This Sunday is Mother’s Day in the USA. I wrote this many years ago, but it’s still where my heart is.
When my husband and I got married, many of our friends and siblings were also marrying within the same five year time period. More than a few of those friends announced pregnancies soon after the wedding. So we went from bridal showers and weddings, into baby showers and stories of Lamaze classes and childbirth experiences in about two year’s time. Some of our unmarried friends were also getting pregnant, so we joked about how there was a lot of that “Egyptian Flu” going around (“nine months and you’re a Mummy”).
As time went on, we wholeheartedly celebrated each healthy birth with our friends, and enjoyed holding the new babies. We mourned some still births and miscarriages with some friends, too. Always, we let those new parents know that we welcomed their children in our home by having a collection of toys for them to play with when they’d come. I had a sister with babies I’d borrow now and then, who lived in the apartment just below me. I also helped raise several younger sibs, so I had experience with kids. My husband had a daughter born to his first very brief marriage, so he had some understanding of life with babies as well. He was really great with dealing with those inconsolable crying babies, too.
In spite of all of that, we rarely saw our parenting friends outside of activities or events like cookouts at their parents’ homes, church events (if they went to the same one we went to), or meeting them at some store or holiday event. No matter what we said or did, no matter how often I’d call and chat with them, these people somehow decided we weren’t people that they were comfortable socializing with outside of their own homes. It’s not that I minded going to their homes; I just wanted to be a hostess once in awhile, too.
After awhile, they were even too busy for having us visit their homes. I was beginning to think that, for reasons I wasn’t “getting”, that they just didn’t want to socialize with us anymore. I would have asked directly, but the one time I did ask “Is it us? Did we offend somehow?”, I got a defensive reaction that was more like an attack. She sharply retorted, “You don’t know what it’s like to have no time to clean for company!”
“I don’t come to visit your house, hon. I come to visit you.” I responded, carefully not mentioning that I knew she was having other friends over from time to time. She didn’t trust that I guess…cause it made no difference. I tried to tell her that I wanted to help if she’d let me, but that friendship died quietly after that conversation.
The other portion of our distressing social changes, was that we weren’t getting pregnant. We were trying; but it just wasn’t happening. I thank God that I never experienced multiple miscarriages, like some of my friends had. I can’t imagine the heartbreak of going from the euphoria of baby preparations, to the grief of knowing that life had died for unexplained reasons that can’t be remedied. After three years of marriage, I began carrying around a certain stuffed animal that was just the right size of a swaddled newborn. My arms needed a baby to hold, and I felt weird for doing that.
When we were married for four years, I finally went to a doctor to see what might be wrong. My husband had a baby by his first wife, so the problem clearly wasn’t his. The doctor checked me over and said that it was probably a variety of things that kept us from being a fertile couple. He was warm, nice, and encouraging that “someday” I might still manage a pregnancy since it all seemed to be healthy and well.
I couldn’t afford the more intensive testing, so we just had to let it stand with his exam. Then he handed me a pamphlet that I wish I still had. It was titled something like “200 reasons the human body can’t reproduce”. With all the teens getting easily pregnant when they didn’t want to be, it really did help to know that conception was more of a miracle than routine results for sexual activity. This was back in 1978, so it was just as the abortion debate had crescendoed into legalizing the procedure, and I was devastated. I knew that it would make it that much harder to adopt a healthy baby for a family with little money, but lots of love and desire for one. We would just have to come to terms with being childless.
During those years, we kept seeing that we weren’t considered a “family” as long as we were childless. All “family” activities were for groups of people who either had parents living with them, or were parents themselves. For Sunday School, we didn’t fit with the college-aged people, since we were married. Most of their conversations were of how to live as single people and dating. We didn’t need that temptation when we were feeling unhappily married some days! We also felt old when we were with the single twenty-somethings who were still living with parents and didn’t know what the trials of living on a tight budget were like. When we’d find some childless couples we thought we’d enjoy, either they soon became parents themselves and that mysterious detachment would once again separate us (even though we’d all mentioned that it is unfair when that happens before they got pregnant!); or they would move away.
I know with Mother’s Day approaching, and Father’s Day only one more month behind it, that there are people right now, who are also dealing with being marginalized because they are either single adults without children, or married and childless. And they are reading ads about how a “mother found the secret to whitening teeth” – which seems to impart that only a MOTHER is able to really find good remedies for things in life. Or only a FATHER has the wisdom and strength to offer a younger person’s questions and problems. I am sorry that it happens that way. I want to hug and hold each of you, and let you know that YOU are important and have valuable gifts to give in life, even if you aren’t a parent. There honestly is so much more to life than breeding.
We all know that many people who are parents, aren’t any better people for having working wombs or fertile semen. So why is it that we segregate our social contacts apart from these people who can still enrich the lives around them?
To the caring friends and family members, and to church leaders who know they are guilty of not considering the childless persons: you can change that.
Friends and family: You can accept their invitations to come to their homes, and just let your portable children learn how to enjoy some time in a new environment. Have the kids bring some toys, and let them show them to the new grown ups.
If you have a sink full of dishes, let the friend wash them while you diaper the baby and get them fed without feeling defensive or offended, please. Visiting friends just want to make YOU more comfortable and enjoy their company, too! Let them help where they can, and don’t assume that they are criticizing you. They could do that just fine without getting hands in the dishwater, LOL. Befriend them, unconditionally; so they can learn how to return the favor.
Accept their offers to help, too. Somehow I wasn’t allowed to do much by my other parenting friends; as if I couldn’t cook without onions if you’d just tell me that you want it that way. Let friends bring you contributions more often.
Childless people need to have the exposure to see life through a child’s eyes: share your children’s views more. Don’t fuss about your house being clean enough. I come for fellowship, not home inspections; ’cause being single or married and childless is sometimes just a lonely thing to deal with.
When we FINALLY got pregnant, I vowed to NEVER exclude a childless friend from our lives. I would walk behind my babies and let them show me what was in their reach when we visited childless homes, and it only takes a half hour of fun chat while I did it. Usually, the childless friend would come to my home more; but I always did everything I could to accept any invitations from them for visits.
At church, I always speak up for “family” events to have activities for persons without kids. C’mon church leaders! At least ONE event for the single folks who are part of the church family! Let there be one for married people who ARE still a family, even if there are no kids.
There are a few parents whose kids are grown and flown out there who also want some activities that they don’t have to find grandkids to enjoy. I know that we need to lift up families with children because it’s challenging for them to find safe places to be social. But it’s just as challenging for the single adults and the married without kids to find safe social activities TOO!
I know you will all do your best to celebrate Mother’s Day and Father’s Day honoring your parents. But reach out to the other folks without kids, and let them know that they are important, too. Even if they come without charming and demanding miniatures.