Is there Anything Wrong with Remaining Childless?
Dear Angela and David, there was an article in TIME Magazine a few months ago about how a “childfree” life is so fulfilling. I’m recently married, and I have to confess that I’m scared about having kids. Is there anything wrong with remaining childless if one doesn’t contracept in order to do it?
Angela says: The TIME article is called “The Childfree Life.” Its main point is that kids require lots of sacrifices, and (brace yourself!) some people don’t enjoy sacrificing. Such people have discovered, as one of the interviewees says, that being a mother requires giving everything, and she just doesn’t want to give quite that much.
I’m allowing myself that moment of snark, but I don’t really mean to write a tsk-tsking post about those people who are so selfish. Because, after all, those people who don’t enjoy sacrificing are, well, every human being who has ever lived, with the exception of Jesus and Mary. Those people include me. Ever since the Fall, people have found self-gift distasteful. And hard. And have needed to be dragged into it kicking and screaming. And kids do that for us, really, really well.
We all, in other words, tend not to find self-gift fulfilling. Thus, the TIME article posits that a particular fifty-year-old childless female is “not only fine–she is fulfilled.” And by what measure? A consumerist one: she can spend money and eat gourmet food and travel and do all those things that self-evidently equal “fulfillment.”
All those are terrific things in themselves, and I enjoy them myself when I’ve got the time and money to engage in them. And yet … add them all up, and they still don’t equal “fulfillment.”
Our problem is that the measure of self-fulfillment has become that of consumerism. Not: are we free enough to love? But when we mix things up like this, we are splashing in the shallows of life, when we are in fact called into the deep waters of adventurous love.
Sociology, in what I call the quantification of the blindingly obvious, is only now catching up to the truth that, in fact, self-gift alone makes us truly happy. Studies now prove that selfless and generous people have happier relationships and are better to live with than selfish and stingy people. Wow, who knew?
The article finds it puzzling that “in America, at least, womanhood equals motherhood.” As limiting as such a social script might be, I’d take it any day over the actual dominant paradigm. Womanhood certainly doesn’t equal motherhood in the script of pornography. In porn, women are relentlessly reduced to sexual objects, and motherhood is the ultimate turn-off. In our pornographic culture of death, children are the supreme inconvenience–they do, after all, force men to be more than the sexual consumers of women–and the results aren’t good for women, who have that distressing habit of birthing children.
Women won’t be liberated by “freedom” from children, for two reasons: children aren’t the problem, and self-centeredness isn’t freeing. The only liberator is Jesus Christ, who frees us from our prisons of selfishness through the love that He is. When our horizons are contracted to the limits of pleasure-seeking and comfort, He opens us up to the wide expanse of the Father’s plan of loving goodness.
David says: Here’s the irony. The world thinks it’s cornered the market on sexual pleasure. But as Aquinas and Augustine both make a point of saying, sexual pleasure would have been far more intense before the Fall than it is now. Why? Because the sexiest thing of all is losing yourself in the intimate interiority of reality. And to get inside reality, we have to use our intellects: pay attention, ask questions, be ready to wonder. Intellect gives rise to the most intense delight.
Sex involves much of animal need, especially in the male. That is perfectly good, for we are animals after all. But we are spiritual animals, and our sexual desire and need should be completely inflected by our eros for reality. What do you really want in sex? You want the other person. But that is a spiritual or intellectual desire. You want to get inside the other person, or be filled by the other person, but unless sex is the expression of a spiritual communion that already exists, it cannot serve such intimate penetration and reception. Outside the realm of spirit, the realm of knowing and loving, it is still surfaces upon surfaces. Knowing and loving are what make sex sexy.
It’s quite understandable for you to be afraid about your fertility: Angela and I were too. But let your love for your spouse draw you out of that culturally conditioned fear. Growing marital love awakens us to the thrill of reality, kickstarts the eagerness to fall headlong with our beloved into a future beyond our control. As long as you stick to natural family planning, you will find, as we found, that reservations about having children begin to lose their force. You start being less strict about the fertility window, and what God designed all along will win out in the end.
Marriage is a decisive step out of consumerist contraction. Of course, a man and a woman are married only when they are open to being instruments through whom God the Father can work His loving will to bring more children into existence.
For that, in the end, is what all that sexual desire in us is for. Why is it so strong? Because the Father just loves babies, billions and billions and billions of them. It’s that yearning for more persons, for more knowing and loving, for more wonder in the world that is the truth of the human sex drive. What an awesome Father we have!
Art: Die glückliche Familie, signiert, bezeichnet C. Schweninger Wien, Ã–l auf Leinwand, PD-US, Wikimedia Commons.
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