It’s not about sex today. It’s about marriage and parenting. (I can talk about other things. Really.)
I recently gave some thought to how unprepared I was for mommyhood and how overwhelmed I was in the first few years. I wish I could say that I have always been one of those beautiful Christian women who craved motherhood and handled it with aplomb and constant thanksgiving.
How many of those women are there, though? A lot of moms have discovered the hard way that parenting is not for sissies.
Listen, I am thrilled to be a mommy. However, I am nothing if not a blunt realist when it comes to how challenging it can be at times. So I thought I’d give my take on reasons people sometimes give for wanting children and how oh-so-very-wrong they are.
Having children will bring us closer. Indeed, there were be times when Mommy and Daddy look at each other in that “We’re in this together” or “You’re such a great parent” moment. But for the most part, embarking on parenthood will not immediately bring you closer.
Having children can divide you. For one thing, they sap all of your energy and time. Infants keep you awake at night and stress you with their seemingly endless crying at times, such that you’ll turn into a snapping turtle with anyone who gets in the way of your peace and sleep (e.g., your husband). If you think that they grow out of that entirely, just talk to the parents of teenagers – whose lose sleep from later bedtimes, more activities, and anxiety as their kids are making bigger and bigger decisions.
Your family differences will emerge. He grew up with lenient parents and he turned out okay; you grew up with strict ones and now you appreciate them for it. Or whatever the mix happens to be. He thinks boys should play football, you think that sport is the equivalent of Mad Max’s Thunderdome. He’s Lutheran, you’re Baptist; what about the kids? He waited until Christmas morning to open presents, and your family always opened some on Christmas Eve. Believe me, your families of origin, traditions, and expectations will come into play when children become part of the mix and you have to iron out what kind of family you want to be.
Children themselves will try to manipulate you. Those conniving little munchkins are amazingly good at learning who to hit up for what they want. Growing up, if I wanted a parent to buy me something, I’d ask dad. If I wanted freedom to do something, I’d ask mom. It’s not easy day after day to display a united front, especially if you don’t agree with your spouse’s take on things. Your kids hone in on that like a laser beam.
I want someone to love and need me. They will need and love you . . . for the first several years of their life. However, young children are mostly focused on how much you love them. They want their needs met. And as they grow, your child’s admiration for SuperMommy may fade a bit. By the teenage years, they love you, but they may also be embarrassed for you to show your face anywhere within a one-mile radius of their friends. And when you put your foot down and say NO to them, some kids have been known to say “I hate you!” or “You’re ruining my life.” Yes, they will love and need you, but it won’t always be expressed the way you wish.
I am tired of dealing with birth control, so I’ll let God figure it out. If you can’t be bothered to discuss birth control options and choose a good one for yourselves, you are not ready to be a parent. Believe me, you’ll be far more bothered by waking up at 1:30 a.m. to care for a child whose vomiting reminds you of The Exorcist. If you don’t want to use an external tool, try natural family planning (e.g., Sheila Gregoire’s article discusses the fertility awareness method).
It’s that time in our lives. Everyone around you is having children, or this is the time you wrote on your life calendar that you would be starting a family, so you might as well. This is where your mother’s “If everyone jumped off a bridge, would you do it too?” question is spot on. If everyone in your neighborhood is installing roofs, and you haven’t laid a foundation yet, it’s too soon for a roof. You have to look at your own house and see if it is ready for the addition of children. Remember Psalm 127:1: “Unless the LORD builds the house, its builders labor in vain.”
So . . . I make it sound like having children is a fate worse than being stuck at Wal-Mart on Black Friday (without pepper spray), right? It isn’t. Children are a blessing from God (Psalm 127:3). However, it’s best to make sure that our marriages are ready. Indeed, it would be better for couples to prepare their relationships before marriage and work hard in their first months of marriage to ensure that they are ready if God decides to surprise! plop a sweet little one into their laps.
That said, here are some great reasons to become a parent.
We are secure in our marital closeness and want to add our circle. A husband and a wife are a family. They need to be a well-grounded family before they add new members. But most couples who have established a good relationship start yearning to have more in their household – to build the house up with children. Each child will change the dynamics of a family somewhat, but whether one or nine children come through the home, the husband and wife are the cornerstones who remain throughout.
We have overflowing love to give to a child. There really is something to that feeling of “I love you so much, I want to have your baby.” Paul Anka expressed it as well in his famous song, “You’re having my baby, what a lovely way of sayin’ how much you love me.” I adore seeing the traits that warm me about my husband showing up in my children. Many couples also approach raising children as a ministry (which it is because you will spread the Word of God to these little ones in your care). They embark on parenthood as a calling to create a life, then share the love of God with the child and raise her to become a living witness for God’s glory.
We have planned for our future with a family. Those of you who are already parents, raise your hand if this experience has cost more than you expected. Okay, we are all waving our arms like Superbowl fans here. The time, effort, and money to raise a child will require sacrifice in other areas and a huge dose of responsibility. Take a little inventory on your resources and see if you’re up to the task. Now let me tell you: You are not up to the task. No one is. You can’t wait until everything’s perfect because it never will be. But you do need to have a general plan for feeding, clothing, and caring for the little guy. What you still lack, you can ask God for in (constant) prayer.
It is the right time in our lives. It’s up to you to know when you are ready. Prepare your marriage for it. Plan for it. Pray about it. Then jump in.
I’m wholly in favor of having children. I know some wonderful married people who have chosen not to, and they have been called to other great things. But relationships stretch us. Having children can teach you patience, empathy, and selflessness like few other experiences can. I love my children with parts of me that I didn’t even know existed, and this has taught me a lot about how my Heavenly Father approaches His own children. Moreover, lying next to my kid at night with the kid’s arms around my neck and me brushing the hair back from that sweet face melts my heart into a pulsing puddle.
Plus, we parents want the rest of you to know that joy of watching Barney & Friends, attending a birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese, and picking up 12,000 Legos or Barbie shoes out of the carpet. Mwahahaha.
So what are the criteria you think are important for having children? What advice would you give to new parents or couples thinking of having children?
Note: Check out a recent report from the National Marriage Project (University of Virginia) about thriving in marriage after the baby comes.