'I can't face Mothering Sunday'

‘Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.’ Romans 12 v 15

Many single people, and those married without children, say they find Mothering Sunday services a painful experience. Many have yearned for children for years or decades, but have had to accept the painful truth that they’ll never have a family.

While childless people don’t want to take anything away from mothers, this celebration of motherhood can sometimes be very hard to take – for women and men. In fact, many singles report avoiding church on Mothering Sunday. If you want to honour mothers on this special day without making anyone in your church feel excluded, here are some suggestions from singles for creating a service with something for everyone… 

‘Remember those who are hurting’

Many single people – especially women – already feel excluded in a church that is predominantly built around the nuclear family. If it’s not handled sensitively, Mothering Sunday rubs more salt into the wound. Singles report watching flowers being handed out to all the mothers in the congregation while they sit empty-handed and empty-hearted, and say they feel overwhelmed by the grief of unfulfilled dreams.

It’s not just singles who can find Mothering Sunday painful. It can also be an extremely difficult day for women (and couples) who’ve experienced miscarriages, stillbirths or had children who have died. As many as one in three pregnancies end in miscarriage, and some couples experience recurrent miscarriage.

Similarly, women who have felt forced by circumstance to give a child up for adoption can find the day very emotional. This tends to apply to older members of the congregation, who may have got pregnant as young women and felt they had no option but to give up their child, but have lived with the pain ever since.

People whose relationships with their own mothers have been neglectful, unloving or abusive can also find the celebration of motherhood difficult, as can those who have grown up without a mother (perhaps in the care system) or whose mother has died. 

“The church needs to realise that not having any children is a very painful experience for many people, and should remember this in its general focus and on such occasions as Mother’s Day and Father’s Day.”

“Think about it: we have Mother’s Day, Father’s day, family services and youthwork, we celebrate and applaud those with wedding anniversaries, we celebrate Valentine’s Day... all while singles, divorcees and widows/widowers have to simply look on...”

‘Broaden the focus of your service’

Bearing in mind the huge variety of family experiences in your congregation will help you plan a service that is sensitive to everyone’s needs. With a little thought, it can be an event for every member of the church, whether single or married, parent or childless.

Consider devoting a portion of the service to those who grieve for the babies they’ve lost – or the ones they’ve never had. It can help to explicitly mention and pray for people who suffer in this way (without singling out individuals unless you know they are comfortable with this). You can also offer a ritual or quiet moment for people to acknowledge and bring their pain to God, which can help them grieve.

Services can also celebrate the women who’ve been a mother figure to those they haven’t given birth to. This can include those who foster children; who help, teach or act as mentor; who step in when parents are struggling; and who are simply a motherly presence in the lives of young and old. Single people often step into these roles, and it’s good to acknowledge the value they’ve brought to others.

You may want to spend time giving thanks for the mothers of church members – whether they’re still around or are much missed. This could include a small ceremony of acknowledgement – for instance, inviting people to write the names of their mothers on coloured pieces of paper to pin on a board or place in a bowl to be prayed over.

It’s also important not to forget those whose mothers were neglectful, cruel, or unwilling or unable to care for them properly. Many people live with lifelong scars from bad parenting, and some churches include an opportunity to pray or light candles for them. You can also dedicate a part of the service to those who’ve spent a lifetime yearning for the mother they never had.

If the children make posies or other gifts to hand out, it’s a good idea to make sure these are presented to every woman in the service. Not everyone appreciates this – we’ve heard them called ‘pity posies’! – but the majority of women like to be included.

By thinking of creative ways to embrace the wide variety of experiences of being a mother (or not), and having a mother (or not), you’re able to include every member of the Body – man, woman and child.

“On Mother’s Day, my church gives a small token, such as a fairy cake, to every woman, regardless of their status (and the equivalent to every man on Father’s Day). Being included in these things means a lot to me.”

“In my church, Mothering Sunday is celebrated on the Saturday so people who aren’t mothers don’t feel excluded.”

“I have no children and my beloved mum died when I was in my 20s. But I value the opportunity to give thanks and light a candle for her on Mothering Sunday.

‘Accept that it’s just too much for some people’

Despite your best efforts, some people will find Mothering Sunday services too raw and painful, and will avoid church on that day. It will help them to know that you understand, and that it’s okay to avoid certain events to protect themselves from further hurt.

If you know members of your congregation will struggle, you may want to talk to them in advance – individually or addressing the whole church – to explain your intentions and outline what the service will involve. Bad previous experiences of Mothering Sunday may have scared people off, but understanding that the service will be for everyone, whatever their circumstance, may help to reassure them.

“Our church leaders try to be sensitive in the way they speak about and to singles, ensuring Mother’s Day is for all women. They’re also careful in the way they plan infant dedications and other events that could be difficult.”

“As a teenager in the 1960s, I gave up my son for adoption. I never married or had any more children. For a long time, I avoided Mothering Sunday services – it just churned up buried painful feelings. Now I’m able to find some peace in services that celebrate mothers while also acknowledging the pain many of us live with.”



For more ideas on creating a service that focuses on ‘mothering’ rather than just ‘mothers’, see Mothering Sunday by Em Coley (Grove Books, £3.95, https://grovebooks.co.uk/products/w-185-mothering-sunday).

For suggestions for services and liturgies for people who struggle with childlessness, miscarriage, loss of a parent and other situations that make Mothering Sunday difficult, visit http://saltwaterandhoney.org/

We also have an article for singles struggling with Mothering Sunday, which your church members may find helpful.

Catherine Francis 12 March 2017