It’s a delight to have the wonderful Claudia Sear guest-post at That Happy Certainty, as she shares some of her reflections on being a new parent at church…
“The social times before and after a church service are a great chance for us to enjoy our church family and deepen our friendships. But, let’s be honest, for some of us and in some seasons, those times can be hard. Perhaps you’re an introvert, or hard of hearing or just desperately trying avoid eye-contact with the guy organising the sponsored swimathon*! Or maybe, like me, you’re a new parent, and suddenly these moments have become full of new challenges to navigate. So, here’s a few thoughts on how a church family can particularly love new parents at church:
1. Talk to us… not to the baby.
It’s amazing to know so many people love your little one! Your interest is so appreciated. But asking, “How are you?” whilst looking at a mother’s face means something quite different to “How is she?” whilst grinning at a baby. Maybe the baby is happy and healthy, but mum is not. Maybe new-dad just isn’t coping. Or maybe life is difficult for a whole host of reasons aside from the baby: maybe their friend has just died; maybe their parents are ill; maybe they have great news about a job. But it’s hard to share if the only topic is the little one. And this goes for sharing ‘the peace’ too – make sure you greet the parents not just baby!
2. Talk about yourself!
New parents are still interested in you! They love their babies but they don’t actually believe them to be the centre of the universe. How are you doing? What are your troubles? Tell me how I can help you. How can I pray for you? It’s tricky for me to be a supportive and loving sister in Christ to you if we only ever talk about teething and sleep routines.
3. Talk about the sermon.
Let’s encourage one another by talking about what we’ve heard from God’s word. If a mum missed the whole sermon because she was next door getting covered in milk and poo, she would probably love you to tell her what she missed. And she probably won’t be that encouraged by being told how cute her baby was when they did that thing with that toy during the talk (by the way, being told this is especially discouraging if my husband is actually the one speaking!)… As a new parent, it’s very easy to feel like you are distracting everyone.
4. Give us encouragement, not pity.
I’m often asked, “Is she good?” This is a weird question, but I think mostly people mean, “does she sleep all night?”. She does not, on account of being a baby. But this then makes people look very concerned which in turn makes me wonder if my baby is broken. I wonder if this applies to parents whose toddlers are throwing tantrums in the toilet or whose teens are chatting at the back of church.
Pity makes parents wonder if something out of the ordinary is going on, as if perhaps no one else is struggling with this. But encouragement lets us know that you see us at work raising small people who are limited and sinful like the rest of us, and that you are praying for us in it. Children are a blessing (albeit one that involves a lot of poo and not much sleep). Don’t feel sorry for us, but do let us know you’re behind us.
5. Know that you are loved.
Lastly and very crucially, the meals you brought round, the prayers you offered and the clothes you passed down have made things a million times easier. Thank you. Being part of a church family is such a blessing! Please know that new parents love you for this – even when they’re so tired they forget your name.
So I hope these thoughts help you on Sunday as you try and talk to the woman who doesn’t know she has vomit in her hair, or the man who is still gently swaying even though it’s his wife who is holding the baby.
Of course, new parents are just one example of the type of person we meet with on a Sunday. We each have different sensitivities and needs, but we mustn’t be afraid of the mess of knowing each other and loving each other well. Jesus’ church is full of all kinds of people, from all kinds of places and at all ages and stages of life. It can make church hard, but it definitely makes us beautiful!
*By the way, going back to the swimathon, I once failed to avoid the ‘sign-upper’, and was signed up to swim, despite explaining that, being afraid of water, I didn’t even own a costume.”