I read a pair of articles this week that touch on this topic from two very different perspectives. One from a married woman in her 40s who has struggled with infertility, and one from an unmarried 28-year-old. Both present a rather stark picture of just how lonely and even alienating the ”Christian community” can feel when you don’t fit the traditional, “get married young and start a family early” mold:
“Do you know how I felt when I went to a new church in a new city and was asked if I wanted to attend “Mom’s Night Out”? As it was the only social opportunity for women at the time, I believe the woman who asked me was trying to include the newcomer. When I informed her I was not a mom and I asked if they had considered calling it “Ladies’ Night Out” to include the childless women in the church, I was eventually told: “Sorry, that’s just what we call it.” I never attended—I did, however, immediately feel marginalized.” (Suzanne, age 40).
“When you ask when I’m getting married, I don’t have an answer for you. When you hint at me having kids, it makes me jealous of new parents. When you prod about my lack of a stable career, I get frustrated. When you ask these questions, it doesn’t help me grow. It doesn’t help me feel content with where I am. It does more damage than you realize.” (Amanda, age 28).
For me, these articles were eye-opening and in a way convicting. I have to admit that I have at times been guilty of some of the exact things that Suzanne and Amanda describe. And I should know better, because even though I do have kids, as a full-time professional I certainly know how it feels to not fit into the classic image of the Christian mom.
Really, we should all know better.
With so many women (and especially professional women) waiting longer to have children these days, this is an issue that we as a church desperately need to get a handle on. My friend (and 4word woman!) Lydia was convinced for many years that she would never have kids. Not because she couldn’t (she could), or wasn’t married (she was), but because she just did not feel like she was meant to be a mom. Shortly after she got married, the questions and unsolicited advice started pouring in:
“when are you going to have kids?”
“Don’t you want to enjoy some of the best experiences in life?”
“You work WAY too much, you need to have a kid!”
“Remember, not everything is career, that won’t take care of you when you’re old!”
Lydia laughs about it now, but at the time those comments and questions stung.
So what can we do differently? Both Suzanne and Amanda offer some great practical tips on ways to better love women who (by choice or not) are walking a different path from you.
For my part, I think part of the problem lies in the way that many Christians approach church in general. We get caught up in our routines. We want to sit near our friends, we want to hear worship music we know and like (and not too loud, please), we want to hear a message that resonates with us where we are. And we don’t want to get trapped in a parking lot traffic jam afterwards.
Its just human nature, really, and it is true that part of the reason you go to church is to learn about God’s word and to worship Him on a very personal level. But it is good to be reminded sometimes that “church” is about a lot more than our own individual growth. It’s also about our growth as a community. It’s about loving each other and about taking the time to really see each other.
We all need to do a better job of doing that, parents and non-parents alike. And we can.
Will you join me?