Does the church know how to love childless women? It's a difficult but important question. I recently read a pair of articles from two different perspectives that touch on this issue. One was from Suzanne Burden, a married woman in her early 40s who has struggled with infertility; the other was from Amanda Bast, an unmarried 26-year-old. Both presented quite a poignant picture of how lonely—even alienating—the "Christian community" can feel when you don't fit the traditional, get-married-young-and-start-a-family-early" mold.
Consider Amanda's perspective: "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."
Suzanne's experience is similar: "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."
These articles were eyeopening and convicting to me. I have to admit that at times I have been guilty of some of the exact things that Suzanne and Amanda described. And I should know better. Even though I do have kids, as a fulltime professional I certainly know what it feels like to not fit into the traditional image of the Christian mom.
But really, we should all know better.
There are so many women (and especially professional women) who are waiting longer to have children these days that this is an issue that we as a church desperately need to get a handle on. My friend 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:
"You work way too much. You need to have a kid!"
"Remember, your career isn't everything. That won't take care of you when you're old!"
"When are you going to have kids?"
"Don't you want to enjoy some of the best experiences in life?"
Lydia laughs about it now, but at the time those comments and questions stung.
So what can we do differently? In their articles, 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.
And along with their insights, let me suggest that part of the problem lies in the way many of us 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.
It's just human nature, really, and it is true that part of the reason we 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 nonparents alike.
And we can.
Will you join me?