Family definition

The new pastor started his first in depth sermon today… introducing basically where he’s going to be going with the first series.

In one section, he starts talking about strengthening families.

Sort of as an aside… he stops…

And he defines family as “whoever is in your home.”

And he makes a deliberate point… that when he’s talking strengthening families, he means everyone.

He directly mentions that single parents are included. That blended families are included. That childless couples are included.

He goes on a bit of an aside, and gives statistics as to how many children in schools currently are part of a blended family (the vast majority of them). What percentage of homes.

He then continues on with whatever point he was making about how he’s going to be teaching on strengthening family… I really couldn’t tell you exactly what it was, as I found myself sitting there in shock…

And honestly, near tears.

I probably shouldn’t have been surprised at all, had I stopped and thought about it. His background is in family and marriage counseling and education… he’s already told us that he grew up in a single parent family himself.

But I guess I’d never really stopped yet to think directly about how his background was going to result in some changes in the way things went around the church.

While the church has a lot of blended families in the older generation (children who are already adults), single parent families have always been off the radar.

At one point in time, this would have been what I would have told you was the biggest problem I had with this church.

For the first two years we attended… when my daughter was in Pre-k and then kindergarten… things were going especially bad.

As in, she got told “just make it for him anyway” on father’s day crafts and cards. You can probably imagine how well it goes over on a 4-5 year old to have to make a craft for someone she can’t even remember and who is already a sore point in her life.

At the time, I hadn’t figured out yet that the schools get around this point by just having them make the gifts for someone else in their lives… we’ve had lots to grandad and uncle and even grandma.

And, I wasn’t going to complain and look like one of those whiney people who expects the whole world to cater to our being an exception in their general rule.

The aftermath was bad enough that for several years I made sure that there was some reason that we weren’t in attendance on father’s day… either by having her spend the night with cousins, or by my going out of town for the weekend.

And I considered going elsewhere… but nowhere else really fit as well in other areas.

So mostly we just got over it.

The new children’s director a few years back helped a lot.. I can’t imagine the craft issue happening with her, and she’s yet to pull out any of the worksheets or projects that really emphasize family in a way that isn’t flexible enough to work with families that aren’t the ideal setup.

But there’s always been a lot of little reminders all along the way that we aren’t really all that included.

It’s not that they are intentionally going out of their way to exclude others… it’s just that they are so narrowly targeted at the people living in a standard family that it just doesn’t really fit at all if you don’t fit that particular shape.

The times I’ve attended the women’s programs, I’ve found that it probably should have been labeled the wives program… as the content was very centered around that role…. only addressing singles in an offhand way of “this will apply to you too eventually”, as if the fact that some of them will marry eventually makes it automatically relevant use of their time right now
(I hate this response… from anyone. I’ve always really wanted to stand up and yell back “Someday I might be 65 too, but that doesn’t make the senior living group the best use of my life right now.”)

The mothers program… well, I have no idea what they teach… as it always meets midmorning on a week day which pretty much ensures that it’s actually just the stay at home mothers program.

The singles home group… actually should have been labeled the college age program, and leaned so heavily on Paul’s comment that being single gave them freedom to serve without obligations… that it really had little relevance to those who are single but not free from obligations.

The vacation bible school is a family based program in the evenings from 6 to 9:30, involving not just the kids but also their parents as a family… so my daughter has never actually attended vbs at our church, between my work schedules and my class schedules (and this last year, her sports schedule).
She’s attended the one at my neighbor’s very conservative very traditional lutheran church all the way since kindergarten though… and two years has gone with a neighbor girl to their vbs that is formal enough that they expect the kids to be in dresses and sunday best.
The irony has always amused me a bit that the most informal and approachable of the three churches is the one least able to adapt.

The classes are at a time where there’s an hour before children’s church starts with no childcare. There isn’t time between the end of the class and the start of second service to drive home to get her from my mom watching her.
They have finally started offering childcare for some of the meetings, but for a long time they didn’t… so attending always meant finding a sitter, making advanced arrangement, and trying to guess what time it would end… somewhat reasonable effort for the yearly congregation meetings, but certainly not an effort that frequently got made for a lot of the prayer meetings or service opportunities.
Only one of the home groups has ever offered child activities to my knowledge… and that was the one that was focused on married couples. A couple have said she would be welcome as long as she could entertain herself quietly… but who am I kidding on that one, she’s a kid with ADHD with meds the wear off not long after dinner and these are meeting into the late evening.

Sadly enough… our old pastor is the only one that I’ve ever heard that can even make a mother’s day sermon seem completely irrelevant to a mother. It’s never really about mothers… it’s usually about how much more husbands need to do to help and support their wives. Yes, a needed topic… but on mothers day, to a mom who has no husband help at all, and most times not even someone willing to take their kid to get a mothers day gift for her…. it’s really not all that useful, and sometimes pretty close to tear provoking.

And just a million little mentions… things working out of a family definition that just doesn’t fit… just enough to remind you that you aren’t the norm here, no matter what the world looks like outside.

And as much as I just went on about all of that…

Most of the time… we just learned to live with it.

It’s been the expected for so long that most of the time, it’s not even on my radar anymore. Unless it’s a big hit, it usually just gets shrugged off.

It’s just part of living a life that has taken some wrong turns, but being in a place where right turns are extremely encouraged.

You stop being sensitive to it. It stops becoming something you view as a major issue.

And so… today… absolutely floored me. I literally found myself fighting tears in a way that totally caught me unexpected.

Because while it was just a random side note… it said volumes more to me than the entire rest of… well, anything that’s been said in the past year honestly.
Acceptance is here.
Change is here.
Hope is here.

And that first one looks awfully familiar… maybe because not feeling accepted with the members of the church is something I’ve been wrestling with for quite a while. And never really gave the connection to the church not being very single parent friendly more than just a side issue worth of thought.

Maybe things are about to get pretty interesting here.

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