What do Catholics think of single mothers?

Monday May 28, 1984

Single parent, but not left alone

Declaration by the Central Committee of German Catholics

I. What obliges us

In our concern for families, we must not overlook the situation of single parents and their cattle. Many everyday problems that are familiar to all families are confronted in an acute form. In addition, they are often isolated. It is not uncommon for them to suffer from prejudice and disadvantage. As Christians we are called to take care of their concerns. Single parents are entitled to our solidarity.

With our declaration we supplement the previous statements of the Central Committee of German Catholics on marriage and the family. We do this in the spirit of the Apostolic Letter "Familiaris consortio" from Pope John Paul II on the tasks of the Christian family in the world today from November 1981 and the resolution "Christian Marriage and Family" of the Joint Synod of the Dioceses in the Federal Republic Germany of May 1975. Both pronouncements represent the value of marriage and the family that grows from it from the point of view of faith with the rights and duties connected with it. On this basis, they are an expression of the Church's service to people and the common care for one another every situation. So they speak a language of truth, love, understanding and encouragement.

With our statement on the living situation of single parents and their children, we are primarily addressing the communities. We want to support the work of those who are involved at the diocesan and community level, in associations, institutions and individual groups. At the same time, we turn to the politically responsible at all levels to improve the living conditions of single parents through economic and social assistance.

It is our concern to contribute to more understanding on all sides, to overcoming prejudices, to solidarity among Christians towards those who, as single parents, have to cope with particularly difficult life situations. Single parents need our empathy, the feeling of belonging and the experience of a personally enriching togetherness for themselves and their children. Part of the lively and open congregation is that single parents also take an active part in parish life.

II. Economic and social problems in everyday life for single parents

1. Who are the single parents?

When we speak of single parents, we mean different groups with different living conditions.

The around 1 million single parents currently make up around 11% of all households with children under the age of 18. The divorced group now makes up the largest proportion with 45%; another 17% live separately. Widow and widower families are only 25%. The proportion of unmarried mothers and fathers makes up 13%. Around 1.3 million children under the age of 18 grow up in one-parent families; Here too, the largest share, at 64%, is attributable to divorced and separated parents. The number of single fathers has also increased considerably since the 1970s; in 1983 this was 145,000.

2. Income and housing situation

The extent and content of the problems faced by single parents are in many cases unknown.

The everyday life of many single parents is burdened by low income, housing and time problems. These problems are all the more serious when they have to be coped with in a personal situation in which mental crises, disappointment, resignation, feelings of abandonment, failure and guilt, but also new tasks, such as sole responsibility for children, have to be dealt with and too are to cope with.

Separation, divorce and widowhood lead to drastic changes in personal and social life, albeit to different degrees. The previous apartment is now too expensive and has to be given up, the standard of living cannot be maintained. The economic situation of young unmarried mothers is particularly precarious. Many of them have no vocational training and few opportunities to earn a living. This is also reflected in the social welfare statistics. A third of single mothers, apart from the widows, are welfare recipients. 40% of single mothers receive only irregular or no maintenance payments at all. The advance maintenance funds that came into force in 1980 are of great help to many of those affected; but their benefits are limited to the 6th year of the child to be looked after and should be expanded.

3. Between employment and educational tasks

The circumstances mentioned force many single parents to work. While 42% of married mothers with children under 18 are employed, the proportion of single parents is 60%; In addition, a significantly higher proportion of them see themselves forced to full-time gainful employment. This tendency also applies to the group of single parents with small children. Here, too, the proportion of mothers with children under the age of 6 who work full-time is above average. It is 42% compared to 33% in the group of married mothers.

Single parents are often accused of being gainfully employed and not caring for their children adequately. But with such accusations, no attention is paid to the increased efforts that many single parents are willing to make for their children, so that they do not have to make additional or limited demands on their fellow human beings, on the state and society. If they do not want to be dependent on social assistance, they have to become gainfully employed. In many cases, they only have the choice of full-time employment because either too few part-time jobs are available or because part-time work does not allow them to earn sufficient family income.

Single fathers and mothers lack additional family facilities, such as family day care centers, crèches, day care centers and after-school care centers. In Germany there are only a few full-day places available for children: the offer is not only just under 10% for the respective age group of the children, but also too expensive for many single parents despite the grant or cost reduction granted. An additional problem is the poor coordination between the opening times of the care facilities, especially the kindergartens, and the working hours of the parents.

In most municipalities, little has been done to date to organize neighborhood help, childcare or homework supervision on a subsidiary basis, thereby relieving the burden on single parents.

The surveys of the last few years show that many single mothers with small children want and urgently need a longer break from their employment in order to be able to be with their child. For them, extended maternity leave, childcare allowance or a part-time job are even more urgent. This is the only way they can have enough time for themselves and their children. It would be desirable and necessary for many single mothers and fathers to offer a combination of part-time work and child-raising allowance. The renunciation of full gainful employment in the interests of the child must not lead to the person taking on the upbringing becoming a recipient of social assistance. The income situation and the problems of social security for single parents urgently require the recognition of parental leave in pension law. A fairer taxation of single mothers and fathers is still missing, especially the tax consideration of the increased expenses for children and an extension of the exemption from gainful employment if a child is ill. A proposal to solve this problem is now in the draft for the new taxation of single parents.

III. The human situation of single parents

1. The question of responsibility

In our dealings with single parents as well as in our judgments, a lack of empathy, fear of contact and insecurity are often expressed. In many cases, it is not considered that there are conflictual situations which, for example, repeatedly expose children to the horror of child abuse, violence between their parents or the consequences of alcoholism and thus result in irrevocable damage. If women and men, in spite of the fundamental affirmation of their lifelong bond, ultimately only see a way out in such situations in a separation, this must be respected as their personally responsible decision. In most cases, the decision to break up is preceded by long periods of doubt, self-critical discussion and attempts at reconciliation. Fears of being alone, of being solely responsible for upbringing, of financial problems and the malicious gossip and hurtful judgments of fellow human beings make the individual hesitate, often making him helpless and incapable of making decisions.

Many think much more spontaneously of those who have freed themselves from relationships and given up their responsibilities than of those who have struggled to make a justifiable decision. Certainly all those who have decided to stay together in spite of great difficulties must be given recognition. However, appropriate respect must also be given to those who, with a responsible attitude, have taken the step into the role of single parents with all the resulting consequences.

Unmarried mothers who have decided against an abortion and in favor of the life of their child in a conflict situation often encounter rejection in their environment. Instead, they deserve our recognition and support.

2. Requirements for a changed way of dealing with one another

In view of the anonymity of our mass society and the support that many no longer have in their own families, it is increasingly important to create "small living environments" or "social networks" in which people exchange and support one another, learn from one another and fight each other together Defend disregard and neglect of vital concerns of individuals and families. These familiar little worlds of life could be those groups that accompany single people, childless couples and married mothers and fathers as well as single parents with their children in crises and conflict situations, help the desperate and make new beginnings easier. Inquiries should be directed to the church, society and the state as to what they contribute to the promotion and support of such networks, what help they provide from the advisory and educational institutions. This also applies to assistance for single parents with housing and job issues.

When applying for a job, single parents are often excluded with the argument that their professional commitment is too severely impaired by family pressures. Here, as with the rental of apartments, Christians, church employers and Catholic homeowners often behave no differently than others.

3. Chance of a new beginning

It is apparently easier to react benevolently to people's problems and stresses than to deal self-critically and without prejudice with the strengths of personality and achievements of single parents. In this context, one should think of the courage and strength of unmarried mothers to take responsibility for a child under extremely difficult external living conditions. One should also think of the often exemplary behavior of single parents (widows and widowers, unmarried, separated and divorced), which is characterized by the fact that those affected do not overwhelm themselves with painful experiences and difficulties, do not let themselves pity themselves and pass out, but rather actively unite Try a fresh start for yourself and your children.

Considerations for relief help should not only compensate for deficiencies, but also strengthen the productivity of the single parents. Help that temporarily relieves the burden but weakens the single parents in their efforts to find a new independence and responsibility, to cope with their everyday life as independently as possible, does not contribute to a more open and natural togetherness. The guiding point of view for the type and scope of the help must be the strengthening of personal responsibility and the transition to normal everyday life with acceptable burdens.

IV. What should be done? - Our common tasks

The single parents should be able to feel that they are living members of their parish. The ecclesiastical community was understood from the beginning to be the image of the one body with different members and each with different capacities. The head and the life principle of this body is Jesus Christ with the power of his renewing Spirit (1 Cor 12). By letting ourselves be united with Christ and strengthened, "the body grows and is built up in love" (Ephesians 4:16). So it applies to the togetherness: "Bear one another's burden; you will fulfill the law of Christ" (Gal 6: 2).

The personal and social situation of single parents presents them with special problems and tasks, but also brings them special experiences and insights. Both are important for the whole church. She has to make the worries of single parents her own. In this way they will also be able to give their special testimony of Christian life in exchange with all other members of the community.

It cannot be about withdrawing basic church positions on marriage and the family. The Church holds fast to her sacramental understanding of marriage of lifelong and indissoluble marriage. This must be unmistakably emphasized in relation to the modern trends towards unmarried cohabitation, planning a "desired child" with simultaneous rejection of the partner as a spouse, termination or premature separation of a marriage. Despite this clarity, the abovementioned church pronouncements clearly show the closeness to those who, as unmarried, separated or divorced, try to live their everyday family life responsibly and face their tasks as fathers and mothers. This position sets us apart from those who ideologize the situation of single parents.

The apostolic letter "Familiaris consortio" opposes any violations of human dignity, especially the dignity of women, and the Christian commandment to love. We all have to follow the example of Jesus in his statements and in his behavior towards those who have suffered, who are easily labeled as outsiders of society.

The problems of anonymity and the isolation of our mass society are an important topic of the resolution on marriage and family of the joint synod of the dioceses in the Federal Republic of Germany. The lack of small reference groups and family-like social networks in the congregations is seen as a challenge for the entire church life, which demands that all Christians think and act responsibly. The members of the Synod point to the dire need of endangered and broken marriages, but also see the possibility that the painful experiences contribute to the personal maturation of the person and represent an opportunity for a new beginning. In an acute crisis, the individual can hardly take advantage of such opportunities, since initially "feelings of disappointment, resignation, self-reproach or a reduced sense of self-worth" predominate. However, it depends not least on the reactions of fellow human beings which perspectives the single parents for themselves and for their children can develop. People around the world are often inclined to regard failure in marriage as "undifferentiated only as a moral failure or a sign of a lack of spiritual maturity". Instead of such self-righteous judgments, which Jesus clearly rejects with the word "Do not judge so that you will not be judged" (Mt 7.1), the Synod demands "understanding and Christian solidarity with those whose marriages are threatened or already in danger of failure failed ".

What can we do to

- that single parents in our communities are met without prejudice and that they find the necessary understanding?

- that single mothers or fathers experience with their children the hoped-for help in life and faith?

- that they can feel secure in the congregations, in associations and communities?

- that they can contribute their special experiences to the shaping of communal life?

- that they, who have often endured such heavy loads, can help others to survive or also to avoid similar difficulties?

Appropriate help for single-parent families must always focus on the single mothers or fathers and the children entrusted to their care. With all individual assistance, the commitment to the necessary social framework conditions must not be overlooked.

However, it is not just about what can be done for single parents, but also about the contribution that single parents can make to communities. They are often among the most experienced and responsible members of the community. Single mothers and fathers - be they single, widowed, separated or divorced - should be asked to participate in the committees and groups of the communities. From their circle, for example, valuable tips for forward-looking, preventive work can be given.

1. Service of Reconciliation

Whoever loses his partner through death or separation is often - albeit certainly in different ways - shaken to the very roots of his being by this loss. It is the most important task of the pastor, of relatives and friends, but also of members of the community, to bear such suffering with understanding and sympathy. Only in this way can someone face the painful process of mourning, without which reconciliation with oneself, with the past and with the new situation is not possible. If spouses or unmarried couples have drifted apart and separated, if only for the sake of the children, special efforts are necessary so that they can find a responsible, fair and tolerant relationship with one another and with one another with the children from a distance. Since grief always has to be shared by a larger community, it also depends on the environment whether the painful conflicts last for a long time for parents and children. A greater degree of empathetic understanding could help many single women and men come to terms with the breakup. The Christian community should also make it possible - not least with the help of special communities and services - that separated spouses first find their way to themselves more deeply in order to be able to reconcile with one another, even if they should not go their way together again.

Most of the time, the woman takes care of the child or their children. But more and more fathers are looking after their children alone. In any case, everything should be done to ensure that fathers and mothers who do not live with their children can maintain or develop good relationships with them. For many of them, the separation from their children means a painful renunciation, which some consciously do. Even in the case of illegitimate parents, work should be done to ensure that the man stands by his obligation as a father.

Many single parents need a lot of help and bridges, especially in the beginning, so that they can learn to communicate in confidence, express and admit their own need and failure without additional burden on their self-esteem, find reconciliation with God and with themselves, new security and community experienced on the basis of a shared belief in life and faith. All of this helps step by step to suffer through the loss and the pain associated with it and thus to re-accept the previous good experiences.

An attentive visit, the intimate conversation in a small group, the mediation of the contact to a "meeting point for single parents" and possibly to a marriage, family and life counseling center, the temporary relief through spontaneous help in the household and with the supervision of the children or through The use of a family carer or village helper, the community service and the celebration of the sacraments, the invitation to a prayer or Bible group, but also to a social get-together, the mediation of various social help are forms of this necessary service of the church and church groups.

In particular, divorced spouses who, based on their religious convictions, stand in principle for the indissolubility of marriage and firmly adhere to the prohibition of remarriage, have the right to be borne by their community. Whether they can live up to their duty of faith depends not least on whether their congregation testifies to the Lord's command of love and loyalty to them in helpful solidarity.

Of course, this solidarity must not be denied to those who - even if the Church cannot approve this - enter into a second marriage under civil law. Pope John Paul II exhorts the Shepherds and the whole community of believers to assist the divorced - whether single or remarried - "with caring love, so that they do not consider themselves separated from the Church, since they can participate in their lives as baptized. yes are obliged to do so "(Familiaris consortio 84).

2. Hope from faith

As Christians, we are deeply convinced that loss, disappointment, failure, and separation do not have the last word in our lives. Our God is a God whose righteousness is shown in the fact that he knows how to lead our life to its fulfillment despite suffering, death and sin and through these bitter experiences. God's power saves everyone who believes in the good news of his love, which remains true to himself and to us with his heartfelt compassion. Jesus Christ witnessed this powerfully through his whole life and through his resurrection from death.

Just as hardship and failure are common to all people, so the promise of a new beginning unites all Christians and obliges them to show solidarity. This applies to spouses who are able to get through crises in their relationship, no less than to those whose community has broken down painfully.

Where a life in peace between individuals does not succeed, it is all the more up to the community to support those who are looking for their homeland. Under no circumstances can it be a question of judging others self-righteously from the outside. The example of Jesus must drive us to support one another in benevolent understanding, so that the one supplements the other what he lacks.

3. Overcoming isolation

The ecclesiastical congregations, and in particular individual communities in them, should ensure that they do not reinforce the isolation of many single-parent families through a frequently observed reluctance. Church groups in particular should make the most of their opportunities to offer themselves as an extended family community. In this way, friendly relationships between adults and children can develop that balance out one-sidednesses and alleviate stressful tensions in children who are placed between their divorced parents.

The Christian communities share responsibility for ensuring that relational poverty, which not only affects many single-parent families but also many small families with both parents, does not get out of hand. It can lead to excessive demands in the relationship between parents and children and to disturbances in social development. It is also up to the ecclesiastical communities whether the family barrier is jumped over and whether contacts are sought in the closer and wider social area and relationships are designed to be helpful. The Church should do everything possible to ensure that as many as possible can dare to expand their relationships without being disappointed. A parish can only live up to its claim to present the new covenant of God's love with people in a tangible way if it is an open and lively community that places trust in disappointed and searching people and gives them security.

4. Offers of reliable community

If families create a contact field together with other families and of course also with single people who have no children, what was rediscovered with the "house church" from the early times of the history of Christian life can grow and where there are many hopes for an enlivening of the Judge church.

Therefore, the special responsibility of the relatives must first be emphasized, but also of the neighbors, of work colleagues, of families with children of the same age. Women who are not employed can - as is already happening in many places - make arrangements with single parents, in particular, that they help with childcare, for example to compensate for unsuitable opening times of kindergarten and school, so that single parents can exercise the exercise if their children are ill for a longer period of time their job to accommodate a child on special occasions or during short vacations, or to relieve a mother or father for part of the day. Above all, the family groups should "contact single parents and their children, invite them to their meetings and provide them with advice and assistance. Such offers are only well received in the long term, however, where the personal and educational problems and concerns of the Single parents are considered with the necessary understanding in the topics, discussions and mutual help. Single parents can greatly enrich a group with their often particularly pronounced sensitivity to unheeded needs of others.

Finally, especially for the children from one-parent families, the special importance of a good relationship with the pastor and the coworkers in cattle catechesis and youth work as well as the teachers in the school or with the master teacher should be pointed out. These relationships with other persons in authority besides the mother or the father can make up for some of the experience deficits that can easily exist in a family without a father or without a mother.

5. Help for self-help

Even if it is initially in the foreground that emergencies have to be dealt with, and in some cases constant helping accompaniment remains indispensable, the assistance must aim at self-help. This means that one's own forces are mobilized to reorganize life. Single parents should therefore not only wait to be spoken to, but also approach their communities, their responsible persons and groups on their own initiative.

Many single parents find it helpful to get together in groups to experience solidarity with one another. Even those who still struggle with difficulties can make a contribution for others by working in a "meeting place for single parents". Often the experience of being able to help others is even more important than the experience of receiving help.

In many cases, single parents themselves have good prerequisites for founding or leading such a group. However, it is also available to professionals from the areas of education and youth counseling, marriage and life counseling, social workers and social pedagogues, priests, deacons, pastoral workers and to think of other laypeople as experienced members of the association work, in particular women's associations and other family-related associations.

In this sense, in the dioceses it is mainly the speakers who work with single parents who exchange their experiences in a working group at the federal level and jointly develop new concepts. Not least with their help, a large number of "meeting places for single parents" have formed, whose work they accompany. You can rely on the activities of family education centers and associations, in particular the Catholic Women's Association of Germany (KFD), the Catholic German Women's Association and the Caritas Association and the Social Service of Catholic Women (SKF), which have long been offering help for single parents.

The Dean's Catholic Committees should aim to promote this meeting point work in contact with the parish councils. Your organizational initiative can help over many cliffs where such attempts by individuals often fail. It is recommended that the Diocesan Catholic Council of the individual dioceses deal with this task at one of the next meetings and provide the Dean's Catholic Councils with suggestions that are as qualified as possible.

V. Lawyer towards society and the state

Our commitment must be twofold: On the one hand, it aims to provide immediate help for those in need. On the other hand, however, it is also expressed in the shared responsibility and participation in shaping the social and political framework.

The political endeavor begins where it is suggested that single parents come together and analyze their situation together with others and raise their concerns. What is necessary to improve the situation is already happening in an organized and unorganized way. However, wherever possible, these activities should be taken up by the associations and the communities themselves and thus lead to a noticeable improvement in their situation for as many single parents and their children as possible. The question to be asked is which difficulties exceed the individual framework and can be eliminated through municipal, state or federal political initiatives.

An intensive preoccupation with the situation of single-parent families must of course capture as precisely as possible the particular social, professional, financial and school difficulties that exist for single parents and their children and make the general public aware of them. We should do everything we can to ensure that the mothers and fathers, who are solely responsible for one child or several children, experience the socio-political consideration and support that enables them to raise their children without permanent disadvantages. Let's make ourselves the advocate of your interests! Only in this way can we meet the demand for justice and justice, love, mercy and loyalty (cf. Hosea 2:21), which is a fundamental part of our faith.

Adopted by the Central Committee of German Catholics and published on May 28, 1984