Monday, June 28, 2010

Love casts out fear

On Friday I linked to this article, which is yet another hallmark of our slow slide into cultural suicide:

Nearly one in five American women in her early 40s is childless, according to a report that shows a striking increase in women who don't have biological children.

The trend was much less common in the 1970s, when one in 10 women did not have children by 40 to 44, the age bracket researchers use to designate the end of childbearing years.

The report, released Friday by the Pew Research Center, cites social and cultural shifts behind the change, including less pressure to have children, better contraceptive measures and expanded job opportunities for women.

"I certainly think it's notable that there is such a large increase in the share of women who do not have children for whatever reasons," said D'Vera Cohn, a coauthor of the study. She said that some women were childless by choice; others wanted children but could not have them. A "very, very small number" would go on to have children, she said.

"The fact that nearly one of five women does not have a child of her own -- that's an enormous transformation from the past," Cohn said.

Granted, not all of the childless women are childless by choice; but that phenomenon is growing as well, along with the strangest (to me) iteration of this unusual lifestyle: the married couple who choose never to procreate.

As a Catholic, I don't really understand the lifestyle choices of the "poor silly girls" who simply shack up with men on a serial basis, needing no more committment than a door key--but it is rather easy to understand why women in these irregular situations would choose to render themselves chemically sterile or have themselves (or their partners) surgically spayed or neutered, so to speak. Bringing children into a tenuous relationship with a built-in "expiration date" would be beyond foolish. But it is much harder to understand why a married couple who is both physically capable of having children and not yet too elderly to do so would choose childlessness.

The Catholic mindset views children as blessings from God, desirable for their own sake and because they are at all times the living symbols of their parents' love. So deep is the connection between marriage and childbearing that I have seen several Catholic priests say or write that for a Catholic couple to attempt to marry in spite of a publicly expressed intention never to have children at all invalidates the marriage; that is, upon examination if the publicly expressed intention is revealed their marriage will be held to be invalid. Now, what constitutes a publicly expressed intention, etc. will vary, so it would be imprudent for casual observers to pronounce on the validity of a marriage; but in general, a Catholic couple may not enter a valid Catholic marriage having expressed a desire to remain childless by choice.

But what about those who are not Catholic or not particularly religious, who want marriage (e.g., they aren't satisfied with merely shacking up), yet who insist they don't want children? Are they merely selfish, or are there other factors at work?

I spent some time this afternoon reading what childless couples and those who have studied them have to say about their reasons to avoid having children. Though there are many reasons, I noticed that one word cropped up again and again: fear. Take the following, for instance:

--fear that having children would mean giving up some of their privacy as a couple;

--fear that children will take up too much of their time;

--fear that children will cost them too much of their money;

--fear that their careers would suffer from the demands that children and child-rearing would put upon them;

--fear of change;

--fear that things like freedom, social lives, the ability to travel or be spontaneous, etc. would disappear;

--fear of certain specific aspects of child-rearing (diaper-changing gets mentioned a lot, as if childless couples think there is something so disgusting and horrific about changing an infant's diaper that they would much rather not reproduce than ever have to experience this act);

--and, saddest and most telling of all, the fear that having a child would so negatively impact their relationship with their husband or wife that the marriage would fall apart.

In fact, as regards that last one, childless couples are statistically more likely than couples with children to divorce. But the perception that bringing a child into one's marriage would end the marriage is just so terribly sad to me. It is my experience, and the experience of most people I know, that having a child just adds to the love and joy of the family; it doesn't subtract in any way from the love between husband and wife, but bonds them in a way that is hard to describe to a person who has never experienced the joy of seeing a new little soul gazing up at both mother and father with wise wonderful belonging in her infant expression.

I don't think it's an overstatement at all to say this: men and women learn the fullest extent of their ability to love when they welcome into their home the child who is the fruit of their love. I think it says something about the disease rampant in our selfish culture that so many people are too afraid of this kind of sacrificial love to wish to experience it.


Anonymous said...

You missed this one: Fear that you'll hate childrearing so much that the next 20 years of your life will be a misery. And then come the grandkids (*shudder*)

Siarlys Jenkins said...

There are a lot of money issues. That all goes to the sense I get from reading the Economist, which is a truly liberal rag in the old school sense. Its a good source of in depth coverage of many things I might otherwise miss, but, I keep protesting "The market was made for man, not man for the market."

My mother does treasure the day my sister told her "I had no idea how much work raising a child was." I don't think I'll have children. I didn't marry, and if I do, I will be too old to raise one from A to Z, but I love helping with everyone else's babies. I remember an article by a woman whose friends and co-workers warned her "If you have a baby it will change your life." Well, she thought, yes, that's why I'm having one."

Anonymous said...

I simply do not understand why you (and others) cannot get it through your heads that people are DIFFERENT. Some people want children, others do not. If those who do not want children are selfish, LET THEM BE SELFISH.

I also do not look on what you term as "fear" as being truly, well, "fear." Many times a couple is happy with the status quo and doesn't want the changes - the lack of freedom, the expense, the sleepless nights - that children bring. So the fear has more to do with a dislike of change than anything else. And that's fine by me.

If a couple married in the RC Church is using artificial contraception, thus invalidating the marriage in the eyes of the Church, how would you propose that naughty fact be proven? The Procreation Police? Do you think the Church has the right, theoretically speaking, to have access to medical records to prove whether or not the couple has invalidated its marriage?

My sister and her husband were married in a Catholic ceremony 30+ years ago, had two sons, and used artificial contraception. They are happily married. Good luck telling them that they have an invalid marriage.

The three couples (2 Catholic in origin, 1 Protestant) whom I know who have chosen not to have children have all been happily married over 20 years. Some couples are united in wanting children, others are united in not wanting children. I do not see a difference. What matters is that a couple is united in their beliefs and goals.

John Thayer Jensen said...

My sister and her husband were married in a Catholic ceremony 30+ years ago, had two sons, and used artificial contraception. They are happily married. Good luck telling them that they have an invalid marriage.

There is no question of anyone proving anything, or policing anyone. It is only a question of reality. Marrying with the intention of not having children means you are not actually married. It isn't the Church that makes it so. It is reality. It is like saying that you think the law of gravity is someone's idea. Jump off a tall building without believing in the law of gravity and you will still hit the ground with the same force.

The same goes for artificial contraception. It places a serious barrier on your marriage (it does not, in itself, make your marriage invalid) - and if you know it is wrong and why, it may put you in serious danger of damnation. The Church doesn't make this so, nor does the Church express an opinion that it thinks it is so. The Church tells you this because the Church loves you and doesn't want you living in a relation that is not, in fact, marriage (which fact also puts you in danger of damnation). And the Church doesn't want you to risk your soul for the sake of the pleasures of not having children but still having a sexual relation.


Sebastyne said...

I commented here, but it turned out to be quite long. I posted the response to my own blog:

Barbara C. said...

I have a dear friend. He and his wife are Catholic. In all of the time I have known, he has faithfully gone to Mass every week, observed days of fast and abstinence, led retreats, and acted on various parish councils. However, he has not followed the Church's teachings on chastity and abstinence and has declared repeatedly (even in the days leading up to his wedding) that he has no intention of ever having children.

Somehow he got it stuck in his mind that children are nothing but a burden, and they would interfere with his vacations that he takes four or five times a year. It is always so sad to me.

Now he is in the process of discerning for the deaconite. And I keep praying that maybe this is God's tool for opening his heart to children. (I don't really know his wife's heart on this matter, but I assume he would not have married her if she had not agreed to forgo having children.)

I did ask my priest if I should say something specific, but my priest was concerned that perhaps his talk really hid a fertility or other problem. Instead, my priest told me just to model through my own family the best that I can.

Christian couples who refuse to have children are missing an awesome opportunity to really understand and experience God's love on another level and refine themselves into the people that God wants them to become.

Deirdre Mundy said...

1. I cannot say it enough--it makes no sense to wait until you're "ready" for kids. You will NEVER be ready. Having a child means inviting another person, who you've never even MET, to share your lives. You can't prepare-- He's going to be his own person from day one. It IS terrifying, but it's a GOOD terrifying. It's the terrified you get before you mount the high dive at the olympics, not slasher/zombie movie terrified.

2. If you're Catholic, during your wedding ceremony the priest ASKS YOU if you will accept children as a gift from God. You have to say "We will" or you can't get married. If you make a vow with the intention to break it, your marriage is invalid.

3. I've known infertile (or mostly infertile couples) who respond to inquiries about their family size with "We're not planning on any more babies." To our "every child a planned child" It sounds like rejecting life. Frequently, it really means "It would take a miracle on the order of Zechariah and Elizabeth for us to get pregnant right now, so we're attempting to live the life God has given us, not the one we WISH he had given us..."

Lots of good Cathollics hide their infertility with talk of "we don't feel like having more right now." Well, if YOU'D had a hysterectomy and weren't ready to adopt, you might not 'feel' like having more either!

Red Cardigan said...

Just a clarification for anyone who is confused: no, using artificial contraception does not, by itself, invalidate a Catholic marriage. What (potentially) invalidates a Catholic marriage is a couple seeking marriage in the Church and lying when the Church asks them if they intend to have children and raise them in the faith; they are lying if they say "yes," when they have already made it known to each other and possible to other parties that they do not now nor ever intend to have children.

The use of artificial birth control is still a grave sin, of course, for Catholic couples. If they use it knowing that it is gravely sinful and freely consenting to its use, they may be in a state of mortal sin and, if so, can't receive Communion without incurring further sin.

Anonymous said...

I only know a couple of married couples who said they didn't want kids, but their reasons were related to a fear of not being good parents. A fear that they just couldn't do it. That's one to add to the list of fears--and it's largely a consequence of our culture where so many kids weren't parented well themselves.

I also just have to say from my own experience that having children makes it much harder to be married. It places much greater strains on your relationship. Yes, it's also beautiful to hold that child and know that it is your love as a married couple that has brought you all together. But being parents to young children is very difficult. My husband and I sometimes go days hardly talking to each other. It's not an easy phase of life.

--Elizabeth B.

Anonymous said...

"What (potentially) invalidates a Catholic marriage is a couple seeking marriage in the Church and lying when the Church asks them if they intend to have children and raise them in the faith; they are lying if they say "yes," when they have already made it known to each other and possible to other parties that they do not now nor ever intend to have children."

Not exactly. What we promise at the altar is that we will accept children as God sees fit to send us. If one is using NFP (sanctioned by the Church) and not having relations during the fertile period, then it's likely God won't send you children. One is not promising at the altar to have children. One is saying that he/she will accept the children, if any, that God sends and raise them as Catholics. Not desiring children does not invalidate one's marriage.

Red Cardigan said...

Elizabeth, I think that it's harder now than it used to be, because we lack the social supports we used to have, especially when our children are young.

From my perspective now, that phase passes so quickly! But at the time when people told me that, I didn't really believe it. :)

I think what the deliberately childless don't realize is that lots of things can put that kind of pressure on a marriage. In this economy, there are childless two-income couples who hardly ever see or talk to each other!

So, while the phase when children are young is difficult, so are many other times in a relationship. The truth is that marriage takes work and effort, and people who believe avoiding children will change this are not really right.

Hang in there--I remember when our girls were 2.5, 1.5, and newborn! :)

Red Cardigan said...

Anonymous at 3:01, it is my understanding that any Catholic couple who marries with the prior intention never to have children, regardless of whether they are contracepting, using NFP, etc., is not validly married--that is, that a valid Catholic marriage cannot be formed between people who deliberately intend never to have children at all.

Now, I suppose a moral theologian might say that in some extreme circumstances, such as a grave threat to the woman's life should pregnancy occur, a couple might form the intention to use NFP from the beginning of the marriage to the point at which the threat to the mother's life no longer existed--e.g., if by some medical advance or some actual miracle the woman was eventually able to have a child without dying. But such cases would have to be rare in the extreme, and in any case the couple could not say, "We wish a Catholic marriage but do not desire children," but only, "We wish a Catholic marriage and do desire children, if and when the physical threat to the wife's health no longer exists."

In any event, such grave threats to a woman's health are not generally known prior to marriage and childbirth. I know of Catholic couples where the birth of one child nearly cost the mother's life, and who with great sorrow accepted the need to use NFP strictly through the duration of the marriage; but I don't think I've ever encountered a couple where such an extreme health situation that did not already involve prior infertility existed.

c matt said...

Most of the things you list as fears just seem to be lifestyle choices. What I don't really understand is why bother getting married in the first place if you don't want children? Just agree to shacking up till a-better-offer-comes-along do us part and get on with it. Far less messier than marrying and having to get a divorce, and no real need to marry since there are no kids to worry about supporting anyway.

c matt said...

Artificial contraception is sinful for any couple, not just Catholic ones. Theoretically, a Catholic couple may be in greater danger of being culpable because of the assumption they should know better.

JMB said...

I know a few couples who are childless by choice and in each one, there was either alcoholism or sexual abuse in the past of one of the couple. I think sometimes the fear is a result of bad stuff that happened in the family.

Beth said...

I think we have to be very careful when we see chidless couples in the church-- We do not know what is going on in their hearts and minds and what they have been thru and what their fertility issues are or are not.

I know many child-less couples in the church and they deeply reflect the Lord. I have never felt the need to give them the 3rd degree--it is not my job but I am sure they have to deal with plenty of comments and inquiries.

Diamantina da Brescia said...

I am 43, never married, no kids. I have never shacked up, either: I am discerning a possible vocation to consecrated virginity in the world.

When I was 19, I was hospitalized for suicidal depression. After I got out, I decided that it would be wrong for me to have children: there is a history of mental illness on my mother's side of the family and alcoholism on my father's side of the family. My childhood had not been the happiest. I thought that there was at least a 50-50 chance I would kill myself before I was 50, and I thought it selfish and immoral to bring children into a world when one suspected that one would deliberately orphan them. Not only that, I would be inflicting bad genes on them: I believed fervently that every child who is conceived should be as perfect as possible.

As time went on, I realized that good, devout men who were willing to wait to have sex until marriage and did not want to use artificial birth control wanted children. (This realization took some time: my parents are not practicing Catholics, and my religious education in childhood was mediocre at best.) By my mid-30s, I realized that I was not called to marriage. Then, after 20 years of attempts, I got the right combination of medications to treat my severe depression, so I no longer feel that I will end up committing suicide.

So as a childless Catholic woman in the 40-44 age bracket, I admit there has been some fear in my refusal to marry and have children. But I believe that God did not call me to marriage in the first place. The only question now is whether I can serve Him best as a consecrated virgin or as a single woman. Externally the lifestyles would be similiar: as a consecrated virgin, I would still be allowed to remain a Lay Carmelite, member of the Legion of Mary, lector, Communion minister, catechist, etc. And if I cannot become a consecrated virgin (perhaps because I am on disability and consecrated virgins have to be self-supporting), I can take private vows, God willing.

Red Cardigan said...

Diamantina, God bless you! I think you show an example of wise discernment, and are an inspiration.

Not everyone is called to marry; the single life, whether consecrated or not, is also a vocation. Perhaps one of the problems creating the "childless married" situation is that people think that marriage is a kind of "default setting," when, in fact, the Church has always recognized the call to parenthood as an integral part of the call to marriage--such that those not called to one are not always called to the other.

And I have heard from those living the single vocation that the Church needs to do a better job of reaching out to them, something I think is true.

Anonymous said...

People who get married without wanting children do so because they want to make a formal, lifetime commitment to each other. The marriage license and contract are between the husband and wife, not the husband, wife, and wee players to be conceived later.

If you really believe that the purpose of marriage is having children (re: "why not just shack up?"), what does that tell me about how infertile marriages should be handled? Oh, please spare me that the infertile marriages are still "ordered" towards procreation. In some marriages the bottom line is that there will be NO procreation due to age, hysterectomy, or other factors leading to infertility. Really, if these marriages aren't going to produce children, why should the couples remain together? Could it be that, even without children, the couple might, maybe, perhaps LOVE each other and want to take care of each other the rest of their lives (what a concept!), even though there won't be children?

For those of you reading this whose reproductive abilities have NOT suffered from infertility, I have a question: Have you purposely tried to limit the size of your family with artificial contraception or NFP? If so, why? Was it because of the additional financial expense (burden) of having more children? The additional demands placed on your time (burden) by additional children? As much as anyone might believe that children are blessings, there is no denying that they are burdens on your resources. For some couples, the blessings outweigh the burdens. For others, the blessings do not. I stand behind each couple choosing what they agree to be the better choice for their union.

And for those who believe that childlessness = selfishness, that children are always blessings, that all life has value, that marriage entails sacrificial love, and so on, I'd suggest you lead by example: Add to your family, and do so by adopting a special needs child (they're blessings, too, right?), maybe a couple, to put your money where your mouth is.

Barbara C. said...

Choosing childlessness usually does equal selfishness. It reveals a priority on material things rather than heavenly ones...a big fancy house, multiple expensive cars, costly collections, etc. Becoming a parent is about giving rather than taking.

There's a difference, though, between being open to life and cranking out as many kids as possible to prove something. In addition to being open to life, as Catholics we are also called towards discernment before planning more children.

I just delivered our fourth child, and my husband and I have agreed that we will not be planning to have any more. Four is all that we feel that we can manage physically and financially for the good of the entire family. We will be using NFP to avoid pregnancy.

Of course, we could always change our minds if our circumstances change. And if God sent us another surprise, like dd#3, we would not hesitate to accept it.

Yes, children require money, time, and resources to raise. But it really reminds me of false complaints about big families being a burden on the environment. Usually, childless couples with both partners working spend the same or more money and resources to take care of two people as a family of six with only one working adult spends.

Anonymous said...

You said: "Choosing childlessness usually does equal selfishness."

Having children also usually equals selfishness. People usually have children because they want them, not because they don't. They feel that having children will be fulfilling and interesting, and will make them happy. Those same feelings are felt by the intentionally childless about not having children. So why is one selfish and one not? Merely because people like you and Red Cardigan would think so?

Childrearing is not for everyone. Please take the time to try to understand why people who are childless might choose this, and be more charitable toward those who choose to live their lives differently than you do.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the encouragement, Red. My dad says that he thinks it's having children that really teaches us to love, because (especially at first) children need so much and can't give us very much back. I think he's right.

What I don't understand about those who choose not to have kids is this. I'll try to explain it clearly, though at this hour, I really should probably be asleep. All of us were kids once. We remember how we felt and thought as kids. What we enjoyed and loved, what we feared and hated. But, basically, we find our own existence to be a positive thing. So, why would we not want to give existence to our own children? If life is worth living at all, why not pass it on to the next generation? I don't get it.

As for having kids out of selfish motivations, well... I can believe that someone could conceive a child that way, but pregnancy, childbirth, and caring for an infant will quickly force that person to become (at least) much less selfish than they were. There is just too much hard core discomfort, suffering, and sacrifice required just to keep a baby alive. It changes you. It is fulfilling to have children, but it is very, very hard-won. The longer I am a parent, the more I realize that it's not about me or my needs (maybe especially my need to feel fulfilled or happy).

--Elizabeth B.

Diamantina da Brescia said...

Elizabeth B. --

I did not always perceive my existence as a positive thing. I thought that inflicting a life sentence upon a child who could not choose whether to be conceived or born and could not choose his or her parents or genes, was a mixed blessing even in the best of cases. I believed that my situation was far from the best, and that I was too self-absorbed and too sick to be a good mother -- even if I found a man whom I wanted and who wanted to marry me. (The men who interested me were not interested in me, and I did not care for the men who were interested in me.)

Now that I am feeling somewhat better, it is becoming too late for me to have children naturally, since my periods are becoming more erratic. As a Catholic, I would not use in-vitro fertilization or other such methods. But I do not have regrets, since I do not feel called to marriage and childrearing anyway. I enjoy teaching religion to sixth-graders (11- and 12-year-olds) and think I would make a good aunt or godmother. But motherhood has not been an option for me for almost 25 years. Other people will pass their existence to future generations: God willing, I will leave behind some novels and a good example of living a Christian life with mental illness. I hope that helps to explain to you why everybody does not automatically want to have children.

Anonymous said...

Diamantina, I'm sorry if it seemed like my comment was addressing your earlier comment. I didn't intend it that way! I completely understand why you didn't want to have children. I didn't make this clear in my comment, but I was thinking more about stable, happily married couples who choose not to have children. If you are single, or not called to marriage, or struggling with severe mental illness, I completely understand that. I certainly didn't make that clear in my comment, though! I probably should have gone to bed instead of writing it! My only options when I want to comment on blogs are to do it during the day when my kids are distracting me, or to do it once they are in bed and I am very sleepy. Not the ideal situation for thorough, well-thought out writing.

--Elizabeth B.

Anonymous said...

Don't forget about the many faithful Catholic women in the age bracket you mentioned who are unmarried and childless, not by choice, but because they never found a man who was close enough to being on the same page as them to enter into Catholic marriage with.

I am one of them. I would have loved to be married and had a family. Instead, I got a PhD because I had nothing better to do. I am grateful for my education and the broad horizons it has opened, but I might have preferred a smaller horizon with a loving Catholic husband. Unfortunately, the men I met were mixed up in various ways, and the competition for the good ones was fairly fierce. And of course there is competition from the Church as well.

Anonymous said...

While I am a fairly orthodox Catholic and generally agree with the pro-life sentiments expressed here, I want to make it known that the desire to not have children or to stop having children is definitely not always predicated on selfishness.

To say that is to not know or understand the full human condition. To say that is to act as if you have the all-knowing mind of God and I think people who claim it are being a tad too self-righteous when they do so.

For myself, I will not have any more children (by choice) due to mental health issues. I am not selfish in this decision; I am being realistic and taking care of myself and my spouse and the children I already have.

Anonymous said...

I am undecided about children. Not because I don't want them, I do. These are the things that are said to me constantly from people with children : make sure you live life, because you will lose it. It's so tough, you couldn't possibly understand, I never get to go out, I have always got them hanging off me, our marriage is awful now, we never see each other, childbirth was awful, you will never cope, I wish I had your life, we can't afford to pay bills, wish I was you, you have the easy life, your life will be over, you will be just like your mother who couldn't cope, you wont have that figure after children.The list goes on, every time I think I am ready I get a barrage of all these negative comments from couples with children. Those without children I have never heard them say a thing about something they respectfully clearly can't comment on for lack of experience. Maybe the child couples should stop being so lazy as to vent to all that will listen about a choice that they made.