I know this is long, but please stick with me…
In adoption, there are a lot of people quoting the verse in the Bible that states that we are called to care for the widows and the orphans. There are even some organizations like Both Hands who attempt to support both orphan care and widow care with creative fundraising events, yet their partner organization, lifesong for orphans, does not seem to recognize families that do not include both a mother and a father as adoption appropriate families. I wonder if they would consider a single woman living in a separate city from all of her family a widow?
Before I started the adoption process, I figured that fundraising would not be that difficult. I had heard story after story of families raising tens of thousands of dollars in grants, gifts, and fundraising. Surely, a single woman on a single income would be eligible for assistance. I knew there would be some grants that would not be open to me, but that just meant less applications I hoped. I didn’t grow frustrated as I crossed organization after organization off the list after reading their requirements, but I did get frustrated when the curt or belittling rejection letters and emails started rolling in. As I dug deeper, all I could find were forums stating that they had never heard a single story of a single person receiving a single dollar in grant money. Ouch.
I think I have a pretty healthy perspective on the church. I have several ministers in my family. I have taken enough Bible, Religion, and Theological courses and held enough positions in churches or church groups to fill a resume. One of my best friends as a teen was a pastor’s kid and one of my college roommates was a missionary kid. I have seen how the church has hurt people and destroyed lives because the church is made up of other people. I have also seen how the church has made powerful, positive impact on people’s lives.
Once I moved out on my own, it was difficult to find a church locally that could speak to me. The people were often sweet, but they either came on too strong (frightening this introvert with their small talk) or ignored me completely because they did not know what to say or what to do with me. Although, they did almost always say Welcome. I get it, it is often easier to talk to kids than adults, and parents generally value people and places that value their kids. My primary excuse for never finding a new church home was that I often disagreed with the exegesis or had studied it myself more than the preacher and did not feel challenged. I am sure the therapist would argue that I was never made to feel a part of any church. I wasn’t a part of the church family because I didn’t have a family.
It was in a church that I learned that people generally disappear from the church after high school, reappearing about the time they get married or start having children. It a chicken-egg problem. Do young adults not come to church because there isn’t a place for them or is there not a place for young adults in the church because they do not come? I never blamed the church in general because I did not fit, but I didn’t try to make a space for myself either. I am an introvert.
When I first moved out on my own in a city away from all immediate and extended family members, there were times that I felt alone and times that I felt that maintaining a household, albeit a small apartment, was really more than one person could do. My parents had married before they had left college; there was much that I was experiencing that they simply could not understand. That was when I first started contemplating the idea that maybe I was a Biblical widow.
In Biblical times, people married even earlier than my parents did. Women lived at home with their family until they were married. I don’t recall many stories about Old Maids in the Bible. In fact, dads like Laban made sure that the older sisters like Leah were married off, one way or another. The reason that widows were such a social concern was because Biblical women did not have the same rights as the modern day woman and could not fully care for themselves. I’m glad that I can choose my mate or whom I do not want to marry. I am glad that I can work and vote and purchase property.
Paying bills, cleaning house, working full time, caring for kids, mowing the lawn, planting a garden, and maybe a little advocacy work… it’s more than any one person can do, at least well (and I don’t like not doing things well). Now I can afford to pay someone to help with at least one of those things. My brothers are often around to help now. I’m in a much better place, but I also know that my income is above average currently. Most of my single friends agree, it’s hard work to do it ‘on your own’, simply in the organization and tasks to do (forget about all that emotional mumbo jumbo).
The rest of the world probably doesn’t interpret the Biblical widow the same way that I do. There are days that I find some irony in having a family that includes at least one widow and at least one orphan. Most of the time, now, I don’t consider myself a widow. I have help here pretty consistently. Yet, there are days when I experience discrimination unexpectedly that do make me feel like a widow all over again. While the church may not care for these modern day widows, I think that single adults, especially single parents, are a population that could use our caring and assistance. So what single woman’s lawn are you going to rake this fall?
I want to be clear that I don’t think that I’m better than you are because I waited to start a family. Wanting to parent but feeling like the responsible thing to do was to wait was kind of like a scab that people kept ripping off with exclusionary suggestions that I could not understand or my experiences were not good enough because I did not have a child in my home full time. My years as a nanny weren’t enough to join in the conversation. Being the go to caregiver when a family member would travel for weeks at a time was still just babysitting, despite legal paperwork that named me as guardian. So often I felt I had to explain why, even as a single women, completing an education and establishing a career, I was not parenting “my own child”.
For me it wasn’t about infertility (that I know of), but I know many others who have felt the sting of comments and questions from others about parenting. As excluded as I felt, I am sure those suffering from infertility felt even more devalued and vulnerable without the defense of responsible choices that I tried to use. I still find it interesting that I felt a need to defend myself, yet apparently Americans are most skeptical about single mother families.
I don’t want that old defensiveness to in any way sound like judgement for those who were able to or forced to start families earlier than I did. Clearly, single moms need to stick together. Whether you are young or old, single or married, working or staying at home, if you are trying to do the best for your kids, I consider us on the same team. If you want to parent, are trying to get pregnant, or are in the process of adoption, you are likely consciously considering the best interests of your future children and doing research on what is best for kids and will be best for your kids. Of course you have something to add to the conversation. I have felt the sting of exclusion and want to ensure that I am not unintentionally doing the same to anyone else.
Within one week, I read that Americans are more skeptical about single mother families than families with two gay parents And China is once again allowing single women to adopt (although only heterosexual women). It hit especially close to home after being encouraged by agency staff not to pursue a specific adoption program as a single woman, even though the country’s laws allow for single women to adopt. More than that and more important than my feelings, my heart hurts because this means that even as I have eliminated exclusion from some by officially joining the mom club, my child will still be impacted by discrimination.
I have and continue to create opportunities for my child to have relationships with strong male role models, including the brother that has established residency with us. I know the fact that I’m not yet married will have an effect on my child, but I am doing my best to mediate that and turn it into a positive.
I am sad that my child who must already deal with racism and the complications of a multiracial family will also be forced to deal with societies discrimination against me. I don’t even like dealing with the not a part of a couple syndrome most of the time! It seems so unfair for a child who must already process not having her biological family to also deal with others’ perception that her adoptive family is not good enough. It’s a good thing we celebrate being a bit beyond normal.
I am thrilled that I no longer have to deal with “you’re not a mom yet” or “it’s different when its your own kid” or other such belittling statements. Boy was that a pet peeve when I was trying to make the most responsible decision about when to bring a child into my home! I wanted to make sure I could both support my child financially and dedicate the time necessary to be an active, in-tune parent. I haven’t yet heard anyone suggest that an adopted child is not the same as a birthed child. I anticipate that one won’t bug me as much. What will the therapist say about that?
So now I’m wondering if I should buy one of those costume jewelry diamond rings? Perhaps that would save my child a few unnecessary looks and comments. Advice?