Danielle Bean is a brave woman. Every Tuesday she puts an open thread on her blog for commenters to use as they wish. Subjects from potty-training to NFP to attachment parenting to budgets to homeschooling issues to serious marital concerns have been raised over there, and the conversations can get a bit dizzying.
Today, a matter came up which has come up before, and though it looks like the subject is dying down as a topic of conversation, I wanted to use the opportunity to address it. The question has to do with responsible parenthood, and particularly asks is it prudent to continue adding to one's family if one is already accepting government assistance to care for one's existing family?
There is, as you might imagine, a wide divergence of opinion on the subject among Catholic families. Some people believe that the Church's teaching on responsible parenthood means that while one may certainly accept government aid in cases of dire need or in some particular circumstances, relying on such programs as free children's or maternal health insurance, WIC nutrition programs, and the like as part of one's ordinary means of support for one's family is not the action of responsible parents. Others believe that the Church has a "preferential option" in favor of continued procreation and the creation of large Catholic families, and that these families are therefore entitled to the support of the wider community, including the support of taxpayer dollars to aid in the financial support and raising of the children.
The first group of people are likely to point out that government programs aren't really "free." We all must pay higher and higher taxes in order to fill the coffers out of which these programs are funded; and while the government certainly wastes a lot of money on things much less necessary than infant nutrition or health insurance programs, there's no denying that these programs are costly, and that as the costs associated with them continue to rise so will the level of taxation on the rest of us. Instead of being a "safety net" to protect vulnerable children while their parents endure a period of hardship, seeking self-sufficiency as a goal, these programs begin to become an ordinary means of support for more and more people, forcing those families who do believe they are called to be responsible for meeting the immediate needs of their own children to bear the increased costs and be pushed closer and closer to needing this "safety net" themselves, just to make ends meet. Of course, the more people who need the program, the more it will cost--and a vicious cycle of confiscatory taxation and growing reliance on government aid from an ever wider sector of the public will be the result.
But the second group of people will argue that we're already living in a society structured in favor of the two-income, two child family, and that large single-income Catholic families are already so far behind the economic curve that there's no way for them to exist at all if government-funded programs don't make up the family income shortfall. We don't, after all, believe that only the wealthy should have large families, do we? And we certainly don't think that large Catholic families should put their kids in daycare and public schools so both mom and dad can work in a fruitless attempt to make ends meet. So what's wrong with accepting the help that's available? Granted, our ancestors were highly unlikely, even during the Depression, to seek government handouts as a way of life--they had more pride than that. But was it a false pride? And isn't it true that things are much, much harder for a traditional family today than they were even thirty years ago, as the two-income family has risen to ascendancy and made having even four or five children virtually impossible for the average middle-class family on one income?
These are complicated questions. I don't pretend to have all the answers, either. My family has never been in a position where we've needed government aid, but that doesn't mean it could never happen. Like many Americans, we live paycheck to paycheck, and save what we can, but we don't kid ourselves that we'd be able to go for very long if Mr. M. didn't have a job all of a sudden--a fact of life in our so-called 'global' economy.
Like so many questions relating to responsible parenthood, NFP, and Catholic family life, though, I think this is a question that can only be answered by each individual married couple, who may seek recourse from a good spiritual adviser if necessary. The extremes on either end, of a Catholic family on the one hand being determined to have college funds for each child, and of a Catholic family on the other hand living in government housing and accepting all sorts of welfare in order to add to their already-numerous family, tend to be more uncharitable caricatures than actual reality. Most of us fall somewhere in the middle, and whether we're called by prudence to refrain from adding to our families for a time in order to improve basic financial stability, or by prudence to consider accepting aid in some area to meet our families' needs, is going to depend so much on individual circumstance and so little on carved-in-stone ideas about what Catholic families ought or ought not to do that offering general principles for consideration becomes an extremely tricky business.
God alone knows our hearts, and He alone knows the specific way in which He is calling our families to be. Prudence in parenthood does demand that we carefully consider these sorts of things as they pertain to us; but charity toward others demands that we not seek to judge them for decisions they may make which are different from our own.