May 24, 2011
Oh THEE question. A seemingly lighthearted, fun question that is asked by young girls to each other everywhere as they sit around at a sleepover and girl-talk. I say seemingly because once you actually get there (to having those kids, that is) all-of-a-sudden it is a much more weighty question. And that is just one big reason why I LOVE natural family planning. NFP doesn’t make this question any less important or even give you the “right” and “easy” answer; it actually drastically changes the question all together. Instead of asking “How many kids do I want?” like you would ask yourself “How many purses do I want?” you learn to integrate the idea of children into a more central part of your life, into your vocation. Children aren’t purses, accessories that you can add to your lifestyle as you choose or as the size of your closet allows. And NFP teaches you that in a very real way.
NFP teaches you to value kids as lives you are bringing into the world. This is the way you grow as a person, as a married couple, mature in your vocation, grow closer to God, and help others grow as well. NFP, when boiled down to the basics, is really a lifestyle that simply means: I will trust God to show me where my vocation will take me.
There is no way to know what you need and no way anyone should or could have to know exactly what is needed to get them--or their husband or children--to where they need to go: ultimately heaven. What we do need is for God to help us figure that out as we go. Marriage changes a person so much. Even someone who has wanted to get married forever, and has felt called to that forever, is changed in ways they can’t imagine or anticipate. The same goes for getting a certain job, entering the priesthood, or any vocational call. And this also applies to having one child, two, or ten. You’ll never know until you are on your deathbed that the number of children you had is the amount you needed. Only God can see that. I wouldn’t want to wait until that day and find out I was wrong because I did not trust in God.
But people and culture today have all kinds of answers and non-answers to this question about the number of kids for them. Here’s a few I’ve run into and took note of lately, in no way a complete list.
I was at the dentist and had one of those really chatty dental hygienists. You know the kind of person who talks right through the appointment and since you have those tools in your widely propped open mouth all you can say is “uh huh” to answer? She started talking about how she had two kids, but then always “felt” the need for one more. Then when she had her third awhile later (after hmming and hawing for a few years) she just “knew” she was done. She said, “You’ll just feel like it is right to be done. That feeling that you just know your done having kids.” …etc. Hmmm, I thought. Is this the same as that feeling when you find your wedding dress? So she (as I’m sure a lot do) relies on a “feeling” for how many lives get to be created through her. Feelings are always so accurate too. ;) Now, don’t get me wrong, feelings sometimes do lead to correct thought, but especially as women, I think we have to balance those feelings with thought and ground them in prayer. NFP gives us that foundation.
I saw an interview with Tina Fey written out in an article online. She was describing how she agonized over the decision on whether to have a second baby. Would it end her career? Would her first child be ok? Is it the right thing to do? Ultimately she decided she would get pregnant and was happy with her decision. But how many people (who don’t get that “feeling” of being done) agonize like this? Is it right that one should carry that responsibility completely on her shoulders? If you don’t trust and follow the lifestyle of NFP it would be hard not to get sucked into an anxiety-ridden black hole of trying to figure out the reasons to have or not have a child. True peace and happiness can only result from letting that go - giving up the control - because at the end of the day, is anyone ever completely in control anyway?
On another TV talk show, an actor who had a couple of children was asked if she would be having more kids. Her answer came quickly and harshly (trying to be funny in a very over-dramatic, overly compensating way), “I’d rather [graphically do something to my uterus] than have another child.” How sad, I thought, as the audience and hosts laughed loudly in a “oh I understand” kind of way. She tries to feel better about her decision for the amount of children by playing it off as “my body seriously couldn’t handle that AT ALL.”
One more example. I recently asked an engaged acquaintance of mine (a non-practicing NFPer) if her and her fiancé had ideas of having children soon after getting married. (Trying to word it as politely and politically correct as possible since I don’t know her well.) Her response was quick. She mentioned something about definitely not wanting kids until at least 30 and then she’d have two. She said she had two in her family growing up and so did her fiancé. End of conversation. No further thought. That’s what she was used to and there’s really no other reasons needed in her mind, I guess. Not only is having kids in a completely separate sphere than getting married for her, it’s also something that she wouldn’t open up to, consider, or question, out of what seems like fear of the unknown.
I think I can be an example of misunderstanding this concept as well. Before I was married (as a person who knew they would do NFP) I would respond to the question “How many kids do you want?” with a very (typical) Catholic answer: I am open and want to have a big family. Maybe 5, 8, 10. I would always throw out a large-ish number. My future husband and I would see families in church with many kids and I would flirtingly and excitedly look over at him and say “we could do seven” or however many they had. Now, that wasn’t a wrong answer per say, but I had no idea how much I would learn after I actually started my vocation to married life and being a mom.
Many people would imagine that now after I know all the work that actually goes into having kids, I would look back on my pre-motherhood self and say, “Wow, she didn’t know what she was saying…I can’t have that many!” But instead I just realize that you can’t put a number down, big or small. Having a family is not a fantasy-world, whether you dream of having lots of kids or none, either way you are trying to control something not meant to be controlled.
Now (only three years and two kids in with hopefully many more of both to learn from to come) when people ask that question about the number of kids, I realize how utterly impossible it is to answer that with a number or even a short answer really. A child cannot be planned. I can’t look into the future and see what any part of my life will look like so why should the amount of children I will have be apparent? Each child comes with a set of so many of life’s variables so each one has to be taken as it comes. Of course I am open to a big family, but in the end I hope and know that God will give me what is right. (Although some days I struggle with having this faith more than others.) I can talk about having lots of kids and prepare for what that would mean, but in the end I’m going to keep living my life each day to keep overcoming my many flaws and being ready for what God asks.
Among many, many things, my first child taught me flexibility. She stretched me to give, give, give, things I never thought about giving. She forced me to learn to live more like Christ did. I couldn’t have learned those things unless I had her exactly when I did. My second child taught me joy. He taught me to live in the moment more, to appreciate and have gratitude. And these kids are only 2 years and 7 months old respectively. I am so thankful for what their lives have already accomplished; simply by being.
Connecting ourselves to God’s will for us is really the goal of life. It’s the “why” of everything. NFP is the tool that makes a marriage into a vocation and lets us communicate with Christ to learn His will. By devoting oneself to prayer and keeping an ongoing conversation between spouses, as well as any spiritual advisors, we can be sure we are doing what we need to be open to the gifts of life.
Helping us answer and rework the question of “How many kids do you want?” is just one reason why NFP leads to holiness and happiness.
- Written by Joanna Milroy