More children are in fatherless homes today than at any other point in history. According to the National Center for Fathering, the consequences of growing up in a fatherless home are severe in comparison to children who grow up in a home with two parents.
Fatherless families are 44 percent more likely to raise a child living in poverty, and 90 percent of all homeless and runaway children are fatherless. A staggering 71 percent of teens who abuse alcohol or drugs come from fatherless homes. Adolescents in psychiatric care are from fatherless homes 80 percent of the time, and they are two times as likely to commit suicide.1
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates that more than 25 percent of the households in the nation are fatherless—and this number continues to climb. To put that into emotional perspective, roughly one fourth of American children will not experience hugging their dads good night on a regular basis.2
As Christians, we have been taught that God is our heavenly Father. Those of us who have had a loving, interactive dad in our home have been blessed with a glimpse of God’s love for us. So many children, however, have no idea what fatherly love looks like; they are neglected, abused, or nonexistent in the eyes of their biological parents.
The more moments we share with fatherless children in our communities, the more we can lead them to understand better the love of their heavenly Father.
Other children struggle with the role of a stepparent or other male resident in the home. Should they accept that man as a parent? What should they call him? Does he love them? With so much confusion about the true meaning of fatherhood, these kids cannot even fathom what it means to say that God is their loving Father.
The book of Proverbs tells us: “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it” (Prov. 22:6, NKJV). Many people attribute this verse to parents only. But the author of this proverb does not specify it as “parents only” advice; children learn not only from their parents but also from extended family members and other adults in the community. Many others besides actual parents may serve as surrogate fathers or grandfathers, painting a picture of God the Father in a child’s life.
So . . . what does this involve?
Proverbs 22:6 involves much more than merely teaching a child the facts about God. Rather, “train up” implies that the teacher—whether parent or other role model—should consider who that child is as an individual with regard to personality, talents, strengths, and weaknesses. Shaping a child in a positive moral direction requires investing in that child as a unique person.
But . . . if a child is unfamiliar or unknown to me, how do I start reaching out to them as a unique person?
Consider Deuteronomy 6:4-7, in which God instructs His people—not just parents, but all His people—how to help children to know His commandments: “Hear, O Israel: . . . these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up” (NKJV). In other words, in any given moment of the day there is an opportunity to help children to know their heavenly Father.
Applying that concept to children in today’s world, we need to consider the moments that make up their days. Each of these moments is an opportunity to show love, encouragement, and support; it is often easier for kids to talk about things that are on their minds while they are completing a hands-on activity.
Here are 10 practical ways to reach out to fatherless children. These opportunities will help us model godly behavior while also allowing plenty of time for conversation. The more of these moments we share with fatherless children in our community, the more we can lead them to understand better the love of their heavenly Father.
Be a Homework Helper. Your local after-school program would love to have an extra hand to help kids with homework. This is a great opportunity to model enthusiasm for learning and achievement. After homework, kids often have playtime, so you can become better acquainted by shooting hoops or playing an organized game with them.
Assist a Coach. You don’t need to be a former all-star player to help with coaching. Having an extra hand will enable the coach to separate the kids into smaller groups for warm-ups. Players will then come to know their teammates, which gives you an opportunity to model cooperation and encouragement.
Commit to a Clean-up. Check your town’s or city’s website to discover how to volunteer to clean up parks or beaches. Invite some local fatherless kids to form a cleanup group. Then agree to volunteer as a group on a regular basis. This sets the example of stewardship of God’s creation.
Maintain Mom’s Car. Offer to teach basic auto mechanics or car-washing skills on a one-to-one basis so they can take care of their mothers’ vehicles. Or help to organize an event at your church when single moms are blessed with oil changes, car washes, and easy repairs—and encourage their children to help out. Not only are you teaching youth valuable skills; you’re also modeling how to care for others and strengthening single-parent families.
Build Something. There’s nothing like hands-on labor to instill in a child a sense of accomplishment. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel; it could be as simple as hanging some shelves or building a skateboard ramp. Whatever the project, there will be lessons learned about success, failure, and trying again.
Sow Seeds. Gardening teaches patience and perseverance. If this is one of your strong points, help a child to grow something that will benefit the whole family. Even if there is limited yard space, you can create a patio garden. Research ideas online together. Once the garden is built, keep in touch weekly to provide tips and measure progress.
Bond Over Breakfast. This does not require anything fancy. Most kids love basic breakfast foods, and chances are high that they will care more about the extra attention than the menu. Before eating, pray together. After the meal, try a kid-friendly devotional activity.
Serve Others. Volunteer with a fatherless child to serve in the community on a regular basis. Helping those who are less fortunate encourages generosity. This is so important in our selfie-focused culture; self-absorption tends to dwindle when kids see how hard life is for others.
Get Out Together. Are you great with a rod and reel? Do you enjoy hiking, photography, or biking? Share your skills with fatherless children. Introduce them to the value of peace and solitude. Help them to become aware of God’s presence in the quiet moments.
Choose a Charity Walk. Being in the company of so many other participants is a fantastic illustration of people working together for a common worthwhile goal. You will also set an example of determination, perseverance, and finishing what you start.
These simple, practical approaches to exemplifying God’s love to others can change a young person’s life—both here and for eternity.
Lisa Grey holds master’s degrees in Psychology and Biblical Studies. In addition to freelance writing, she serves as a 9-1-1 dispatcher.