Saturday, December 6, 2008

Childless in Church

A friend of mine asked if I noticed how hard it was to relate to most of the women in church - the majority of whom are mothers. I agreed, but thought I was the only one that was the odd one out! I am getting more and more used to being the only one in the circle who is chidless, but I am realizing I will never get over it.

My friend is going to see if she can get a women's small group started for women who don't have children, and I hope she is successful. I don't think the focus will be to provide a support group or to talk about being childless (I hope not, I am in ostrich mode now trying to not think about it). Instead, I think it would be good to get women in a more similar life situation together to praise God and enjoy doing a bible study together...and through that we will find compassion, understanding and a little more sensitivity to our situation.

After our talk, she sent me the article below. I hope you enjoy the point of view and the links!


Is There a Place for You in Your Church?

By John and Sylvia Van Regenmorter


We are thankful that churches and pastors are becoming sensitive to the hurting childless couples in their pews. A number of churches sponsor TTC Groups (trying-to conceive support groups), and pastors are reaching out to couples who have suffered pregnancy loss. Praise God!

Nevertheless, being part of the church is not easy for those who have not been blessed with the pitter-patter of little feet. Consider the following:

One Mother’s Day at church, as usual, the pastor asked everyone who was a mother to stand up, and then the congregation loudly applauded these fine individuals (of whom I was not one.) This hurt so badly I could barely contain myself.

I feel apart from the other women in our church, who are my age. All of them are moms! Even at church, a place where I always felt I “belonged,” I really feel “out on my own.”

Whether the need is for nursery helpers, Sunday school teachers, or youth sponsors, I am constantly being asked to help. After all, I have the time, right? Besides, it will give me time to be with children, right? I hate to say no, but being with children right now is just too painful—it reminds me too deeply of my loss.

I used to enjoy the women’s Bible study group at church, but now I dread it. All they do is talk about their children and grandchildren. I feel out of it.

The above suggests that many childless couples feel like second class citizens. The church—which should be a place of healing and community—too often becomes a place in which infertile couples are wounded and alone.

What can we do to help our churches become places where childless couples can say, “This is where I can belong and grow strong.” Here are some suggestions:

1. Keep your expectations realistic. Not every one in your church will recognize the depth of pain caused by infertility. To expect that all will “get it” only sets you up for continual disappointment.

Try to find one or two other people in your congregation who understand. Encourage them to pray for you, as you promise to pray for them (after all, everyone faces some kind of challenge.)

2. Make your pastor an ally. Most pastors work hard to provide Christ-centered support for people in crisis. But even the most sensitive pastor may not be able to give much support to infertile couples without two things you can supply: encouragement and information.

3. Publish an article in your church newsletter. Most churches have a monthly newsletter filled with news and information about the church. The editor is probably looking for articles to include. The following article by Catherine Ward – Long, Married Without Children: Four Ways Churches Can Incorporate Childless Women, is an excellent piece to submit. You have full permission from Stepping Stones and the author to reprint this article in your church newsletter. If you want an email version to reprint, write us at Stepping Stones (step@bethany.org.)

Unless pastors have personal experience with infertility, they may not think much about the infertile couples in your church – until someone encourages them to do so. Perhaps you are that someone! Remind your pastor that when childless couples hear their needs brought before God in prayer, they’ll never forget it. Conversely, if the needs of the childless are never mentioned, they’ll never forget that, either! As one church member puts it,

“Thankfully, our church is learning to reach out to those hurting while still honoring mothers. We are so grateful that in recent years our pastor has always prayed for those waiting on the Lord to make them someone’s mommy.” This acknowledgement means more to us that anything anyone has ever said.

4. Learn to say no without feeling guilty. Whether they need nursery helpers, Sunday school teachers, or youth sponsors, churches often tend to ask infertile couples to help. After all, you have the time, right! Besides, it will give you an opportunity to be with children!

If helping your church nursery is too painful, don’t feel guilty about politely declining. Consider volunteering for another area of service in the church instead. If attending a women’s Bible study is difficult because the topic always seems to revolve around parenting, find a study where the focus is broader. Remember that even Jesus sometimes said no to the demands of others in order to take care of Himself physically and spiritually (see Luke 5:15-16.)

5. Remember your greatest resource. The church is made up of people, and people can sometimes let us down. But “God is our refuge and strength, an ever present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear…” (Psalm 46:1 NIV.)

Adapted from When the Cradle is Empty by John and Sylvia Van Regenmorter (Focus on the Family and Tyndale House Publishers, 2004.)

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hi Carol,

I found your blog through Childlessness Not By Choice, and a poster who referenced this post. I can relate to this post and have found it difficult to find my place in church. I have learned to keep my expectations reasonable, but there are times I feel like a fish out of water. This weekend it seems there were babies everywhere dressed in cute little Christmas outfits. I ended up crying through most of the service and the the rest of the afternoon. I have survived 16 years of childlessness, and get through most days just fine, but there are days when it all hits home...especially around the holidays. I too blog about my experiences. It really seems to help.

Anonymous said...

Hi Carol,



I head for the church narthex when the priest invites pregnant women or mothers up for special blessings,and I don't participate in any children's activities or pro life stuff (not that I'm not pro life,but I just can't deal with it.)

I'm not sure what to do about church because the Catholic church is so family oriented.I don't want to hear about children and grandkids, and I"m really considering drastically reducing time spent around families,and women who have no interest outside of their families.

It does help me to remember that our purpose in life is to grow closer to God,not be parents.IF I focus on that I'm able to step back and deal with all this better.

Adam said...

I also find it so difficult to find my place in church, a place that I used to love and feel loved and belonging. My husband and I are looking for a new church that has some other couples with children. We recently called a church to inquire and when we asked if there were couples in their early 30's the secretary said, "Oh yes, there is one with a 1 year old and a couple that is pregnant." I was thinking, well, I didn't ask if there were any parents in the church. The fact that she equated couples with families with children broke my heart. I hung up and cried. It is even so hard to find other Christian couples without kids to just hang out with unless they are much younger than us. I hope the church wakes up to our plight! And when it does I hope it is not a focus on fixing infertility, but just on creating a place for childless couples no matter the situation.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

I am glad that somebody else feels the same way I do. We belong to a small church and it is hard to have a discussion with the other women without them talking about their children. I understand that they are home all day with their kids and want to vent but I couldn't care less. I am not interested in their children. I quit doing nursery because I just don't feel comfortable with children.

Anonymous said...

Hi Carol,

I am 48 years old and childless - and menopaused.
I was 35 when I got married for the first time. Never been pregnant in our 13 year marriage, as we were not financially stable enough for me to stay at home raising kids - I do not believe in having kids only for the sake of having them and letting someone else (even grandmas) raise them while I have to work outside home. Time passed, and by the time when my husband started to make enough money, I had an early menopausal. That's the story of my life. I am a Christian (protestant/reformed), and I believe in the inerrancy of the Bible - trying to obey the Word of God in my everyday life. As I am getting older, one thing always hurts me within the "Christian" circles I belong - lack of sensitivity and compassion for those who don't have kids/unable to have them. Endless baby showers, mothers only gatherings, people constantly asking "do you have kids?"... I am now dealing with a post-menopausal depression, and things are not easy on me as my church is so busy with kids/moms/baby activities. Where do I stand? It's not like these young mothers are mean, but they become naturally "click-ish" (as they are in similar age bracket/family circumstances) and I honestly don't think anyone of them has any clue as to how I feel. I was young once. I was not paying much attention to the "older/marginal" women at the church. This is something I've learned -- remember those who are "outsiders", i.e. the "feet" of the church. Not everybody is blessed with a loving husband or cute children. Some are lonely and and hurting quietly. Look for them and minister to them!

Anonymous said...

I just stumbled across your blog, as the stress of being childless in the church has reached critical mass this week and I started searching for others who are in the same situation. I'm glad other people out there have experienced similar feelings of isolation, because I'm beginning to lose my mind from feeling invisible.

I had a woman actually say to my husband and me that our opinions in a discussion didn't matter, because we don't have kids.

It was like a slap in the face, and years later, and the memory is still painful.

Again, thank you for your blog, and for helping me feel less alone.

Carol Caldwell said...

I appreciate everyone who has posted here or read this article; it is the top most visited article on the blog. I think many childless couples face this same issue. The search engine sources are heartbreaking - see the "Blog about this Blog" post for more details. If it helps, I can offer that, while society doesn't change their attitude toward childless couples, it does get easier to handle being one in this society as time goes on. Your skin gets tougher as you heal and become more comfortable with the direction your life has taken and with the knowledge God has a plan for you. Albeit, without kids.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Church used to be a place of comfort for me. Now Sundays are the hardest day of the week for me because I feel my childless state the most deeply on that day.

I have very little in common with most Christian
women whose focus is their children and/or grandchildren. Its easier for me to talk to the men since we share experiencesin the workplace. Of course, I can only converse with them but so much for obvious reasons. Talking to a stay at home Mom about projects at work, presentations, etc. doesn't work. Sadly, some women feel insecure or less than in their role as a homemaker. Often if I bring up something work related, there is an uncomfortable look that flashes across their faces. I hate that. I can feel the separation happening.

I would like to feel less isolated at church and have some female friends. I have reached out and had lunch, brought meals for families who've had babies, sincerely ask about their children, etc. but there is a barrier there.

All I know is that I am TIRED of this. I feel my best when I am at work. I'm good at what I do and I'm able to contribute there. I wonder if there is a group of professional Christian women somewhere???????

Sarah said...

I found so much comfort in reading this blog and the comments. I married late, waiting for the right man; the one I believed God wanted me to marry. Now I am experiencing the menopause a little early and have been told there is virtually no chance of children.

My own church has a number of childless women but still the emphasis is always on getting married early and having children. The church tells us that God loves and values us all equally, but then acts as if that is not the case.

I take comfort in the knowledge that Jesus sought out the marginalised.

I pray for all my sisters here. May the God of all love bless you and keep.you.

Beth Planten said...

Thank you for posting this blog. I have never been able to have children either, due to female problems beyond my control since I started my periods at 11 years old. I am now 50, but I had to have a hysterectomy at age 38 because of the female issues that were continually getting worse, and was never able to conceive, even before the surgery. My husband says he is fine with not having children, and he has been such a blessing to me in so many ways. When we were dating, he stayed at the hospital with me for support, even when my own mother refused to have anything to do with me, mad that I was even having the surgery. However, even at my age now, it is hard for me to step inside a church or Sunday School class where I hear so many of the women talking and boasting about their children and grandchildren, showing pictures all around, etc, etc. Let's not even mention how I feel about Mother's Day at church. I have just given up on going to church at all--it hurts too much. I know as a Christian, that the Lord wants me to live my life for Him. My husband is also a Christian, but he knows how painful this childless subject is for me, too. It seems like the church and society, as a whole, expect all couples to have a "quiver-full" as it says in a verse I read in Psalms yesterday, and it is heartbreaking to not be accepted if that doesn't happen.