The Next Right Thing
Single moms can often feel like they live in a whirlwind, but PeggySue Wells and Pam Farrel give easy and practical steps to help them do the next right thing.
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Single moms can often feel like they live in a whirlwind, but PeggySue Wells and Pam Farrel give easy and practical steps to help them do the next right thing.
The Next Right Thing
Ann: I’m going to give you two words, and I want you to respond to it. Are you ready?
Dave: Now I’m ready!
Ann: Okay: ‘Single mom.”
Dave: First thought is: committed, loving, best mom in the world: my mom!
Ann: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.
Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on our FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today.
Dave: I did not realize I was being raised by a single mom until I was a teenager; you know, it didn’t hit me. I mean, I missed my dad; I missed that part of my life, but it didn’t hit me: “She is doing all of this!”—you know. So when I hear “single mom,” there are all kinds of words.
We get to talk about that today; we get to put some words around it.
Ann: And I’m excited; because I feel like, a lot of times, we don’t address single moms enough. I think that they feel a little lost and forgotten. And I know, with your mom, I don’t know how she did it! It’s remarkable!
But we’re excited today, because we are going to talk about this.
Dave: Yes; and I would even say, as we start: “If you know a single mom, write her a note; pray for her; send her a gift right now.” I mean, I know my mom felt alone a lot.
Dave: Okay, enough about me and enough about my mom.
We get to talk about a book today, which has a great title: The 10 Best Decisions a Single Mom Can Make. And we’ve got two of the most prolific authors—
Dave: —I think I’ve ever met in my life.
Ann: —Pam Farrel and PeggySue Wells. First, welcome to FamilyLife Today.
PeggySue: Thanks. It’s great to be at FamilyLife! We raised our kids listening to FamilyLife Today; didn’t we?
Pam: That’s exactly what I said when I pulled into the parking lot: “I listened to this, raising my kids!” It was such good, good guidance.
Ann: Ah, that’s good to hear!
Dave: Did you really? Where did you listen?
PeggySue: I really did; on the radio in California.
Pam: Okay, mine goes even further back. Bill and I/we were dating, and I was deciding whether to marry Bill. I sat under Dennis Rainey’s teaching on marriage—
Pam: —at a Cru® conference. I always credit FamilyLife with giving us a great marriage, you know, 42 years later.
Dave: —42 years!
Ann: So you were on Cru staff?
Pam: We were not! We were students, actually.
Ann: Oh! That’s great.
Dave: And then you write, you know, a book I think a lot of us have read—I know/what?—millions have read?
Pam: Well, 400/500,000; something like that, yes.
Dave: Yes, that’s just a few people—[Laughter]—Men Are Like Waffles—Women Are Like Spaghetti;and then, Red Hot Monogamy?
Pam: Yes; that’s a fun one.
Ann: You have written over 50 books; right?
Ann: That’s incredible!
Dave: Yes, that’s crazy! We’ve written two; we think we’re dying just to get two out.
Pam: The first is the hardest and the most exciting, though. So you have accomplished that great hurdle.
Dave: But PeggySue is sitting here, and you’re no light weight!—30 books—really?
Dave: So how did you two get together and decide: “Let’s write a book together”?
Pam: Okay, PeggySue tells it best.
Dave: Oh, really?
PeggySue: Here’s the thing: I was working as producer for a radio station up in Fort Wayne—WBCL—and—
Dave: Hoosiers! By the way, Hoosiers!
PeggySue: Exactly! [Laughter]
Dave: You know, I’m a Hoosier as well, you know, going to college there.
PeggySue: Ball State?—that’s where you went?
Dave: The great Ball State; the Harvard of the Midwest. [Laughter] Okay, go ahead!
PeggySue: Rah, rah!
As I was there, I was already familiar with Pam Farrel and Bill Farrel/with their books. I’d read them as I was married, and as I was raising my kids, and what-not. As a producer, I would book different authors. She was releasing books pretty regularly, and so they would come across my desk. She was always a great interview. There were a couple of times, where I would even have, “Okay, we’ve got this empty place,”—because, you know, somebody couldn’t come at the last minute—I would call Pam. “Pam, can you…” “Oh, yes!” I mean, she was just ready all of the time. Every interview was great! Our listeners loved her. She would do a lot of Q&A afterward.
She wrote this book about parenting, and it had all these great tips about parenting; I got a pile of these books. I’m handing them out to the lady who does my hair; and I’m just like, “This is such a good book! Everybody needs it!”
And then, you did the one about singles, you know? Then, I’m like, “Well, wait!” You know, we’ve got parenting; we’ve got singles, and I happen to be a single mom. I kind of fought writing about it, because you get really vulnerable about it; and I didn’t want to be known as that person.
Then, somebody said, “Well, how long?” I said, “Well, like 20 years I’ve been a single mom.” They said, “Well, you have a lot of experience, so can you share that?” I was like, “Yes, I can do that.” I didn’t want to do it by myself, so I went to Pam immediately for a couple of reasons; she was perfect for it! One is she’s super-wise; she knows about parenting; she knows about that relationship with the Lord that it’s all about; Pam was raised by a single mom.
Pam: Right! My parents’ marriage fractured; and so I was raised, the end of my growing up years, by my awesome single mom, whom I call my hero. I definitely watched my siblings being raised, most of their childhood, by my single mom, whom I adore, Afton.
PeggySue and I/it was funny!—like when I would be on the radio for 10 Best Decisions [Every] Parent Can Make—we would have these sidebar conversations for like
30 minutes, just about single moms and the need to care for them and what churches could do—because my husband was a pastor, and I was a director of women’s ministry. Our hearts were bonded, probably, a decade before the opportunity came up to write 10 Best Decisions a Single Mom Can Make.
PeggySue: And she asked me a really interesting question at one point; she was like, “Why don’t you write with another single mom?” And I said, “Because you came from that.” What Pam shows is: “This is an experience; it’s not your identity.”
PeggySue: Because you either are a single mom, or because you are raised by a single mom, that is just an experience that feeds into who you are and into the tapestry of your life; but it’s not an identity. It’s not a stamp, like, “Oh, you’re never going to outgrow this.”
Now, [she] and Bill are traveling the world, helping people have really strong marriages; so I’m like, “You’re the one I want!” I wouldn’t let her go; she got on board. The information that she put into this book is so powerful, for the two of us writing together, because she has such great experience. I’ve had people pick up this book; and they say, “There’s such great parenting stuff in here!”
Dave: Right, right!
Ann: So it’s not just a single-parent book?
PeggySue: No! I’ve had a lot of people come back and say, “We love it just for the parenting advice!” What we did was—we took from both of us—because our kids are grown now—everything that worked! [Laughter]
Pam: That’s right!
Ann: Oh, that’s good.
PeggySue: Only the stuff that worked! And then, we brought in some sidebar sisters/other people who have walked that path. We took everything that was the best information that we can give you for that single mom and her family to be successful, and that’s what we poured into the book.
Ann: Well, PeggySue, walk us through your past; because you have seven kids.
PeggySue: —just seven. [Laughter]
Dave: Just/only seven!
Ann: That’s all you have.
PeggySue: Just seven, yes.
Ann: Tell us about that. Becoming a single mom had to be an experience that was not easy.
PeggySue: It wasn’t what I wanted. You know, you have that script in your head: “This is how my life’s going to go...”
PeggySue: My parents split up when I was young; so I had really thought, “I’m going to do this differently. I’m going to do it/you know, I’m going to fix whatever problems; I’m going to do this right.”
And then, 20 years into it—the youngest was not 2; she was just a year old—and their dad chose out. You know, we make choices; we choose whether we stay or go. So then, it was like, “Okay.” In one evening, I started that journey as a single mom. If I could go back and do it over again—because I made so many slow changes that should have been done much faster—the shame and the humiliation was kind of the hardest part to deal with.
PeggySue: I kind of wanted to introduce you to the single mom today, if that’s okay?
PeggySue: But I’d like to tell you who she is. Here’s who the single mom is today, and this is who we wrote for:
One in four homes is single-mom led. Fifty percent of kids are expected to live in a single-parent home before age eighteen. Three-quarters of single moms have full-time careers. Less than half receive government assistance, and most of those only do until they can support their family on their own. Under half of them get any type of child support; those that do, get about $6,000 per year.
Forty percent of single moms are over forty. Eighty-five percent of them don’t go to church. They’re unchurched because they feel judged, and they feel not welcome at the church. Most feel alone, isolated, and judged—but they’re not alone—because single moms/there are 15 million solo moms raising 22 million kids.
And she wishes that the cleaning fairy would stop in once a week, [Laughter] leave everything sparkling, with something delicious simmering in the oven.
That’s why we wanted to write this book, too—to say, “We’ve got some ideas and some tips, so that we can help!”—so that, in all of the devastation that’s going on, we can still raise some really solid kids, and some kids that are going to be able to go out there and make some really good decisions—and some moms, who want to come alongside them and help them make those decisions.
For the majority of the moms, [who] are single moms, it’s because of a separation or a divorce; so they didn’t start out to raise a child by themselves. There’s going to be sort of this crisis/this trauma that hits. There’s a sort of betrayal. It’s not good news when you wind up with this relationship splitting; and so, when there’s that break there, we enter into a trauma situation. The front part of our brain, which is the thinking part of our brain, God designed it that we go offline; it goes back to the part that’s the fight, flight, or freeze.
Most of these moms/we stay there; we look at single moms around us, and we’re like, “What is she thinking?!” I’m sure people looked at me! I would look at myself in the mirror and say, “What am I thinking?!” Sometimes, you watch kids in that setting; and you are like, “What are they thinking?!”—they’re not!
PeggySue: They’re not thinking, because we’re in this trauma situation; so we’re not able to think and make good decisions when we most need to.
Dave: Are they just surviving?—I mean, they’re just getting through?
PeggySue: We are reacting, not responding.
Ann: Oh, that’s good.
PeggySue: And then, because of the setting—you know, for some people, that split or that shift into being a single mom will be—you know, we have a couple of odd years; and then we kind of get into the groove, and we move along.
With other people, it seems like the trauma and the upset—and you know, the crisis—goes on, and on, and on with every phone call; with every visit; with “You know, I have to get a new job”; “Do we have to relocate?” “Do we have to do visitations?” “Do we have to go to court?”; “Do we have to…”—there are all these things that come. With each one of them that comes, that thinking part of your brain is not able to come online; you’re still back here in the fight, flight, or freeze. That’s where the moms and these kids are living.
That’s why, when Pam and I put the book together, we were like, “We get this. We know this is where you are, so we’re going to help you make the next right decision/do the next right thing until, finally, that thinking part comes back online”; and then you’ll see those moms fly.
Dave: Pam, do you remember?—you know, watching your mom sort of experience what PeggySue’s saying.
Pam: Oh, yes!
Dave: Because when I hear that, I’m like, “Oh, yes; that’s what my mom went through.”
Dave: I mean, I didn’t have words for it then; but now, as you say it, I’m like, “I was the kid watching this.”
Pam: You’ll see—I mean, I’m tearing up, even now, as I’m thinking about the trauma my mom went through, if you have heard any of my story through any of those other books.
Dave: —those other 50 books?
Pam: I know! I’m a first-born daughter—alcoholic dad/severe rage issues—I always thought that our family would make the headlines; a ton of domestic violence in the home that I grew up in. But my mom/she would put her Super Woman cape on and try to stand between us and the violence—that’s where she lived—is in that state of trauma.
Now, the upside is my dad’s job kept him traveling five days a week; so it was only two days a week—on the weekends—that were like crazy, chaos, survival mode. That’s how we survived for 17 years of the marriage. I was a freshman in college when my parents’ marriage finally frayed apart.
She was living in a beautiful gated community, very wealthy. My dad was very successful at work, despite the fact that he was living out of the bottle and drinking all of the time. But he was so brilliant at what he did, he was able to function until he got home at night; and then the violence would appear.
I got this phone call from my sister, begging me to come home; because she had left in the morning for school, and when she came home, my mom was still in her pajamas at the end of the day. She was sitting in the shower, cleaning the grout with a toothbrush; and she had been there all day. [Groaning] And my sister was like, “Something’s wrong with mom. I think that her heart and her mind have broken.” I said, “I’ll be right there; I’ll be right there.”
Ann: Pam, let me ask you: “At any point, were you kids saying, ‘Mom! You need to get out. You need to get safe’?”
Pam: Yes; in fact, for probably a decade, we were saying, “It’s okay, Mom;—
Pam: —“if you need to leave, it’s okay.” She just had this core value of wanting the marriage to work.
Ann: Yes; probably for you kids.
Pam: She did. She knew that, even if it were chaotic, that there was always this hope that dad would go to AA/that dad would go to church with us—because the four of us went to church—my mom and the three siblings/we all went to church. It was because my mom’s best friend, Kathy, saw the chaos that we were living in, when I was about six or seven years old, and she invited us to come to church.
There, I met loving people like you all—the Wilsons—and I saw what love looked like. As a little girl, I said, “I want to know the Author of love, Jesus.” I made a decision for Christ when I was little, and I began reading the Bible. God fortified my life! He gave me hope and joy in the midst of chaos. My mom came to Christ right after that/within that same year through being the craft lady at Vacation Bible School—
Pam: —and hearing the Jesus stories through a child’s eyes.
Ann: Let me pause just for a second.
Ann: Because I’m thinking of all of us, who are scared to invite our neighbors to church, or to share the gospel—or like, “Oh, will they be offended?”—that’s what brought you guys life!—
Pam: Exactly! Exactly.
Ann: —on this planet and in eternity.
Pam: It changed the course of our family tree!
Ann: Yes; wow. So you give your life to Christ; this is beginning to transform your life/your mom’s life—
Ann: —but she’s in that bathroom. Take us back to the grout.
Pam: Yes; I had come home from college. My mom and my sister/they went to the doctor. This godly doctor said to my mom:
Alright; you have a few choices here:
You can stay; and eventually, your husband may kill you.
You can stay; and you’ll fracture, and you might kill him.
You can stay; and maybe one of your kids will get killed, and you won’t be able to live with that; or your husband wouldn’t be able to live with that.
Or you can leave and get help with the hope that that will wake your husband up enough that he might reach out and get help, too.
Pam: And when mom laid out all of those things in front of us, we said, “That’s what we’ve been trying to say, Mom.” And my grandfather said, “Come home, Afton. Bring the kids and come home.” And so that’s what we did; so she went back to a safe place.
And that’s a lot of what we encourage women: “If your life is in a hard spot, go back to the places, and the people, and the Bible verses that you know that you know that you know that you last heard the Word of God; because those are the safe places.”
My grandparents then stepped in. My grandfather stepped in to be a great role model of what a dad looks like—a healthy dad—to help finish raising my siblings. That’s the year I also met Bill, and we fell in love. The first time my parents saw each other [since the divorce] was at my wedding!
Pam: [Sarcastically] That was fun! [Laughter]
Ann: Her story is very much like yours, Dave.
Dave: Yes; I mean, it’s crazy how your story is so similar—
Pam: —wow; similar
Dave: —to mine. I mean, I won’t get into the details—but the same thing—my mom went to her parents—
Dave: —from New Jersey to Ohio.
And PeggySue, you went through it as the mom; we were both the children.
But how do you dig out of that trauma? How does a single parent get their feet back? I know there’s a different timeline for everybody. I watched my mom. What would yousay?
PeggySue: One of the things is to get a circle around you that is trustworthy and is strong. That is a hard thing to do; because when my children and I found ourselves by ourselves, the first thing that my kids said to me was, “Can we not tell anyone?”
Ann: Oh! So they felt that shame as well.
PeggySue: They were totally ashamed! And my dad left when I was a kid. The thing that I internalized—you know, we take facts, and we tell ourselves a story—
PeggySue: —the story I told myself about that was that I wasn’t valuable enough for him to make the effort to stay together to be a family/to stay, and be my dad, and raise me. I already had that: “I’m not valuable.” I took that same story and, then, applied it when my husband left. I’m like, “Oh, I’m not valuable enough for him to want to hang out and make this thing work either.”
I think that’s part of what played into my children; because they were like, “We are embarrassed!” You know, things looked pretty okay from the outside; but we’re embarrassed that we’re this family that society calls a broken home. Let’s be quite honest; the church hasn’t known what to do—
PeggySue: —with single-mom families.
PeggySue: They’ve not felt really welcome there.
It was six months before my children, one at a time, found somebody in their circle that they felt comfortable enough to say—because we had also hoped, you know, he’d get himself together and come back!—
PeggySue: —and then, maybe, a lot of people wouldn’t have to know; you know? That humiliation thing/that shame thing was pretty big in our circle.
Ann: Were you going to church at the time?
PeggySue: I was.
PeggySue: I completely was.
Ann: So you found your circle of people there?
PeggySue: Nope! [Laughter]
Ann: Oh! Interesting.
PeggySue: No; in fact, that was one of the places that we felt, probably, we didn’t want them to know. It wasn’t received really well.
PeggySue: I had one close friend in town, and then I had a best friend out in California; so you know, across the nation. Those were my two supports—they knew, and I could call them and talk to them—and they would help walk me through some things. And then, like I said, I let my kids, one at a time, choose someone. Most of them chose a teacher. I had kids, you know, from college on down; and they would choose somebody like that—kind of a mentor in their life—that they told.
But going back/if I could go back and do things again, I would say, “If the church that I am in—or that you are in—isn’t a place where you feel like you can be vulnerable, and be open, and get that support, I would say, ‘Please look around in your community and find that somewhere.’” Because that just might not be the chosen place for you to be right now. There is a good church somewhere, who’s going to understand you, and who is going to embrace you, and who will be that place like what Pam had when she was young, where: “This is what healthy family looks like!” “This is what healthy relationships look like,” and “Oh, yeah! We all need a Savior; nobody’s life is perfect. You can be not perfect here.”
Dave: I do remember, maybe a decade ago or so—I’ve been pastoring for 30 years; started the church/so founder, with another couple—
Ann: And Dave and I had been doing a lot of marriage series.
Dave: Yes; right.
Ann: So often, we would have singles come up to us and say, “We feel so left out; we’re never addressed.”
Dave: Yes; I remember I felt led to, on the stage, say to the congregation: “I apologize; I have let you down. If you’ve felt like this church is a church, where single parents, blended families, divorced—whatever”—I don’t even use the word, “broken,”—
Dave: —but I had—and I felt like I needed to start this sermon, which was a day on blended families, and say, “I’m sorry if you have ever felt that in this community; it’s on me/it’s on us. We’re going to change that!” I couldn’t believe the line of people that basically said, “Thank you for apologizing. Yes, we have felt that.”
I know I felt it, growing up in a single-parent home at the church! I would lay in bed at night and go, “Why me?”—you know—“Why us?” It was the same narrative I had in my head: “Dad didn’t love me enough; he would have stayed if he did.” And I know many single parents, listening right now, feel that; right?
Dave: They feel unloved. I just want to say: “You are loved!” and “I hope somebody sees you”; but we see you.
Bob: Our mission at FamilyLife is to see every home become a godly home. We recognize that every home has its challenges; every home is broken in some way. No matter your circumstances/no matter what you’re going through, FamilyLife exists to help point you toward healing and hope for your marriage and for your family.
Dave and Ann Wilson have been talking today with Pam Farrel and PeggySue Wells about single parenting and the challenges that come with single parenting. I’m wondering if, during this conversation, perhaps God has brought to mind for you someone you know who’s a single parent, whom you could reach out to and say, “I see you. I understand what you’re going through. I want to be here to help you.”
In fact, maybe give them a copy of the book that Pam and PeggySue have written, called The 10 Best Decisions a Single Mom Can Make: A Biblical Guide for Navigating Family Life on Your Own. We’d like to give you a copy of the book so you can pass it on to someone else. We’re making the book available this week to any FamilyLife Today listener who would reach out to help support the ministry of FamilyLife/help us reach more people, more often, with practical biblical help and hope for their marriages and their families.
If you make a donation today, you can request a copy of the book, The 10 Best Decisions a Single Mom Can Make. We’ll send it to you as your thank-you gift for your support. Donate online at FamilyLifeToday.com, or you can call to donate at 1-800-358-6329; that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Now, I want to remind you we have just a couple of days left for you to be signed up to maybe be our guests on the Love Like You Mean It® marriage cruise in February of 2022. We are excited that the cruise is happening again next February. We have a limited number of cabins still available; we’re giving one of those cabins to a FamilyLife Today listener. Here’s what you have to do to be eligible to be entered in the drawing for the cabin: go to FamilyLifeToday.com and download the “Love You Better” kit. This is a project our team has put together: a 30-day journey to help all of us do a better job of loving one another in marriage. It’s a free download; there’s no purchase necessary. Void where prohibited. All of that legal stuff’s on our website; you’ll find it there.
When you download the “Love You Better” kit, you’re automatically entered in the drawing for the Love Like You Mean It marriage cruise. All the details are available on our website, at FamilyLifeToday.com, so head there and check it out.
And I hope you’ll join us, again, tomorrow when we’re going to hear from PeggySue Wells and Pam Farrel about how important it is for single moms to have the right mindset as they approach this very challenging task of raising kids on your own. That’s what’s on tap tomorrow; I hope you can be with us for that.
On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We’ll see you, again, tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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