Childless at Church

I have a LOT of church-related-childlessness angst. But then, I have a lot of church-related angst…so… yeah. Anyhow, if you’re not LDS, you may not know that family is like a BIG deal. A BIG Big Deal. I think it’s partially the fact that women lack any hard power in the LDS Church, so the Church compensates by making motherhood the end-all-be-all of existence x 3,000. But what would I know? I’m childless.

Being over a certain age and childless in the LDS Church is an awkward existence, to say the least. Because it’s such a unique status, people wonder, make assumptions, gossip, and ask impolite questions. It makes you ineligible to participate at the level “real families” can participate. And finally, it causes deeply personal angst about your worth.

Upon meeting a couple that has been married even two years without producing offspring, the less couth of our membership will already be formulating theories. I’m a female lawyer and outspoken feminist. Based on how I’ve been treated, I’m guessing people often assume my childlessness is a rebellious and unrighteous choice. That my priorities aren’t straight. That I don’t want children. But it works in reverse, too. My friends who don’t want children have encountered people who have believed them to be infertile–the sheer thought of being childless by choice unthinkable to them. Some assume that if you don’t have children,  you’re not really an adult with a mortgage and job and responsibilities. Some assume life is bliss every day and we’re soooo lucky that we can sleep in! Ugh.

Aside from theorizing why a couple is childless, people at church are famous for their blunt questions. “When will you have children?” is just as inappropriate in a job interview as it is in the foyer at church, but it’s asked more often than I can stand.

But it’s not just the gossiping and questioning and theorizing that bothers me. It’s the exclusion from things where parental status has no bearing–like a gospel discussion. My authority is undermined by the fact that I’m not a parent. It’s not just that I’m unrighteous, it’s that I simply don’t understand. More than once when I have postulated or commented on something, people have actually said to me–in front of an entire class–that I was wrong, and that I would understand when I have children. And there’s not a damn thing I can say to rebut.

It’s when a lesson is on service, and a teacher asks, “mothers, what can we do to teach our children service?” as if the rest of us have nothing to say on the matter. Unintentional, yes, but when every Sunday you’re reminded that your opinion is less valid than a mother’s it wears on you.

It’s dumb things like mommy and me groups, and participating in the Primary Program. Or the fact that every activity our ward holds is centered around children–trunk or treats, pinewood derbies, and the lot. I can go to these things, and I have on occasion, but it’s honestly not that fun to be the only childless person at a kid’s birthday party.

It’s the constant reminders. Every other week someone pops out a baby, and I’m expected to bring them a casserole. Every month I’ll get invites to baby showers of women I’ve never even met. Every testimony meeting I’ll hear moms bear their testimonies about how blessed they are that Heavenly Father has “entrusted” them “with the nurturing of these children.”

Which brings me to the deep, personal, spiritual angst that’s only partially fueled by the culture. The angst makes me wonder what is wrong with me. As a feminist, I should be able to be okay. I should be able to take comfort in the fact that I know my body, my fertility, and my gender do not define who I am. I have a brain. I can wield the law at my pleasure. I have my personality and my beliefs and my marriage (mine so much more because I’ve not allowed the church to define it).

But because I know all of those things–because I recognize that we’re still underrepresented in Congress and underpaid in the workforce, and we’ve been second class citizens since…hell—because I’m stuck as a female, I feel entitled to have the one damn female advantage that there is. I want so badly for my body to work and stop killing anything that grows. I want my breasts to perform a useful function just once in this life time. I want to create, incubate, and deliver a life.

But if God has entrusted you with a child, he clearly doesn’t trust me. Every month I don’t get pregnant I’ll call to mind every little sin and wonder, “Was that it? Is that why I’m not good enough?” People say there’s some lesson to be learned from this. But if that’s true, why did I have to repeat the class three times? I’ve even had people ask me whether I’ve prayed about this. Should I tell them that God’s not listening? That he doesn’t intervene? Or should I let them assume it’s just me. Or is it just me?

In any case, being childless at church is the worst.



6 thoughts on “Childless at Church

  1. I’m sorry. It sucks. But it is not. Your. Fault. I know it’s almost impossible not to feel that way—I still get it some days. What helped me sometimes when those feelings got the worst was thinking about the story Christ healing the blind man, and his disciples immediately assumed that either this man or his parents had sinned in order for him to be born blind. I always hear Christ’s response that neither of them sinned with a little bit of a sigh first, that his disciples had missed the point and assumed the worst. (And in my worse moments, felt smugly happy that they get their comeuppance.) I didn’t even care so much about the part where he says there was a higher purpose for the blindness; even if my infertility was supposed to teach the masses some great lesson (which I doubt), what mattered most to me was that the first response was that it wasn’t the man’s (or my) fault.

    If God disqualified people from having children on the basis of relative sinfulness or perfectness, the demographics of the world would shift considerably. So I have to assume that the process of “entrusting” children to parents doesn’t have much (if anything) to do with God’s trust in those parents’ ability to actually, you know, parent those children well. It’s another one of those incomprehensible formulas that I plan to ask about in the Big Q&A session in the next life. I’m hoping that by then I’ll be able to find a better phrasing than “If you let white trash child-beating drug addicts have so many kids without even trying, why on earth do so many amazing people have so many problems having children, or never get to have children at all? Seriously, what is up with that?”

    Anyway. Being childless at church does stink. Sending you hugs and sending mental slaps upside the head to those people who make it worse.

  2. Being childless at church TOTALLY sucks. It is something that I personally think needs to be addressed with vigor–that you don’t judge people who don’t have kids. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: never ask anyone when they’re going to have kids. There are only 2 possible responses to that question: I don’t want them (whether that be ever or at the moment) OR I can’t have them (right now or ever).

    People are freaking stupid. That’s all there is to it. I’m really sorry.

  3. It seems like when it comes to the uterus… people become idiots. You don’t see people walking about asking questions about a man’s penis, so why is it okay to ask stupid questions about fertility, or the stupid constant questions to pregnant women, or even new moms.

    My husband and I waited several years before having our daughter, and I know this probably isn’t comforting – but even with a kid it doesn’t get better. My baby is 6 months old and people are already bombarding me with questions about when the next one is going to be and how many we want to have.

  4. I can’t really compare my situation to yours but I feel that I can totally relate. I often feel like I have not “experienced life” because I have not had a child. Even though I have traveled, served a mission, gotten married, and am mind numbingly close to finishing my undergrad (1 1/2 more semesters! FINALLY!). Most of the women in my ward are younger than me and the ones that are not already have 3+ children. Do I feel “behind” sometimes? Of course. Do I get frustrated when pregnancy or breastfeeding comes up and I am the only person in the room without experience? Um, yes. I feel like most people are simply not aware. They become pregnant and happy which translates very often into self absorbed and whiny, “My boobs hurt, my back hurts, my clothes don’t fit, I’m so tired…” Just in case people with children were not aware of ALL of the symptoms they have not or will not experience. I feel like every social gathering has become an informal baby shower. Yes it is hard, but I rely on the fact that people just don’t have the social etiquette or sense to include people without children. I try not to take it personally but then again, it is very personal. For some reason my uterus is not working the way I want it to.

  5. I am so sick of people moralizing biology. Biological processes are just that… Biological. There are other instances in our LDS church were biology and morality get all tangled up and it is one of my biggest struggles with our church. I’m so sorry that you have to feel the pain of other people being inconsiderate.

  6. You write brilliantly. I love it. I love your feminism. I love the way you look at the church. I have felt all of these things in the past. I have felt similar things when my husband cheated on me and I felt worthless and unworthy that I couldn’t keep my sweetheart loving me forever and all the bull shit. Anyway, I am rooting for you. Your own personal cheerleader. xoxo

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