you to live forever! Jesus said: “This means everlasting life, their taking in knowledge of you, the only true God, and of the one whom you sent forth, Jesus Christ.” (John 17:3) Reading and applying the counsel found in God’s Word is one of the best ways to make sure that your family will remain intact forever.
^ par. 5 Information to help stepparents was published in the March 1, 1999, issue of our companion journal, The Watchtower.
^ par. 11 Published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc.
^ par. 13 This would not apply when a child is in danger of being physically or sexually abused by a father.
^ par. 24 The book The Secret of Family Happiness (published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc.) has much Bible-based advice that can help families. It can be obtained by contacting Jehovah’s Witnesses locally.
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By following Bible principles, a single parent can have success in raising children
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Christian men can often ‘rescue the fatherless boy’ by taking a sincere and healthy interest in him