This is truly one of my most unusual letters ever!
Dear Auntie Seraphic,
So I haven't found much info on this topic anywhere.
Yes, I think I've found a topic about singleness that you have not written about even once!
I will spare you the details but I'm a [woman in my late 20s] maybe about to accept custody of my x month old niece and almost y year old nephew. I love them dearly. I strongly suspect I'm their best option.
Many, many factors are directing this probable outcome but I won't go into them now.
One thing I've been wondering is this:
How does a single, Christian woman, who's never so much as been on a single date but HAS TWO KIDS go about navigating the world of still-hoping-to-be-married when the statistics show that the most dangerous person in the world to a child is the mother's boyfriend?
Not to mention the fact that two kids in tow makes one look married, or at least, divorced. Or someone who does not care about things like "marriage."
Because I'm sure not going to be going around telling everyone that these are "just my niece and nephew." [Seraphic's emphasis.]
And who would sign on to help provide for two little ones who aren't his and aren't technically his wife's children either? I mean, even the best type of man still gets a little nervous when women bring up children right away on the first date. What if right away on the first date, she brings up that she HAS children?
These kids have had my heart from the moment they were born. Also from the moment they were born, I knew Child Protective Services would likely one day be handing them over to me since my parents have always stated that they didn't want to raise children again and my sister and her husband have always exhibited certain parental type red flags.
I know enough about children to know dating will be out of the picture for a long time as I'm going to have to pretty much devote myself to them and allow them to get used to their new situation.
I know their needs are going to have to come first, and my life and my hopes of getting married are going to take a back seat.
But I'd also like to know (as I ponder this giant commitment and start preparing my heart for this type of parenthood) is there any hope? Or is this the end of all my hopes for getting married?
Will single women tell me when I am lonely and overwhelmed that I should just be grateful I have children at all? Will married women with children make room for me in their circles? Are there single moms who even have the time to spare to befriend another single "mom?"
What will the church think of a single woman walking in with two little ones and no husband?
So many questions! Is it terribly selfish of me to still be thinking of these things when I am needed by two little ones?
I am so willing to be there for my niece and nephew. I love them. Do I have to give up marriage for them?
I've been a nanny for seven years and I still work with kids at my current job. I'm not worried about the day to day care of kids. It's the everything else that scares me. I mean, it's overwhelming with two parents.
The probably soon to be newly single mom.
Dear Single Aunt,
The first thing I have to say is that you must be rooted in reality. These are not your children; these are your sister's children. You are not their unmarried mother. You are their aunt. Even if the court grants you custody, you will not be their mother. You will be their guardian. And their aunt.
I heartily ask you not to pretend to anyone that you are a single mother. Single mothers are stigmatized among men not because (or primarily because) they have children but because these women seem to have been rejected by men, or have rejected the father of their children. It is the shadow of the invisible and absent man who has sexually known the woman (and either abandoned her or been banished) that keeps men away or dismissive or disrespectful. Men get their cues for how to treat an individual woman from other men, and the idea of being banished from their own children frightens them. It is too bad that you will often be mistaken for a "single mother" by wary men, but the children calling you "Aunt" or "Auntie" will set them straight.
I think this is the most important thing I have to say. It will be wonderful, if sometimes frightening, to be the most important woman in the world to two small and helpless children. You do not need to co-opt the name "mother" to be this woman or to protect and raise them as well as you can.
Living a romantic, sentimental lie would in fact work against this God-given task. The most famous beloved aunt I can think of at the moment was The Beatles' John Lennon's Aunt Mimi.
As an aunt, you do not have to worry about men rejecting you for being a "single mother". However, of course you will be have to be extra careful about the company that you keep because your first responsibility will be to the innocent, helpless children in your care. This means not inviting men home or introducing a boyfriend to these children unless you know him to be a good, non-abusive man, and you and he have established a firm commitment.
I wish you and the children all the best, and I will pray for the children's parents. How awful it must be to have one's children taken away; their problems must be terrible crosses to bear.
Grace and peace,
As an aunt, I have very strong feelings about the primacy of parents. When a small child, for fun, said "I'm going to call you Mommy," I heartily discouraged her. For one thing, her own mother was in earshot, and I thought her feelings would be hurt. (My Pretend Sons are over 25, so I don't think my absurd claims will annoy their real mothers. I hope they don't inspire them to present me with a bill for their admirable educations.) St Edith Stein wrote about women doing what is needful without making a fuss. Stepping in to help another woman raise her children when she is unable or forbidden to do so is one of those times.
As for the bliss of being called "Mommy", my never-married great-grandmother gave birth around 1915 (1918?), and to hide this, told everyone she had adopted the child and brought her up to call her "Auntie". In those days, being the daughter of an unmarried mother was a severe social handicap. Thus, my great-grandmother made what we might consider the unthinkable sacrifice of never being called "mother" by her own, deeply loved, child. She was "Auntie" to us all to the day she died. She still is "Auntie" in our prayers. What a woman she was!
My final thought is that there is no "just" about a niece or nephew to the childless. My niece and nephews are, as far as I am concerned, the most important children on earth. Standing in a toy shop recently, trying to remember what toys I liked best when I was four, I felt an overwhelming wave of love for my niece. I pray that her parents will live long, happy, healthy lives and that my niece will be an elderly woman when she sees them to the grave. And may I go first. Sum primogenita, Domine. Dignus et justus fuerit.
Update: I see that I have been remiss and never answered the ultimate question. No, no single parent or guardian of children has to give up his or her dreams of becoming married. The biggest difference, one that both a birth parent and a court-appointed guardian share, is that he or she has to be even more careful about who he or she meets and about his or her social behaviour than singles without children.
But I will reiterate that the single mother, to this very day, has a social hurdle the single aunt or other guardian does not have. People are more likely to see the single mother as a plucky (or easily exploited) victim of bad luck/bad choices/bad men/circumstances. The voluntary guardian is more likely to get the praise without the pity. Of course people will often admire their own friends and relations who are single mothers--and appreciate their daily sacrifices-- but there is no spontaneous "Good for you!" from society as a whole. I have a friend who dated a woman who adopted her sister's child, and if I remember correctly, she was discussed in awed tones, as if she were Superwoman.