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As a mother of five children, ages 13 to 25, I am in the thick of parenthood and deeply appreciate the ongoing counsel that we receive from Church leaders about raising families. At the same time, I have often wondered about the Church experience of those without children, whether married or single. I recently set out to better understand the experiences of Church members who do not have children of their own. Through heart-to-heart conversations with many such members, I came to understand on a whole new level that each childless individual or couple has their own unique situation and story. During my discussions with childless members, I asked how members of their wards or branches can better support them. Here are the suggestions that came up most often.
Think before you speak.
Almost without exception, those I spoke with do not believe that other members are intentionally hurtful. Rather, they feel the hurtful things people say are a result of not thinking about or understanding their situation.
For example, Whitney related a time when a Relief Society presidency member stood up to announce her pregnancy, enthusiastically exclaiming that she would now know what it felt like to be a “real woman.” Whitney fled into the hall where she broke down and sobbed. She knew the hurt was unintentional, but the sting in the midst of her years of infertility was almost more than she could bear in that moment.
Alison shared a different experience when she attended a weeknight Relief Society activity, where she was matched with a group of young mothers so they could socialize while working on various craft projects. Alison was excited to talk to these sisters but ended up feeling terribly left out when they spent the next 90 minutes talking exclusively about being moms and raising children.
The individuals and couples I spoke with want to celebrate the pregnancies and families of others, but at the same time, it would mean so much to them if, in our conversations, church talks, lessons, and activities, we would keep in mind that not all Church members are married and have children.
Kara, a married sister, had this to say: “My biggest advice is to just be aware of others when you are sitting around visiting with the women in your ward.” A little awareness and sensitivity in our interactions with others can make a tremendous difference in our church family, allowing all to feel included.
Please don’t pry.
Those I interviewed said that it’s hard to have other members question them about their circumstances. One single sister says that she is often asked, “Don’t you want to have kids?” suggesting perhaps that she has chosen her successful business career over marrying and having children, which wasn’t the case. My overall impression from talking to LDS members without children is that if they want us to know why they don’t have children, they will share with us.
One sister sums up the sentiment of many, “The best thing is when members . . . don’t comment on the fact that I don’t have kids.” Another childless sister says, “If we bring it up and talk to you, listen. But don’t pry!” In other words, let us be careful not to judge others based on whether or not they have children and remind ourselves that we don’t know what is going on in every person’s mind or heart.
Forget the pity party.
In a church where the ideal is to marry and raise a family, those with children may easily succumb to feeling sorry for those who do not have that opportunity, but that’s not what childless members want. “Don’t throw us a pity party. We have plenty of our own,” say Teresa and her husband Henry, adding, “You could say, ‘That’s so hard’ or maybe even ‘Do you need anything?’ but then please drop it. We know you are sorry—and so are we. We both know you can’t really help, but the offer is often still nice to hear.” One single sister sums it up well: “I don’t need pity, really. I just need love, like everyone else.”
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