Single Parent in the Pew

Dear Peanut and Munchkin,

Last Sunday, we sat in front of a mom and dad with a little boy and girl who appeared to be pretty close to your ages. A little way down from them was a woman who appeared to be pregnant, sitting alone. The juxtaposition brought back memories of when I sat in the back, alone and pregnant, surrounded by families with young children and thinking “this is what I have to look forward to.” And before I knew it, I was fighting back tears.

I had no idea how HARD it would be.

Daddy has to leave the house very early Sunday mornings. By the time the rest of us wake up, he’s on his way out the door, if he isn’t gone already. Getting you fed and ready for church isn’t terribly difficult; doing the same for myself is. As babies, neither of you were happy for long unless you were being held. And when Peanut came along, Munchkin was only just two years old and still needed a lot of attention. Trying to juggle both of you, all three pets, and get myself dressed up – and make it to church on time – proved too much for me to handle alone; we wound up hiring help.

Once Peanut got closer to a year old, I felt like I could (should) manage on my own again. It was rocky for quite a while, but we have a routine now that works pretty well, most of the time.

Actually sitting in the pews throughout the worship service is an entirely different challenge. I firmly believe children need to be in church in order to learn how to behave in church, even from a very young age. I also firmly believe that the church nursery, though staffed by well-meaning volunteers, is a cesspool of germs. The toys are never really cleaned, and we didn’t want to expose you to that.

I have tried countless methods to keep you quiet and relatively still, so as not to disturb those around us. We’ve brought books, crayons, snacks and a variety of quiet toys, all to no avail. You are both very active and inquisitive children. On the one hand, that’s a blessing – you take an interest in and engage with the world around you, paying more attention to people than things. On the other hand, it makes for a very frustrated mama.

I often feel I can’t get a moment’s peace with you climbing all over me, pulling at my clothes, pulling at my skin, pulling at my hair, wanting to be picked up, wanting to be put down, wanting to lean over and socialize with the people behind us, wanting to lean over and socialize with the people in front of us, wanting to wander over and socialize with the people around us, escaping my grasp and running out into the aisles, reaching for anything and everything that catches your eye, and of course vocally expressing your displeasure whenever I try to prevent you from doing any of these things.

It seemed so much easier for the family behind us, and for the other families I used to watch. Maybe it’s because there are two parents sitting together, while I’m outnumbered. But I often felt this way even when it was just Munchkin. Maybe it’s a difference in their kids’ temperaments. Maybe I just don’t notice as much when other parents have to work at having their kids with them in church because I’m so busy worrying about what you’re doing and trying to contain you.

I don’t know why I feel like it’s so much more of a struggle for me. I often wonder how others with spouses in ministry manage. On occasion, I have received offers of help, both from those I know and some I don’t.

One day, before Peanut was born, it was pouring rain when the service ended. Since we’d arrived late, the car was way out in the far end of the parking lot. A young woman I knew in passing offered to watch Munchkin while I went to get it. Another day, Munchkin fell and scraped her knee while we walked in to church; crying and hopping on her other foot, she refused to walk another step. I was carrying Peanut in his infant car seat and couldn’t manage to carry both at the same time. An older woman I’d never met offered to take Peanut so I could carry Munchkin. I’m sure it was no easy task for her – that car seat was heavy with him in it. That same day, I needed to change Peanut’s diaper in the middle of the service; Munchkin wouldn’t move. A different woman, also a stranger until that day, was sitting at the end of our pew and offered to keep an eye on her while I went to the restroom. And then there was the time that Munchkin kept running away from me after the service ended, and I was slowed down by having to carry Peanut along with me to chase after her. When I finally caught up, she still wouldn’t come willingly. I’m sure it was quite a scene as I made my way from the front to the back of the church, trying to hold onto a crying, screaming and flailing Munchkin under one arm, and Peanut in the other arm, without dropping either. A friend met me in the middle and offered to hold Peanut so Munchkin and I could have a talk.

I don’t want to seem like an ungrateful complainer. There have been offers of help sometimes, as the stories above show. And there have been people – many of them – who comment about how beautiful and sweet you two are, and what a delight it is to see you. Many have called you blessings, and you are. One woman, a pastor’s wife who remembered her days of single parenting in the pews, described you as “joyful” on a day I particularly needed the encouragement.

I think the tears came last Sunday because I’m weary. It’s not at all what I had imagined. I can’t remember the last time I really got to listen to a Scripture reading or sermon. I rarely manage to sing a hymn, even the ones I have memorized. I feel exasperated and worn out most Sundays after church, rather than rejuvenated and at peace. Some days, I wonder why I bother even going. Then I remember a verse a pastor shared with us as we were preparing for Munchkin’s Baptism:

As the rain and the snow
come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
 so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.

–Isaiah 55:10-11 NIV

The pastor told us that even while you were still in the womb, God’s Word would not return to Him empty; the same is true now. Even on the days I feel the most defeated, the Lord is working in you and in me. He sends the people who offer to help when I need it most. He sends the ones who offer compliments and encouragement. You are learning that a relationship with Him is important and valuable by observing the effort I put into being there every week. And every now and then, there is evidence that you are absorbing some of what you see and hear.

There is a purpose to this struggle. You are growing up in the church; you are learning – even as babes in arms – what it means to worship God. Your faith is growing; the Word does not return to Him empty.


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3 Responses to Single Parent in the Pew

  1. Becky says:

    unfortunately at this point it IS more about the experience and the habits than the content, frustrating, I know. Sounds like the people at your church are pretty accepting of kids, and probably not strangers to the potential “antics.” I also think that A is never quite as loud or disruptive to others as she seems to me. Hopefully you can find a time to get into the Word when you can actually focus, maybe some sermons online or something? and even if that isn’t something you can swing on a regular basis, fear not, this is just one season of life. 🙂

  2. littlemizc says:

    Thanks for the support, Becky, and the good reminders. 🙂

  3. Pingback: Mommy’s Home Church | Notebook of Memory

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