Several years ago, I started speaking up for non-moms. I wanted to sound the gong on an issue that many are either blissfully unaware of or choose to ignore. Though I’ve never been one to shrink from controversy, I soon tired of the apathy I confronted, apathy which echoed the sentiment that something must be wrong with a woman who doesn’t become a mother.
Lately an open letter to pastors about this very issue has been circulating in cyberspace and it has emboldened me to broach this delicate subject once more.
Because I’m not a mother, other non-moms confide in me. And most of them have done so through their tears. After hearing the same issue repeated time and time again, I’m convinced it’s a blind spot for most churches and pastors.
Women who are not mothers hate to go to church on Mother’s Day.
Some defiantly stay away. Others mysteriously get sick every second Sunday in May. Some buck themselves up and go, only to wish they hadn’t and vow never to do it again.
One blogger, Amy Young, wrote about the common practice in churches of having all mothers stand. She sat. “I don’t know how others saw me, but I felt dehumanized, gutted as a woman. Real women stood, empty shells sat. I do not normally feel this way. I do not like feeling this way. I want no woman to ever feel this way in church again.”
What are women supposed to do who:
- Have had a miscarriage
- Are struggling with infertility
- Have waited a long time to adopt
- Have adopted and then had the child taken from them
- Have a critically ill child
- Have buried a child
- Have children who want nothing to do with them
- Have heartache because of prodigal children
- Have been a bad mother and have regrets
- Have had an abusive mother
- Have lost their mother
- Are waiting for a godly husband, meanwhile made to feel inferior by those who have a husband (whether he’s godly or not)
- Have divorced and see the effects on their children
- Had a child as a teenager and loved the baby enough to place it for adoption
- Had a child outside of marriage and feel guilty
- Aborted a baby and feel forgiveness is not possible
I’m not at all trying to downplay the significant and often unappreciated role mothers fill; just to point out that mothering comes in many different forms besides biological. Foster moms, adoptive moms, stepmoms, spiritual moms, grandmothers, mentor moms, big sisters, and awesome aunts are all important and all vital. A woman’s value is not tied to her reproductive (or marital) status. Her value is in Christ alone.
On Mother’s Day, most preachers blather praise for “the hardest and most important job you’ll ever have.” That doesn’t help the have-nots. And, frankly, the contrast is startling between the saccharine-sweet adoration heaped on mothers and the ho-hum accolades for fathers a month later.
In all my years, I’ve only liked one Mother’s Day sermon. It was about Three Women who Mothered Moses. Moses had a biological mother who gave him life, a sister who watched over him in his floating basket, and Pharaoh’s daughter who raised him. God used them all in his life.
Maybe this issue is more noticeable to me because I’m not a mom. Not a biological mom, I should say. But because I’m a non-mom, people discount what I have to say. Oh, she’s just bitter, they may (wrongly) think.
Pastors, who are usually married to a mom, are caught between wanting their wife to feel appreciated and their flock shepherded. They don’t want to upset the status quo.
But if they dare, mothers can be the most effective spokespersons for non-moms who hurt too much to step foot in church on Mother’s Day.
Together, let’s search for a solution to honor mothers without alienating everyone else. I offer several practical ideas (and some surprising statistics) in an article published in my local paper a couple years ago.
As a non-mom, I appreciate this greatly. I can’t tell you how much I’ve struggled in my 30s and felt alienated from all my friends who are moms & becoming moms. And I’m repeatedly asked “when’s YOUR turn? or Are you pregnant yet??” And I’m open still to being a Mom, but I don’t feel as if I’m somehow an incomplete woman because I haven’t felt a peace about going through towards motherhood. On the contrary, I have plenty of time to pursue every dream and goal in life I ever wanted and even feel resentment from some Moms. It’s always a very strange, horrible feeling at our church when Mom’s are asked to stand and everyone claps for them. This article is very poignant and thoughtfully written. Thank you for being bold enough to tackle it!
Thank you for bringing attention to this issue. As a birthmother, I avoid church on Mother’s day at all costs, so I appreciate the issue being raised. One thing I would like to point out is some of the language you used “Had a child as a teenager and gave the baby up” is seen as very outdated and to many, offensive. While I do not speak for all, many of us prefer to say “I placed my child for adoption” or “I created an adoption plan”. Also, I would like to point out that a very large number of women who create an adoption plan are not in fact in their teens. I understand you cannot possibly catch everyone in this list, but just wanted to share.
Thank you for your insight. I edited that line. It now reads “loved the baby enough to place it for adoption.” I still left in the teenager bit because I’m trying to point out that there are many, many reasons and many, many life situations that cause women to feel pain on Mother’s Day.
The best Mother’s day service I have ever been in as a non-mom, single was while in Graduate school. Our pastor had all of the women in the congregation stand. He then had the congregation thank us for the godly influence we had been in the lives of children, whether they were our own or not. I was embarrassed and felt awkward being a single 30 something working with students at the time, but I was honored. I will never forget that Sunday. Ever.
Thank you, Tarun. I was just commenting on this issue today…to 2 Christian moms who, fortunately, get it. One has s daughter who wants nothing to do with her, and the other has rocky relats w/ boyh her mom and mother-in-law. And I am currently (and recently) dating a widower with children…told him I wd NOT be going to church with them as s family, in part b/c of the awkwardness for all of us, but mostly for the reasons you mentioned.
I applaud you, my friend, for standing up for those of us wjo tend to take s hike, literally, on Mother’s Day onstead of attending a service that hurts as much as serves. Penny
Great thoughts worth sharing and sharing again. The only thing I’d mention, as a pastor who works both with folks who have adopted and folks who work with a local adoption agency, is that the phrase “gave the baby up” is a tough one for people who have placed children for adoption. It’s a phrase that for some implies a resignation, or worse that the birth mother did not value the child. The term “placed for adoption” is gaining traction and I think works better and doesn’t carry the baggage some birth moms associate with it.
Thanks so much for writing this. It’s so important, and your words are wise and timely!
Jack, thank you for your insight. I edited that line. It now reads “loved the baby enough to place it for adoption.”
While I agree I believe our church handles this day well compared to most. They call for all women, current mothers, those who long to be mothers, those who “mother” other women, those who have the heart of a mom in any form, those who have lost children, Etc to stand. I believe they strive to encompass more than the physical representation of a mom but reach to the heart of most every woman.
Praises to Taryn! A well written article. As a mother, I too was not sensitive to those who did not have children for whatever reason. Then life happened; I had a miscarriage; then I lose my mother. Thereafter, I really started to realize the void; with a pleather of other feelings. I remember dreading Mother’s Day for these very reasons. Like you we were told if we did not have a mother or as a women without a child to grab the other; hold them and we had prayer. All I wanted was my mother! A substitute would not do! As I became older I was more able to cope during this holiday. Then my daughter became a wife and I remember the struggle and pain subdued trying to conceive; ultimately settling for in-vitro. Then the painful shots, lab work, etc. I say all this to say a lot of thought and consideration needs to take place to not make others feel so miserable on Mothers’s Day! This is NOT your Christian duty!
As a never-married woman I have always been so grateful that the priest at my church recognizes all women in the tribute and giving of a flower. My first mother’s day at St. Ignatius of Antioch Orthodox Church he said, “I guess I don’t know you very well, but I know you mother a lot of children in this parish.” Many non-mothers nurture others in many ways. They should be honored too.