Should a Single Woman Have Children?
A single lady parishioner very much wishes to become a mother and have her own child or children. Due to work issues, it is hard for her to meet and form a stable long term relationship with a man, leading to marriage and all that follows.
She is in her late 30s and very much aware of her ticking biological clock. She worries that if she doesn’t soon have children, it will become too late, and sees no obvious traditional pathway leading to marriage and children. She is also a good Christian, and has been wondering what Christian solution is open to her. Artificial insemination? She even went as far as to wonder if I might “assist” her.
I instinctively recoiled back from that request, but it certainly got me to thinking and examining the assumptions generally held about such things (and my own instinctive turning away), and of course, ultimately turning to the Bible, reinforced with prayer, for assistance in understanding its teachings on this matter.
There are other web pages addressing this question, but it seems that many times the answers they offer are based on the personal opinions of each writer, rather than on Biblical guidance. I’ll try and leave my personal thoughts out of the answer that follows.
First, Understanding the Question/Issue
This is a somewhat special situation. We are not considering “is it alright for loving couples to have children but not be married” and we are also not considering single women having children due to “carelessness” or other reasons.
Instead, we are focused specifically on if a Christian woman could/should deliberately choose to become pregnant in some way, with no intention of marrying the father, but with every intention of doing her very best to raise the child in a loving Christian home.
To be clear, this would not be an unintended or uncaring consequence of lustful sex. This is a deliberate desired outcome of procreative sex – or maybe not physical sex at all. The lady in question views artificial insemination as equally desirable, possibly even more so (other than for the costs and extra complications involved).
There is no clear Biblical answer to this situation that we can find. But that’s not to say the Bible doesn’t give us some hints. Please walk through our thought process with us :
God Loves Children
For sure, we all know that God likes to see married couples having children (see, for example, Genesis 1:28 and Psalm 127:3-5), and we also know that having children can bring us great joy, both spiritually and in general.
God also presumably would not want us to make a bad choice of spouse, just so we can then have children within a marriage, especially if the marriage ends up in unhappy divorce.
Some people have gone as far as to say the purpose of marriage is to have children. That is less obvious – Genesis 2 tells us that God made woman to be a helper for man. Perhaps a restatement of the claim that “the purpose of marriage is to have children” might be that “marriage is a pre-requisite for having children”? Or perhaps not? As we said, the Bible is silent on this point.
But we feel that children should be a positive outcome of a positive marriage, not a mandatory outcome of all marriages. But we’re now starting to stray a bit off this specific topic, so let’s come back to it, and now look at marriage in general.
Is Marriage Also Good? Essential?
You would think, right from Genesis in the first two chapters, that God encourages marriage. Indeed, the phrase in Genesis 2:18 (“It is not good that the man should be alone…”) can have two meanings – either “it is better that a man be with a partner, a woman” or “it is bad that a man not be with a wife/partner”.
In the Jewish tradition, the focus of this phrase was on the “bad” meaning, making the statement into essentially a command that men must marry. These days, in the Christian faith, our emphasis is more on the optional/personal choice aspect of “it is better to be together”.
Whether it is a command or merely an observation, it is clear that God favors marriage, and that marriage is a holy state. Surprisingly though, the concept of marriage changed substantially from the early Old Testament times to the New Testament. In Matthew 19:9 Jesus introduces a new concept – marriage should be a permanent lasting commitment between the two people, something that surprised his disciples (Matthew 19:10). Prior to that, both in the Roman world and in Jewish circles, divorces were readily obtained and “normal”, plus there is an abundance of examples of men with more than one wife, and/or concubines and other relationships.
Although Jesus introduced limitations on marriage, Paul points out the special holy nature of marriage, as was first introduced back in Genesis, survives through into the New Testament too, in Ephesians 5:31-32.
Now for an interesting bit of “fine print”. Jesus says (Matthew 19:11-12) that marriage may not be for everyone. This makes clear that if God’s observation about it “not being good for man to be alone” was indeed a command to marry in the Old Testament for all to marry, that command no longer applies.
This provides a great background from which to appreciate the commentary in 1 Corinthians 7,where Paul discusses the pluses and minuses of marriage, and praises the concept of staying single, although also agreeing that if a person needs physical fulfillment, it is preferable to be married and to obtain that as part of a marriage than to “play the field” while single.
In particular, Paul says in 1 Corinthians 7:7, presumably talking about his own situation of being unmarried (a theme he continues in verses 32 and 33, for example) (MEV)
For I would that all men were even as I myself. But every man has his proper gift from God, one after this manner and another after that.
This concept of us each having different gifts can apply to many things. In this context, it is talking about how some men are destined to marry and some are destined to be single.
So, to answer the question at the start of this section – yes, marriage is good, but not everyone must marry, and we are not thought less of by God if we do not marry.
It could be added that the concept of different gifts could also mean that some of us are destined to receive the gift of children and others of us are not. But how do we know if we are destined to have children or not? We don’t know, and all we can do is try the best we can to achieve the good Christian outcomes we wish for, and allow God to then choose which we’ll receive/succeed at.
Is Having Children as a Single Parent (Mother) Immoral?
We can’t find a direct Biblical answer to this question. But there are Old Testament references to where men had children by single women for various reasons, and God approved of the man, the woman, their act, and the resulting child(ren) – for example, the Genesis 16 telling of Abraham, his wife Sarai/Sarah, and their servant Hagar, and the Genesis 30 telling of Jacob, his wife Rachel, and their servant Bilhah.
Genesis 19 also uncritically tells us the story of Lot, his daughters, and how he fathered two boys with his daughters – boys who grew to found nations, something impossible without God’s favor.
There is also the somewhat necessary situation of Mary’s bearing Jesus. She was not married to the Holy Spirit. While it seems that her being pregnant and unmarried was not a socially accepted situation, there was clearly no condemnation in God’s eyes to her or her son!
It was also clearly not an extremely rare thing. Matthew 1:1-17 tells us of five illegitimate children who were among the Joseph’s ancestors (Mary’s husband).
So, in general terms, it seems the Bible acknowledges the occasional scenario where unmarried women have children, either for special reasons (Hagar and Mary) or just because they simply wanted children (Lot’s two daughters).
Even though the nature of marriage seems to have changed between the Old and New Testaments, it seems that at the very least, there is no universal condemnation of single women having children and there maybe, in some cases, both acceptance and even approval of such acts.
But there are some other Biblical issues to consider as well, in particular, the “duty of care” imposed on parents to look after their children (as obliquely implied in 1 Timothy 5:8). Which leads to this next question, not directly Biblical in nature, but relevant from the “duty of care” consideration.
Is it Fair on the Child?
While every person, every mother/daughter, and every situation is different, studies seem to suggest, in general, that children raised in single-parent environments do not develop as well as children in positive two-parent households. Here’s a study looking at single mothers with children they conceived via sperm donor.
This topic has become obscured by layers of “political correctness” whereby it is no longer deemed acceptable to criticize adults in single-parent situations. Here’s an example of an analysis that tries to see advantages on both sides of the situation, and certainly there are more rigorous studies suggesting that it is bad for a child to be in a situation where the two parents are always arguing/fighting.
But we suggest that, in general, it is both intuitive and obvious that children do best in a loving positive environment with both a mother and father in their lives. Certainly, a fortunate single parent who tries their hardest can create a positive situation for their child that is better than a worst case two-parent environment, but we’re not certain they can make it a situation that rises to the level of equaling a good (let alone best) two-parent situation.
So, is it fair to decide to have a child in a situation where it will be more of a struggle to give the child the best possible upbringing that we are obliged to strive for? That leads to the next point.
Motivation and Sustainability
What is the motivation of a woman wanting to have a child? That might be an unfair question, because it is, for many women, a case of an instinctive urge/desire/need. As such, it can be said it is a God-given desire to have children that is at the heart of many women’s wishes, and if it is God-given, can it be bad? (That’s a complicated question with some assumptions within it that deserves a lengthy article all of its own – suffice it to say for now the answer isn’t as obviously “yes, it is absolutely good” as you might guess/hope).
On the other hand, we know of some women with an immature approach to children who want one as a “toy” or plaything, or because “babies are cute” or because all her friends are having babies and she wants to join in. These are selfish reasons, and are not appropriate reasons to have a child, and because of their weak rather than strong basis, we worry if the woman would be able to sustain her commitment to the child through its entire childhood to 18 (or, as some parents know, with ongoing support needs for whatever reason, continuing well past 18).
The situation that sometimes evolves is a bit like the people who get a puppy because “it is so cute” but then lose interest quickly as the puppy becomes a dog, and its cuteness becomes instead a series of behavioral challenges that an uncommitted dog owner can not resolve.
We also know, in some societies, women choose to have children for selfish economic reasons – either to immediately benefit from generous welfare payments that end up improving the woman’s living standard and situation, or perhaps with an eye to the future, for a time when the mother is older and can benefit from the support of her then adult children. This too is hard to see as fitting within a selfless Christian framework.
That’s not to say there aren’t good reasons for having children. Another thing that is deemed inappropriate to acknowledge these days is to note the demographics of which groups in society have the most children – it seems that lower income/less well educated adults have more children than do people in upper income/education brackets. If we were talking about breeding racehorses or champion farm animals, this would likely be the wrong approach – you breed from the creatures already displaying the attributes you seek to enhance. So if a person of greater abilities feels a desire to contribute to the ongoing “gene pool”, and/or if a good Christian wishes to bring more good Christians into the world, maybe having children is a way to do this.
Which leads to another consideration.
Another Approach – Adoption
Having children is not the only way to help the world improve the character and quality of its people, nor is it the only way to spread Christianity.
Becoming a missionary, or more practical and achievable for most people, simply becoming active in one’s Church, is likely to be every bit as effective as having a child and hoping to raise it to become a good Christian.
And, in the case of wanting to bring up a positive net-contributing citizen and Christian, there is another way to do that, one which conforms closely to Biblical examples. Adopting. We are told that God is very interested in the welfare of widows and orphans (for example, James 1:27).
There are a number of examples of adoption – and the great outcomes that followed – given in the Bible. For example, Moses was adopted by an Egyptian princess (Exodus 2:1-10). The prophet Samuel was fostered by Eli (1 Samuel 1-2). And, perhaps most of all, Jesus himself was adopted by Joseph. God could have made other arrangements for Mary and Jesus’ care and upbringing, but he chose to have Jesus be adopted by Joseph.
It is a strange situation that adopting is the hardest way to bring a child into your life, even at a time when there are children needing parents and good loving homes. Any woman can get pregnant simply by way of a casual liaison, and these days there is not only no shame and no aspersions cast when a woman does this, but if anything, there is a degree of encouragement and affirmation, plus potentially even financial rewards.
Similarly, it is very easy to marry, and also easy to get donated sperm, without the need for anything like the costs and screening involved in adopting.
We understand the need to protect vulnerable children, but we don’t understand why any fertile woman not only can but often is encouraged to have children without any matching consideration given to the potential degree of vulnerability that her child might then suffer.
As difficult as it often is, perhaps the most Christian solution for a single woman wanting a child of her own is to adopt. That is not to say that having a child is un-Christian or forbidden, but in most cases, if feasible, we suggest that adopting is the better approach.
A decision to have children is all-too-often a self-centered and even selfish decision, revolving around the woman and what she wants, and with way-too-little thought to the act and its lasting consequences. It should not be so. A decision to have a child should be based on the ability to create and sustain a positive and loving environment for the child for the twenty years or more that follow, with a deep realization and commitment to all the stresses, strains and struggles this will impose on the mother (and perhaps father and other supporting family members). (Note – a positive and loving environment is exactly what it claims to be – it is not a synonym for “wealthy and affluent”.)
Some women see adding a child to their life as a way to give their life meaning and purpose that is is currently lacking. That may be correct, but most likely, if you’ll allow it, your church can offer you plenty of equally or more beneficial ways to add to your life’s meaning and purpose.
Having a child should not be all about fulfilling the parents’ wishes, dreams, and desires. It should be all about creating a foundation for that child and giving it the best possibility to achieve its wishes, dreams and desires.
Yes, we conclude a single woman can have a child “on her own” if she desires and if she is fairly in a position to do so well, but we do not believe that such a choice is always the best choice to make.
To close, we point you to verses 23 and 31 in this lovely section of 1 Corinthians 10 as a way of encouraging single women to exam their motives and to make an appropriate decision accordingly. (MEV)
23 “All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but not all things edify.
24 Let no one seek his own, but each one the other’s well-being.
25 Eat whatever is sold in the meat market, asking no question for the sake of conscience,
26 for “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.”
27 If any of those who do not believe invite you to a feast, and you desire to go, eat whatever is set before you, asking no question for the sake of conscience.
28 But if anyone says to you, “This was offered in sacrifice to idols,” do not eat it for the sake of him that mentioned it and for the sake of conscience, for “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.”
29 Conscience, I say, not your own, but that of the other. For why is my liberty judged by another man’s conscience?
30 If I partake with thankfulness, why am I slandered concerning that for which I give thanks?
31 Therefore, whether you eat, or drink, or whatever you do, do it all to the glory of God.
32 Give no offense, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God,
33 just as I try to please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved.