David and Helen Smallbone: Two Essential Solo Parent Communities

Guests David and Helen Smallbone joined the Solo Parent Society podcast with Robert and Kimberly to talk about the importance of two essential communities for single parents:
Cross-generational community and
Habitual community.

These communities are significant. Cross-generational relationships are more than mother-daughter or father-son connections. The Bible is full of stories of the younger generation being mentored and taught by the older generation and we see countless examples of elders passing on wisdom.

David and Helen Smallbone moved from Australia to the United States many years ago with no money, with their six kids and another one on the way. God used their most difficult circumstances and seemingly impossible season to build an incredible story and influence around the world. Helen homeschooled all seven of their children while David set out to provide for his family in the music industry. Fast forward to today and David manages his sons’ band, For King & Country, and daughter, Rebecca St. James, both who have had a profound impact on millions of people with their music.

But one of the most beautiful things about David and Helen is their commitment to love and care for the brokenhearted. Helen is raising dozens of animals on their farm, while working on a book, mentoring moms, and hosting a podcast for a ministry she leads called MumLife Community which is an incredible example of both cross-generational and habitual community. David meanwhile is a mentor and friend to Robert, and they walk together every week as a beautiful example of consistent community formed on purpose, by habit.

Anchoring relationships like these are so important particularly during times of struggle. Years ago, Helen was asked to become a mentor to young moms. She has spent a lot of years parenting and is very aware of the ups and downs of the journey, how hard it is, and how vulnerable you can feel in it. She is also aware that moms often feel under-resourced. Her years of being a mother equal thirty-two years when you span the ages of her youngest and oldest child from birth to eighteen. In many ways, she has become a professional “Mum”, actively mothering, in the trenches, during that time. When she was asked to become a mentor, she realized the need for that kind of support and encouragement for moms was crucial as they seek out resources for intentional parenting that Helen never had. Ever since, mentoring moms has become one of the greatest privileges of her life and led to the foundation of MumLife Community.  

Helen shares young moms need someone to speak into their lives and encourage them. Seasoned moms can look back at their strengths and weaknesses and they can offer the lessons they have learned to those they mentor. Most moms feel vulnerable and are their own worst critics like they are not doing a good job. Seasoned moms often feel that way too but there is an incredible value in knowing that they can share those things with younger moms who need the wisdom that comes from those experiences, including those we wish we had done differently.

Young moms need to know they are not alone. Helen shares, “In the western community, we’ve lost the village mentality. We travel a lot. We don’t even have good community in our own areas of living. In many eastern cultures, the senior person is actively involved in family life. We’ve lost that cross-generational element, in America especially, by being so isolated. This isolation has led to us not speaking into each other’s lives.” Cross generational communication and the transfer of wisdom and experience is missing for young people, and those who are older don’t always have the opportunity to give back and share what they’ve learned. This is why intentional mentorship is so essential.

If you are a younger parent, reach out to someone in your community and ask them to meet with you to share about their journey. They will be blessed and encouraged by your interactions as much or more than you are. Helen shares that as she meets with younger moms, she realizes how much God has taught her and how much He has been there for her. As she looks back at His guidance through the journey of good things, bad things, and hard things, she is reminded of HIs faithfulness. If she wasn’t asked about it, she may not look back because we are so often focused on looking ahead but mentorship has shown her the resource that God has been and continues to be. Having seven kids, Helen has been pushed physically, emotionally, and spiritually. To single parents who feel vulnerable or alone, Helen encourages them to “Reach out to Jesus. He is just waiting for us to seek Him and to stop and to listen. He will meet you where you’re at. I’ve had multiple circumstances in my life where I was pushed, and I can testify to the fact that He was always there for me.” David shares that Rebecca calls Helen regularly with issues she is having as a mom. David can hear the stress being reduced even as she shares what is going on with her mom. “Rebecca takes being a mother very seriously. That mother-daughter balance...is beautiful as family in action.”

Cross-generational and habitual relationships are often just about “the talking”, says Helen. “You don’t have to have all the answers. Sometimes just being able to release the tensions and stress and verbalize something makes the pressure lift. Just knowing that someone else has heard you.”

Robert shares that his oldest is now a wife and a mother. At times their relationship in the past was strained but now they talk all the time. What a gift it is to Robert when she reaches out to him and shares what is going on. “Single parent, you’re not bothering someone who is older or “vintage”” when you reach out to them. Helen shares it is actually “a gift and an honor
 when those who are younger entrust their story to a more seasoned person. It is a privilege for those who have gone before to listen and offer support.

How do you reach out as a single parent?

Helen shares that as you look for someone who can be part of your cross-generational community to ask God to open your eyes to who that might be. It might be an older neighbor who is also lonely. Helen says you can connect over the phone each week. She has two moms she speaks to regularly on the phone and it allows her to pray intentionally for them and it also feeds something in her to be able to encourage other moms now that her kids are grown. She knows how hard it is to be a mom and we need each other!

A local friend, Mike Smith, also started a cross-generational ministry where older people are paired with younger people and both benefit from the relationship. We honor those we connect with simply by asking them to listen and to share their insight from their experiences.

David Smallbone has played in a band, worked at a record label, owned a record label, and been a manager. He has done so many things and has seen the hills and valleys through it all. He experienced a devastating start when we came to the United States. One thing he has consistently shown Robert over the years, even before they became close friends, is the priority he places on relationships. David shares those relationships are so important to him because, “36 years ago, I had been married ten years. My marriage was, in my mind, good but not great and I read a book by Larry Crabb...called “Inside Out” that talked about unconditional love. I immediately started attempting to love Helen that way.” When he read it, he decided he would start loving that way at home and overnight his marriage went from “good to great”. He began to look at everything from the view of partnership and not looking at how to benefit financially but rather how to love others like Jesus did.

David says that we all need friendships that are life-giving. This is what he shares with Robert when they walk each week. There is no agenda, but they end up challenging each other and offering each other accountability. They didn’t set out to create this habitual relationship where they walk every week, but David suggested it and they have stuck with it for years. David saw something in Robert’s skill set that was similar to what was needed in his world with the music industry. Both had experienced their own brokenness. David lost everything at 40 years old and was devastated. Robert lost his marriage and much of his career as a music executive. David shares that he thinks they each “found themselves grateful for the hardship because it has allowed us to have a wonderful life” and “If I had not had the daylights knocked out of me, I would have stayed in Australia. We would have had a normal life, but I think it would have been boring. Instead, we’ve been allowed to live an incredibly adventurous life.” He gives Helen a lot of credit because she said yes to coming to America. He encourages listeners “to go where angels fear to tread”. Helen always encouraged him to dream big. As he looks back, he is so grateful that he was sent “broke” because it opened his eyes to a Jesus perspective. In the music industry, he felt like he had failed and as if he was looked at as a leper. But the church loved him. He and Helen would go to church every week with the kids, faithfully as a family, and every Sunday, he says, “We saw miracles.”  He remembers Luke praying, in their furniture-less house, that the Lord would put food on the table. That was almost thirty years ago. David says, “I can tell anyone listening that the Lord answers our prayers.” He thinks he is rich now because he went through that incredibly broken period. He says it is like the Lord was saying to him, “Hand everything over to me and I will take care of you.” And he did. He was given a gift of God providing him time after time. David said he saw God’s economy at work in the providential ways He provided.
David and Helen found community in the church. Some people find themselves cynical about the church, but David loves the church. “The church has it’s interesting moments, but it allows for some very interesting discussions.”

Habitual community or relationship is not just finding another person to connect with and have fun. It is looking for someone that may be a little further down the road and has wisdom. We become like the people we hang around so choose well. Find someone in your life who won’t enable you or encourage you to stay cynical. Find someone you can commune with. Robert shares how much he gets out of his habitual community with David and it’s a reciprocal relationship.

David shares that age difference isn’t an obstacle in relationships but a benefit. He hangs around with a lot of millennials because of his kid’s ages. What he brings to the table is his unique perspective, like, “At every business meeting you have, find a way of talking about Jesus. It might only be one sentence but that will protect your team from becoming jaded or cynical.” When he mentioned this to someone younger than him, they came back to him and said they are still thinking about it. He says if you are struggling and, in the wilderness, “there is something about speaking the name of Jesus to our friends and to each other that is life-giving”. This is the value of intentional habitual relationships. They bring hope and help us stay centered on truth. He says, “It’s almost as if when we speak about Jesus to someone else, a blessing comes back to us.”

When Robert asked David to meet with him regularly, David says it was like the Holy Spirit nudged him saying, “Old bloke, you need the young bloke”. He needed to hear about the other side of the music industry, not the business side, but the people who were listening. His connection with Robert allowed him to connect to the human side of things. As Robert loved on broken people through Solo Parent Society, David was inspired by his ministry. There was something in him that needed those stories too, those reminders of God’s ongoing work and faithfulness.

So, if you need these two essential communities, cross-generational and habitual, reach out. Pray and ask God to help you find someone seasoned, wise, who loves Jesus and who will meet with you to encourage and support you. Seek out habitual relationships, like going to church regularly as the Smallbones did, as well as looking for someone you can connect with each week who will walk with you on your journey. You may think you don’t have anything to offer but both David and Helen know that isn’t true. Step out of your comfort zone and realize you have something to give even as you receive. As we bring our brokenness together, we find authentic connection that is life-giving for each person.

Single parents, don’t neglect these two essential types of community, cross-generational and habitual relationships. Single parents don’t let yourself stay in isolation.  Be intentional about finding communities like this that speak the life of Jesus to each other. Look at it as necessary, essential, and as self-care. Commit to taking one step toward it this week!

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