Tuesday, October 14, 2014

A word of warning

Lately I've been inundated in articles and blog posts about how wonderful it is to have a large family. Like this one, for instance: Why Have More Kids?  The thesis is always: just have kids!  Don't worry!  It'll be fine! 

It makes me feel strange.  I always intended to have that giant family and to be writing its-so-wonderful posts someday.  And you know, I still might have lots of kids yet .... but I don't think I would write articles like that.

What these articles come down to is advertising.  They try to make the life of a mother of a large family look great, so that people will choose that life.  But since they are advertising, they're necessarily biased.  They gloss over the tough parts.

And who wants to be the bad person who points that stuff out?  If I were to do so, wouldn't I just be a big complainer who hates my children and my vocation?  (Apparently yes, according to this article.)  But here I am, taking the plunge and talking about the tough parts, because someone's got to do it.  I think a high regard for my vocation implies I will want to warn away people who haven't got what it takes.  You know those military recruiters who will sign up anybody just for the numbers?  I don't want to be that.  I want people to sign up for the long haul that is parenthood with their eyes wide open, knowing (insofar as it is possible to know) that it will push them to their uttermost limits, and then some.  If you're scared away by the truth, maybe it's not for you, you know?

So here are a couple of the arguments I'd like to poke some holes in.

We have lots of kids because we love kids.
Well, I love ice cream, but I also know when to say when.  I read somewhere the line that one can have a high regard for apple trees and still not plant them one foot apart all over your yard.  If you love kids -- really love them for themselves -- you're going to consider what they need from you, and seriously ask the question about how you are going to provide all that.  People who love kids are probably going to have more of them than someone who doesn't care for them, but it's not a complete explanation for why you have fifteen of them.

I have kids because I haven't deliberately chosen to prevent that.
No, you have kids because you're having sex, I assume.  Nothing wrong with having sex if you want kids, but don't pretend it's not a choice like any other choice.  God did not send a child winging down from heaven to join your family without you taking part in this decision.  And yeah, there are some cases when I would say you don't have the right to have sex, even if you're married, because of the negative consequences that will result.  So, use discernment.  Abstinence is always an option, if you don't believe in NFP or think it won't work for you.

God will always provide for your material needs.
If you live in America, the taxpayers will provide for your material needs.  I don't have a problem with that per se, but if you are on unemployment and food stamps and have a kickstarter to fund your family's heating bill and all of your friends and church acquaintances are pitching in to fix your car .... maybe getting pregnant right now isn't the smartest choice.  After all, the money that is providing for you is coming out of the budget of another family -- it's not hand-delivered by angels.  Even if it's money the donors don't need, they could be helping another family with it.  I'm not saying poor people should never have babies.  I'm saying, use discernment and don't assume because you're not starving to death, it means God is approving everything you do.  Anyway, that's a pretty insulting thing to think, if you consider the parents in third-world countries who love and trust God as much as you do, and wind up watching one of their children starve to death.

You always have enough love for another child.
Absolutely true.  You know what doesn't multiply?  Time, patience, lap space.  I really do love Miriam just like I love my other kids.  But the fact that she's here means that somebody's got to get the shaft.  Suddenly the toddler can't sit on your lap, the preschooler can't do any letter games, the homeschooler is being told "here's another workbook to review old stuff, because I can't teach you any new stuff."  Any catastrophe in the family is going to have effects like that, and kids do weather them, but it's different to choose to do this every year or every other year.  You've got to ask yourself if it's really to the kids' benefit to go through this.  When Marko was two, I had a strong sense that he was ready to be a big brother, and I was right -- he flourished with a little less attention.  Michael, though -- his behavior is shockingly bad lately, and it's been very hard to work on it because I am busy with the baby.  So perhaps my sense that he wasn't quite ready to be a big brother was right after all.

Just because you are exhausted is no reason not to have another.
I'd agree that being tired is just a normal symptom of parenthood.  But exhausted?  Exhausted means empty, completely drained.  An exhausted well isn't a well that needs coffee before it can give you water in the morning ... it's a well that has nothing left to give.  And exhaustion does happen to people.  Nuns, social workers, teachers, all have to be on their guard for burnout, take their yearly vacation and daily recreation, perhaps a sabbatical every ten years.  (Mother Teresa, who said "give until it hurts, and when it hurts, give more" gave her sisters an hour of silent prayer a day, plus recreation time outside of that.  She wasn't deceived about what human nature can and can't handle.)  Mothers are imagined to be these miraculous burnout-proof creatures, but we're not.  I've seen burnout.  It's when you wake up in the middle of the night to a baby's cry, and lie there for a moment wishing you would die so you wouldn't have to get up.  It's when your kid asks for a sandwich and you shriek "No!  You kids need to stop NEEDING stuff all the time!"  When you stare dumbly at a child deconstructing your house and can hardly make yourself care, let alone get up and stop him.  When dishes lie in the sink a week gathering mold because there was always, every moment, something urgent that had to be done.  Some women say it might be their thyroid.  I say it's just that you're not supposed to be able to get by on five hours of sleep indefinitely.  Something's got to give.  And yet they think "but being tired is no reason not to have another baby."

Let me sum up: if you are so tired that your husband, kids, and/or home are suffering, it is possible that you are just too tired.  When you are handling what you've got more-or-less okay, you'll probably start wanting another baby all on your own ... you won't need to be guilted into it.

The greatest gift you can give your kids is a sibling!
Sometimes this is true.  Certainly when I was fifteen and depressed and lonely, my little brother Joseph was the best thing anyone could have given me.  But even if a sibling is the greatest gift, it doesn't follow that it should be the only gift they ever get from you.  Kids don't have a lot of needs, but they do have some true needs.  You know better than anyone what your kids' needs are.  Just because someone told you a sibling is top of the list, doesn't mean that's true for your individual child. 

No one ever grows up to say they wished they'd had fewer siblings!
No, because that would be a horrible thing to say and people would hate you for it.  But there's no end of people who grow up to say "I wish I had had more of my parents' attention."  Maybe they were getting bullied by an older sibling and their mother was too busy with the baby to ever notice.  Maybe they went through a stage of depression as a teenager and their parents told them to suck it up because they needed help with the toddlers.  No one wishes those babies away, because if they are your siblings, you love them whether or not they caused you a lot of grief.  But that doesn't mean your parents' choice to have a large family was necessarily the best choice for you. 

No one ever regrets having had so many kids!
That's just a lie.  They do.  Usually they don't say so, but they think it.  It's a horrible thing to think "I wish I didn't have 12 kids," and of course any parent who thinks that then thinks of each one of the 12 and wouldn't wish away any individual child.  They just feel like the number of them is too many.  If only someone could swoop in and borrow a couple for a week or a month, and bring them back with all their behavior issues fixed!

There was a woman awhile back who posted her toddler on Craigslist.  She said she had other kids as well, her husband was deployed, this particular kid seemed very needy and she knew she wasn't being a very good mother to him.  She was hoping someone would adopt him and give him the love he needed.  Instead she got arrested, because you aren't allowed to give up your kids for adoption that way.  But I just felt for her.  Of course she didn't really want to be rid of him forever -- she wanted some help!  But when help is unavailable, the only thing her loving, motherly heart could think of was to find him a new mother that could give him what he needed.  I have felt that way myself, once or twice, and it's an awful awful way to feel.

Having another child makes you less selfish and more holy.
It might.  And yet my own experience is that there is a point beyond which the whole "challenges make you stronger" thing stops working.  Your psyche is so damaged it becomes hyper-protective of itself and refuses to give more.  You start turning to crutches like overeating or alcohol or even self-harm to make it through.  At that point you aren't really capable of generosity or empathy; your soul turns inward because it's hurting and exhausted.  You hear the baby crying and instead of thinking "an opportunity to be Christ for my sweet child!" you think, "I wish that horrible child would shut up."  Defensiveness becomes anger; you become a harsher person, quick to judge and to lash out.

How do I know all this?  This is what Regnum Christi did to me, trying to push me to a level of "selflessness" I was not ready for and didn't take on myself willingly.  And I've seen it happen to mothers as well.  Motherhood is one vocation that has an absolute need for a healthy psyche.  You need to give yourself on an emotional level so many times every day.  You can't do that if you're empty.


I know people mean well when they "advertise" motherhood this way.  They themselves are happy as mothers of large families (I assume), and they want to share that.  But in the end, this batch of mothers winds up being a high-pressure community where saying how tough it is really isn't allowed, because you're making motherhood look bad.  (Again, flashbacks to cult life, where your happy face is presumed to be an advertisement for Jesus and you are a horrible sinner if you aren't smiling.)  The result is a loud proclamation of how wonderful everything is on public blogs .... and tale after tale of misery in private groups.  I see that side of it too.  It's really shaken me, the stories that people will only tell where their friends can't read it.  No one wants to admit that they're not handling things as well as everyone else seems to be.

Let's just get it out here right now, then: Motherhood is a challenging, grueling, emotionally draining, beautiful vocation.  The more kids you have, the more true this is.  And there's a kind of generosity in seeing that you can only be a good mother to the number you have right now, as well as generosity in having more.

32 comments:

The Sojourner said...

So much this.

I still want more kids and a big family and all that stuff, but there is such a huge disconnect between the way various sources portray motherhood and the way I experience it.

I'd write more, but I'm not sure I have the guts to tell the semi-public internet all the terrible things that have crossed my mind when the baby just won't.stop.crying and all anyone tells you is that it's a phase and will pass. Because "the cleaning can wait until he's older!" is really great advice when he's already nearly eleven months old. Apparently dishes only need to be washed once a year.

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

You know who already agrees with you 100%, Sheila? LTG! LOL!

Anyway, "advertising" is right, but I'd bump it up even more to "branding." And the problem with branding is that it's a way to construct an identity with externals. As long as everything looks good, everything is good. But the "supersized" Catholic family is getting a run for its money from the new ideal: the Catholic family with an obviously adopted child from some Third World country. I blame the pro-life movement--or rather, those Catholics who let themselves put politics over sensible, sustainable family life. No one should have lots of children just to prove some political point--especially if it's at the expense of the children themselves.

I love the last sentence of your post. <3

Sheila said...

LTG?! Really? And I thought we agreed on nothing.

But yes, it's a brand. Which is why a woman who confessed in her blog that she believed she was called to a small family, due to her multiple miscarriages, got a number of comments insisting that she acknowledge that big families were better. Not true. Big families have a kind of generosity that is very visible, but it's not the only kind.

Sojourner, I know exactly what you mean. The more overwhelmed I am, the less honest my blog gets, because you just don't want to tell anyone you're not handling things very well. First, because then you're a failure, and second, because next thing they'll be thinking you aren't a safe person to leave the kids with in the first place. I mean, everyone remembers that story on the news years ago where an overwhelmed mother with PPD drowned her five children in the bathtub. We don't want people to think we'd do something like that! And yet, every mother I know well enough has secretly told me that they have had some pretty awful *thoughts.* The difference is that we don't act on them.

I prefer "it will pass" to the "you're just overindulgent" response. That's where people say that the only reason you find parenting difficult is because you insist on picking your babies up when they cry, nursing them instead of propping a bottle, going to them when they wake up at night, etc. And this is a very hard criticism to answer, especially without implying you think the *other* person is a terrible mother, but that's just not the kind of mother I want to be. The sort of mother I want to be -- perhaps the only sort, with my temperament, that I CAN be -- is pretty attached and high-involvement, and that means each kid is a big project.

It's kind of like when someone looks at a baby hat from wool I spun, dyed, and knit myself and says "You know, you can just buy hats at Walmart." There's no real answer to that except that I just have different values and want a different sort of hat. Ease for myself and a larger quantity of hats are just not factors that are important to me.

*No, I am not calling children from large families cheap Wal-mart baby hats!* John is the second of ten and is a wonderful person. If his mother believed in two years between kids, he wouldn't exist. But I am not my mother-in-law and I can't and/or won't be the sort of mother she is.

The Sojourner said...

Yes, exactly. I can't talk about how overwhelmed I get except after the fact because for some reason the solution to a mother at the end of her rope is always taking away the children, not taking away any of the dozen other things causing stress so the woman has the mental and emotional resources to actually enjoy her children.

(If I had a personal chef, a housekeeper, an accountant, and maybe a massage therapist, I would enjoy my baby a lot more than I do!)

Sheila said...

No. Kidding.

Anonymous said...

I loved this post for its honesty. You are a great writer. Keep it up!

Julia said...

Thank you for this post. I think it contains a lot of sense.

Do you think it's harder to be a SAHM now than it might have been mid last century? I think so many mothers now live away from their sisters and other female relatives, which is probably pretty much unprecedented.

I do sometimes worry about possibly becoming a mother someday, because I'm so tired so much of the time already and I don't even have a husband or children (I've skated dangerously close to nervous-breakdown territory before due to academic burnout, so I know that I'm potentially a nervous-breakdown candidate). What I don't get is why there aren't more fatigued parents causing road smashes.

Ariadne said...

I'm not a fan of big families, and we probably won't have one. I really want to give my children what they need, and that seems to be almost impossible in a large family. Another aspect of big families I don't like is that the older kids have to grow up faster in order to take care of the younger ones. I don't think this is a good thing. Kids should be allowed to have a childhood.

It drives me crazy when I hear people say that the best gift you can give your children is a sibling? Really?? I think it's probably something people say to make themselves feel better because they're already pregnant. I would like to give my daughter a sibling or two, but I don't think it's essential. She'll be fine either way, and I'd rather make sure she gets enough attention from her parents.

My mom always says that having 3 kids was as hard as it got. My sisters were 18 months apart, so I can see why she said that.

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

I sort of got the Wal-mart comment from my brother the other day, when I proudly showed off my homemade ginger ale and he asked, "Why do you go to all the trouble of making something yourself when you can just buy it?"

Given his temperament, it was hard for me to explain the great sense of pride, accomplishment, and even power that I can draw from successfully completing such a project.

Julia said...

"Another aspect of big families I don't like is that the older kids have to grow up faster in order to take care of the younger ones. I don't think this is a good thing. Kids should be allowed to have a childhood."

Ariadne, I must admit that this is something that concerns me about very large families as well. I think that probably eldest daughters especially would feel a huge sense of responsibility for "the clan". I've heard of people who've grown up with many siblings refusing to have their own children because they just want to finally have their own space.

However, I do think that siblings are great and I'm glad that I have three of them.

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

I don't know if this will make anyone feel any better, but I am the eldest daughter and the eldest grandchild, and apparently, I was so "awful" at taking care of my younger siblings and cousins that the adults in my family just stopped expecting me to take responsibility. =P So I had my siblings and my childhood. LOL!

Now, I wasn't neglectful or anything . . . just spacey. And I'd think things like, "Well, if nobody is bleeding or crying, then there's no reason not to roll around in the mud. It washes off anyway, right?" Yeah, my mother stopped deputising me when I was about ten. ;-)

But my own childhood has made me a firm believer in the idea that the best gift that you can give your child is a sibling. I don't think this means ten siblings, so I'm not sure why it is suddenly a big family thing rather than simply a family thing. My parents split up before I was born, so my siblings are all half-siblings, and yes, it has led to bonding problems--not just for me, but also for them. And I'm not even getting into all those holidays that we had to split down the middle. My thoughts on this issue became fully developed when I was tutoring a six-year-old boy whose parents had also separated and who was with his nanny most of the time. It occurred to me that he would never have someone in his life who would not only understand exactly what he was going through, every step of the way, but who would also take all those steps with him.

Of course, having a full-blooded sibling is not a guarantee of closeness: they could still turn into Cain and Abel. Or they could be so far apart in age that they don't take those steps together anyway, although they can still share other things. And not all only children are lonely basketcases. (LOL!) But I don't think it's right to diminish the value of at least one sibling in a child's life just because there are other things that would enrich it.

Sheila said...

Julia, I think it *is* harder now. People don't understand that because we have so many gadgets (microwaves, washing machines) to make things easier. But housework isn't the primary work of motherhood -- child care is. And child care is something that requires emotional presence, calm, patience .... and those are things that recharge better by a community of people like us, and can't be handed out by a machine. (To say nothing of how washing machines have just raised the standard for how often you have to wash your clothes; or how a neighborhood gang of similarly-aged kids meant that the kids weren't always underfoot.)

In a book I read once (My Heart Lies South) the author tells about a tradition that was in force at that time in Mexico. Each family's youngest daughter (or last to marry) would never get married, but take on herself the role of general helper for the family. She'd go stay with each sister when she had a baby, go be with anyone who was sick, and take care of her parents as they got older. But our individualistic society isn't really okay with the idea of denying one person a family to make the family life of everybody else easier -- so I can't see that ever catching on nowadays.

Sheila said...

"there's no reason not to roll around in the mud" -- E, you can babysit for me anytime! I hate it when people try to invent new rules for my kids about being clean or civilized .... I see no reason for them to miss out on fun they can ONLY have when they're little.

I thought, when I finally had younger siblings, that it was the best of all possible worlds. I had had my childhood with all the attention I could want (and more, to be honest), and then once I was old enough to have some responsibility, there were my little brothers! Nothing a 16-year-old loves like actually getting treated like an adult.

But I think a big part of why I was so happy to help was how appreciative my parents were. They didn't consider themselves entitled to my help -- they paid me for babysitting and thanked me profusely for every chore I did. And they bragged about me to all their friends, in front of me!

Which is part of why my general opinion is that it's not about the number of kids, it's about the spacing. It really makes all the difference whether you have four kids in four years or four kids in twenty years, both in how overwhelmed you are and how much attention you're able to give each kid.

I knew Marko wasn't happy as an older child, and that's part of the reason I was so eager to have another. I think as a mother you always have a sense of what the kids need, more time as the youngest, or a younger sibling to look up to them. Of course our plans don't always work out -- you can know a second child would be great for your first, but not get pregnant. Or you could know you shouldn't get pregnant, but for one reason or another find yourself pregnant anyway. Although of course you *can't* get pregnant if you're abstaining, every other method of child spacing has a failure rate, so I never assume the number of kids people have is necessarily the number they wanted. We're often overwhelmed for reasons outside of our control, and if someone said "well, you wouldn't be so TIRED if you didn't have so many KIDS" I'd probably smack 'em.

The Sojourner said...

I'm the second of four, with a 17-year gap between me and #3, and I still felt like I got pushed into way too much responsibility. The exact whys and wherefores of that are something I should probably save for hashing out with my therapist, but it makes me think that the "older girl resents her parents for saddling her with too much responsibility for younger siblings" has almost nothing to do with actual family size and composition.

(The funny part is, I LOVE my little sister to bits and wouldn't trade her for anything. I just wish other things had been different about my last few years in my parents' house.)

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

Sheila, that Mexican tradition doesn't sit too well with me, either, but there's a similar Filipino tradition involving the youngest child in a family. The main expectation for that child is that he or she will care for the parents when they are old. So marriage is still in the cards, but preferably to a spouse who won't mind: a) having elderly in-laws in the same home; or b) living in the in-laws' home and inheriting after they die.

Ariadne said...

I am the oldest of seven, and I still feel responsible for my siblings. This doesn't help anyone.

Also, I was not saying that it's bad to have siblings, just that a larger number of them isn't always better for the family. I would like to give my daughter a sibling or two someday, but I'm not stressing about it. She'll be fine either way.

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

Ariadne, I didn't mean to make you feel defensive about your parenting or your past. I'm the oldest of only four, but it's safe to say that my mother didn't at all stop to think about the impact each new child would have on those who had already been born. Having siblings has never helped me much, though it has made me more determined to have a better sort of family than my mother did. That last sentence seems to be a fair description of what you want, too.

Sheila said...

Isn't that what we all want? We look at our families of origin and think, "I like this ... don't like that ... definitely not doing this other thing." Because even if our childhoods were happy, we still hope to do just a little better.

(Though I am afraid I am not. My most unhappy memory of childhood is all the time-outs -- the intense feeling of abandonment and loneliness, and how I *never* thought about what I'd done wrong or what I'd do better next time -- and resolved not to use them much, but at the moment I can't seem to manage without them. I just can't afford the time investment for all the peaceful things I'd rather do.)

It's hard to have a plan of how we're going to do things differently without blaming our parents, but I always feel that my parents did the best they could, and that I have the advantage of the good upbringing they gave me, so I should be able to do better. Whether this is actually working the way I imagine is another question.

Ariadne said...

Enbrethiliel, I didn't mean to come across as defensive! I was just trying to clarify what I meant, in order to make sure there was no misunderstanding. I was afraid it sounded like I was saying siblings are a bad thing, and that's not what I meant. I'm actually pretty confident about my parenting right now, so I don't feel the need to defend it. :-)

Ariadne said...

I get rather emotional when I talk about my childhood, and that may have been what came out in my comments.

Ariadne said...

I'm sorry you're going through this, Sheila. I know you're doing the best you can!

sdecorla said...

I really wish the priests at the synod on the family could read this. In fact, I wish every priest could read this. They are so, so clueless about family life. I believe Pope JP II actually said that the best gift you can give your kids is a sibling. More and more I am starting to favor ending priestly celibacy. They really need to get a clue.

One thing you didn't mention is how total abstinence can be awful for a marriage. I'm not sure what couples are supposed to do if NFP doesn't work for them and they have serious reasons to avoid pregnancy. Unfortunately it doesn't seem like the synod is addressing these issues.

Jess Connell said...

Interestingly, though I'm the author of the article you linked, I don't mean it to be "advertising" at all. If you look back through skads of my posting, you'll find that I've written a LOT about mommy exhaustion (perhaps more than any other topic) and am one of FEW large family moms you'll find writing on the web who advocate the very approach you reference (Doug Wilson's apple tree planting analogy, to which I've linked ever since starting my website).

I wish you well & didn't intend the post as a slam against those with smaller families (in fact, if you read the comments, I hope you'd notice that.

No advertising.
No false-hope-giving.
It's a hard job.
But it's worth it.
Whatever number you have.

Best wishes,
Jess

Sheila said...

sdecorla, I didn't mean this article as a complaint about Church teaching, which I actually don't have a problem with. I have more of a beef with biology, I suppose -- since there's no easy, pleasant, consequence-free way of getting around the whole sex-equals-babies thing. (Or, for some, the "we just can't have babies no matter how hard we try" thing. Which is just as bad.) I have heard some stories of others that they find the teaching very tough to follow, and I don't really know what to say other than, I do believe you, and I wish I could come up with some solution. I just don't think the Catholic Church is capable of change on this issue. It's tied into its position, not just by the out-of-touch-ness of some of the cardinals (which is admittedly an issue), but its own previous strong language in Humanae Vitae and elsewhere. The majority opinion is that it's infallible and irreformable, and if it changed, a lot of people would figure the Church is just making stuff up and would jump ship.

I don't exactly have an opinion about it myself, I'm just throwing that out there -- change is unlikely.

Jess, sorry if I mischaracterized your piece. It was the one, of the half-dozen I've run across this month, that I could find at the moment. I admit I don't regularly read your blog, and that I was frustrated more by some of the comments on your post than by the post itself.

Anyway, thanks for coming over here to clarify!

James said...

"Anyway, that's a pretty insulting thing to think, if you consider the parents in third-world countries who love and trust God as much as you do, and wind up watching one of their children starve to death."

Yes. I think this, or something like this, every single time someone tells me that God loves me and it will all work out; and every single time I hear someone tell someone else the same thing.

Laura said...

Hi Sheila, I've been browsing your blog lately after a long hiatus. . . . I think it was some combination of the 7QT link up and the election that reminded me . . . anyway, I really like your post. I remember when we did playground days a few years ago and you talked about wanting to have ten kids. I felt a disconnect because I can't even imagine wanting to have ten kids! If I thought God was calling me to have ten kids (so far, no), I would do it. But I don't _want_ to, for all the reasons you describe here. . . . Again, good post!

Andrea said...

Hey Sheila,

Thanks for your response and I'd like to respond in turn if that's ok :) I love discussing this stuff and please read this as if I am talking to you pleasantly in a coffee shop :) Because that's my intention. There's no ill will or snark in my words, but sometimes words without tone and a friendly face can take on different meaning.

Abstinence is just a broader term for NFP. And to use abstinence, you also need a grave/serious reason if it is to delay pregnancy. Even when a married couple used abstinence traditionally for sacrificial reasons and penance, you had to get permission from a priest. And in the past, if couples wanted to use NFP, they were recommended to get advice from a priest. So, it's pretty serious stuff. Sex is such an important part of marriage: Primarily being for children, secondarily for the unitive powers it provides with one's spouse. It's hard to be objective when one is overwhelmed or in situations that may call for these methods. That's why a priest's point of view was a good and reliable source for objectivity (these days, priests are not all the same in their formation, so a person could probably find a priest to justify them in anything they wanted to do, so one would have to find a priest with good formation for advice…). Here's my husband's and my post on NFP. It kind of gets at how the mentality of the "family" has changed for the worse and how often NFP is often used to justify that mentality. http://sweetheartsseekingsanctity.blogspot.com/2013/02/not-for-populating-nfp.html

In regards to discerning to have kids, like I mentioned before, that discernment was made when we said our vows at the alter. That's the default status. Children and their education (more souls for God, yay!) are the main purpose of marriage and family life. Unfortunately, in today's world, the purpose of marriage is no longer geared towards the family.

In terms of imitating God's love towards our children, God's love has never been based on feelings. My husband said the times he grew the most spiritually were those times God fortified his will and trust by pulling away, making my husband stronger in his Faith. God is Love, and his love doesn't have to be proven. We are the ones who have to come to appreciate the immense love for us. In the same way, if we truly understand the value of our children and their purpose, we naturally will love them and do not need to feel like we need to prove this love to them. We love them physically, spiritually, and psychologically to the best of our abilities, and if our children are taught was love really is, they will learn to appreciate this love that we have for them. Children may have different love needs (ie. physical affection vs. words of affirmation) and a different temperament (ie melancholic vs. sanguine) which would benefit us to adjust how we approach them, praise them and discipline them. I understand all that and still hold a child, who is naturally a very me-centered creature who has yet to distinguish wants and needs, should be taught to look outside of themselves. And this is important early on, for their growth and for my sanity.

Andrea said...

(continued... because I'm long winded like that...) I really think the ideas from the attachment parenting movement is making mothering way harder and more stressful than it has to be. My husband always reminds me: As long as Pio's needs are taken care of and we're passing along the Faith, we're doing our job. Of course we love and adore our son! And that love becomes manifested in my actions and words naturally. I love him, body and soul, and that is an objective fact. If we teach him to recognize and appreciate what true love is, he will look back and know how much we loved him. If my love seems based on meeting his wants and whims, he may come to have a distorted view of what love is and that love is based on meeting his wants and making him always "feel" good.

I think mothers get overwhelmed because they put priorities on things that really don't need to be a priority. And we mothers often don't ask for help often enough. More than likely, more husbands would be more than willing to do those dishes, do the laundry, change/feed the baby, etc. when we feel too overwhelmed. And sometimes we just have to let things go. Skip preschool (kids learn like crazy just living), don't do that extra activity, forget about that dirty toilet, etc. Those things will get done eventually. Maybe these things work because of my husband's temperament (mel/phleg) and my temperament (mel/chol). I don't know if a pure choleric or pure melancholic would be able to feel relaxed while letting things go at times… God won't care how elaborate a meal was or how clean one's floors are. He cares about the state of our souls and so as long as my babies souls are well cared for, I'm content.

And it's not like I'm chill all the time, 'cause I'm not. I get stressed, overwhelmed, worried, anxious about the present and future. But that's why I'm married and have a spouse to help ease my burden, to reassure me all is well, and that things won't always feel hard. Life is peaks and valleys. There will be easy times and tough times, but grace is there for the taking.

Anything worth doing will be work. My husband and I trust that God wants souls and that He's blessed us with this vocation to gift him with many souls. And we trust He will help us provide for them. We will do our jobs to provide for them to the best of our ability, and yes, at times we may just financially squeak by, and yes, at times, it may seem scary. But I've seen so many examples of Providence in the working, retrospectively of course :) I know I love my children, as they have infinite souls of infinite worth. If they feel loved, well, that will be based on how well I teach them what real love is, that it is sacrificial, that it is Goodness Himself.

Anyways, I do think large families are amazing and marriage is a beautiful vocation. Not because there aren't hard parts, but because there is a transcendent purpose in what we do.

Andrea said...

Oh, and I saw you mentioned in the comments that you don't want to be "that kind of mom". The one that let's things like the cooking and cleaning go, or puts her baby down and lets him cry, or takes short cuts for her sanity. That's really cool and I really admire the mums that can keep up that caliber of work. But those are really extras and secondary to having the kids and caring for their basic bodily needs and souls.

The mother that can't cook and clean well, never does a crafty project, but cares for her children's souls has just as much value in the end that the mother who can cook wonderfully, cleans constantly, knits often, and who also cares for her children's souls.

God will not care about the extras. If they did their parental duty in caring for the flock He gave them and educating them, those two women are the same in His eyes.

In the lives of the Saints, it was how the parents transmitted the Faith and their prayers that made the difference in these extraordinary people's lives.

Andrea said...

Sorry... one more thought! You don't have to publish these comments... I really just wanted to discuss with you about these things.

I do want you to know that although I don't agree with the ideas behind attachment parenting, I don't think it's wrong to use it or that kids from it will necessarily turn out spoiled.

The only real red flag I see is when it makes mothers feel like it is a necessary component of parenting, exhausting the mother and leading her to believe she needs to delay a pregnancy.

Because, if I feel exhausted, there always something I know I can do to cut down on the level of pressure I feel.

For those of you who prefer the AP methods, I hope there are ways you can also decrease your workload during the busy times, during the "survival times", instead of feeling like another baby will demand too much of your energies and time.

Sheila said...

If you could see my house, Andrea, I think you'd immediately see your advice about not scrubbing the toilet is quite unnecessary. ;) Following that one to a T, thanks.

I guess to me it's about priorities. Loving on my kids is more important than clean floors. Any cleaning I do these days is for my own sanity, not any sense of guilt. I do require some basic tidiness to survive -- this house is about 800 square feet, and that's for five people. Let it go a day and we literally can't walk around. But the housework is really not a problem; at this point I find it restful.

But I don't compromise (at least, as long as I am even capable) on loving my children. You don't believe in attachment parenting, but that doesn't stop attachment theory from being true. Kids don't feel loved unless you show them love in ways you can understand. And I myself can only find patience and love for them by cultivating that attachment on my own end. It's a two-way street. I don't know what you know about AP, but it's more than a list of rules. (Insofar as there are rules, they're all made to be broken -- no two AP moms do things exactly alike!) It's about cultivating the level of attachment that makes it easy to empathize with your kids -- and for them to empathize with you. When I tell my four-year-old, "It makes me upset when you do this," he GETS it. And that means a lot to me.

Let me tell you, when I had one kid, I was as anti-NFP as you are. We were going to have a dozen kids and it was going to be great. On one level, I really do want that -- I dream of a (big) house full of kids and that fun big-family vibe that my husband's family has. But I feel a duty to my kids. I AM THEIR MOTHER and I KNOW WHAT THEY NEED. And what they need is more of me to go around. I trust that as the years go by and your house fills up, you will listen to your motherly intuition as well, you will know what your kids need, and you'll know if the answer is "a baby sibling" or "a while longer as the baby." I trust you (and your husband) to make that call. Please trust me in the same way.

Sheila said...

As far as the teaching of the Church goes, I don't know where you heard that people would ask their priest before abstaining for awhile, but from what I have heard, that isn't entirely true. To be really blunt, who wants to have sex when there's such an obvious need not to have another kid just yet? Do you have to ask a priest every time you're not in the mood? In any event, if you look back through history, family sizes have had huge variation. There have always been families with only a few, and five or six was pretty average. If everyone got married at 25 and had sex regularly, MOST families would have ten or fifteen, and that's not what actually did happen, even among Catholics. Catherine-of-Siena-sized families have always been rare, not an everyday thing. For quite awhile in the Middle Ages, as well, couples practiced abstinence as long as the mother was breastfeeding. That was pretty sensible, considering the mother's milk could dry up if she gets pregnant.

Currently, the Church has spelled out its teaching much more clearly, so now we don't have to wonder. NFP is for serious reasons. (You can say "grave" if you prefer; the Latin word is "serius" but it's more or less the same thing.) What is more serious than trying to be good parents to the kids you already have? You have no duty more grave than that. This isn't about my preference, for looking like or feeling like the perfect mother -- if you poke around a bit around here you'll see the days when I felt like an even passable mother were awhile back. This is about me KNOWING that my kids need more of me.

I have known families where they reached a point like that and ignored it because they thought it was always better to have more kids. And that makes me sad. There are kids (many grown now) who were sadly neglected growing up because their parents bought into an ideology that said, "We must never give our kids what they want, because we're going to have more of them and we can't afford to give them all what they want." I know a girl whose mother was so distracted with six under six that she accidentally shut the van door on her head and fractured her skull. I know a family who forgot their newborn in the car, because out of seven kids it's hard to remember, and the baby died. I know a little boy as old as mine who still can't talk because no one talked to him when he was little -- no one had time. I know a girl who was left to cry in a crib for hours because her mother was busy with the toddler, and even now she can't believe her mother ever loved her.

And the thing is, these mothers would say, they did love their children. But love to children is spelled T-I-M-E. They can't spell it any other way. And sometimes there really wasn't enough to go around.

You don't feel that way now, because you've only got one, and perhaps you won't feel that way when you've got three, but if ever you do KNOW, for sure, that your kids need more from you that you're not giving them, that you and your husband feel comfortable with a different kind of self-denial and generosity than the kind you're using now. It's all love. It's all sacrifice. It's all being a good, God-fearing mother.

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