When Children Are a “Choice”

Something I have been trying to wrap my head around lately is whether or not the mentality of “planning” to have or not to have children is a good thing. I am fairly certain it is not, but then why is the language so acceptable among Catholics? In the non-Catholic world, family planning is associated with using some sort of contraception, but for us Catholics, since we are morally opposed to contraception, there is what we call Natural Family Planning.

We are caught up in the language of planning families. Are children really something we can plan, or should plan? Some couples spend months and years trying to conceive and others spend the same amount of time preventing conception. Some couples have more children than they think they can handle, some never ever want to have a child. But is it ever really, fully a choice that we can make? We can set up the conditions so that we are more likely to help another human being into existence or we can try not to, but ultimately it is working with the natural order. And the Creator of the natural order is God.

I think that the model to turn to for how we should view having children is Mary, Our Lady. I have discussed before that there are moral times for many couples when having another child may not be prudent for them, but when couples feel called to have children, what is the right feeling, right motive to have? Or when there is the unexpected pregnancy, how should the parents respond? When I think about Mary, she probably never expected to have a child, and then all of a sudden an angel comes to her and announces that she is to be the Mother of God. Her response: “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?(Luke 1:34)” And when the angel explains to her how it will be possible, she immediately declares: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word (Luke 1:38).” Mary’s first response was one of wonder and questioning. I think for new parents, there are a lot of questions about parenting, and whether they can really take care of their children well. But God calls us to this, and Mary is the example for us in how to respond to this call. For a women especially, becoming a mother is an act of acceptance, it is a “yes.”

In the Apostolic Letter Mulieris Dignitatem Blessed Pope John Paul II said this about motherhood:

“Motherhood as a human fact and phenomenon, is fully explained on the basis of the truth about the person. Motherhood is linked to the personal structure of the woman and to the personal dimension of the gift: “I have brought a man into being with the help of the Lord” (Gen 4:1). The Creator grants the parents the gift of a child. On the woman’s part, this fact is linked in a special way to “a sincere gift of self”. Mary’s words at the Annunciation – “Let it be to me according to your word” – signify the woman’s readiness for the gift of self and her readiness to accept a new life.” –Mulieris Dignitatem 18

Becoming a mother is a “yes,” an acceptance, and a gift of self. So, what happens when we see children as choices, something we can control? Why is it so easy to fall into a desire to plan families? What is wrong with this attitude?

I was waiting in a hair salon with my four and two year old daughters when I could not help but overhear the conversation between the two other women in the sitting area. One of them had what I guessed to be a five or six year old son getting his hair cut. The two women were discussing having children. The older woman was explaining that her doctor told her she could possibly still have children; the other told her that she would be careful if she were her and explained that she had “gotten her tubes tied” after her third child had been born when she was 31. Since I am in mostly Catholic circles and stay at home with the kids, this is the first time I had heard this stated so publicly in front of strangers. From what I understand, these topics are fairly open among women. (And I should not be entirely surprised since I discuss the details of charting cycles with many of my closer female friends.) But to be so open about never having children again, being against having children, this strikes me as very evil. A child after all, is a human being. A child is to be loved and respected. When a child is a “choice,” what becomes of that child even when the child is “planned” by the parents? There is something very wrong going on in our society when it comes to children. The attitude is very disturbing, and it is not just the attitude about planning when children are born, but also the way children are viewed after they are born.

When my mom was pregnant with my younger brother, she was by herself (probably a relief for her!) in a gas station. A man asked her if it was her first. When she replied that this was her fourth child, he told her that she was disgusting to him. Is this how society responds to children? One or two are okay, and if you have more than that you are some uncontrolled animal? Or when people ask parents of large families if they know about birth control, or tell them that they should use it, do they not realize the precious gift that children are? Do they not know how each human being adds to the perfection of the universe?

And for women, who have so many options in modern society, it is difficult to remember that our fulfillment is in giving ourselves to others. When children are considered a choice, society forgets that they belong to God. The idea of accepting many children from God is incomprehensible.  Parents of large families are considered irresponsible, or ignorant about “where babies come from”. But it is the families who are open to God’s plan, that discover that it is never about our plan when it comes to children. Society does not know it, and does not want to tolerate it, but the only thing we are called to say to God when we are presented with a child is “yes.”