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:
Iâve always thought that the intense happiness and love I feel in my marriage right now is hindering my desire for kids, where Iâm afraid that having kids would harm the already awesome relationship I feel we have now.
And I canât 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. Theyâre 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.
Romance and sex, then, are the pinnacle of human experience; but marriage and children â the natural consequences of the above â trash everything. That seems to be the dominant (though paradoxical) perspective in North America. And itâs 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, âI believe marriage is a life-giving institution, not a life-sucking institution.â Marriage doesnât 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 Iâm 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.
* * *
Iâve been warned that itâs 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 donât really give anything. They arenât very good at making you feel loved or important or competent. Children are takers. When you have children, itâs all about what you can give, and you shouldnât have kids until youâre 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. Itâs 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 Iâve never done anything particularly selfless, I wouldnât really know; thatâs 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.
Thatâs 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.