Giving, Taking, and Parenthood

by Kathleen Quiring on June 28, 2010

The other day a reader of mine — who also happens to be someone near and dear to my heart — left an interesting comment on one of my recent posts. In the post, I describe how my husband and I long to have a child to share our love with, since we have more love than we know what to do with. She said she thought this was interesting, because it was sort of contrary to the way she understood love, marriage, and children. In response, she wrote this:

I’ve always thought that the intense happiness and love I feel in my marriage right now is hindering my desire for kids, where I’m afraid that having kids would harm the already awesome relationship I feel we have now.

And I can’t blame her for feeling this way. In fact, I found this comment intriguing because I think it represents a very common attitude in our culture: that children suck the life out of us. They harm marriages. They’re little vampires, consuming the lifeblood right out of us (and our bank accounts), crippling our ability to be good spouses. So you better get your fun in now while you can, because when children come along the Good Life is over.

Interestingly, the same is thought of marriage. Overall, according to conventional wisdom, life goes downhill after you find your true love. Marriage takes it down one notch, and then kids take it down to the very bottom rung. Which is odd, since the alleged apex of life is falling in love. That and sex.

infant burp kiss mother

Romance and sex, then, are the pinnacle of human experience; but marriage and children – the natural consequences of the above – trash everything. That seems to be the dominant (though paradoxical) perspective in North America. And it’s hard not to be influenced by this notion.

The reason I know this attitude is so widespread and influential is because I once believed it. I thought marriage was going to ruin everything that was good in my life, and the birth of children would mark the official end of excitement and fun.

Recently, I heard something interesting from a marriage expert that speaks to this attitude. He said, “I believe marriage is a life-giving institution, not a life-sucking institution.” Marriage doesn’t puncture a hole into your life, draining away its vitality: marriage pumps new energy into life.

I started up Project M for that exact reason: because I discovered, contrary to popular belief and contrary to my prior assumptions, that marriage expanded and nourished and deepened my life rather than stunted it.

And I’m starting to believe that children do the same thing.

I think we are one of the first and only cultures in history to believe that children are a burden rather than a blessing. Think about how God chooses to bless Abraham in the Old Testament to show him that he is pleased with him: he makes the promise, I will make your descendents as numerous as the stars. One of the best things God could promise Abraham was lots and lots of kids and grandkids.

* * *

I’ve been warned that it’s not a good idea to have children with the expectation that they will give you something, like love, purpose, or meaning. These wise and experienced parents have told me that children don’t really give anything. They aren’t very good at making you feel loved or important or competent. Children are takers. When you have children, it’s all about what you can give, and you shouldn’t have kids until you’re sure you have enough to give them. I assume that this is true.

But Jesus teaches us something interesting about giving. He tells us that there is gain in giving. It’s a paradox: the more you give, the more your receive, but not necessarily from the person you give it to. Something mysterious and profound happens when you give without expecting anything in return: you sense a fullness in your soul.

Since I’ve never done anything particularly selfless, I wouldn’t really know; that’s just what Jesus says. But I trust him. So I believe that giving all my energy, love, time and resources away to a child would somehow nourish my life, even if the child never pays me back for what I have given him or her.

That’s why I am convinced that having children would be a life-giving experience, and I hope God will grant me the opportunity to participate in that kind of life some day. If not, I will have to find someone else to give my extra love to. And I encourage other couples who have some extra love to give away to offer it to a child. I think it will only enrich your marriage.

What do you think, especially you parents? Have I totally missed it? Do you find that children do, in fact, give? Do they suck out the life of a marriage?

Photo courtesy of Sean Dreilinger.

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

1 alison June 28, 2010 at 11:45 am

I had a close friend tell me when I got engaged that it was a shame, since they “thought I was going to do something with my life.”
I guess that touches on something slightly different in addition to what you’re addressing here, but it still relates to the idea that marriage is a “notch down”. Once again, you’ve tackled this topic beautifully. I like how you pointed out that the consequences to the things we value most are the things we fear the most. Makes me wonder where our accountability has gone.
I hope some people with kids can respond so I can read their wisdom :)

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2 Ron Perry June 28, 2010 at 12:09 pm

Children can definitely be one of God’s greatest gifts HOWEVER they can suck the life out of marriages. The couple must be intentional about making theirs a God glorifying marriage, one that puts God first and each other second. “Even a good thing can become a bad thing when it becomes a ruling thing” and children can definitely become a ruling thing.

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3 Marie June 28, 2010 at 12:14 pm

In the past couple of months my mind has been changed about the baby issue… I would love to be a mother. And I’m totally tracking with what you’re saying about it seeming like a life giving experience that could only enrich the love that exists in a marriage.

Thank you for always starting such wonderful conversations about these topics. I can’t wait to hear from parents, too!

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4 Newlywed & Unemployed June 28, 2010 at 1:06 pm

I feel similarly to your commentor – and I’m not sure how I feel about even that.

I’ve been given a second chance at marriage and it is beyond my dreams everything I’ve wanted and more. I would be so sad and disappointed if children took this away from us. I suspect we’d be good parents, but I’m afraid to sacrifice the ease and peace we have in our lives. (And by ease I don’t mean leisure lifestyle, I mean we get along very easily.) I know how difficult it is to come by.

Doesn’t that sound so selfish? It probably does. I’d love to have children, I promise.

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5 bryssy June 28, 2010 at 2:23 pm

Having children was better than anything I ever could expect. I really feel so much closer to God – as I think I have experienced a little tidbit of the kind of love He has for us.

As for marriage, kids change your life in a lot of ways. It’s really not about you and your spouse anymore. Our kids are young (5, 2 and one due in September) so we don’t get as much alone time as we once did – it forces us to be more creative. Sometimes we just fall in bed, totally exhausted. I can honestly say that I feel bad for people without children. They are such a joy and blessing that I can’t imagine life without them.

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6 Adventure-Some Matthew June 28, 2010 at 3:57 pm

As a non-parent (but happily married), I am excited about the prospect of our future children. When we’re more ready for it, my wife and I plan on haveing at least two.
From our experiences when we borrow our nieces (ages 4, 6, and 8), it is exhausting, hectic and noisy. It’s hard to find time for one-another. But, we have great memories from the times together and feel very fulfilled spending our time with the kiddos (even though they can drain us at times).

Ultimate, I think that kids are a blessing, but you have to take care to keep them in the proper order: God, spouse, kids.

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7 Joy June 28, 2010 at 6:24 pm

You are absolutely on the right track, the selflessness of parenting causes you to stretch and tap into all your resources, the return on which is love innocently and generously given (you are their whole world for awhile) and as a previous poster already said, a glimpse of how much our Heavenly Father loves us.

Based on my limited experience (2 1/2 yrs) having children adds to a marriage when you approach as a joint adventure and remember to continue courting and loving each other.

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8 Heather June 28, 2010 at 9:47 pm

Children are all of the above…they suck the life out of you (especially when they’re newborns or until they start sleeping at night); they bring so much love into your life; they are awful and wonderful and terrifying and fun all at the same time; they can kill your marriage but at the same time give you a reason to pull yourself out of the ho-hum bland marriage and fight to make it a great marriage! They are not a decision to take lightly, but it’s a decision that you never really know the consequences of until you are in the midst of it. One minute you’re happy you had them, but the next minute may be full of regrets for the “easy” life you could have had without them. But at the end of the day you love them more than your own life.

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9 Lori Lowe June 28, 2010 at 11:32 pm

I agree that children have brought joy beyond measure to our lives and to our marriage. They also challenge me in new ways and teach me to become a better person (just as I believe my spouse did for me). Our culture usually sees the work involved, the inconvenience of children. One cannot measure the laughter, the life purpose, the satisfaction, the wonder, and the blessing that each child brings. They have definitely brought up closer together in many ways.

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10 Scott June 29, 2010 at 2:59 pm

I’ll echo many of the sentiments here. Having children is the hardest job you’ll ever love. Our three kids are older (15-to-23), but reflecting on the early years, there were definitely seasons where having them detracted from us as a couple. But we have been doggedly determined that the best thing for them is for us to have a strong marriage, so we’ve done our best to keep our priorities in line. Nope, we haven’t done it perfectly, but I think if you go into it with that mindset, chances are that your marriage can be stronger for the challenge of raising children. And, yes, the blessing of children grows even more as they get older.

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