The holidays can be difficult for single people, especially if they're living in a town where they have no family.
But some singles find companionship and help from families who take them in and make them part of their clan. The singles in turn add a dimension to the family group that benefits both parents and children.
"As we get older I believe we begin to realize the importance of connection and spending time with those whom we love, especially around the holidays. Being single makes this more difficult," said Geniece Kossin, a Wichitan who has found a home-away-from-home with a family of five from her church.
Kossin gets together with them at least once a week and spends most holidays and birthdays with them. Sometimes the children -- ages 7, 4 and 3 -- clash, and she can smooth things out.
"I think it's common for single people to think, 'I don't have a husband. I don't have kids of my own.' You don't want to go out and be the third wheel so you kind of stay at home."
But people need people no matter what their marital status, said Charlotte Shoup Olsen, family specialist for Kansas State University Research and Extension. And there are some families who go out of their way to make sure that singles don't feel like a third wheel -- and don't spend their nights home alone.
Angela and Bill Lampe of Valley Center became friends with Denise Stewart of Wichita three years ago when they were newly married and Angela and Denise worked together. The Lampes would have Denise over for dinner once a week, and they'd also go out dancing, with married and single friends.
When the Lampes' son, Kaden, was born 11 months ago, their bond became stronger. Denise took a week off work to watch the baby when the Lampes didn't have a baby sitter.
"We're like family," Angela said.
It's important for single people to have a sense of face-to-face community with others over the long term, especially if their families live out of town, Olsen said.
"It's the context of our community that helps us feel like we can meet life's challenges or enjoy what is around us," she said.
She urges couples and families to take note of people in need around them.
"It's always wonderful when we can move outside of our self-centeredness and our families to looking beyond to those persons who may be wanting or needing that contact with us but don't know how to reach out to us, don't want to be intrusive to the family," she said.
Carol Amstutz teaches the singles Sunday school class at Eastminster Presbyterian Church and has invited many singles into her home.
"My husband and I love reaching out to singles because they enrich our lives, and they're enriched by our children, whether they're coming over for meals or coffee or coming over to swim," Amstutz said.
Schoolteacher Judy Black-Dyer met Mike Harper when her daughter started dating him. Now she and her husband have him over for dinner five or six times a week -- whether her daughter is there or not.
"In fact, we laughed one evening," Dyer-Black said. "I said, 'We'll just adopt Mike.' We took a picture of the three of us."
Harper is 40 years old; his ex-wife has custody of their two children. He is one of 13 children himself, but all his siblings live in Louisville, Ky. He helped around the Dyer house last week, putting up Christmas lights. Black-Dyer calls him a blessing, and it's a compliment he returns.
"A lot of days, I stop by there on the way home from work just to see what they're doing," Harper said. "It seems like an extended family."
Stewart drives the 20 minutes to Valley Center from her east-side house at least twice a week to visit the Lampes. On Wednesday nights, Bill fixes dinner and the girls watch "One Tree Hill." Saturday night is movie night. In between, Denise may ask Angela, "What are you doing tonight? I was going to come over."
It may be necessary for singles who feel isolated to make their needs known, Olsen said, because their married friends often aren't aware of them.
Dyer-Black was married for 39 years before her first husband died three years ago. She said most married people don't understand what it's like to be single.
"Because I had no idea."
If a friendship between singles and families is nourished, the relationship becomes a two-way street.
A couple of summers ago, Bill Lampe mowed Stewart's lawn in return for some help with schoolwork. And while Stewart helps with baby Kaden, she's always included in dinner.
"I don't cook, period," she said. "Plus, if I did, what's the point of cooking when you're by yourself? My two dogs can't eat it. It's nice to get a good meal once in a while."
Angela Lampe has a sister who lives in Wichita, but she's busy with her own three children. A single friend is much more available.
"We talk about everything," Angela said of Stewart. "I know I can rely on her for absolutely anything at any time. Especially being a new mom, it's nice to have the extra support."
The give-and-take all washes out in the comfort of familiarity.
"There have been rough times for both of us the past three years," Denise said of her best friend. "It's nice to have someone there who's not judgmental. It's nice to have that person to either smack you into reality or hold your hand."
REACH OUT TO SINGLES
• Be aware that single friends may want or need contact with you but often don't know to reach out or don't want to intrude on the family.
• Make sure single friends have a place to go for holidays or events.
• Invite a single person to a child's birthday party if he or she is particularly close to the child.
• Be sure to say "no" to singles when your family's needs dictate.
• Be aware that some single people don't like to be involved in singles groups or the singles "scene."
• Take time to nurture a relationship with a family. Invite the family to do something with you.
• If your married friends don't realize how isolated you are, you may have to point it out to them. Do it in a way that doesn't give offense but gives them some insight into your situation.
you don't know where to start, check out singles groups. Some
churches, for example, have them. Or ask a church for other possible