My husband and I don’t have children.
My husband and I, unless God surprises us in a miraculous way, won’t have children.
This isn’t something we feel badly about. For whatever reason, having children is not a desire that God laid on either of our hearts, not in the entirety of our courtship or marriage. When he confessed to me long before we got married that he didn’t feel particularly led by God to be a father, I admitted I didn’t feel particularly led by God to become a mother – and here we are, 33 and 32, and childless by choice.
We’re confident and comfortable that this is the plan God has for us. We’re also aware that not having children makes us outliers in God’s body. And that’s why I wanted to write this post.
Here’s what you need to know about the childfree Christians among you:
1. We like kids. Love ’em, even. Or at least some of us do. I can’t speak for every childfree Christian, but there’s a perception that all people who choose not to have children actively despise children. I don’t! I take a lot of joy in children. I’ve taught VBS and elementary-level Sunday School classes; I once read an entire picture book about knights and dragons with a little one I know who is part of a family in our church. Being childfree doesn’t mean we don’t like kids or don’t want to be around them. And hey, remember: the folks without kids, who like kids, have an awful lot of love and energy to give when it comes time to volunteer for children’s ministries. Don’t forget them!
2. People don’t have children for a multitude of reasons. For my husband and I, the matter is a God-led personal choice. But for other families, not having children isn’t a choice. Some couples struggle with infertility and other physical ailments. Some couples struggle with family histories or mental illness that make them wary of introducing children into the world. The point is that there’s no one-size-fits-all reason, and it’s good to take care and to remember that at the times when the topic might come up.
3. Having children is not necessarily a divine mandate for every couple and whether or not couples do have children is their decision and their business. I know that for many Christians having and raising children is a divine duty. In some denominations (not ours), it is an expected act of faith and a Biblical command. Indeed, if you do have children, I believe it absolutely is a divine duty to raise them as well as you can – and if you feel that God mandates you to do so, then I encourage you to go where He leads. Children are a special blessing and a gift and grace of God. I honor all the couples and families who choose and sacrifice so much to raise them.
But nothing good will come of asking couples why they have chosen not to have children, or telling them that you believe they ought to when they have not. If they are led by God not to conceive, it is not our business to challenge God in the matter; that is between them and the Lord. And if they cannot conceive and wish to do so, bringing the matter into public debate can be painful and upsetting.
4. Couples without children can still aid in the care and raising of children. No, we’re not in the trenches doing the day-to-day work of parenting. But I am a woman with no children and I believe that leaves me with a duty to pray for all of the children in my church, to contribute monetarily to children’s programs, to support families however I can. We are all, childless and with children, a part of one body; it is God’s will for us to support and be kind to each other. Even though we don’t have children, we can support families who do.
5. We all feel alienated and alone sometimes for different reasons. A lot of church life functions around the family. Which is good! Those of us without children are families too. But I’ve been the awkward childless attendee of the “young mothers” small group (that was ostensibly supposed to be for “young women”), and that felt…strange. At church events, when discussions about raising children come to the fore, or a round of “Have you ever [insert parenting adventure here]….?” begins, my husband and I smile and fall silent. We can’t really contribute, and so we just listen.
On the other side of the coin, I had an old friend once tell me that she felt awkward around me. “You have all this work and life stuff to talk about,” she said, “and I have my kids, and I feel like it’s boring for you.” (It wasn’t boring for me. But I had to reassure her of that!)
In church there is really a temptation for us to fall into the groups that are most like us. Mothers congregate with mothers. Youth congregate with youth. But in this case, it’s important for us to make room for each other. The childless folk need to get comfortable, over time, with the conversations and topics that might unintentionally exclude or elude us; similarly, parents need to make an effort to remember and include those of us who don’t have kids. A little bit of effort on both ends goes a long way.
It takes many, many different kinds of people living in different kinds of ways to make the church work. We all have a role to play in God’s great work that is unfolding here on earth. As the Bible instructs, “though many, [we] form one body, and each member belongs to all the others” (Rom. 12:4-5). With children or without, we can reach out to each other and build up the church, and continue to reach out to each other in understanding and in love.