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Father’s and Mother’s Day get complicated

Photo Illustration by Kathleen Barry, United Methodist Communications.
Photo Illustration by Kathleen Barry, United Methodist Communications.

The days of every parent in your congregation being age 20 to 35, fertile, married and thrilled to have a child – either in or out of the womb – are gone.

In the 21st century, you may have a myriad of people in your church who are (or want to be) parents. Consider the following:

  • Heterosexual parents
  • Homosexual parents
  • Adoptive parents
  • Foster parents
  • Unmarried couples
  • Single women
  • Single men
  • Grandparents raising grandchildren

For some, grief is the primary emotion they experience on Mother's or Father's Day. Consider adults or children grieving the loss of a parent or parents grieving the loss a child. Often, the first Mother's Day after the death of a mom is brutal.

Add the challenge of what to do for the children in Sunday school whose parents are divorced, who come from single-parent homes, who lost a parent this year, who have a parent deployed or whose grandparents, aunts, uncles or foster parents are the primary caregivers.

It gets complicated, doesn't it?

Even so, Mother's Day and Father's Day are worth celebrating. The church should honor parents. But what are some modern ways to do that?

Blogger Amy Young, who writes Messy Middle, offered this suggestion to pastors for Mother's Day (although the same advice could work for Father's Day).

First, don't invite the mothers to stand.

"Do away with the standing," she wrote. "You mean well, but it's just awkward. Does the woman who had a miscarriage stand? Does the mom whose children ran away stand? Does the single woman who is pregnant stand? A.w.k.w.a.r.d."

Helpful tips

Melanie Gordon, director of ministry with children for Discipleship Ministries, offered suggestions for Sunday school teachers and weekday schoolteachers on how to help the children celebrate Mother's Day and Father's Day.

"With most of the children in their classes, the teachers will know the home situation," Gordon said. "It's important that you know who the primary caregiver is for the child. That way, you can help them celebrate in a way that will be joyful for them."

For example, if a child lives with grandparents, help him or her celebrate that relationship. There could be a variety of reasons why children don't have a mother (or father) in the home – deployment, medical issues, jail, abandonment and others. Knowing the reasons can help the teacher know how to help the child celebrate in a meaningful way.

How can a teacher know the home situation?

"The best way is to just ask," Gordon said. "If a new child comes into the class, ask the person who brought him or her, ‘Are you the mother, the grandmother, the caregiver?'

"I believe people want to be asked and are not offended when you ask a well-intended, honest question," she said. "It allows for more sensitivity to the child."

Celebrating parents might be hard for a child who comes from an abusive situation, but Gordon said the child should have the opportunity.

"Children love their parents and want to be loved by them, no matter what their situation," she said. "Absolutely, give them the opportunity to express that."

Litanies for worship

Discipleship Ministries offers a Litany for Mother's Day that celebrates mothers in all forms, closing with thanks for the women who have served as influencers: "We thank you, Lord, for the women who have influenced our lives in so many ways. We pray that we will honor them in everything we do."

Discipleship Ministries also offers a Litany of Peace for Father's Day. In supplication, it says, "And we lift your hope of healing for all sons, brothers, fathers, grandfathers who live in mystery as your creation, who are entrusted with the life and struggles of manhood."

Both litanies were written as a 21st-century resource for the specific days.

Polly House is a freelance writer from Nashville, Tennessee. Follow her on Twitter @housepolly.

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Originally published in Interpreter Magazine, May–June 2015.

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