Jim Gaffigan’s answer to the question, “Why so many?” seems to be a good way to kick off a post about responsible parenthood for NFP Awareness Week:
“Well, why not? I guess the reasons against having more children always seem uninspiring and superficial. What exactly am I missing out on? Money? A few more hours of sleep? A more peaceful meal? More hair? These are nothing compared to what I get from these five monsters who rule my life. I believe each of my five children has made me a better man. So I figure I only need another thirty-four kids to be a pretty decent guy.”
I hear you, Jim. Having kids shines a light in all the cobwebby corners of my life. I can’t hide from my faults. I am impatient, lose my temper, and say dumb things. Four pairs of innocent little eyes record my mistakes and replicate them.
“Just go away!” I hear Cee tell Elle, “Can’t I be alone for five minutes?”
Oh, Lordy. There have been some moments of frustration where I’ve said those exact words. Usually it’s from the bathroom, but that’s irrelevant. That impatience has roots in my own behavior.
I must practice kindness.
“Why do you *always* make me pick up the laundry. You should take a turn!” Elle shouts at Cee.
I was crabby about *always* having to clean up the toys the other day. That resentment has roots in my own behavior.
I must practice cheerful service.
It was so much easier to gloss over my long list of flaws before having kids. If I want my kids to be everything I’m not, then I have to model the ideal. The journey has been exhausting and full of failures, but rewarding.
When Moe is frustrated but shows restraint – – my heart sings.
When Cee chooses to turn around a bad mood – – I do a happy dance.
When Elle consoles a sibling – – my guilt about permanently messing up my kids diminishes a tish.
We’re making each other better.
We have four children, and we’ve been asked if we’re going to have more. (That’s the more polite way of saying, “Are you done yet?”) I always answer that we’re open to more, but we’ll just see.
I wish I could come up with something that doesn’t sound so trite. Something that encompasses the prayer, conversations, and tears that go into discernment. The actual answer is more complicated.
A few months ago my sister brought over some baby clothes she didn’t need any more. Bea was already too big for them, so I asked David if there was any point in keeping them. “It’s more likely that we’ll have more kids than that we won’t,” he said casually.
My heart skipped a beat. Tears came to my eyes. The thought of another high-needs family member during that particular season of life was overwhelming.
Honestly, it took me a few days to get over the anxiety that that possibility stirred up. (Now, had we discovered that we were expecting during that time, we would have welcomed that new little person with joy, even though I wasn’t sure how it would work out at the time. But that’s beside the point.)
Health, finances, the issues facing the older children – – everything comes into play during discussions of family size. For better or for worse, it’s not black and white when considering what issues are sufficiently grave or serious in discerning whether or not this is the time to welcome a child.
I’m going to say it, and it might hurt. The default in relationships is to choose love. To choose sacrifice. To choose to die to self. Every vocation in the world falls under this umbrella.
Natural Family Planning is less about “how many kids we want to have” and more about “how we’re being called to love.”
Choosing love does not necessarily mean another child. Sacrifice does not necessarily mean another child. It is not necessarily selfish to postpone pregnancy. Simcha Fisher does an excellent job describing some of these situations in her book, The Sinner’s Guide to Natural Family Planning. There are occasions where prudent abstinence in order to postpone pregnancy is the loving choice.
Serious physical, emotional, or financial issues aside, children are a beautiful fruit of marriage. That means that David is right about welcoming more children. Children are good. They are messy, needy, expensive, irrational – – yes. But they are good.
As a society we need to stop treating children as a good and start treating them as good.
If we’re honest and truly act on well-formed consciences, if we strive to love, we will grow into the best versions of ourselves, regardless of the number of our children.
I’m not sure that I’d agree with Jim Gaffigan about needing 30-some more kids in order to be a decent person. The kids I have now are already doing a good job helping me increase in decent-ness. But I do agree with Mother Teresa’s words on this lovely print from Hatch Prints.
When we’re fumbling around trying to herd the
cats kids into the car, or when getting the kids to bed is a 23 step process, it probably looks like 4 is already too many for us to handle. The truth is, in considering the immeasurable gift each child is, it’s hard to say any number is “too many.”
We won’t know until far into the future whether or not our garden is complete. In the mean time we’ll strive to choose love month by month, day by day, and cultivate the little flowers we’ve already been given.
More stories from the interwebs about NFP:
If NFP works, why does she have ten kids? @ Simcha Fisher
NFP Post Extravaganza @ Carrots for Michaelmas
Women Speak on NFP @ Carrots for Michaelmas
Never Say Never @ Conversion Diary