Childlessness in a Child-focused Faith

Woman sitting alone on a dock by a lake.

Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are supposed to be times of love and gratitude, but for many childless latter-day saint women and men, the days are a time of sadness and pain.

Katie Jennings was a young 20 year-old with dreams of picket fences, yellow houses, collie dogs and yards full of kids, but after years of hoping and praying for children, the Jennings had to realize a stark fact: they wouldn’t be blessed with children on this earth. This realization was heartbreaking, but they relied on prayer and made the decision to be happy with the life Heavenly Father gave them.

“[Not having kids] hasn’t been easy; it hasn’t always been happy,” Jennings said. “However, my husband and I have seen Heavenly Father’s blessings in our lives because of our callings, our jobs and our other opportunities. We find joy in serving kids in our ward, friend’s kids and nieces and nephews and in loving them with all of our hearts.”

Jennings’  story is personal and unique. No one on earth can know exactly what she and her husband have gone through—but the Jennings are not alone.

Family in the Church

“A couple and their two children enjoying an outside picnic.
The doctrine of eternal family is very important to members of the Church. Image via thegrio.com

Infertility, singlehood, and other various childless circumstances are a prevalent part of the Church’s membership. According to an infertility study done in 2010, an average of one in eight couples has trouble getting pregnant or sustaining a pregnancy in the general population. Your neighbor, cousin, good friend—odds are you know at least one person who struggles with having children.

The Church places a high importance on families. Members are taught that families are key to exaltation and that there is no higher goal than having a family. The doctrine of eternal families is taught everywhere from the pulpit in General Conference to Sunday School lessons in home wards. The First Presidency says in The Family: A Proclamation to the World:

We declare that God’s commandment for His children to multiply and replenish the earth remains in force. … Husband and wife have a solemn responsibility to love and care for each other and for their children. … Parents have a sacred duty to rear their children in love and righteousness, to provide for their physical and spiritual needs…

As Latter-day Saints, we love talking about the blessing of our eternal families. Unfortunately, this rhetoric can cut deep into the hearts of those who, for one reason or another, have not been blessed with children in this life.

“I don’t want anyone to feel like I did,” Jennings said. “No one deserves to feel like they aren’t good enough. No one deserves to feel like they’re not accepted. No one deserves to feel alone. This group of women [Childless Mormon Support] took me under their wing and accepted me and my shortcomings. I feel like I need to pay it forward and do the same for others.”

The Childless Mormon Support Group

Five multi-racial women with arms around each other; Childless Mormon Support
The Childless Mormon Support group is a resource for women who are childless–for whatever reason. Image via childlessmormonsupport.com

Katie Jennings is a member of the Church living in Idaho. She is a member of an LDS support group called “Childless Mormon Support” (CMS). Jennings currently serves as a writer for their active blog and administrator for the support group. The group, created in 2013, was founded by Liberty Peterson Sproat to help LDS women find their place in this world.

“We want to help each other through the feelings of loss, grief, loneliness and—hopefully, through example of our long-time members—help women on their journey to happiness and acceptance,” Jennings said.

The CMS is a resource for women who have not been able to have children. The support group uses links to Church talks, links to further support systems, and blog posts to offer counsel to these women. The writers of the blog posts come from diverse backgrounds, but they are all familiar with the  feelings of decreased self-worth that childless women face every day.

“I find part of myself in each person’s story.”

“I find part of myself in each person’s story,” Jennings said. “We hear stories of people who have lost so much love for themselves. We see women who feel so alone in the world and in their ward. It’s so sad to know that someone else is struggling with the same thing that I am, but … I’m super happy that they’ve found us and can start healing.”

As demonstrated in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10: 30-35), one of the foremost commandments from God is to love your neighbor (John 16: 12, 17). But it is often difficult to relate to others whose experiences we don’t share. The chasm of experience dividing a couple who has been blessed with children and a couple who has not can seem too wide to cross at times, resulting in confusion and loneliness.

If we are all trying to come closer to Christ and obey him by loving those around us, how best can we fellowship those of us who are struggling with childlessness this Mother’s Day and Father’s Day? And how best can those of us who don’t have children avoid the Mother’s Day and Father’s Day blues?

Fellowshipping our Brothers and Sisters

A daughter comforts her elderly mother
When we rely on the people around us, we can gain greater strength than if we were suffering alone.

This world is filled with imperfection. During trials, wrong words can serve to harden wounded and suffering hearts further. When we lean on the Savior and His Atonement, our hearts can be soothed and our wounds mended, but just like the Nephites of old, our burdens are not taken away; we are simply strengthened that we might carry them.

When we are fellowshipping those around us, we must be mindful that they are in the midst of deep and painful trial. We will not understand precisely what they are going through, and their trials are not, in any way, a reflection of their relationship with God. They simply need our love, care and concern—and a modicum of understanding.

Be Mindful of Your Words

“Don’t offer advice unless you’re asked for it,” Jennings said. “Many times when “helpful” advice is offered, it comes across as hurtful because we’ve [childless members] already tried what you’re suggesting, and it didn’t work.”

Don’t …

  1. Lecture the childless on the importance of children, on the best doctors to visit or on the best adoption practices to use.
  2. Make insensitive comments such as: I have so many kids; you’re welcome to take one! or You’re so lucky you don’t have kids! You must have so much time to sleep and take care of yourself.

Instead …

  1. Be compassionate and understanding.
  2. Talk to those struggling with childlessness about their interests/work/family/weekend plans. Get to know them as real people —outside of their trials with childlessness.
  3. Reach out to them and make an effort to get to know them. Members who struggle with childlessness can feel excluded from Mormon culture. Get to know them! Invite them to activities, maybe double on a date night.

Don’t Pass Judgement

“Just be our friends,” Jennings said. “Accept us for who we are and for what we can offer to the world. We’re trying not to let our trial define us, and most of us would appreciate it if others didn’t use it to define who we are as well.”

Do trials define us? Do trials describe a person’s spirituality? Both answers are no. We are all spirit sons and daughters of our Heavenly Father, and we are so much more than our trials. Trials do have a hand in teaching us and in giving us an opportunity to come to Christ, but we are all beings of infinite worth who are incredibly complex.

Don’t …

  1. Use language such as (but not limited to), Have you tried praying/fasting/going to the temple for a child? or, Maybe if you attended church regularly you’d be blessed with a child.
  2. Speculate with others about the status of a childless couple’s childlessness. The topic is very personal and private, and it shouldn’t be up for public speculation.

Instead …

  1. If childless mothers or fathers step out of sacrament during a particularly difficult Sunday talk or lesson, give them a break and, later, approach them with compassion and love, perhaps with a hug and a kind word.
  2. Kindly ask those who are speculating about the couple to stop.

Support and Love

These childless members are just like any other. They are struggling to cope with their personal trials just like everyone else. They need fellowship, love and support. They need to be included in meaningful conversations with their peers, and they need to be seen as the complex and interesting children of God they are.

Beating the Mother’s and Father’s Days Blues

A father dealing with the trial of being unable to have children.
When we are in the midst of trial, it can seem like the trial will never end. Rely on others and God to help you with your struggle. Image via LDSliving.com

For those who are facing the trial of childlessness, no holiday could be worse than Mother’s Day or Father’s Day. Everyone going through this trial has, at one point or another, felt perfectly awful as the holidays approach. Though the pain might not ever go away completely, here are a few words that will, hopefully, help alleviate the Mother’s Day and Father’s Day blues.

Remember There are Those Who Love You

Your loved ones will never know 100 percent how you are feeling, but they will be in a position best to help you when they know how you are feeling and coping with your trials. This trial won’t be taken away from you, but be comforted in knowing that you are an individual of infinite worth to those who love you.

“I don’t know where I would be today without these women [in the CMS] … They are truly my sisters in the gospel.”

“I don’t know where I would be today without these women [in the CMS],” Jennings said. “They have encouraged me. They have been a shoulder to cry on. … They give me an opportunity to feel empowered in my trial. They are truly my sisters in the gospel. My testimony has been strengthened and I’ve regained my self esteem. I’ve found acceptance of Heavenly Father’s plan.”

There are so many people who love you and care for you, outside of the trial you are going through.

Don’t …

  1. Suffer in silence and isolation.
  2. Turn your back on those who love you and want to support you.

Instead …

  1. Talk to your family, friends, and visiting/home teachers.
  2. Reach out to a support group to talk with people who know what you are going through.
  3. Really tell your loved ones what you are going through. Communication is key to understanding.

Recognize Your Mission on this Earth

Many of our, if not all of our, patriarchal blessings mention the blessings of eternal family. Remember that God has a unique plan for us all that will enable us to grow in the way that will best lead us to become strong spirit daughters and sons of God. Maybe you won’t be blessed with children in mortal existence, but remember the words that  Heavenly Father spoke to Joseph Smith in Liberty Jail:

My son, peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment; and then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high; thous shalt triumph over all thy foes (D&C 121: 7-8).

And, earlier, when the Lord spoke to his Saints facing persecution in Missouri:

Therefore, let your hearts be comforted concerning Zion; for all flesh is in mine hands; be still and know that I am God (D&C 101: 16).

Don’t …

  1. Allow yourself to dwell on the length of your trial during your mortal existence.
  2. Become angry at God for the trial.

Instead …

  1. Focus on the eternities you will have in the Celestial Kingdom, surrounded by your children and loved ones.
  2. Think about how you’ve become a better person through this difficult trial.
  3. Remind yourself that you are a child of God, and He has an individual plan for you.

Listen to the Words of Modern Day Church Leaders

Modern day Church leaders, along with the Spirit, give us personalized, relevant revelation every time they speak to us. These men and women are called of God for our day and age to speak His words to His sons and daughters. There is no greater counsel we can receive than counsel from God, and every general conference we have the opportunity to receive it.

“I prayed incredibly hard to find some inspiration from this last session … apostle[s] of God reminded me that some blessings do come later, and I shouldn’t ever give up.”

“I prayed incredibly hard to find some inspiration from this last session,” Jennings said. “[The words] came at some very difficult times. I was feeling such despair and grief over the loss of the idea of being a mother. [I thought] it was virtually impossible for me to find any happiness in my family life. And yet, apostle[s] of God reminded me that some blessings do come later, and I shouldn’t ever give up.”

Don’t …

  1. Come unprepared to General Conference.
  2. Expect to receive inspiration when you don’t have the Spirit with you.

Instead …

  1. Think of questions you’d like to receive answers to.
  2. Listen, really listen, to the Spirit while reading/listening/watching the talks.
  3. Write down any impressions you receive.
  4. Act on your promptings.
  5. Repeat the cycle as necessary.

Jennings recommends some comforting talks from April’s General Conference: The Eternal Perspective of the Gospel by Elder Rafael E. Pino; If You Will be Responsible by Elder Jorge F. Zeballos; Be Fruitful, Multiply, and Subdue the Earth by Elder Joseph W. Siati; and her very favorite Why Marriage, Why Family? by Elder D Todd Christofferson. See also Why I Avoided Mother’s Day Like the Plague and How I’ve (mostly) Changed by Delisa Hargrove

Brothers and Sisters in Christ

Visiting Teachers assist a friend
Sometimes all people require is love and support to get through their trials.

The Church, along with teaching the gospel, brings the Saints together. What is the purpose of this? After all, if we all know the teachings of the gospel and have received our ordinances, there shouldn’t be a reason to go out of our way to come together to worship. But we do. Because in this, the true Church, we are commanded to bring others to Christ, to serve others and to lift one another up.

As we approach this holiday, we must be mindful of our brothers and sisters who are struggling with childlessness. We must keep them in our prayers and reach out the hand of fellowship to them in love and true charity.

Of the Childless Mormon Support group, Jennings said:

“We’re with you for the good days, the hard days and the rotten days. We offer advice, love, humor and empathy to the women in our group. … they are some of my closest friends. We offer a friendship that you can’t find anywhere else in the world. It’s a unique group of women who are in different places on their journey.”

Let’s follow these women’s example and reach out to love one another—in the true spirit of Mother’s Day and Father’s Day.

For further tips and resources on how you can best support and love those who are faced with childlessness, visit http://childlessmormonsupport.com/ or follow them on their Facebook page.

Do you have experiences with childlessness or feelings of inadequacy on Mother’s Day or Father’s Day? Share below!

Woman sitting alone on a dock by a lake.

 

Mackenzie Brown lives amid the Rocky Mountains and dreams of wild things. She loves any good story, though she reserves a special place in her heart for Star Wars and Brandon Sanderson, and she loves the hope and the joy that the Church of Jesus Christ gives her. Mackenzie is a content writer and editor for LDS.net, a graduate of Brigham Young University, and an eater of avocados.