Keep an eye on marriages
Churches need to be actively looking at ways to support the marriage relationship in this time, not just the new mum. Southern Cross recently sat down with some experts and learnt how we can support these families in our Church.
“Entrances and exits are key stress points for families,” says Dr Jenny Brown, a social worker and family therapist. “The entrance of a little one is a significant disruption to a marriage. Each spouse is feeling more tired, more stretched. There is not any couple that can go through that transition without having to rethink how they’re going to sustain their marriage in this new, demanding phase of life.”
Brown says the doubts and insecurities about being a new parent bleed into a marriage and can create unrealistic expectations on one’s partner. A member of a new Presbyterian church plant in Sydney’s Scots College, after having spent 10 years at St Augustine’s, Neutral Bay, she cautions churches not to neglect the importance of supporting marriages when couples have their first baby.
“I think support for new mums in churches can be wonderful, but often it’s a lot about sending them to daytime groups with other mums, other women,” she says. “What we don’t want is for there to be too much emphasis on female friends that can easily become a replacement for communicating what life is like to one’s husband.
"Churches need to be actively looking at ways to support the marriage relationship in this time, not just the new mum.”
A practical example of this, Brown says, could be keeping couples in a Bible study together, rather than separating out the mum who goes to a daytime study, and the dad who continues in a night-time study, by offering babysitting support. “It prevents a couple’s lives becoming spiritually compartmentalised.”
Roll out the red carpet
Here are a few tips to lay out the red carpet for new parents at your church:
- Offer to take the baby when a new parent gets to church. Multiple offers for hugs can be overwhelming but sometimes just the offer can make a new parent breathe a sigh of relief. Maybe they can park the pram and prepare a bottle with both hands. “We shouldn’t underestimate what new parents have done just to get to church on Sunday,” Amy Jamieson says.
- Not every new parent automatically has a burning desire to be on kids’ ministry. “It’s not helpful to think that in this stage of having infants, all you do at church also involves infants and creche,” Jenny Brown says. “Parents should still be encouraged to contribute according to their gifts, so it’s not just about playgroup – as useful as that may be.”
- Provide comfortable seats for breastfeeding mums. “Somebody brought out a comfy armchair and put it right by the door, so I got a breeze. It was the most lovely thing,” Jamieson says.
- Consider encouraging new parents to stay with the rest of the congregation. “Crying rooms can make me feel isolated; it’s nice to be with people.”
- Leave the back row for parents who may need to make quick exits… and have prams the size of Kombis. “People seem to gravitate to the back of churches,” says new dad Joel Harrison. “But with the pram, it would be nice to be able to sit there!”
- Is there a baby crying? Don’t look back. Jamieson says she had to get over the anxiety of her baby making noise during church. “As a new mum, I was so paranoid about Jem’s effect on other people. I didn’t want to distract people. And people would turn around if they heard him. So, I’m very conscious now of not turning around if I hear someone else’s baby because I know what that’s like, the anxiety it creates.”
- Pull a new parent aside and ask them how they’re going. Like, really how they’re going. Many new parents find it difficult to talk about the hard things – either they don’t want to bore people, or don’t want to sound like they’re complaining about their baby.