Wednesday, August 6, 2008

The Church and Responsible Parenthood

I really, really, really hate to have to disagree with Danielle Bean on the subject that arose yesterday about prudence and parenthood. But I have to.

I don't want to go through her post point by point, but there's one thing she wrote that I must address specifically:

It is not selfish for a poor mother of many to remain open to life. It’s heroic.

A woman who places her trust in God and accepts new life under less than ideal circumstances is being as generous to God, to her family, and to her community as she possibly can be.

Someone else, who has never had to decide between paying for a baby’s prescription and buying food for her family, might not understand this kind of humble heroism.

But Mary does. (Emphases added, EM).
I have bolded the one phrase above because it is here that my main area of disagreement arises. It cannot be said too many times that the prudent use of NFP to postpone the birth of the family's next child, especially in dire financial circumstances or serious medical needs, is most emphatically a way of remaining open to life.

It is simply presumed far too often that using NFP in accordance with God's will and in a deep and humble spirit of following all of the Church's many teachings on the subject of responsible parenthood is somehow not being "open to life." It is also presumed that continuing to add babies into one's family is always the act of humble, generous, selfless parental love, and that choosing not to add to one's family using the morally acceptable means the Church allows and even encourages some of the time is at its core an act of failure to trust God to provide for one no matter what one's circumstances may be.

But this is not true.

The Church does teach about parenthood and responsibility. The phrase "responsible parenthood" is not even remotely the same as the secular understanding of "Planned Parenthood" and all that that evil organization represents. The Church in her wisdom and love understands that parenthood carries with it very serious obligations, and that parents must be ready to accept those obligations on behalf of each and every one of their children.

In fact, Catholic writer William May in his book Contraception, Abstinence, and Responsible Parenthood writes the following:
The debate is "not" over the need to regulate the conception and birth of children. Parties to both sides of the debate recognize that there can be valid, indeed morally obligating reasons, for avoiding a pregnancy. It could be irresponsible for a married couple to allow, through their own free choice, a child to be conceived, not because the conception of a child is an evil--far from it--but because the parents could not, for various reasons, give this child the care and love it needs and to which it has a right, or because the pregnancy might be a serious threat to the life of the mother.
Now, what are the primary obligations parents have toward their children? What are those things which parents owe their children, and which they must provide, or be prepared to provide?

The answer is pretty simple: food, clothing, shelter, and education.

By food, of course, is simply meant adequate nutrition. Parents do not have the obligation to provide fancy gourmet meals or expensive ingredients. They do, however have the obligation to meet their growing children's nutritional requirements. If their children are underfed, miss meals on a regular basis due to an inability to afford food, or are otherwise suffering from lack of nutrition, the parents are not meeting this obligation. Please note: I'm not discussing the morality of the situation, here. War, famine, catastrophic crises and so forth may temporarily or even for a prolonged period deprive people of food, and parents do not carry any blame when circumstances beyond their control do not allow them to feed each of their children properly. But the important phrase there is "beyond their control."

Again, in terms of clothing, we are speaking of the basics. No closets crammed with designer togs are required, but a sufficient level of clean and modest garments, even used ones, are necessary. Mother Teresa's nuns each have two saris, after all--one to wear and one to wash. Parents should do at least this much for each child in their homes. The inability to provide each child with sufficient clothing, then, would also be a failure of parental obligation (again, simply objectively, not in the sense of making a moral judgment).

Shelter doesn't mean a McMansion in the best zip code in town--it doesn't even mean home ownership. Basic requirements would be for a roof over the heads of the family and protection from the elements. Renting is fine, though one shouldn't lie to a landlord about the number of people who will be living in the apartment or dwelling as a means of getting cheaper rent, say, in an effort to house a family of eight in a one-bedroom loft. Most of the regulations in that regard are in place for safety concerns, not to keep large families from renting tiny apartments. If one cannot afford to put a roof over the heads of one's children, or must sleep in a car, or must, as a homeschooling family I once met did, go from hotel to hotel and sneak out into the night without ever paying the bills, then one is not meeting one's obligation to provide shelter for one's children (and no, the hotel does not owe you lodging in exchange for your "heroic" witness as part of the culture of life).

Now, on the subject of education we get into something different from the secular world's understanding of the phrase: we are to educate our children in the faith, and ensure their correct spiritual and moral development as Catholics and as future citizens of Heaven. We want them to get to Heaven, and that's the primary focus of our education of them. So the Church certainly isn't saying that all parents must provide twelve years of institutional schooling with another four, six, eight, etc. after that. We can meet our obligation to educate our children with the aid of public schools, parochial schools, or at home; if we homeschool there's no requirement to use one specific method or even to buy our materials, if we can educate sufficiently with what is available in the public library and elsewhere for free.

But one of the ways we educate our children is by our example to them. Families large and small do this; it's not the sole province of large families to lead by example. And families, whether large, small, or in between, whether rich, poor, or middling, teach their children all sorts of values by the way in which they meet the other three obligations listed above.

The rich, of course, have to guard against their children thinking that money is the solution to everything and that mom and dad owe them every luxury available. But the poor have a responsibility here, too, to avoid bringing their children up to believe that it is the obligation of society at large to be the ordinary means by which the family may fulfill their primary obligations to their children.

Some have pointed out that we all pay taxes and we all reap the various benefits. To a certain extent this is true, and in a just society it will always be important for some things to be a shared responsibility. Roads, schools, libraries, and the like are things everyone can use; in addition, people qualify for aid at various times simply because of their age (e.g. Social Security) or their veteran status (e.g., the VA loan program).

But the type of aid which helps families meet their obligations to their children is intended to be short-term, temporary, "safety-net" aid, which people may draw from in cases of need, but which does not replace the underlying duty of parents to provide for their children's basic needs as outlined above. When it is viewed instead as a permanent addition to the family's means of support, I believe that it may have deleterious consequences that are not only financial but spiritual as well. That is probably a topic for another time; but it's not really true that just because some types of "aid" are available to all, that it is necessarily the best or most prudent thing to come to rely permanently on aid which is specifically designed for the economically disadvantaged.

As I wrote yesterday, the decision about whether and when to accept government aid, in conjunction with the decision whether and when to postpone adding to one's family, is going to be an extremely personal one for each family. I can't tell any individual family what to do in this regard; the only proper person to turn to for advice on this sort of thing is a good spiritual director.

However, I think the questions that might be helpful to those struggling in prudence to make the best decisions for their family on the subject might be as follows:

1. Are we already, even without adding to our family, failing on occasion or in a serious way to meet the basic primary obligations toward the children we already have?
2. Will the addition of another child right now directly cause us to fail to meet the basic primary obligations toward the children we already have?
3. Are we already relying on one or more government aid programs specifically designed for the economically disadvantaged (e.g., not public schools/public libraries/etc.) in order to meet any of the basic primary obligations toward the children we already have?
4. Will we have to rely for an extended period of time on a program as described above in order to meet our family's basic needs should we add to our family right now?
5. (And this is possibly the most serious:) If we are already relying on the type of government aid described, will changes to our eligibility seriously impact our ability to provide for our children's basic needs even before we add to our family?

I think "5" is the most serious of these questions, because people tend to forget that these programs and their funding change all the time. Too many people "signing up," for instance, can drain the money and cause the income threshold to be raised, so relying on these programs as if they'll always be available may not be the most prudent thing.

To sum up: being "open to life" and practicing "responsible parenthood" are not mutually exclusive goals. While each family will have to make specific prudential decisions that are properly speaking their own business to decide, it is not the case that parents may indiscriminately add to their families children for whom they can't provide those things which parents are morally obligated to provide for their children, just as parents may not indiscriminately postpone having children in the absence of just reasons or with a contraceptive mindset. The acceptance of government aid during times of hardship, for temporary reasons, or because of unforeseen economic catastrophes is not imprudent, but coming to rely on some types of government aid permanently or for extremely prolonged periods may sometimes be less than prudent. We are not to judge families whose circumstances are different from ours, but we should take care not to brush aside prudential concerns about parental responsibility as if these very serious obligations which the Church insists we have are somehow unimportant.


Anonymous said...

I agree, I agree, and I agree! Don't have time right now to add much to it, but I just wanted to say thanks for providing an outlet for at least some kind of hashing out and a rebuttal. Of course, it's her blog but to shut down comments and then post her rebuttal without a chance to even discuss the matter doesn't sit right with me.

I really don't get the idea that I'm "uncharitable" if I disagree. But there's a whole, weird emotionalism that some women mistake for charity. Discuss, debate, rethink, ask questions, but don't shut it all down because it just might make someone, somewhere (with far too thin skin, imo) feel uncomfortable. So, thanks for this.

eulogos said...

I think I am more of Danielle Bean's way of thinking on this.

As someone who has "been there" -having a large family and having for perhaps 4 or 5 years received food stamps, HEAP assistance, WIC, and for maybe 6 months, medicaid, it rather makes me angry to think someone would say one shouldn't have children if one's circumstances are difficult. And if one's circumstances are at all difficult in this country, while having a number of children, one is going to be eligible for food stamps. Would you say a family with many children should not accept food stamps? That if they are receiving food stamps they have to try to use NFP not to have another child? ( Because "try" is the relevant word here. Assessing the return of fertility during breastfeeding is always tricky. Adding to that relationship issues, as affected by the stress of many children and financial worries, and it is no surprise if another pregnancy results. )

Your account says "Are we relying on one or more government aid programs specifically designed for the economically disadvantaged?" That's right...designed for the economically disadvantaged. And some people are economically disadvantaged. Perhaps that is because they have physical or mental limitations, dropped out of school early and now can't go back because of family oblications, had an episode of mental illness which interrupted their higher education and made them unfit for high stress high paying jobs requiring skill at interpersonal relationships. These conditions cause people to be economically disadvantaged. They don't cause them to be "life unworthy of life." Our society chooses to help them out a little bit, with food stamps. And, by the way, food stamps got through congress so easily with bipartisan support, because it is a program which is advantageous for agricultural producers, for grocery chain owners, and for everyone else in the supply chain for food products.

Government decisions, rules, and programs affect everyone's life and economic success or failure. A family shouldn't be more ashamed of recieving food stamps than they are of taking the child tax credit, because both are ways that the government returns some money to citizens to help them take care of children.
A family recieving food stamps is really not in a different moral position from a family benefitting from a state senator's lobbying to bring a large government office to his local area, (such as the one I currently work in)or from tobacco industry subsidies or sugar tariffs, or any one of thousands of taxes, tax breaks, regulations and subsidies, by which the economy is manipulated. A lawyer with a large income from tort litigation is benefitting from our ridiculous body of tort law, and so on.

Furthermore, some people have a vocation to careers which are not especially financially rewarding but which benefit society, such as teaching or nursing. Some people are well suited to doing construction work, being car mechanics or plumbers. Even less financially rewarding jobs than that, such as truck driver, bus driver, and nurses aide are essential and contribute to society.

It would be wrong for the father of a family not to do everything he can to support them, but if he does that and still needs some benefits because his work is not the kind that is highly remunerated, I don't think that puts his family in a moral position which should make them believe they are obliged not to have more children.
Susan Peterson

Red Cardigan said...

Kayo, I'm glad to provide the forum for discussion. People do want to talk about this.

Susan, as I mentioned in the post, these decisions are personal, and families are going to make very different decisions. Nobody has the right to judge your family or anyone else's.

I would just point out that there's a difference between a child tax credit and food stamps. A child tax credit is paying someone back money they paid in taxes. Food stamps require that someone else pay higher taxes so that others may receive the benefit. And if food stamp programs lose funding, some may not be able to feed their children anymore, which is one of our basic responsibilities as parents.

These are complicated matters, and worth discussing. But no one need judge anyone else personally; that's not the point.

Anonymous said...

As much as I would like to agree with you on this, I am torn.

I agree with much of what you have said but in being open to life, there is the element of God working even if one more is too much, or so you think.

It also begs the question are we going to be forced into sterlization if we make X amount a year.

God always provides for those who love Him and serve Him. And yes, you can abuse that gift.

As you say, it is difficult and ultimately one the couple has to figure out on their own. God forbid the government stepping in.

Anonymous said...

Regarding "vocations to careers which are not especially financially rewarding", I would say that the vocation is to parenthood first. Whatever they do outside the home to foster that vocation is a job, a job that allows the family - and vocation of parenthood - to thrive and flourish. And that was one of the ideas in the other thread that I thought was wrong and much more widely accepted than I ever imagined. No, if you believe that you have a "vocation" to teach Catholic school, or run a parish youth group, etc. for $12,000 a year, then is it wise or prudent to consider marriage? If you believe your vocation is to be married with children, then you need to deeply discern how best to carry out that vocation.

And I really don't understand this somewhat adolescent idea of doing the job that "fulfills" you. (IMO, it's the vocation that should fulfill you). Too many people still believe that they should grow up and find their "dream" job. To not do a job that gives you good financial remuneration to head up your household, especially if you want it to be a big household, can be considered irresponsible.

Now, having said that, I must include: There is plenty of gray area in all that. I don't mean that you leave a job you like that pays decently b/c there's another that pays $5k more that you loathe, or requires you to be away from your family 20% more or is twice the commute. What I mean is: if the father has a job that still needs financial aid b/c his work doesn't pay well enough, then yes, I do think you have an obligation - as a real man and head of the household - to get a better-paying job. And yes, that's exactly the time that the couple should be discerning God's will for them regardint their current family size.

Why is it that Catholic women often tell other women that when they get that sweet urge to hold a newborn again, it's God's way of speaking to their hearts, encouraging them to say yes to another baby...but when the family is on welfare, WIC, food stamps and stresses about paying the rent and the car breaking down because their combined income is unable to cover those costs, it's never God encouraging you to consider being prudent regarding family size and current finances.

But if you really, truly believe that you have a calling to be, say, a nurse's aide, and benefit society in that way, then by definition it means that you do not have a calling to be the main breadwinner of a large family - or at least you don't for the time being.

The only possible exception I can see is if you love the cross of poverty so much, if you truly believe you are blessed because of it, then maybe you are one of the very few who can handle it. But that's not what I saw on that thread; I saw people taking federal/state aid and being very touchy about it. I saw people stressing about finances in ways that I haven't since *I* was poor. They weren't exactly glad about it.


Susan said...

A tax credit is different from a deduction. You get it even if the amount of the credits exceeds the total tax you paid. (Like the earned income credit, for instance.)

But I maintain further than that, that the person who happens to earn more, does that more than anything else by luck, the luck of having been born smarter, or with the particular talents currently most in need or the luck of working for an industry favored by tax advantages.

I think you are making a point that if one depends on food stamps, that program might be cut and then you couldn't feed your kids. But the tax laws, or the subsidy and tariff system might be changed and your industry that depends on it could dry up and you would be in the same situation. NAFTA might send your factory to Mexico, for instance. Just about everyone is vulnerable to some change in the law or economic conditions.

I think people who are well off imagine that they support their kids by their own efforts without government assistance, and think that those who receive food stamps don't. Whereas I think one could hardly find a person not dependent on government largesse in one form or another. I assert that if you work for X company and X company receives tax breaks or outright government subsidies, you are really in the same position as the person whose family receives food stamps. It just isn't so obvious.

Susan Peterson (aka eulogos)

Susan said...

Kayo and anonymous are writing as if everyone can plan everything right from the beginning. Whereas I was married at 19 to someone who thought he was going to be an English professor, but wound up having a schizophrenic episode, not quite making it through college, becoming a cook and later a chef, and now works in the post office on the very low end of the federal pay schedule doing work which is part labor and part simple clerical. Furthermore, when we were married I wasn't Catholic, or any kind of a Christian, or even baptized. Catholicism, and removing the IUD came later. So there I was, a baby Christian, already married, to a man who was both intelligent and hardworking but whose tolerance to emotional stress was limited, trying to learn NFP at the same time as I was trying to learn the very basics of living as a Christian. And there I was having children. My husband worked sometimes 70, 80 or more hours a week, he progressed to being chef of some fairly good restaurants, but he never made a whole hell of a lot of money, and often had no medical insurance, sometimes briefly had some inadequate medical insurance. When we lost our house in a major city to a fire and moved to the country, we didn't realize until it was too late that salaries for chefs were much lower in that part of the world. When we decided to move we were thinking only of moving to a place safe for our kids where there were acceptable public schools, since we weren't going to be able to afford Catholic high school.

My husband slogged on, doing his best. Eventually I got a job as a nurses aide evenings, while older kids babysat the younger ones. I went to nursing school, got a degree, eventually a government job. My husband got the post office job. Now our youngest of nine is in college and we aren't poor anymore. But there were some years in there where we received food stamps and WIC and HEAP and "government cheese"-the giveaway of surplus food.

I am sure plenty of other people have similar stories. They studied philosophy, got married, got some kind of teaching job, eventually became Catholic, committed to obeying the church's teaching. They are pretty busy bringing home that meagre salary. The wife is pretty busy taking care of a baby, a toddler, and two preschoolers. The husband has only academic, verbal type skills. He isn't entrepreneurial in spirit, he doesn't have techie type skills; he probably isn't going to make a lot of money. They didn't plan their college educations with the idea of supporting a large family or get married with even the hint of a thought of not using contraception. Surprised by Catholicism!

One could make up a dozen scenarios.

And by the way.... the families you are discussing are not on welfare. Welfare is for people with no income, and they get put to work by welfare even at makework jobs, unless they have some sort of disability. People with low salaries might possibly get food stamps. They are unlikely to qualify for medicaid. Their kids might get reduced price school lunch and the mother might get some free cheese and peanut butter through WIC.

I did once, and now that I have more income, I am glad if my taxes go to pay for that.
Susan Peterson(aka eulogos)

John Thayer Jensen said...

We live in New Zealand, so our situation may be different. We have striven over the 36+ years of our marriage to keep my wife at home as much as possible. This hasn't meant that she hasn't worked. When the kids were at home, we had a total of 11 family paper delivery runs. Now they are away my wife still does two, and does some part-time paid tutoring.

I am well-paid by New Zealand standards. I am an IT specialist. We have tried to do our best to be financially responsible, and as all of our child-bearing years were when we were Protestants, and had no idea that artificial contraception was wrong, we practised it. Nevertheless, we had four children.

We have tithed from the start of our marriage. At first we tried to save 10% as well, but eventually that stopped. We home-schooled, which added costs. Then this child and that had young adult issues and we helped out with money - often simply by travelling to other parts of the world (Australia, for instance) to help.

The bottom line is that we have accepted whatever government support we have been eligible for (not a lot :-)). We are pretty deeply in debt but determined to get out of it before we die (I am almost 66 and still working). Our house is pretty run-down; we have a 1989 Toyota 'van and the 'new' car, a 1992 Toyota Corona.

All in all, I think we are rich. If we had been Catholics, I think we would have been very very happy to have had more children, but don't know. When I became a Christian in the first place, I was in very bad shape financially. I guess I made a kind of Jacob pact with the Lord. If You will be with me, and guide me to my goal, I will always worship You, and will give you a tenth of all that I have.

One way He has supplied has been my earnings (I had two jobs for ten years, but am down to one now, mostly for lack of a second job that I can find and still get to). Another has been the help of friends. Yet another has been through government help - currently on NZ Superannuation (like US Social Security). I cannot, for the life of me, see how there could be anything wrong with that. Our society has chosen to provide some assistance this way. It might not be wise,but that is the case. I have paid my taxes, even at times when I could have cheated. So I guess I just don't see what the problem is.


It took courage to disagree with Danielle.... said...

Thank you Red for your courage to stand up on this blog and disagree with Danielle. She presented an extreme view today and it unfortunately could not be discussed. I felt she chastised anyone as uncharitable who would even bother to raise the question of what do we do as responsible parents. Yet this is an important part of the Church's teaching.

I agree with Kayo's post. Why is is that we can not discuss these things and be called uncharitable?

Sometimes heroic virtue means avoiding conception for a time.
If I am 27 yrs old and have 4 kids and we are accepting government aid couldn't we just postpone pregnancy for a couple years and get a better job? Know one is telling anyone they can't have kids. Let just be prudent and plan.

My other issue which is a bit off track is that the NFP community strongly and repeatedly tells us that NFP is 99.5% effective. Yet when it comes down to it we chalk up all the unplanned pregnancies to some unknown mystery (besides that fact that we had sex when we ovulated) Suddenly there is no science behind it and God just keeps sending us unplanned pregnancies. On one hand we are trying to gain respect and trust in the method to the secular world and the other hand we are clearly showing it is not a usable method.

We need to admit that NFP is not effective like we proclaim it to be, at least in the sense that the many users of the method due to various life issues are not able to use the method correctly to avoid a pregnancy.

Catholic fundamentalism said...

"It is also presumed that continuing to add babies into one's family is always the act of humble, generous, selfless parental love, and that choosing not to add to one's family using the morally acceptable means the Church allows and even encourages some of the time is at its core an act of failure to trust God to provide for one no matter what one's circumstances may be.

But this is not true."

Red, You are right on. I am weary from what I see as a form of Catholic fundamentalism sweeping the church. Promoting conception no matter what as the only way to express openness to life in your marriage. The extremes go from calling it heroic to intentionally conceive when you are in such dire straits you can not feed your family to suggesting that a woman with a life threatening illness should trust God and have another baby. Leaving imprints that our faith is measured by the number of children we have.

It is really unfortunate.

sarahndipity said...

I mostly agree with this post. I know I could never, ever intentionally have another child if I were on government assistance. I would be doing everything I possibly could to get off it before even thinking about another child. I wouldn’t judge someone else who decided to do so, but I just couldn’t do it.

But sometimes I just wonder what Catholics are supposed to do. I agree with what Susan said here:

Assessing the return of fertility during breastfeeding is always tricky. Adding to that relationship issues, as affected by the stress of many children and financial worries, and it is no surprise if another pregnancy results.

That’s the problem – what if NFP just doesn’t work that well for you? I have PCOS, which makes my cycles very difficult. Both of my pregnancies have been surprises. Fortunately there was a 4-year gap between the pregnancies, during which my husband was able to finish grad school. The second pregnancy happened when we were thinking about having another one anyway. We have never been in a dire situation where having a child would be a complete disaster, but I don’t know what we would do if we were. For that matter, what were people supposed to do when the rhythm method was the only known method of fertility regulation, or when they didn’t know anything about a woman’s cycle? If they were in a bad situation, would they just abstain all the time? I suppose that’s the only moral option, but that just seems like a huge burden to place on the couple when they’re already struggling with huge financial and/or health burdens. It doesn’t seem fair that couples who already have easier lives, with better health and more money, can enjoy marital relations more.

And I really don't understand this somewhat adolescent idea of doing the job that "fulfills" you.

I understand it completely, but I also understand as I get older that it’s pie-in-the-sky thinking, unfortunately. I’m a former English major, a poet, and an arts and literature person who found it hard to find a job I liked – and was good at - that paid enough. Fortunately I discovered graphic design, which I found I really like and pays decent. Also, since I’m a woman, it’s not as imperative for me to find a high-paying job. I work full-time now, but I’m going to cut back to part-time once the new baby is born. It must suck to be a man and have to work a job you don’t like to support a family, but I guess that’s the way it is. And what if you’re just not good at technical stuff or other fields that pay well? I honestly don’t know what I would do if I were the main breadwinner. It’s not merely that I dislike jobs that are high-paying; if I tried to be a lawyer or an engineer I would fail. I just don’t have those abilities. My abilities are verbal and creative. What if the husband just doesn’t have the ability to work in fields that are high-paying, no matter how hard he tries?

No wonder so many people use contraception.

Jennifer F. said...

t is not selfish for a poor mother of many to remain open to life. It’s heroic.

I think she was referring to "remaining open to life" as just not using contraception.

I doubt there are really lots of women out there who are not even trying to avoid pregnancy when their families are already receiving government assistance. As a previous commenter said, the fact is, there are some couples for whom NFP doesn't work as well as for other. We're one of them. I just found out that I'm pregnant with #4. My oldest is three. Believe me, we were not trying to get pregnant again! :) I won't go into all the details, but I assure you that we were tracking carefully and using very conservative NFP. We are well educated on modern natural family planning methods, we just happened to have two freak occurrences with babies #3 and 4.

Though we're not on government assistance, we are broke and I have some pretty serious medical issues that make this pregnancy a big concern (I have a serious blood clotting disorder that's exacerbated by pregnancy and have to give myself outrageously expensive shots every day), not to mention the fact that it's just slightly overwhelming to have four kids under five.

I found Danielle's post to be a breath of fresh air, because the secular culture that I am immersed in (I'm a recent convert from atheism so most of my friends and family are atheists) tells me that I simply must get on contraception to make 100% sure that I don't burden my family or the world with any more children. I think what Danielle was saying was that it's heroic not to succumb to the pressure to go down to your doctor's office and get a prescription for the Pill, even when you're one of those superfertile couples with weird cycles for whom NFP is not as reliable as you'd like it to be.

Maria said...

Congratulations on the new baby, Jennifer!

I typed up a long response, but the devil computer ate it up! Argh. To sum up: I'm with Danielle on this one. The whole tone of this discussion has saddened me. Catholics are called to love the poor, not berate them for their circumstances. Also, I find a distinct flavor of Individualist philosophy pervading the discussion. Families are being viewed as some self-contained, self-sufficient structure that has no relation to the common good.

Final though - Sarahndipity brought up a good point. NFP is a relatively recent development. It is a new option for families, not an obligation. Before that marriage from a Catholic perspective was generally seen as something that simply produced children. Period. No planning until a convienent season. While I'm all for using NFP if needed, I think we are taking a VERY big step theologically to insist that some couples have an obligation to use it.

nutmeg said...

"We have never been in a dire situation where having a child would be a complete disaster..."

I love your writing, Sarahndipity, but I think this statement might be the kind of sentiment that Danielle is trying to combat. I would hope that if a couple is financially strapped, and finds themselves pregnant anyway, their attitude would never be that welcoming this new life is "a complete disaster"...

Also, I was going to bring up the point that Jennifer F brought up. Maybe we are equivocating on the words "open to life". While Red means "not using NFP", maybe Danielle simply means "not using contraception". And I think as Catholics we can all agree with that.

Interesting topic... notice I didn't give my whole opinion. Still thinking.


Sue B. said...

My issue with the discussion at Danielle Bean's "Coffee Talk" was the suggestion by some that women/commenters whose families received government aid were irresponsible.

I don't know how anyone could make such a judgment.

Having a political discussion is one thing, but people should be given the benefit of the doubt when they have accepted government aid. If someone is seeking government aid and asks for your advice, that is the time to make your argument.

I agree with Red Cardigan's analysis, but I have absolutely no idea whether it could be applied to any of the commenters at Danielle Bean's blog.

As for Danielle's closing comments and her "Humble and Heroic" post, how does anyone know that her commenters are or are not humble and heroic? What if Danielle Bean actually knows the facts of their situations?

I think discussing Guidelines and Church teaching on NFP are wonderful. They are great to advise friends and vital to form your own conscience, but using them to tell another where their life went wrong is unwise and likely uncharitable.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting this. I have to agree with the commenter who expressed concern about the idea that you are only "truly Catholic" if you have many children. There are compelling reasons to limit family size, many of which have been mentioned in this forum. And while I'd never judge someone who was poor and got pregnant, I do think that God calls us to be prudent in making the decision to add another child.

It's all about discernment ... discerning God's will for us. Of course, if an unexpected pregnancy happens, that should be welcomed. But to imply that you are always heroic if you don't limit family size is, I think, an overgeneralization. There are times -- issues of health or mental illness, for example -- when adding another child can lead to tragedy for the family in general (the unbelievably sad story of Andrea Yates is one example -- thankfully rare). It's all about discernment.

Thanks and may God bless all families who struggle.

Anonymous said...

The thing that really bothered me about many of the comments in Danielle's Coffee Talk chat (which are what prompted her to write the "Humble and Heroic" piece) were that people seemed to think it was fine to automatically feel disgust and contempt for people who take government aid of any kind . . . and it was up to the recipient to prove, in public, that he actually had a legitimate reason. THEN he could be let off the hook, if the reason were deemed dire enough. IOW, contemptable until proven pathetic.

This is Christian?

I have been using NFP for seven years. I know how to do it. My husband and I struggled through more than three months of pure abstinence after my seventh baby, because (among other reasons) we were so determined to get off government aid, which I reluctantly, with much prayer and tears, began to take when my husband was laid off many years ago.

Okay, so NFP is 95.5% effective. I guess I fall into that 4.5% percent. We were very conservative, very prudent, very careful, and now I'm pregnant with #8.

So, yeah, using NFP is being open to life, because babies come from having sex. Feel free to doubt my word about my "method failure!" I'm telling you, we followed the rules to put off having a baby, but God thought it was the right time right now. I don't know how it happened. We did not take chances.

So here we are, still taking government aid, with a dearly loved but very unplanned baby in the works, and on top of it, I feel the heaps of disgust and scorn from every quarter, from supposed Catholics. The choruses of "YOU HAVE NO RIGHT TO MY MONEY" are so distressing. I don't want your money. I am humiliated to use my food stamps card every week. I feel guilty every time I buy a box of ice cream, because I know how much the typical conservative hates the idea that we might enjoy ourselves.

It's as if devout Catholics expect couples to triumph over every kind of adversity in order to have more babies. Sickness? Trust God. Anxiety? Ask for peace. Exhaustion? Pray more. Difficulties with NFP? You must not be holy enough.

But if you, horror of horrors, get a few gallons of free milk every week-- sinner! Somehow using tax dollars has become the ultimate crime. Everything else is just a bump in the road, but MONEY has become the unforgivable deal-breaker.

This is a Catholic attitude?

It's not enough to be poor, we also have to be shamed and doubted. My husband works extremely hard, and I've taken more stupid, piddling jobs to "help out," while homeschooling my kids, than I can count, and somehow we always fall short. Should my children get rickets just to avoid annoying Rush Limbaugh?

Why should I have to explain my story over and over and over again to every stranger who assumes ahead of time that I'm lazy and irresponsible? One good things is that being the victim of this kidn of prejudice has taught me to be more charitable and give the benefit of the doubt to people who I've previously assumed are at fault for the mess their lives are in.

But look: it's not large, Catholic families that compose the Welfare State. It's not my 24-hour hospital stay that is causing your taxes to rise. There are so many other systems and people to rail against -- why should Catholics be beating up on each other? It's not just uncharitable, it's unseemly, and it breaks my heart.

I know what people are going to say: oh well, obviously in YOUR situation, this is legitimate. You never intended to have this baby, and of course we're not talking about YOU when we say that people are lazy and irresponsible.

My point is, how do you know how many people like me are out there? Poor people's private lives and circumstances do not somehow become the property of the tax payer.

It is simply not a Catholic attitude to demand an explanation (implicitly, by assuming the worst) from people who take aid.

Catholics should be doing what they can to convert the society as a whole (through donations, volunteer work, witness, and prayer), if they want there to be less demand for social services.

Please remember how cruelly you are hurting people who are already down, when you make assumptions about their motivations.

Mary B said...

I was one of the posters on Danielle's site, the one who said 'life happens.'
Every Tuesday she has opened her comments to us in the hope we would encourage each other. Too many weeks she has left the comments open longer than 24 hours and suddenly we lose our prayerful encouragement and decide to vent.

I think it was a misreading of 'Humble and Heroic'to think she intended to say: 'women on assistence can seek new life.'

I believe her intent was to say: 'The only virtuous way to postpone a pregnancy when we have a good reason, like difficult finances, is abstinence educated by learning and practicing a form NFP. NFP is not Birth Control but self control and as such is still open to life and God's will even in abstinence.'

The fact remains that God is God. He allows us to face challenges. My challenge was to help my DH on our finances, care for our children in the way I discerned was God's Will, and to do so within the laws of the Church. Some days I have succeeded and other days I have not. Mea Culpa.

We are all challenged today to take what we have learned and use it to better the world, the Kingdom of God, now.
Can we help another who has trouble with her cycles?
Can we/DH befriend a young couple/ young husband who struggles to accept God's will? (There was time my husband's only companions were at work, due to his long hours, and EVERY One was divorced)
Can we help provide classes at our parish on finances, NFP, prayer and communication for couples?
Can we push our Doctors to study NFP, even if we do well at it, so they can be a real help to someone struggling?
How about an ethics class at our parish challenging our doctors to step it up in this area? (Our Diocese has 1 NFP only doctor, 1!)

Let us remember to pray for each person who opens their blog to comments and for each person who will read our comment.

CatholicMom said...

No one has addressed the situation of junior enlisted military personnel who just aren't paid enough to live on by Congress and by us, the taxpayers. Should the Catholic military family be forced to choose between artificial contraception, WIC/food stamps and the teachings of the Church? Their circumstances could be changed (by Congress) but aren't. Yes, military people get free or reduced-cost medical care, but I have watched many friends blush each week as they pull out WIC coupons at the commissary. The service member's salary is low and the spouse can't work because they live in a remote area, overseas or in a place with a bias against hiring spouses. This group of people is poor by "choice," because they chose to serve our country or to marry a service member. Does that mean they should go AWOL to find better jobs so they can get off food stamps?

I'm mighty tired of watching friends lose their faith because of the harsh judgments (voiced in rude or "helpful" comments) of other people who really don't know why things are the way they are for my friends. It happens. It's up to us to stop being so critical of our fellow Catholics (military or not) and support them instead.

Anonymous said...

people seemed to think it was fine to automatically feel disgust and contempt for people who take government aid of any kind . . . and it was up to the recipient to prove, in public, that he actually had a legitimate reason.

Let's not exaggerate, ok? There was no indication of "disgust and contempt for people who take government aid of any kind". That's just not true. And if you weren't touchy about it, you wouldn't feel the need to explain yourself. But you are touchy about it. And I say...that's a good thing. Because it isn't the ideal. It's not what you planned. It's the way it is now.

There are a million different questions to be asked, but my big question that I haven't really heard a good argument for is: what are you doing to make sure that this poverty cycle is broken? Do you hate it enough to do what you can to change it? Or at least make sure your kids don't make the same mistakes you did? But then again, I get a real sense that too many are in severe financial straits but are loathe to admit that something they did wasn't the best thing to do.

There are currently a flood of devout Catholics who are eschewing lucrative careers and instead going to those uber-Catholic colleges that I mentioned, to get things like theology or literature degrees. I'll say this yet again: We need devout Catholics going into law, politics, engineering, medicine, architecture, finance, etc. (You have 1 NFP doctor in your area? Congrats. I have none.) And that's not happening. Why not?

It's difficult, when everyone takes this so personally, to ask "what do I do now?" but that's not the right question. We can't ask, resentfully, "Which child do you wish I didn't have!?" as I've heard before.

The real questions should be asked in the future tense: Does this man you think you want to marry have the ability to be proficient provider in a decent-paying field? I would absolutely tell my daughters that if not, you have two choices. You either realize this is God's way of telling you that this is not the right man to marry. Or you realize that God is calling you to a life of poverty. (Or, even perhaps that she will be the major breadwinner, an arrangement that I would think works sometimes, but only rarely.) And I think the call to live poor is far rarer than anyone wants to admit, but I still see precious little in the way of doing what needs to be done to change things.

Anonymous said...

When I was living on earth, nothing annoyed me more than having my tax dollars go to food stamps for some poor child.

- Jesus of Nazareth

Dawn said...

To anonymous at 9:06am: You keep buying that ice cream! (-;

Seriously, however hurtful it is, please don't let others' judgements bring you down too much. You are in my prayers.

Red Cardigan said...

First of all, thanks for the peaceful tone of this discussion. Please continue!

Second, will the many "Anonymous" posters please pick a nickname? It gets hard to respond to specific people when you have to look at the timestamp to do so.

I want to stress again that no one is judging, or has the right to judge, individual and specific circumstances. And that's NOT what this is about! Each couple must decide for themselves, with the wisdom of the Church to guide them, and with the advice of a spiritual director if necessary, whether it is prudent or not to have a child at any specific time. It needn't be a long, drawn-out, agonizing process, either--but it's a good idea, from the marriage perspective, for Catholic spouses to be open to conversation about these matters!

But it's one thing to say that we mustn't judge individuals--which is true--and another to say that therefore it's off limits to talk about the principles here. That is something we can and should do.

For instance, the poster who decided to post as Our Lord (which I don't approve of, and would delete except that I'd like to talk about something related to what he/she wrote) seems to think that Our Lord would condone confiscatory taxation. I think Our Lord made a few references to taxes: He told us to render to Caesar on the one hand, but called to repentance those tax collectors who were padding their own wealth by unjustly collecting more than they were supposed to take.

If enough people decide, for instance, that it's stupid to buy health insurance when so many states offer "free" insurance programs for children and for pregnant women, then those of us who are struggling to live on one income as it is will see our taxes climb astronomically to fund these programs. Soon we, too, will have to sign up for the "free" program, or stop living as a one-income, homeschooling family. A vicious cycle then begins: more and more people want the "free" program, and fewer and fewer people are paying into it, until the program fails or there's no money left for it--at which point it will probably be "reformed" to exclude most of its former recipients from eligibility.

So long as these programs are seen as temporary safety nets that can help us in times of need, this won't happen. But when too many people begin to treat the program as part of their regular means of support, then it's all too likely that the situation I've described will eventually occur.

To take another example: it's a national disgrace when our servicemen and women aren't paid enough to support their families. I'd be all in favor of ordering Congress to increase their salaries. But the way Washington works, chances are that if Congress has to choose between putting more money into food stamp programs and actually paying our service members a living wage, Congress will pour the money into the food stamps.

Why? Because each of the people who receives food stamps is another person who can vote for his/her Congress members' reelections, and there are more people in the "food stamp" group than in the "service member" group. So there are consequences to a rise in the reliance on a government program, and sometimes those consequences involve injustice toward others.

Again, as I said in the initial post, these are extremely complicated issues. But the whole point was to say that the Church requires some pretty serious things of us as parents, and expects us to reflect on the choices we make whatever those might be. Those choices are not open to other peoples' judgment any more than anything else is, but it's one thing to say that the choices are personal, and another to say that therefore any discussion of the issues and principles at hand is off-limits.

Anna said...

I don't mind that Danielle shut off comments on that subject because it did get pretty snarky, IMO. And she apparently doesn't mind the discussion continuing elsewhere since she had a link to this conversation.
Anyway, I think Red Cardigan has it right: it's a necessary discussion about principles, though no one can really say for someone else what they should be doing. It's just a good reminder that we are created in the image and likeness of God - and that means we have reason and free will and we should use them! Use of reason doesn't mean we will all come up with the same answer since people and situations are so different (I am NOT talking about moral absolutes here, just about prudential decisions). But the points about how to best care for one's family are things that must be considered, not just thrown to the wind. And I think Danielle knows, when not in the middle of an emotional subject involving a good friend, that if it were really the case that more government funding going to large families meant less going to Planned Parenthood and the like, this discussion would have centered more on tips for how all of us can get on that payroll so as to leave none for PP. :-)

Maria said...

If we are going to use what the Church says on responsible parenthood, we have to look at it both ways.

From JPII's August 1st General Audience: "From this it follows that the concept of "responsible parenthood" contains the disposition not merely to avoid "a further birth" but also to increase the family in accordance with the criteria of prudence."

Since we have made a list of criteria by which to ascertain when a couple should avoid pregnancy maybe we should make a list of criteria that to be used to insist that a couple tries to achieve pregancy? If they can afford a vacation, maybe another child is due? Afford private education? Afford to eat out twice a month?

Why just look at this from the "poorer" side of the issue? Let's look at it from the other side and see how "touchy" people are.

This is exactly the Church is generally vague on the issue of family planning outside of always declaring a couple must be open to life, in the most general interpretation of that phrase, to be thoughtful and prayerful on the issue, and to follow their conscience.

Anna said...

Just wanted to add that while I do think this is a needed conversation, I also think it should be emphasized that it is a conversation that must be had *gently*. This is obviously a very personal issue and poverty is always difficult and stressful, adding to the feeling of vulnerability, even when the discussion is just one of principles. So it is easy to feel attacked, even when one is not really being so, but even more so when harsh-sounding words are used.

Maria said... should read "This is exactly WHY the Church..."

Anonymous said...

Why just look at this from the "poorer" side of the issue?

Because poor is not - nor should be - the default position.

And having financial stability is only one thing that does not prevent one from adding children; it doesn't work in the positive (i.e. IF you are financially flush, you MUST add a child). Your reasoning doesn't work. And the church doesn't teach that.

Karen said...

Hi. Interesting debate. I just had to say that for me, the whole hot point over government subsidized healthcare is bizarre. I'm Canadian and we have universal healthcare. Everyone pays taxes, and the taxes are pooled, and everyone gets the same healthcare. I can choose a doctor or midwife for childbirth in our province and I can have the birth in hospital. I don't have to worry about cost. Nor do I ever have to worry if my children are sick. If they're sick, we go to hospital. When my mother had breast cancer, we never worried about paying for chemo or radiation or a prosthetic breast. It was covered. Now, an American roommate I had in university had a complete fit at a hospital when she had to wait three hours to be seen for an ear-ache. She objected to being triaged behind people with heart problems, traumatic injuries, and more serious ailments. So if you're looking for red carpet treatment just because you're rich you're not going to get it here either - you get seen according to what ails you. I just had to say this because I think it's obviously got a lot of people heated up and I think it's really sad that such a rich country doesn't provide universal healthcare as we do in Canada or is the norm in Great Britain, France, Norway, and so on. You can all hate me - I'm not meaning to taunt or whatever - I just thought some of you might be interested to know how completely strange this topic is to me. You would never get mums in Canada arguing over entitlement to healthcare.

kategirl said...

To the anonymous pregnant mom,

I didn't think the general response was one of disgust and contempt. I understand that your emotions are vulnerable and raw with this subject. It is not a personal attack against you.

No one is saying that children shouldn't receive aid as one poster (who posted as Jesus) implied nor did I get the impression that people believed poor people should not receive government assistance.

It is not about not welcoming your new life and the joy that is. It is taking a look now at the future and making a plan to get out of poverty. It is about asking the question of how can we responsibly parent the children we have here now? Do we need to limit our family size to do that? If we do need to limit our family size maybe we need more help with NFP, a different method or more instruction. Those NFP instructors insist on that 99.5% effectiveness.

These are not questions you should answer here. I think at this point it would be better for your emotional health if you did not discuss your personal situation on line with people who don't know you. I don't believe Red's point is for us to make personal judgment on individuals circumstances.

I too have my own issues that I am sensitive about and I used to let people online make me feel beat up about them. I got thicker skin and realized I can receive people's input but I don't have to take it so personally.

Maria said...

Anonymous at 3:52: I was being a bit tongue-in-cheek. I do not propose making a “checklist” for financially stable couples. I just wanted to illustrate how one doesn’t like to have one’s motivations or circumstances surrounding one’s family planning decision second-guessed. Just as financially stable couples probably would resent being put under a microscope to see if they are being “generous” enough, poorer couples do not like to be given the once over to see if they are being “prudent” enough.

Also, I just wanted to share a small excerpt from Pius XII’s Address on Large Families:

But God also visits large families with His Providence, and parents, especially those who are poor, give clear testimony to this by resting all their trust in Him when human efforts are not enough.

A trust that has a solid foundation and is not in vain! Providence - to put it in human words and ideas - in not a sum total of exceptional acts of divine pity; it is the ordinary result of harmonious activity on the part of the infinite wisdom, goodness and omnipotence of the Creator. God will never refuse a means of living to those He calls Into being.

The Divine Master has explicitly taught that "life is worth more than food, and the body more than clothing" (Matt. 6:25). If single incidents, whether small or great, seem to contradict this, it is a sign that man has placed some obstacle in the way of divine order, or else, in exceptional cases, that God has higher plans for good...

With regard to the first of these aims, keep in line with the directives of the Church; with regard to the second, you have to shake out of its lethargy that part of society that is not yet aware of its social responsibilities. Providence is a divine truth and reality, but it chooses to make use of human cooperators. Ordinarily it moves into action and comes to our aid when it has been summoned and practically led by the hand by man; it loves to lie hidden behind human activity. While it is only right to acknowledge that Italian legislation can legitimately boast of being most advanced in this area of affording protection to families and especially to large families, We should not close our eyes to the fact that there are still a considerable number of them who are tossed back and forth between discomfort and real privation, through no fault of their own. Your action must aim at bringing these people the protection of the laws, and in more urgent cases the help of charity. Every positive achievement in this field is like a solid stone set into the structure of the nation and of the church; it is the very best thing you can do as Catholics and as citizens.

Marie Duchesne said...

Wow. I linked here from another site and felt compelled to add something to this discussion. Everyone seems to be skipping around the truth or perhaps very few people seem to know how to recognize it anymore. The true nature of marriage unites spouses to one another and represents the selfless act of giving of oneself to the other. Marriage has always resulted in the bringing forth of children. In the past decades and centuries, children have been a sign of fruitful marriages. Parents who had no children or only 1 or 2 often felt slighted in some way--cheated out of the fruits of their marriage. Childless couples embraced their infertility as a sacrifice and often devoted themselves to the service of others--taking in foster children, nursing the aged, volunteering at schools, growing community gardens. I knew one such family a time ago--the husband helped families with home repairs and carpentry, the wife cooked meals and baby sat often. But sometime over the last few decades, our culture, including Catholics, have come to view personal success as a higher aspiration than having a family. As our society has grown in material wealth since WWII, we have slowly come to few children, not as a sign of a beautiful marriage--gifts of God, but as a hindrance to obtaining all that is available. Limiting family size to none, 1 or 2, or very few is seen as admirable, especially in times of financial or emotional difficulty. We have come to believe it is far better for husbands and wives to deny themselves the precious gift of their fertility through either abstinence or contraception rather than burden themselves or the community with another child. Our culture, including many Catholics, have decided it's noble cause is to eliminate the children living in poverty. Conservatives and Liberals are just two sides of the same coin. Conservatives presume if you are poor, you shouldn't have children and suck the resources of the government. Liberals see the same--poverty is a suffering you shouldn't have to endure--adding children will make your suffering worse--don't have them. Same coin--two different perspectives--same outcome: contraception and abortion. Rhetorically speaking, using facts and statistics is not a very reliable form of argument but people do love them. I'm going to close by giving them here. Financially speaking, elderly people are a larger drain on the American taxpayer than families on food stamps and WIC. According to statistics from 2003, 23% of our federal budget is spent on Social Security and 12% on Medicare. 35% of your taxes in other words are being used to support the aging in our community. 7% is spent on Medicaid and 6% on other means based entitlement. From a tax perspective, which is what you have seemed to raise here, the elderly in our community cost us far more than the children. I don't hear an outcry of people insisting that we "do something" about them. Babies are not burdens--they are our future. To suggest people in poverty should avoid having them is bordering on heresy. Should we be responsible parents? Absolutely, but to determine one is unqualified and irresponsible based on their financial status is more American than Catholic.

Kradcliffe said...

It sounds like you do agree with DB in that you believe in NFP. NFP is "open to life." If you were advocating the use of ABC when finances were tight, then I would disagree with you.