This week is National Infertility Awareness Week. It is estimated that one in eight couples deal with infertility. This means that in your church and in your workplace, and quite likely in your extended family, there may be couples that are longing to become parents but are not able. I am one of those people; my husband and I tried for many years to add to our family, but we are still childless. In addition to that, our churches are full of other adults who are childless due to other circumstances or personal choice. Yet with many churches striving to be “family-friendly”, sometimes childless members feel left out or ignored. Today’s post will look at some ways that churches can affirm, and love women who do not have children.
Be careful of putting mothers on a spiritual pedestal. Good parents definitely do God’s work, and taking care of a child is certainly a way to experience God in a whole new way; however, sometimes Christians give the impression that parents are somehow more mature than those without children. Remember that the apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 7 that believers might be better off staying single as they would be free to devote themselves to service. The New Testament church was very diverse, with males and females, Jews and Gentiles, slaves and free people, and most likely parents and non-parents. We should be wary of deciding that one group among us is more mature or more special than the others, but instead lift one another up and rejoice in our diverse gifts and abilities.
Mind your words and include everyone. I have heard pastors and Bible study leaders say phrases like, “We all know what it’s like to have a baby” or “We’re moms here” or “Hey mamas!” [to a group of ladies]. It may not seem like a big deal, but as a childless woman, when I hear phrases like that, I feel like I don’t belong, like maybe I shouldn’t even be here because I don’t count as part of “everyone.” I wonder if I should just leave, and if anyone would even miss me. The reality is that not everyone in the pews is a parent! A church should be a place where everyone is welcomed and included.
Don’t assume someone’s childlessness (or singleness) is a problem for you to solve. Just because someone is childless does not mean she is dealing with infertility. Maybe she does not want kids. Maybe she does, but has not met the right partner yet. Maybe she has health issues or significant marital troubles. Even if she is dealing with infertility, that could involve a wide range of diagnoses. Avoid jumping to conclusions and even if she does share her situation with you, do not give unsolicited advice on something very personal. The best thing you can do is be a supportive friend and offer a listening ear if she ever does want to talk.
Respect her privacy. If you do know that someone is undergoing fertility treatment or is longing for children but not able to have them for any reason, keep it to yourself. Do NOT share it with others unless given permission. Fertility issues are so personal that many couples feel uncomfortable discussing them even with their close family, so sharing it around your Bible study group can be a violation of trust, even if your intentions are good. Also, remember that even if you try to anonymize it by using phrases like “I know someone who….”, it’s often easy to guess who you mean.
Don’t invalidate her emotions or her struggle. It saddens me how often I try to share the pain of my infertility and receive a joke in return like “You can have my kids!” It is deeply hurtful when I share my struggle and someone decides to make a joke about it. If you are in the trenches with young children, you might feel like it might be helpful to remind a childless woman of how great it must be to sleep in on weekends and not have to change diapers, but it just invalidates her feelings and turns the focus back to you and your parenting situation. She is allowed to be sad. The desire to have a family is completely normal. If you feel uncomfortable and don’t know what to say, the best thing is the simplest: “I’m sorry you are hurting. I will pray for you.”
A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity Proverbs 17:17