On a long car trip, I edited a blog post for my 20-something single daughter. Her words made my eyes burn and her thoughts sparked much conversation between her dad, her single younger sister, and me. We explored further all the things she DIDN’T put into writing.
Once she posted the article, she heard from countless other single friends weighing in. “This is THE best article I’ve ever read on this subject,” one said. Others thanked her for putting into words what they couldn’t.
Between our discussion, her cutting floor, and the comments of her friends, I realized there was an entirely different — yet related — post to be written.
This young woman of God — who normally craves mentorship, seeks godly wisdom, and preaches to herself regularly — admitted that advice from those who are married is usually NOT helpful. “It might be true, but I have trouble receiving it well from anyone who isn’t single,” she said.
“So what DOES help?” I asked.
Together, we came up with a few things to share.
But first, here’s a primer on what doesn’t work from the perspective of one who is out on her own and working to reign in her competing feelings.*
(*My college freshman single daughter dissented on a few of these. We finally discerned the difference was in the age and stage of the journey.)
What NOT to say to your single daughter
Much of what follows could be qualified by this insightful statement from my daughter,
“It’s more about who is saying it than what is being said.”
1-Don’t minimize the struggle with waiting.
Glossing over the timing aspect with phrases like, “It will happen when it happens,” doesn’t help reframe the perspective. In fact, they translate as: “This isn’t a big deal.”
Filter anything you might say about the waiting game through these questions:
- Can it be interpreted as, “This is a lot”?
- >>>It’s likely ok. (more below)
- Could it be translated as, “This isn’t much”?
- >>>It probably shouldn’t be said.
2-Don’t offer pity and don’t try to fix it.
My daughter’s post is appropriately titled, “I am single. I am not broken.” Read her post and you’ll hear of her story with others trying to “fix” her condition. Like it’s a disease that must be cured.
I know she’s been given advice on how to make herself more available, catch a boy’s attention, or “go where you can meet guys.” When she speaks of these conversations, her voice cracks a little:
“I don’t need that kind of advice,
and I certainly don’t need their pity.”
There’s a fine line between empathy (highly encouraged) and pity. When in doubt, choose to listen instead of speak and you’ll likely be safely within the empathy zone.
3-Don’t try to explain it.
When some learn my daughter doesn’t have a guy in her life, they are quick to offer a cliché such as, “Don’t worry; God’s still working on him,” or “God’s still working on you.”
God’s still working on all of us. That’s not the issue.
People who offer these well-intentioned words are operating from a flawed mindset that is likely related to number two: that singleness is a condition that must be fixed. And if you can’t fix it, then you must explain it.
The truth is singleness is a stage of life, just like childhood, the prime of youth, old age, and yes, marriage. Just as we wouldn’t try to explain to a child why they’re not an adult or counsel a dying person on why they aren’t still vibrant, so we don’t need to offer explanations to a single person on why God currently has them single.
His ways are not our ways. His timing and plan is different for each individual.
4-Don’t downplay marriage
Our human nature defaults to a win-lose mentality. For one thing to be good, all the other options must be bad — or at least — lesser.
It’s not helpful for a married person to speak wistfully of their single days, upselling singleness at the expense of marriage.
My single daughter holds marriage in high esteem, and cutting it down in front of her is like sandpaper to her tender spirit. She watches those who are making a go of their union and takes mental notes. She wants to know how good it can be and great marriages inspire her.
5-Don’t admonish her to “enjoy it.”
Although related to number four, this is a more personal exhortation. It might sound like this, “Enjoy where God has you.” Under normal circumstances, this advice can inspire a person to consider their season of life.
However, because this is often offered from a perspective oriented in numbers 1-3, it’s not inspiring. In fact, it can be demeaning.
“I don’t need you to tell me to enjoy it.
I am fully embracing life right now,
but I can still want to be in a relationship.
That doesn’t mean I’m not enjoying what is in front of me.”
The feelings of longing and the act of embracing the current journey aren’t mutually exclusive. My husband affirmed our daughter during the discussion, “It’s still a struggle, even if you have a handle on it.”
5 ways to ENCOURAGE your single daughter
My daughter said, “Advice based on truth is the advice I need — whether I want it or not.” In fact, she ends her blog post by giving advice to other singles. I hope you’ll click through to read her post and see an example of what this sounds like.
Scripture and truth-based thought processes can help your child reframe their view and filter the thoughts and feelings that are causing them to struggle.
Before Pinterest changed its algorithm — when I could see everything my daughter was pinning — I knew when she was preaching to herself when her Reality Check board was filling with new pins.
Check out her board. Some of her collection might be applicable to pass along.
Be aware, however. Truth based on Scripture may take time to be absorbed. It may not immediately seem to affect her perspective, but speaking truth is never a wrong approach. Just make sure it’s truth you can back up with Scripture, not a well-meaning cliché.
2-Listen and empathize
Know when to listen and know when to speak. And when you choose to speak, err on the side of compassion. Affirm the difficulty of the struggle and that your daughter isn’t crazy for struggling.
You can hurt for her and hurt with her. This is different from pity. Pity is based on the status of being single. Empathy is based on the state of her emotions. Express that your heart aches because her heart aches, not because she is still single.
Remember that once you choose to speak, you naturally stop listening. Most people can’t form a thought to say while still absorbing what is being said. Be careful to listen and guard against the list above, but do speak when the time is right.
My friend Jennifer wrote a terrific post: 12 prayers for Singles (Praying the Scriptures).
If you’re reading this, you’re looking for insight and help on how to respond. There is nothing more powerful than prayer and praying the Scriptures is a double whammy.
It’s worded from the viewpoint of the single, so it would be a beautiful article to pass along to them.
Because my daughter doesn’t have a husband to bounce ideas off of, she still seeks the advice of her dad and me.
We help her think through all the angles of new opportunities, give her a second opinion on financial decisions, and sometimes simply offer a dose of enthusiasm at the new thing God is doing. We affirm her strengths and counsel her weaknesses.
My daughter’s personality is one that reaches out for this kind of support, so it’s easy to give. However, if your loved one is more introverted, you may need to seek ways to become involved so you can offer them this support.
Some of the last paragraphs in her blog post counsel her friends to:
“Find a ministry. Get involved.
Pursue a dream. Set a goal.
Learn something new. Take a risk.
Enjoy your life.
When you do one or more of these things,
you spend less time dwelling and more time doing.
Dwelling is the devil’s playground.”
I love that she is giving this advice to others. If your child isn’t hearing it from someone else, maybe they need to hear it from you.
Only not like you think.
When I started working in the Marketing department at Liberty University, I was surrounded by vibrant, accomplished, godly 20-somethings who were still single.
I began sharing some of their stories they shared publicly with my daughter. They resonated and she even became friends with some of them. One of those young women reached out to my daughter after she published her post and those words of encouragement were deeply meaningful.
I’ve also passed along stories to my daughter of my own friends who married late in life or my friends have shared their journeys directly. People who have walked this road know how to speak to each other. It’s a unique sisterhood.
So, if you know others who have a story or are walking the same road, consider that this “matchmaking” might be a connection worth setting up.
Final thoughts on encouraging singles
This struggle with singleness is unlike most trials you might try to encourage someone through. The emotions are raw and the intensity rises and falls and can change without warning.
The messages your single daughter battles threaten to erode her very identity. The enemy knows this and he is adept at twisting the knife.
Don’t be afraid to engage, but pray first and always measure your words. And when in doubt, simply listen and then say, “This. Is. A Lot.”
P.S. Do you need some parenting encouragement?
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