Mothering Sunday

“I’m grieving for the children I’ll never have. I’m happy for those who’ve been blessed in that way, but a service celebrating their good fortune and ignoring my pain just rubs salt in the wound.”

“What am I meant to celebrate – the children I don’t have, or the mum I don’t have? Or am I just being terribly self-centred?”

“As a teenager in the 1960s, I was forced to give up my son for adoption. I never married or had any more children. Mothering Sunday just churned up painful buried feelings.”

Many single people (and those who are married but unable to have children) find Mothering Sunday a painful experience. You may have yearned for children for years or even decades. You may still hold out hope that time hasn’t yet run out for you – or you may have had to accept the painful truth that you’ll never have the family you dreamed of.

While none of us want to take anything away from mothers, and are happy they’ve been blessed with children, the celebration of motherhood on Mothering Sunday can be very hard to take when you’re dealing with this kind of bereavement. In fact, many singles report avoiding church on Mothering Sunday, because it’s just too painful. Here are some suggestions from other singles that may help you navigate a tough day… 

‘Talk to your church leader’

If your minister and most of your congregration are married with children – as is the case in many churches – it may never have occurred to them what Mothering Sunday is like for someone who is childless.

If you feel confident enough, you could ask for a meeting and calmly explain that, although you want to support and celebrate mothers, there are some in the church for whom it will be a painful experience. These include: singles; couples who have experienced infertility and miscarriages; families who’ve have children who have died; women who’ve given children up for adoption; those whose own mothers have been neglectful, unloving or abusive; those who’ve grown up without a mother (perhaps in the care system); and those whose mothers died too soon. If a meeting would be too difficult, you could write a letter or email instead.

Many church leaders will respond sympathetically, and may ask how they can make the service more inclusive.

“I don’t think it had ever occurred to my minister what Mothering Sunday is like for non-mothers. When I told him I avoid the service because it’s too painful, he looked shocked. He makes more effort now to include everyone.”

‘Offer ideas for a more inclusive service’

You may feel able to offer help in planning for Mothering Sunday and make suggestions for how to broaden the service to support everyone: single and married, parent and childless. You may even want to participate in the service yourself – for instance, by leading prayers. However, if this would be too emotional for you, that’s fine. 

Just acknowledging in the prayers those who are struggling in various ways can be enough to change the tone of the service. Depending on the style of your church, it may be helpful to include small rituals to remember the children and mothers who’ve been loved and lost, and those who are grieving for them. This can be something as simple as lighting a candle, dropping a pebble into a bowl of water as a silent prayer, or writing a name on a piece of paper.

You can find more ideas and resources for planning services for everyone in Related Information (below), and in our article aimed at church leaders. Directing your church leader to this article will help them understand the issues and consider ways to help.

“My vicar is sensitive to the different situations in the congregation. In Mother’s Day services, he acknowledges those people struggling with childlessness, or missing their own mother. He’s also open to ideas and suggestions, and keen for members of the church to get involved. It makes the experience easier.”

‘Give yourself permission to step away’

It’s important to have boundaries. If attending a service – even one that is inclusive and well thought out – will stir up emotions that are too raw, there’s nothing wrong with staying away. Don’t feel guilty, or allow others to make you feel guilty – it’s your right to protect yourself from painful experiences. You may find in future years that you can attend services without experiencing the same level of grief.

Some singles plan something completely different to take their mind off it – a day out with friends or a weekend away. Or you may prefer to spend some quiet time with God, and perhaps create your own small ritual for letting go of some of your grief, such as writing a poem to the child you never had. Whatever works for you is fine.

On the other hand, if you know the service will include acknowledgements of your grief and small ways to mark your experiences, you may find it’s a stepping stone along the journey of healing. Don’t be afraid to let your emotions spill out and ask for prayer – you won’t be the only person there dealing with difficult emotions.

You may also decide it’s a good idea to stay away from social media over the weekend, as there’ll be endless posts from happy mothers and their children. If this will deepen your sadness, give yourself permission to stay away from Facebook and the rest for a few days.

“I had a number of miscarriages, and now I’m divorced. Mothering Sunday is a horrible day for me. The service at my church is not overly insensitive, but I still prefer to stay away. I don’t need to be reminded of my situation. My church friends understand.”

‘Try not to lose hope’

None of us knows the future God has planned for us, and the good things he has in store. Some women discover that time hasn’t run out to be a mother – happy events sometimes happen later in life, and fertility treatments are improving all the time. Many other women become a mother through ways other than giving birth. They may become a stepmother and develop a loving bond with their husband’s children. They may consider adoption or fostering (see our articles for more about adopting or fostering as a single person). They may find themselves in a motherly role to nieces and nephews, friends’ children, or kids in their church or neighbourhood who need a loving presence in their lives – and gain a great deal of satisfaction from that.

This may be far from what you dreamed of, and the sad fact is that many of us continue to struggle with unanswered prayers and a deep sense of loss. However, many people in later life can also look back with happiness and satisfaction at the path their life has taken, however different it may be from the plans they made in their youth. So give your fears and grief to God, and try to remain hopeful for a happier future. 

In my 40s, I married a widower and became ‘mum’ to his two children. I love them with all my heart and I’m actually glad now that they can be my sole focus. I know it doesn’t happen for everyone and I’m very fortunate, but I never imagined my life would work out like this. You just never know what’s around the corner.”


With thanks to: Cath, Charlotte, Deborah, Julie, Rachel, Sarah, Zoe.


Saltwater And Honey is a blog that aims to support Christians dealing with the grief of childlessness. It includes ideas for services and liturgies, advice for supporting others, and information about relevant church services – for instance, this year [2017] there’s a Mother’s Day Runaways service on Saturday 25 March, at 6pm, in the Lady Chapel of Liverpool Cathedral. Visit

Mothering Sunday by Em Coley (Grove Books, £3.95, offers suggestions for creating a service that focuses on ‘mothering’ rather than just ‘mothers’.

Church leaders: we have a page here to help you understand why Mothering Sunday can be such a difficult event for many people, plus resources to help you plan a service that’s both a celebration of motherhood and an acknowledgement of the grief faced by many people.

Catherine Francis 12 March 2017