Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Thinking About Having Children

You might be surprised at the number of people who land on my blog every day after Googling variations on "Reasons to Have Kids."

It all started back when I wrote this post. 

I had read about a book called No Kids: Forty Good Reasons Not to Have Children and I dashed off a response that consisted of forty reasons to have them. Not forty reasons as in, "I'd like to start a serious discussion about having children vs. not having children," but rather forty reasons as in, "I have nothing else to blog about today and my kids? I love 'em awful. I'll blog forty reasons to have them."

However, blogging is never that simple. After the initial and cheering support from friends and other Catholic moms, the post became a common Google result and another kind of comment started to roll in. (But, hey, kids of my friends and friends of my kids -- check with your moms before you read it. Some of the commenters get a bit rude.)  Which is fine. I can take it.  I welcome discussion -- not soundbites, and not meaningless debate, which is unfortunately the kind of debate that tends to happen in comboxes, but real conversation.

But why am I bringing this up now? Because the conversation fascinates me in myriad ways. We live in a world with a number of options that weren't available to our parents and grandparents. "To have or not to have" was not a question for most of human history but contraception has made it one. But there's more to my interest than that.

Having once been on the "childfree by choice" side of the issue, I'm interested in how we can talk about this without accusations and anger. Because, on one hand, I know what it feels like to not want children, and to feel like a freak for that choice. I remember the way other women looked at me with suspicion, the way people assumed I was a selfish oaf. Now that I have children, I can see that even though I was not a selfish oaf (I don't think ...) actually having children to care for has made me unselfish in ways I could never have aniticipated.

So, that's one aspect I'd love to explore more in writing -- how we can simply talk about this without alienating each other.

The other thing I want to talk about is faith -- it plays a huge role. Obviously, being a Catholic who lives by the teachings of the Church (no artificial birth control) has changed me. (If I were twelve years old, I'd say "duh" here ....)  But the very fact that it comes back to a faith discussion is also key.

When we go searching for reasons to have kids, we often want to make a "pros and cons" list. We want to weigh profit and loss, decide which choice offers the biggest gain.  That sort of thinking was bittersweetly summed up in an old movie called Kramer vs. Kramer. A moving scene shows Dustin Hoffman's character evaluating the reasons that might make it "worth it" to fight for custody of his son.  The "pro" side of his list is short and abstract (I can't remember for certain -- does he write anything on the "pro" side?) The concrete "cons" are lengthy. Abstraction wins. Mr. Spock might not be happy with the logic, but anyone who has ever felt any kind of love will get it.

Human relationships just can't be confined to a P & L analysis.

These are just some rambling thoughts on some ideas I hope to expound on in some posts to come.


  1. Karen -

    I love your "40 reasons" list. I loved it when you first posted it (when I was as yet unmarried and without children), and I love it even more now that I have a baby of my own.

    Thanks for resharing, and also kudos for the patient, kind, and eternally gentle way in which you answered the many not-so-friendly responses to your post. It's a great example of "who you are" speaking more loudly than "what you say". As I think you pointed out - having a child isn't about sizing up the length of your lists of pros and cons. It's about falling in love.

    Ironically, I had just posted a few "great and hard" things about motherhood myself, yesterday, in honor of my daughter's birthday - and baby feet tops the list :) I can't get enough of my daughter's beautiful little feet.

  2. Wow, Karen, you've been a busy witness! God bless you, and your unexpected commenters, especially!

  3. Karen,

    Now that you have the world's attention, it might be time to write something more in-depth on the teachings of the Church concerning both the value of human life and modern-day cynicism. That would be a more difficult post, but it might clear up some confusion for a few.

    As a former atheist, I didn't come to terms with the Church's teachings until I read more. And still, when things get rough now that I'm a parent of a large family, sometimes the "light" stuff by Catholic mom bloggers sets me off. I'm not referring to your post, however. Sometimes Catholic mom bloggers, in an attempt to help others see how great children are, end up only presenting a perfect picture of their particular lives. The world needs a little of that joy (and prayer), for sure, but maybe it also needs something heavier. You might be just the person for the job!

  4. Hey Karen, what a brave soul you are to look back into this Pandorian box. And rest assured that no matter how succinct and even politically correct you can be, some moron who has way too many mirrors in their house will sharpen knives and wait for the moment to shred you. One thing I caught from the previous posts is that babies or children were called "it" and not him or her giving great insight into this person's alleged heart.

    But there is one specific thing that I'd like to say here. As a surgical physician assistant in Neursurgery, I was given the opportunity to see children born with HUGE defects, tumors, and things that your mind could never conjure up. These parents never threw this babies away but rather, did herculean things to insure that their children were cared for. I work for a non-denominational church in Virginia once every 7-8 weeks. The pastor, a man named Lon Solomon, just built a facility so that parents with these "throw away" babies can leave their kids with a professional staff and have at least one vacation or "time off" a YEAR. This pastor himself has a severely retarded daughter and the facility is named after her. Cost? 7 million bucks. And they raised the $ practically overnight.

    So for the several idiots in a million that say that you don't know what you're talking about, there are a vast majority that cling to those forty reasons of yours.

    Now go and write a book on this. I know that at least me and our mutual friend Mike would certainly back you.

  5. Thanks for such kind and encouraging comments, everyone -- I really would love to write more about this as time allows.

  6. I stumbled on that same post just a moment ago from the very same google search. My husband and I are, right now, and always have been very much on the child-free by choice side of the issue, but from time to time I like to re-evaluate my standing. We're very young and there is still plenty of time ahead, but it seems like I've gone from a very, very staunch "No way. Never." to a "maybe we shouldn't rule anything out...." Your insight is interesting to read and consider.

    I'm very interested to know what made you decide to have children after not wanting them. I've heard that if you have any doubt, you're not ready to become a parent. I know for sure I am nowhere NEAR ready to become a mother. The only pull that I feel towards motherhood is that I love my husband very much, with every fiber of my being, and creating another life with him would be such a testimate of our love.

    Other than that I have no desire. I don't even know if I posess the "mom gene" or the ability to care for or love a child at all! As a child myself, I NEVER played with baby dolls. All I ever had or wanted were stuffed animals. It seems my adult life has come to reflect that, as I have zero desire for children but keep collecting dogs, fostering, rescuing, et cetera.

    Anyway, I didn't mean to ramble, but I wanted to say thank you for your insight.

  7. Inez, thanks so much for your thoughtful comment. I'll try to answer some of your questions.

    You said:

    "I'm very interested to know what made you decide to have children after not wanting them."

    It was such a long process, I'm not sure where to begin. When we first married, neither of us wanted children. We just didn't care to have them. I felt no pull at all to motherhood -- it seemed like an overwhelming responsibility and I was happy to sidestep it. I had no desire at all to reproduce. I hadn't even enjoyed babysitting as a teen, and as a young adult, I did not coo over babies the way many of my friends did.

    And, I wasn't even sure I was capable of offering a tiny, needy person all that he or she would require. (I know you mentioned a similar feeling.)

    Then, after we moved to a tiny town (and I was not working, as I couldn't find a job) a friend asked if I would babysit her newborn when she returned to work. I was stunned that she trusted me. To make a long story short, I ended up doing it, and I couldn't believe that I got so attached to the baby. But I still didn't want my own children.

    At the same time, I was going through a spiritual conversion, so I have to note my changing attitudes about the nature of the marriage -- I began to see it not as just a man made institution but as something that God intended (not only for reproduction, but for our happiness, and to teach us something about our relationship with him.)

    You said: "I've heard that if you have any doubt, you're not ready to become a parent."

    Oh, I don't know about that one! :) I think there will always be doubts, at least off and on -- life is scary and messy, and so is parenthood.

    You said:
    "The only pull that I feel towards motherhood is that I love my husband very much, with every fiber of my being, and creating another life with him would be such a testimate of our love."

    That is precisely what I began to feel. I remember talking to my husband about how much we loved each other, and about how it had begun to feel natural to me to want that love to spill over, to be shared even more than we already shared it. Having a child began to feel not like something that would divide us, but like something that would be organic, exponential growth.

    You said:
    "Other than that I have no desire. I don't even know if I posess the "mom gene" or the ability to care for or love a child at all! As a child myself, I NEVER played with baby dolls. All I ever had or wanted were stuffed animals."

    Yup. I know the feeling! I really didn't think I had a maternal instinct. I thought it was a myth. I think a lot of it comes down to what we decide to commit to, once we do have our own children.

    If you end up having children, you still might never become the kind of woman who coos over every baby she sees. That doesn't come naturally to all of us. But, my own children have stunned me. I am amazed by the depth of what I feel for them.

    You said:
    "It seems my adult life has come to reflect that, as I have zero desire for children but keep collecting dogs, fostering, rescuing, et cetera."

    It sounds like you have a big heart! Before I had kids, my cats were my babies. I adored them. After kids, my pets fell into a different place in the heirarchy, but I still love animals. It might not always be either/or for you ....

    Thanks so much for asking these questions and getting me started talking further. I'm working on a post to expand more on all this as well.

  8. Good discussion Karen. To Inez, I was a horrible babysitter to other people's children. I had plenty of doubts before I had my own children. I sat one day, very pregnant, in a 7-11 parking lot sobbing that I wouldn't ever have the freedom to just stop by and get a slurpee. I was planning to leave the baby with my parents soon after birth so I could go on a vacation with my husband. And then my daughter was born and everyday since has been filled with the sparkle and light of Christmas morning. It was immediate devotion and love like I didn't know existed. I have no desire to get away anymore. As for the mom gene... I think it just happens. I am grossed out by almost everything, but have kissed chubby cheeks covered in puke and it didn't bother me a bit. I hate to sound overly romantic, but love makes it all joyful.

  9. "and everyday since has been filled with the sparkle and light of Christmas morning."

    I love this, Jenn. :)

  10. While I always wanted children I figured we'd wait until our early thirties. A year after we were married at 22 I found myself pregnant, despite using birth control (I had fallen away from the church at that time.) It was a shock to the system to say the least. I remember telling everyone they'd have to knock me out and "remove the thing." I hated every second of being pregnant, often referring to the baby as a gremlin. But when she was born my life changed for the better. Everything on your list and more, it's been such a blessing and I'd welcome many more if God allows.

    I never felt maternal, I was a tom-boy and even still don't really like [other people's] kids. Even when she was born I didn't cry, all I could think about was having a shower and putting my make-up on. But the love came a few hours later, it was an amazing feeling and those first few days are still, six years later, one of the warmest memories I have.

    It's not always easy and the fact that children have this knack about subtly bringing out everything you dislike about yourself, but it's so worth it. It's made me a better person and enriched our lives so so much.

  11. What a wonderful discussion! And very brave of you, Karen, for "taking on the world" with your previous post. You had a lot to answer for, and you did so beautifully.

    It is a relief to read your comments and Jenn's about not having a maternal instinct before having children. I thought I was the only one! (I didn't like babysitting other people's kids either ~ LOL!) It even took a bit of time to get used to being a mom, kind of like a transitional period, because I really had no clue =)

    But now I am expecting my 6th child! Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought I'd be a mom to 6! But each child is such a unique gift. No, it is not easy. Yes, it is sacrificial. But it is so worth it. What you gain is so much better than anything material or tangible! It is pure beauty, joy and love, and even when it is difficult, I would not trade this life for anything. This time in my life (when my children are so young and dependable) really is short in the grand scheme of life and eternity.

  12. When my oldest was born, I was in such a fog (she and I had both started running fevers during labor/delivery) that the first few times they brought her in to me for nursing, I thought, "Why do they keep bringing me this baby?" Then I remembered ... "Oh, yeah. Because I'm the mom." :)