Yesterday, on Facebook, I posted this great article by Sandra Glahn where she talks about the church needing to see beyond the “one size fits all” approach to womanhood. She talks about how churches often define the role of women in the church as only wife and mother and how painful and limiting that view can be for everyone. Once again, I felt my heart sigh – here’s a woman (a woman who does eventually become a mother) who gets it.
Sunday after Sunday in almost every church I have attended in my adult life, I hear sermon after sermon where all the illustrations are about parenting or marriage or respecting one’s parents. Now, one of those rings true for me – I have a Dad after all – but often the kind of respect they’re talking about is obedience, something that hasn’t really played into my relationship with my dad in, oh, say 20 years.
What I don’t hear are metaphors that deal with friendship or mentoring or loving on other people’s children. What I don’t hear is how these Biblical foundations of love and compassion and respect play out in any kind of relationship besides the nuclear family. I am weary.
When I posted that I was weary in preface to Glahn’s post – saying “I grow weary of metaphors in church that always deal with parenting or marriage. I grow weary of hearing other women define the pinnacle of female identity as motherhood. I grow weary . . . perhaps I am jealous, but I do not think so. Instead I think I am living the life God has given me to live, and it is right for me to do so. Sandra Glahn reminded me of that today.” – a friend, a man I admire, suggested that I might be denying the fulfillment that some women get from mothering. I started to cry.
You see, I wanted for many, many years to be a mother. As I watched most of my friends have children, as I’ve watched those children grow older and blossom personalities and passions that both mirror their parents and also seem to have come from another planetary orbit, I take such joy in their lives – both parents and children. But for many years, that joy was tinged with pain, too . . . for as more and more years passed, the likelihood that I would have children diminished more and more. Still, though, I am so thrilled by my friends as parents. I love hearing them parent and walking with them as they struggle with that role. I’m honored to be in their lives, even if I haven’t experienced all the aspects of their lives.
Now I’m in a place where I don’t think I want children – I haven’t ruled out the possibility entirely, but honestly, I don’t feel that desire as strongly (most days) anymore. I also have built a life I really love and that is COMPLETELY full and fulfilling without children. I do not in any way deny that children bring immense fulfillment to many people, but I am mightily hurt by the idea that my life isn’t fulfilling because I do not have children. My “child-free” life gives me the opportunity to do many things that I would not be able to do with children to raise; I’m not talking selfish things – like buying luxury cars or houses (a writer’s life is so far from allowing that) – but instead things like going to Canada and spending time with my friends and their children or taking this week ahead and helping out a friend by dogsitting with her or staying up late to talk with a friend in crisis in her marriage because no one will wake me at 6:30 needing breakfast. Or being able to quit full-time work to build a writing career without the fear that my children will be hungry. Being a parent gives countless ways of fulfillment, and so does being childless. Somehow, though, we’ve decided that parenting is better than non-parenting.
And then, of course, None of my experience takes into account the countless men and women who cannot have children. I cannot even imagine the depth of their pain in these kinds of conversations.
I just wish that people, particularly the people in the Christian church who have been given explicit lessons about the Body of Christ being made of many parts, would broaden their definition of family to include people that sit outside the margins of the nuclear – one man, one woman, and a few children – version. I wish we would see each other as all family – friends, neighbors, grandparents, uncles, widowers, sisters, daughters-in-law – and stop acting like Jesus uttered “Be sure to get married and have kids and love your spouse and your children more than you love anyone else” because he didn’t. He really didn’t.
What do you think of people who do not have children? What would we do as a society and as a church to be more inclusive of people without children?
If you’re interested in a great article about this subject, please read Nancy Rome’s piece “Childless: Some by Chance, Some by Choice“.