Mother's Day and Father's Day are times of celebration for church members. But for many in your congregation and community these parental celebrations can be stressors. It's crucial that these individuals and families feel seen and have their feelings validated amid others' joy.
Here are four situations that you might want to consider for outreach opportunities to help members know that you care:
Grieving a loss
Seeing advertisements for Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, both gift and event-oriented, can take an emotional toll on people.
Children and adults who have lost a parent, or both parents, may be experiencing grief. Perhaps someone has experienced a miscarriage or the loss of a young or adult child. Depending on the proximity to the passing or loss, the sorrow may still weigh heavily on individuals.
It’s vital to remember that the sense of loss doesn't always stem from death. It can be a time of mourning unrealized dreams.
Hoping for a child
During this season, one of the primary concerns is for those who have or are currently struggling with infertility. The desire to be a parent can be intense in these families, and they may feel downtrodden or unworthy.
Members may also be on a journey toward adoption and encountering hiccups.
Distance can be a significant catalyst for people feeling down around these holidays as a loved one isn't near.
A child not being at home per usual can bring discomfort to parents. The reason could stem from a child going to college or moving away at any age to live out their calling. (Homesickness could impact the child as well.)
Perhaps a divorce occurred, a parent moved away and the children struggle to adapt. It could even be an adult child mourning their parents moving away.
For others, the feeling of loss and distance could result from the incarceration of their parent or child. This situation could bring about a sense of loss and embarrassment.
Foster care sensitivities
After the Department of Children's Services removes kids from their homes, reminders that they're not with their families are prevalent on these special days.
Though some children may be happy with their resource parents, many mourn being without their parent(s), and others are angry as they don't have the positive relationship they want with their parent(s). (The latter can also extend to those who have aged out of a foster program.)
These days can also bring about a feeling of loss for foster families, both active and inactive. A good resource family will give their all to the kids in their care, treating them like their own. Since the ultimate goal of foster care is reunification, children are with these families for a while before returning to their biological parent(s) or kinship placements. The birth family often opts not to include the foster family in a child's life afterward. When children turn 18, most leave the system and venture off to seek either independence or reconnection with their biological family.
Active foster parents aren't often considered "mom" and "dad" by the children in their care. These individuals may serve as surrogates in those roles temporarily or potentially long-term, but unless adoption occurs, they often aren't officially claimed by the kids. Though expected, it can be difficult not to get attached or crave a child's acknowledgment on these special days.
It's important to remember inactive foster families in your church. Serving as a foster parent takes time, effort, energy and resources. No matter the length of their service, the calling is an emotional ride that can leave individuals feeling spent and, even worse, failures. This feeling can stem from the path the system orchestrates for a child or that a youth personally (or through outside influence) decides for their future. They often mourn the family that might have been or the bonds severed outside their control.
Be sure to make note of the kinship families in your midst too. Many family members, oftentimes grandparents, take up the role of primary caregiver when a child’s parents are unable to care for them.
Being aware of sensitivities within your church body and being observant to identify people who appear to be struggling during Mother’s Day and Father’s Day is the first step in serving these individuals with love and grace.
Brenda Smotherman is the Associate Public Relations Director at United Methodist Communications. She speaks from personal experience for this article as she recently lost her mom and previously served as a resource parent for the State of Tennessee Department of Children Services.