Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Childless in Church

This is something that's been weighing on my heart for a long time now, and I thought I'd go ahead and put it out there. There is very little space for childless couples in our churches. You go from the college or singles ministry to young marrieds, but young marrieds are expected to have children. After all, most of the class likely has young children or is trying to have children. So what about those who choose to wait? Or even those who didn't get to make that choice?

Philip and I have been married for four years (the exact time can be found on the counter to the right). We chose not to have children while I finished school, and now we wait for medical clearance before we revisit that plan. There's a lady in my Bible study who has also been married four years, and she has three children. In fact, I am the only one in my Bible study who does not have kids. There's a good portion of our class that I cannot contribute to simply because I have yet to have children. The first week of our class even focused on raising children (we're studying Beth Moore's To Live Is Christ). While I found the lessons important not only for my future, but also for my work in children's ministry, I felt a bit out of place.

Then there's the expectations of those in the church. One lady asked me how I was and when I responded with "Good, just a little tired" she assumed I had young children who kept me up. I laughed it off and told her it was just the cat waking me in the morning, but she quickly ended the conversation and moved on to talking with another lady nearby about her children.

Isolated incident, I know. And I know this woman meant no wrong. She simply didn't know what to say next. However, she's not the only one with the assumption of children on her mind, and to be quite frank, it's my Christian friends who are the worse at this.

Only the closest of our non-Christian friends have asked about our plans for children. But everyone I meet at church seems to expect that we have kids. What's worse is the look you get when you tell someone that kids are still a ways away. It's almost like you have three heads. "What do you mean you don't want to get pregnant on your honeymoon? Don't you know children are a blessing from God?"

Yes, children are a blessing, but no, we aren't seeking that blessing just yet.

What breaks my heart is that while I have made a point of being involved in my church despite feeling like the odd one out, I know there are many who have not. I know that there are many hurting women who feel as if they don't quite belong to their churches because they have yet to birth children. And I know that the people who have hurt them had no idea what pain their words and looks could cause.

Here's my challenge to you. If you are blessed to be a parent in our churches, be kind and considerate to those who have chosen, or have come to accept, not having children just yet.

If you are one of the childless in our churches, please stick it out. Find a way to get involved. Use your great mothering skills to support your children's ministry. Use your time to support those around you. And please, be patient with the well-intended words of others.


  1. People probably just assume you have children or are at least trying. When you tell them you have no intention of having children yet, you probably throw them off their groove of conversation. Maybe next time you can start asking questions about their kids and their experiences of child raising. Maybe you can turn the conversation around. You can learn a lot from others and believe me you will need all the help you can get. In my opinion people should wait 5 years before they have kids.

  2. I don't always think of how I sound to another person, and I truly don't ever want to hurt feelings. I've had friends in the waiting mode and friends who were dealing with infertility and I resolve to be ever mindful of how they may interpret my words. Thank you for your insightful post!

  3. Thought-provoking post.
    I think because the bible says be fruitful and multiply, Christians think more of having children as a blessing (often unplanned) while non-Christians generally think of them as an inconvenience to plan for at a specific time IF it will add to their family dynamic in the appropriate way. It's very mature to wait until you have time for a child, and I think there are moments when we all feel awkward (like Sunday when the sermon was about marriage and raising children and I'm neither married or have children) but you seem to be handling it well!
    Be of good cheer, I just take church people's "You getting married next?" comments with a grain of salt and smile cheerfully with a "I don't know what God has planned, I guess you'll know when I do!" lol

  4. Thanks for sharing -- sometimes people are unaware that while they are well meaning - they should choose their words more carefully.

  5. Interesting and sad post, thanks for sharing....♥

  6. It is hard for me to relate to what you are saying. Other than I think many people just use things like that as small talk. For example when you are dating people say "when are you getting married?" and then once you are married they ask "when will you have kids?" then they move on to "how many more will you have?" then when you are older the small talk questions change to "when are you kids going to get married?" and "when are you retiring?". Try to remember that they are not meaning to hurt your feelings, mainly just looking for a way to make conversation. And if you feel there is a ministry lacking in your church for your demographic then maybe that is a call to create one.

  7. Let me just clarify that I don't think that in any encounter that I've had at my church has anyone had any malice or mean intent. I simply think that many in our churches are unaware of how their responses affect others.

    Kelly- I agree as well that couples should make a habit of waiting at least a little while. Especially as an MFT, I really think couples need time to really form their marriage before adding the stress of childbearing. Of course, that's not always how it happens and God can work in any family no matter their timing.

    ZudaGay- I encourage you to really be in conversation with your friends who are dealing with infertility. It can be such a trying time. Have some humor and keep the communication open!

    Lizzi- I got the same thing when I was single and studying ministry. Then, when Philip and I were dating, everyone was asking for the Save the Date before I even had a ring on my finger! Our churches definitely cater towards the family system, but singles can have a great place in our congregations and ministries!

    Angels and Everlastings- I think we all have people we could be more mindful of in our conversations, but it takes exposure to realize it.

    myeuropeantouch- Thanks. I hope it wasn't too sad.

    Crafty Mommas- That's the whole point. Those who aren't in such a position, often find it hard to think of how it might be. I hope that I can simply inspire people to try to be more empathetic and aware of those around them. And once again, I know that they mean no harm, but the hurt still happens from time to time.

  8. I can identify. I've been married for 4 months and already people expect us to be pregnant. We can't afford kids, and my husband will be going to grad school in a few years, so we won't be able to afford them for a while. I wish people would trust God's plan for us instead of making their own plan.

  9. Faith Caroline- I think part of being a good parent is being wise about when you have children, and that includes finances. I applaud you for trying to make the best decision possible for your children. Hang in there and try to find your own way to cope with those expectations.