Shawna Atteberry

Writer, Editor, Researcher

My response to Pope Francis published at The NotMom Blog

Pope FrancisMy response as a childfree pastor to Pope Francis’ ridiculous claim that Jesus doesn’t like it when couples choose not to have children has been posted at The NotMom website: “Woe to Those Who Are Pregnant”: A Christian, Childfree Pastor’s Response to Pope Francis. Here’s a teaser:

When he was prophesying the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple, Jesus warned:

“Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing infants in those days! For there will be great distress on the earth and wrath against this people; they will fall by the edge of the sword and be taken away as captives among all nations; and Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.” (Luke 21:23-24)

Jesus did not see the time he lived in to be a good time to have children and raise families. He also did not think that the biological family should come before the family of God he created where children came into the family because they do the will of God, not the will of a parent (or the will of a Pope).

What did you think of the Pope’s claim that Jesus doesn’t like couples who choose not to have children?

"Family Redefined" published in Gather Magazine

My article “Family Redefined” was published in the June edition of Gather, a monthly magazine for women in the Evangelical Lutheran Church. In it I talk about my decision not to have children, my trepidation over coming out of the childfree closet, and why I think the church’s definition of family is too narrow and small. The article is available in the print edition. Please buy the magazine and support your ECLA sisters.

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New article published in Gather Magazine

My article “Family Redefined” has been published in the June edition of Gather, a monthly magazine for ELCA women. In it I talk about my decision not to have children, the trepidation I had about coming out of the childfree closet, and why I think the church’s definition of family is far too narrow and small. The article is only in the print magazine. I hope you don’t have trepidation about buying the magazine. It is a well done and thought out magazine (with excellent Bible studies), and they are very generous with writers, so support your Evangelical Lutheran sisters with a subscription.

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Lydia: Buisness Woman and Home Church Pastor

Every Lent I take part in Lent Madness. Instead of picking basketball teams to win a championship, we pit saints against each other to see who will win The Golden Halo. Today’s match-up includes one of my favorite women in the Bible: Lydia.

We set sail from Troas and took a straight course to Samothrace, the following day to Neapolis, and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city for some days. On the sabbath day we went outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there. A certain woman named Lydia, a worshipper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. [God] opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul. When she and her household were baptized, she urged us, saying, ‘If you have judged me to be faithful to [God], come and stay at my home.’ And she prevailed upon us (Acts 16:11-15, NRSV).

Lydia is a biblical woman you probably didn’t learn about in Sunday School. Lydia does not fit the “traditional Biblical woman” model that some claim a woman should be: married, at home with children, and submissive. Lydia was not married. She didn’t have kids. She was a business woman who had her own household which she managed and ran. She was the perfect person for God to lead Paul to for the start of the Christian mission in Europe.

When Paul and his traveling companions arrived in Philippi, there was no synagogue for them to attend for worship. They decided to go to the river on the Sabbath where there was a place of prayer. Lydia was at the river. She was “a worshiper of God,” and listened to Paul’s teachings. In fact, we are told God “opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul.” In the next verse she and her household were baptized, and she urged Paul and his travelers to stay in her home. Lydia was the first convert to Christianity in Europe.

Lydia was a businesswoman, “a dealer of purple cloth” from Thyatira. Purple dye was a symbol of power and honor in the ancient world, and it was the most expensive and sought after dye in the Roman world. Thyatira was the capitol of the industry and renowned for its purple dyes. One had to have plenty of capital to deal in purple dye and the making of purple garments for sale. Lydia was a career woman, rich, and the head of her household. She was also quick to show hospitality to Paul and his companions by inviting them into her home. By the end of Acts 16 a new church was meeting in Lydia’s home. In most New Testament home churches, the head of the household was the leader of the people who gathered under their roof for worship. This could mean that Lydia was the overseer or pastor of the first church plant in Europe. With her connections from her business in purple cloth, she probably carried a great deal of influence with those in the upper echelons of society, and could champion the Christian cause to them. She probably traveled quite a bit, which meant she could be a missionary in her travels as Paul was. God knew what she was doing when she led Paul to this hospitable, influential woman to further the cause of Christ in Europe and throughout the Roman Empire.

This month for my birthday I am going to give away a $25 Amazon.com gift card to a lucky person who buys my book, What You Didn’t Learn in Sunday School by March 26 (my birthday!). Lydia isn’t the only woman who doesn’t fit the cookie cutter image of a “biblical woman” you probably didn’t learn about in Sunday School. There were the five sisters who stood up to Moses, the wise woman who saved her city from a besieging army, and the woman who didn’t take no for an answer–even from Jesus! Spend Lent (or Women’s History Month) getting to know your incredible foremothers of the faith. You can order What You Didn’t Learn in Sunday School: Women Who Didn’t Shut Up & Sit Down from Wipf and Stock publishers or Amazon.com. After you’ve ordered email me (shawna@shawnaatteberry.com) your order number, and I’ll put your name in the hat for the gift card. The lucky winner will be announced on March 26.

And join in the Lent Madness! It’s not too late to start learning about both our mothers and fathers in the faith, vote them to The Golden Halo and get to know some incredible people along the way. Read the comments! There is always a great discussion going on about the voting for that day.

My interview with the NotMom Blog

My profile at the TheNotMom.com Blog has been posted. You can read about my thoughts on being a NotMom, my chosen family, and why women without children weren’t that big of a deal for Jesus or the early church here. Please leave comments and show the other NotMoms some love.

I’m very thankful for my many chosen families, and all of the love and new roles they’ve brought into my life. In today’s world where we often don’t live near our birth families, and move so much more than we used to, I think it’s very important to have a chosen family close to you. I also think it’s important for theological reasons: Jesus said that anyone who obeyed God was his mother, brother, and sister (Matthew 12:50; Mark 3:35), so for me, my church is my family.

Jesus broadened the definition of family to include those who obeyed God. In fact, he ignored his biological family for his chosen family, which is why the American church’s idolatrous view of the biological family makes me angry. For Jesus, the chosen family that obeyed God was the most important family, not the one you are born into.

Proudly Childfree referenced on PsychologyToday.com

In her article Childfree Adults: Selfish or Selfless, Dr. Ellen Walker references my post Proudly Childfree and Not Apologizing For It in her response to Ross Douthat’s op-ed on the selfishness of childfree people. In response to Douthat’s opinion that childfee people don’t want to commit, she point’s out that parents do not always make commitments themselves:

Douthat implies that childfree adults are unable to commit, or that parents are somehow unique in their ability to do so. As a psychologist, I meet parents on a daily basis who have as many as five or six children, and who – sadly – feel no obligation to provide financially or emotionally for their offspring. This is surprisingly true of both dads and moms and blows the theory that parents will instinctively prioritize protecting and caring for their offspring.

Read the rest of her article for a much more nuanced look at the choice to have children or not from a psychological framework. Dr. Walker has written the book, Complete Without Kids: An Insider’s Guide to Childfree Living By Choice Or By Chance.

Thank you for the shout out Dr. Walker!

Proudly Childfree and Not Apologizing For It

A friend on Facebook brought this article to my attention. Ross Douthhat recently wrote for the New York Times that childfree people like me and those who postpone parenthood do so because:

Parenthood is “the last binding obligation in a culture that asks for almost no other permanent commitments at all.” In this sense, it isn’t necessarily that family life has changed that dramatically in the last few generations. Rather, it’s stayed the same in crucial ways — because babies still need what babies need — while outside the domestic sphere there’s been an expansion of opportunities, a proliferation of choices and entertainments and immediately available gratifications, that make child rearing seem much more burdensome by comparison.

This has two consequences for young, reasonably affluent Americans. First, it creates an understandable reluctance to give up the pleasures of extended brunches and long happy hours, late nights and weekend getaways, endless hours playing Grand Theft Auto or binge-watching “New Girl.” Second, it inspires a ferocious shock when a child arrives and that oh-so-modern lifestyle gives way to challenges that seem almost medieval, and duties that seem impossibly absolute. And the longer the arrival is delayed, the greater that shock — because “postponing children,” Senior points out, can make parents “far more aware of the freedoms they’re giving up.”

Once again the complexities of choosing not to have children or postponing children are glossed over. No mention is made of people like me who didn’t marry until I was 36. No mention is made of women like me who have significant health problems that would make pregnancy a living hell of pain. No mention is made of being financially secure enough or grown up enough yourself to start a family (as the daughter of a man who never grew up, I wish more people who wanted to live as perpetual teenagers would NOT have children). No, we’re just selfish people who want to have endless brunches and have marathon viewing sessions of our favorite shows (and no one ever had a child for selfish reasons: “I just want someone to love me”).

I’ve recently written about being childfree at Christian Feminism Today with my post, God Places the Solitary in Families in which I make the point that just because I don’t have children of my own doesn’t mean I’m not a parent:

This year I experienced something I thought I would never experience: empty nest syndrome. I never thought I would feel the emptiness that comes from a child leaving the nest for one simple reason: 10 years ago I decided that I did not want to have children.

What I didn’t know was that a few years later I would fall in love with a young British man who started coming to church when he started college in Chicago. Taylor and I bonded over being writers and our mutual obsession with Dr. Who. For three years we read each other’s writings and talked about everything. Somewhere along the way I realized Taylor was my kid; I had “adopted” him. In June he and his girlfriend moved to Seattle, and I became an empty nester. I can’t believe how much I miss my kid.

I also wrote a post a few years ago on my reluctance to write about my choice not to have children. I admitted I was selfish, but not because I want to spend my free time brunching it up:

I know there are those who will think I am selfish for not having children, and you’re right. I am selfish. I know how much time and energy it takes to raise kids. I know how large of an investment it is, and there is no return policy. I do not want to spend my time and energy raising kids. I want to spend my time and energy writing books. I am going to give birth and create new life: I’m just going to stick to giving birth in a metaphorical and spiritual sense.

(I’m happy to say that an article based on this post will be published in the June issue of Gather Magazine.)

Yes, I’m selfish for not wanting to have children, but not because I want an extra hour to brunch with the girls. I’m not having children because I want to do the same thing Ross Douthat does while his wife spends twice as much time taking care of their children. A Pew Study last year reveals that women spend twice as much time caring for children as men do. As I work at home and my husband works elsewhere, guess what would happen to my writing time if we had children? I’m 43–middle aged, with health problems. There’s no way I would have any energy to write once I finished with childcare. Don’t get me wrong: my husband would help all he could, and he would be an incredible father, but he works 50 hours a week outside of the home. I work at home. Do the math. (I have to admit when I see my husband with our nieces and nephews I feel a little guilty for not having children because he really would’ve been an awesome dad. But I don’t feel guilty enough to undo the tubal ligation, give it a go then be in unbearable pain for the last half of my pregnancy.)

The decision to postpone having children or not to have children at all is so much more complex and complicated than brunch and TV shows. It has to take into consideration the age the couple was when they committed to each other, the health issues of each person, where you are financially, and if you’re cut out to be a parent. Not all of us are. I’m not. I’m the first person to admit, I’d be a horrible mother. I’m glad I know that about myself. The decision not to have children is a complicated one that takes a lot of soul searching and years of discernment to make, and it should not be demeaned by an assumption that I would rather have time for one more mimosa than change a diaper.

Why I'm not having children

I’ve debated whether or not to write this post for the last couple of years. I’ve hesitated to write this post because Kelli Goff is right: The most controversial thing for a woman (especially a married woman) to say is “I don’t want to have children.”

For some reason the idea that not all people, including plenty of women, have the desire to become parents, and more specifically, the idea that not all people who can have children, should, remain two of the most taboo things any person, particularly any woman, can say out loud. While endless media coverage has been devoted to the so-called “mommy wars” between working moms and stay at home moms and those who are pro-choice and those who are not, the real gulf, is one so controversial that the media hardly covers it at all: the gulf between those who do not wish to become parents and everyone else who thinks that by shear of virtue of being on this planet and not being a serial killer, you should.

I grew up in a secular world that assumed I would have kids because I’m a woman, and I grew up in a sacred world that assumed the same. In fact, the Evangelical/Fundamental tradition I grew up in told me my highest calling in life was to be a wife and mother. By my early 30s I wasn’t sure I wanted to be married or have children. I had spent a year in Barcelona in 1997, and I liked the freedom of being single. I loved the idea that I could pick up and leave tomorrow if that’s what Godde wanted me to do. I loved my freedom. I was not sure marriage and children were worth what it would cost me. I changed my mind about marriage (I am happily married to my best friend), but I did not change my mind about having children. We are not having children, not because we can’t, but because we don’t want to. I’m ready to go off the birth control pill and decided it was time to just fix what I consider to be a problem: the possibility (however slight) that I might get pregnant. Tuesday I am going in for a tubal ligation. I am relieved. Not only will I get off the pill, there will be no more pregnancy fears. If I was still in my former tradition I probably wouldn’t say anything about the surgery. Or if I did, the automatic response would be: “Well you can always adopt.” Not having kids–choosing not to have kids–is not a conscious option in my former circles.

Now I go to church with two other married woman who made the decision not to have children (and there is another couple who don’t have children–I don’t know if they chose that or it just happened that way). Both of them are on the other side of 50 and have no regrets that they did not have children. The church I attend is fine with our decision not to have children. They don’t treat us like errant children who aren’t getting in line to go to recess. I no longer hear, “Oh you’ll change your mind” in that voice denoting someone patting your head because you’re the silliest, little kid they ever saw. I know how lucky I am. Even in the most progressive and liberal Protestant churches the assumption is, if you’re a woman, you’ll have children.

I was reminded when Elena Kagan was nominated to the Supreme Court how taboo it was for a woman not to choose to have children. As Keri Goff points out in her article:

Why has every major profile of Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan, and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice addressed the fact that they do not have children, as if it represents some boat they missed on the world tour known as life? Not to mention the veiled (and not so veiled) references about their sexuality that permeate cyberspace. As though no children = gay by default.

Could a political couple, who chose not to have children, even get elected in our country with its obsession over “family values” (whatever that is; hard to tell with all the family-values politicians committing adultery or some kind of fraud)? So with trepidation I confess that I do not want to have children, and that I am taking steps to make sure there are no future surprises. I know it’s the right thing for me and my family, and yes, my husband and I do make a family, children or no children. I grew tired of narrow definitions of family a decade ago when no one in society or church would recognize that I was part of a family, even if I wasn’t married. It didn’t seem to matter that I was a daughter, sister, aunt, and niece. What I wasn’t was all that mattered: I wasn’t a wife or mother. I still find this to be true now that I’m married. My husband and I aren’t a “real family” because we don’t want children. It’s not enough that we’re husband and wife.

I know there are those who will think I am selfish for not having children, and you’re right. I am selfish. I know how much time and energy it takes to raise kids. I know how large of an investment it is, and there is no return policy. I do not want to spend my time and energy raising kids. I want to spend my time and energy writing books. I am going to give birth and create new life: I’m just going to stick to giving birth in a metaphorical and spiritual sense.

I keep thinking that, of all places this should be OK is within the church. After all, Jesus redefined “family” in his teachings. For him family was not your biological kin but those who obeyed Godde: “But to the one who had told him this, Jesus replied, ‘Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?’ And pointing to his disciples, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother'” (Matthew 12:48-50). It should be fine for a Christian woman not have to have kids to fully follow the calling Jesus placed on her life, but it isn’t. It’s assumed that all other callings will be subsumed under The Call to Motherhood. My only response is no. My highest calling is not to be a mother. My highest calling is to be a writer. I can’t even say that my calling to be a wife beats out my call to write. I’ve been a writer ever since I could write (a good 34 or 35 years now), and I was making up stores before I could write them down. I’ve only been a wife for four years. This idea that I should suppress who I really am–a writer–to be something I am not and have no desire to be–a mother–is just un-Christlike considering what Jesus thought of biological families and how he treated women, especially single women.

I am glad that I found a church that does not believe every woman’s highest calling is to be a mother. I’m glad I’m in a place that recognizes my gifts and talents and encourages me to use them to build Godde’s kingdom in our world. Because there are plenty of Godde’s children that need our love and care who are not part of any other family. I’m hoping that my writing reaches a few of these people and draws them closer to Godde.