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Some women DO make a choice NOT to become mothers. They are called “child free,” and they should not be marginalized in or by churches, either, not just the women who wanted children but for whatever reason could not have any.
Is there a place at church for those of us who don’t have kids?
by Jean E. Jones
Recently, a woman asked, “My husband and I are childless. How do you cope with the feelings of rejection and of being a minority in the church community?” Both she and I are unable to have children, and her question brought back memories: the hurt as friends with babies bundled in blankets pulled away, the struggle to fit in at church, and the hurdles of gracefully handling ignorant and hurtful comments.
Childlessness is a growing church issue: The number of women who will never bear children has doubled in the last 30 years from 1 in 10 to almost 1 in 5 (Pew Research).
In 1976, the number of childless women ages 40–44 (considered the end of childbearing years) was 580,000; by 2008, it had more than tripled to 1.9 million.
What’s causing this rise in childlessness?
First, Americans are delaying marriage until they’ve achieved educational goals and financial stability. The median age for women’s first marriage is now 27, and more than half of women age 25 to 29 have never married, says the 2013 report Knot Yet: The Benefits and Costs of Delayed Marriage in America.
Delaying marriage leaves fewer childbearing years in which to find a suitable husband. It also decreases a woman’s chance of having a successful pregnancy.
But the bigger reason is that more women are choosing not to have children: Among women ages 40–44, the number of voluntarily childless now equals the number who wanted children but couldn’t have them.
In TIME Magazine’s recent cover article “None Is Enough,” Lauren Sandler cites many reasons for the surge in opting to be child-free. Some non-moms say they don’t want the “bone-tired” lifestyle their mothers had “doing it all,” or never felt they were “mother material.”
The financial costs in raising a child are formidable, and leaving the career track for a mommy track can cost “$1 million in lost salary, lost promotions and so on.”
Women who delay marriage may develop enjoyable lifestyles they’re reluctant to give up. Society’s portrayal of all it takes to be a great mom seems unrealistic.
Whether being without offspring is voluntary or not, the biggest stress the childless face is isolation as “friends just peel off into their small domestic worlds,” Lauren says.
The late 30s and early 40s are the loneliest because friends are parents, but not empty nesters.
Another strain is being judged harshly. Others assume lack of progeny is by choice, and that that choice is selfish. In the 2008 movie The Women, Sylvie (Annette Bening) says to Mary (Meg Ryan): “Do you know that’s the last impermissible thing you can say at a dinner party? That you don’t want children?”
The childless feel scolded in a culture that mandates motherhood, says TIME.
Unintentionally illustrating the point, Fox & Friends host Tucker Carlson responded to TIME with, “But having children means less time for vacations and spin class, where the real meaning in life resides, right? I mean, have you ever seen anything more selfish, decadent and stupid?”
Problems don’t stop at the church door. Lauren Sandler says that for some, the church community seems so “oppressively family-centric,” they abandon it.
At church as elsewhere, moms naturally seek out other moms as they look for friends not just for themselves, but for their children. Church groups for couples, singles, and women in their 30s and 40s consist almost entirely of parents who gravitate to each other to chat about potty training, children’s soccer, and teenage angst. The childless feel sidelined.
Criticisms take a spiritual edge with some arguing that procreation is God’s command, not just his blessing. Too many pronounce infertility a sign of divine disfavor, leaving women reticent to admit their situation. Controversies over the morality of fertility options make discussions seem like minefields. The result: Church feels unsafe.
But all this can be changed. Here are ways those with children can help those without feel included in the church community instead of isolated, and accepted instead of criticized.
Create opportunities for diverse friendships.
Rather than getting together with just moms your age, reach out to the childless woman. Invite her to coffee and share about your lives. Plan get-togethers that women in different life stages can enjoy and that will naturally engender conversations about more than just children: For instance, tea in an antique district gives lots to talk about. Make sure the conversation includes everyone.
Continue reading “Don’t Judge Me, I’m Childless (from Today’s Christian Woman)”