What do you do when single parent just won’t listen to you?




A single mom approaches you about a problem she is having with her son. He doesn’t want to come to church anymore—she’s not sure why, but she suspects it’s because he doesn’t fit in. While this is disappointing, you have noticed that her son is always late. By the time he arrives, the other kids are involved with each other. High fives and fist bumps have already been exchanged by the kids who arrived on time and have now settled into the group’s activity. You’ve watched this boy before as he’s tried to enter the social environment a little late in the game. But it hasn’t worked for him.

You realize this mom is struggling as a single mom. You want to encourage this mom because you realize she needs to know you care about her son and about her, too. To avoid offending this mom, you very carefully craft your conversation as you share your observations about her son. You empathize with her about how hard it must be for her to get her three kids up and to church by herself. You explain that it might help her son want to attend church if he would arrive on time or even a few minutes before class so you could spend some time getting to know him better. You help her talk through things she can say to her son to encourage him.

She seems delighted to have the suggestions and promises that from now on her son will be there on time.

The next Sunday this kid is later than usual. The child hangs back, and pulling him into the group is difficult. You wonder, “Did this mom even hear the conversation we had?”

We’ve all had these experiences where a single parent just doesn’t seem to listen to what we have to say. Here are some ways to gain a single parent’s attention.

Pick the right time for the conversation

One of the biggest mistakes we make is trying to talk “in the moment.” By “in the moment” I mean directly outside the classroom or when the parent is signing in or picking up the child. Even though the conversation might be burning within us, sometimes it is better to make a phone call or set up an appointment to visit with the parent.

When the single mom asked what to do about her son who didn’t want to come to church any longer, you could have said something like, “I’ve noticed that also. I’m glad you brought it up. Let’s talk on the phone this week and see what we can come up with that will help you help your child.”

Gain the parent’s trust

Let’s say it is a discipline situation that needs to be addressed. Before anything else, take time to really observe the child.

After you have taken time to study the child, and that might be for more than just one Sunday, set up an appointment with the single parent. A face-to-face is best, even if it has to be a FaceTime call.

When you meet with the parent, start by talking about the positive traits you see in the child. Then give an example of something that’s happened that is concerning to you. Explain how you will handle these kinds of situations in the future. Ask nothing of the parent. All you want is for the parent to know that you will be handling things at church with his or her child. The single parent will be relieved, and you will gain the parent’s trust because your actions say that you care about his or her child, you aren’t asking anything of the parent, plus you have taken the time to contact him or her personally.

Don’t take it personally

Jenny Funderburke, a children’s minister and a single mom herself, says, “When a single parent doesn’t listen to us, many times we take it personally. When we offer suggestions and they don’t listen and we get offended, it affects our relationship with them.”

Dig deeper

Jenny says it’s important to know the situation beforehand. “Regarding the child that is always late, we might not see the whole picture.” Perhaps the other parent doesn’t return the children early enough for the single parent to get everyone ready for church. Would it be possible for someone to pick up the older children and bring them to church?

Understand the parent may feel guilty

The single parent might feel guilty about something in his or her life and that guilt gets in the way of hearing what you have to say. This single parent might need to spend time in prayer with you and get his or her life right with the Lord before the parent can address the child’s concerns.

What single parents want you to know

Sometimes single parents are overwhelmed. While they may want to take your advice, there are attitudes and emotions that get in the way. It’s important to understand some of the following issues when trying to talk with a single parent, because these things will impact the way the single parent responds to you.

A single parent may be thinking …

I’m getting conflicting advice. Whom do I believe?

“While our advice may be good,” Jenny says, “the single parent may be getting advice from other people. Maybe the schoolteacher has said her son is behind in reading and she must spend twenty minutes having him read to her. The only time on the weekend is before church on Sunday. Now she has to pick and choose whose advice to follow.”

Take time to find out what is going on. Ask questions so you understand all of the advice the single parent might be getting from other sources. Craft your suggestions to fit with what others are telling her. This way the single parent doesn’t feel like he or she has to choose.

Don’t judge me

There is a big difference between judgment and concern. Sometimes our concern comes across as judgment. And let’s face it; sometimes we do sit in judgment of that parent’s lifestyle or life choices. Other times the single parent is super sensitive and anything you say may come across to him or her as judgmental.

Be very careful about your thoughts toward and about a single parent. When I was a single parent, I could feel what someone was thinking. It would have been so much better if that person would have just put an arm around me and said, “So what’s going on?” That would have opened the door for me to talk and not feel like I was being judged.

Don’t try to fix me

Jenny also contributes, “We are not responsible to fix them [single parents]. We see the problems and we have suggestions, but in the end it’s not our responsibility to fix them. Many single parents don’t want to be your project and have you fix them.”

Our responsibility is to love them with the love of the Lord. Many times I’ve said we are to be the voice of Jesus to these kids from divorced homes, and at times we must be the voice of Jesus to the divorced mommies and daddies also.

Brad Hambrick, a DivorceCare expert and a minister, says that when he is counseling someone who doesn’t listen, he likes to consider what 1 Thessalonians 5:14 says: “And we urge you, brothers and sisters … encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone.”

He says, “When people are overwhelmed, what they need is to be encouraged: ‘You do not have to do this alone. God is with you.’ If somebody is weak, then we don’t offer words, we offer assistance.”

The next time you wonder if that single parent heard what you said, think through all the issues. Maybe it’s time to consider how to talk to a single parent differently, so he or she will listen.


DC4K blogs posts are great to use in training children’s leaders and volunteers and they are free.  Subscribe to the DC4K blog here.

Want to learn more about how to start a DivorceCare for Kids group for the hurting children in your community? Click here.

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