I have known for most of my life that I would not have children; not because I don't like them, don't want them, or think them a burden - it has just been one of those certainties in my life. Every now and then, I get baby pangs, and think how wonderful it would be to have a child; but 'having a child' is not a driving motivation in my life, and certainly not something I'm checking off a to-do list. Buy carrots - check. Pick up dry cleaning - check. Have a baby...hold on a second! Parenthood is over-idealized in contemporary celebrity culture. There seems to always be the latest so-and-so talking about the life-changing experience, how it puts everything into perspective, how it's the most important thing they've ever done. I don't doubt every one of those sentiments is true. But I'd like to caution that they do it in the context of very glamorous lives with no end of help and resources available to them - even those who choose to take on this most important of jobs as single parents.
Parenting, as I'm learning every day merely through close encounters, is a very hard undertaking. You can't punch the clock at the end of the day to signal you're done; you are not allowed to opt out for a day or phone in sick. It is the massive responsibility of forming the moral fibre and the character, and tempering the personality and outlook of a new human being. You are guarding and guiding them through their days, overseeing their physical and emotional wellbeing; you are feeding, clothing and housing them ... all of which require a whole host of emotional and financial resources. It's bloody hard work.
But - and let me say this emphatically - but, it is also incredibly valuable and rewarding. The children I have the great priveledge to observe be parented are not my own. But even so, to have their arms flung around my neck and their sweet voices tell me about their day, or to see a hurdle of development be overcome, or to witness a new achievement...it's grand! They are still very young, but already I see hints of the big people they will be in just a few year's time. They will be the men who lead our country, or dispense our medication, or fight our fires, or teach our young people of the future, or create inspiring art...whatever their chosen undertaking, they will contribute according to how they are being taught in these present days by their parents, teachers, troop leaders, pastors, and so on.
It is an undertaking that requires a great deal of selflessness. Catholics call it 'dying to self' which should not be understood as a negative thing. It means to place someone else's good before yourself. It does not mean subjugating your own personhood, or loosing yourself in the role of parent. But there's no denying having children and creating a family requires sacrifices.
All of this is in response to some articles I've read recently, and an advertisement for a new birth control pill I've seen on tv.
One article mentioned a group of women in England who have radically embraced environmentalism -- to the extent that they had themselves sterilized, believing that having children would do irreparable harm to the planet. The advertisement, meanwhile, shows a woman reflecting on her life as her children play soccer around her. I suppose I'm meant to sympathize with her as she balances vacations and college funds...perhaps even her girlish figure... with the terrifying prospect of having another child. Oh! Which makes me think of the woman in the states who is now mother to 14 children, with her recent delivery of sextuplets. She couldn't bear the thought of "all those fetuses just sitting in petrie dishes" so she had them implanted, and was rather blase about whether or not they would survive. There is such a disconnect in her thinking, I don't even know where to begin a discussion on her.
We're not talking about yet another unncessary bag of carrots that either mom really could do without. The word 'child' refers to a human being. Besides the fact that the birth control pill doesn't actually prevent pregnancy but rather forces the woman's body to abort the (pardon me for being frank) baby, the ability of so many of my contemporaries to think of a human being as a biological product is very disturbing. The child that soccer-watching mom decides against could have solved the problem of green-house gasses, or written an Oscar winning screenplay. Or, as Mr. Steyn points out in the article I link to above, that child would be a key factor in the future fiscal health of our country. Retirees of tomorrow need workers of tomorrow in order to afford retirement.
I remember talking to a colleague about her son, and she said that having one child was more than enough for her. I always wondered how it made him feel, to hear her say it. Was he pleased to trade endless games of solitaire for new shoes? (As an only child, who would he play Go Fish with?) I'm not proposing large families are the only good families - far from it. Quality doesn't come from quantity. But it's the attitude that is key: do you value family life? Human life? If you were to prioritize shoes, a small carbon footprint, dolphins, and a tiny little person who needed everything from you, what would the list look like? It's very easy to cry about baby seals and lost puppies, or children locked in basements for that matter, but what about the baby that didn't have a chance at life? Who would it have been? What treasure has been lost to us because we overlook the value of human life?