I want to offer a few counterpoints to Rabbi Yair Hoffman’s column about how to support single parents, especially divorcees (“This Rosh Hashanah, Let’s Think of the Invisible Among Us” September 15, 2022). While the author offers some sound advice, he occasionally crosses a line from encouraging us to be good friends and neighbors to being magnanimous benefactors.
A fuzzy line, but an important one.
A single mom with sons needs a male friend who will sit with them in shul. Similarly, a single dad may need a female confidante for his daughters during their tween and teen years. In many cases aunts, uncles and grandparents fill this role, but Rzbbi Hoffman is correct in noting that friends have to step forward as this is not always an option.
However, “Sharing your husband’s flowers with her” transforms a divorced woman from a social and intellectual equal, albeit with some unique needs for support from friends, to an object of pity. Similarly, that single mom may very well be an accomplished CPA—the person who will help you with the IRS, not the person who needs help. When thinking about what help to offer, it is important that we avoid presumptions of incompetence, especially if they play into outdated gender stereotypes.
Financially and logistically, every single parent will have different needs. Some are financially secure and have assistance with childcare from the other parent; others have been abandoned and financially ruined. Tread carefully to know what help is needed and how to offer it discreetly and respectfully.
Rabbi Hoffman described divorced women as “invisible.” Changing that condition and treating single parents, especially women, as equal members of our community goes beyond including them in Shabbat meals, playdates and Sunday outings. It means inviting them to lay leadership roles in our shuls and schools. Some may not have the time or bandwidth to commit right now, but children grow up and leave home. The invitation will mean a lot to them now and they may take up that role later. Singles and single parents have unique perspectives on the social fabric of our community that need a voice in the boardroom. They also have a full range of professional expertise that our boards should be tapping.
In summation, singles and single parents are our friends, not our chesed projects. We can never lose sight of that.Richard Langer Teaneck