Wednesday, August 26, 2009


In response to the prior post about my rapidly emptying nest, a friend sent me a link to this article Michael Coren: Battling the barren concerning the decision to have or not to have children, and its consequences for the would-be parent in terms of life experience.

Coren's article reminded me of something I'd written years ago along similar lines. Here it is in edited form:

"The recent discussion about the West's segregation of generations from each other prompts me to make a similar observation regarding those who are, as they describe themselves, "childfree": a willfully childless person is selfishly segregating parts of himself from the rest of himself, with similarly poisonous results.

A married couple that decides to not have kids is simply opting for a stunted existence both as individuals and as a couple. In my own life as a father to 5 children, I have likened the transformation of myself from husband to husband/father to that of a larva becoming a butterfly. In other words, the transition from single man to husband was not transformational, having that first child was. And the change was too great to have imagined it before the change was made.

I had felt God as a modest presence in my life prior to parenthood, especially when He gave me my wife, whom I am fabulously undeserving of. In fact marrying my wife was such evidence of divine intervention that she and I from the get-go felt that the marriage involved three people: her, me, and God. But while I was grateful to God for this, I wasn't very much changed by it. That image of a threesome left little question, though, that we'd have children as they came. Having our mutual love continue God's creation by bringing children into the world brought about a complete (but imperfect) change in me. I could not have imagined before parenthood what effect it would have, any more than a larva can imagine life as a butterfly, even if there are plenty of butterflies to observe. How could a butterfly explain to a larva why it should metamorphose, when it's perfectly content to be a larva?

So I tend to see the problem of willful childlessness in terms of what people can imagine. Our image of marriage included God as an active participant, and that let us imagine ourselves as agents of His creation. This was enough to proceed to have kids, whose presence in our lives wrought such profound changes in my concept of self. In other words, my image of parenthood before we had actual kids turns out in retrospect to have been very puny, but it was the best I could do. However, it was big enough to get me to the next step, the step that these childless couples refuse to take. Because they don't imagine marriage as something other than a kind of cozy, shared selfishness, they remain larva.

For all the objections to raising children, such as:
I don't like children;
I can't afford children;
I don't want to give up my career/ interests/ freedom/ options;
I don't want to take a chance that the baby'll be deformed;
I don't think I'm cut out to be a parent;
I offer some responses based on my experience of having children:
Raising children will transform you for the better;
Raising children will turn you into a parent;
Raising children will set you free;
Raising children will elevate your worldview;
Raising children makes you more alive.
Raising children makes you more human.

Unfortunately, Western culture pushes a stunted image of life: simply a chance to consume as much as possible for as long as possible. As Viv Savage said in Spinal Tap, "Have a good time...all the time. That's my philosophy..." And if that is your image of life, then it crabs your image of yourself as a spouse, your image of yourself as a parent, and your image of yourself as a chunk of God.

But I'm optimistic (of course I am, I have kids). My wife and I make it clear to our kids why children are such blessings to parents, and I do the same in 6th grade Sunday School. The kids are curious and interested to learn about God, marriage, love, children and life. They want to hear that stuff has its uses, but is not important. They are ready to imagine that life can be much more the modern world says it is.

But first they have to hear it, explicitly.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Last of the Mohicans

Today we took two of our children to college and I'm feeling....nonplussed. We have 5 kids: Jacob (33), Michael (21), Christian (20), Francesca (18), and Alexandra (17). Jacob is married, has a 2-year old son, Jacob Jr., whom we care for a few afternoons a week. Michael is on his own, also lives in town. Last year Christian was at school, and the daughters lived with us. Even though we were down to the two girls, they kept the household lively. Parents will know what I mean: a household with children is uniquely full of life, and one gets accustomed to their vitality and energy....and wants to have it around pretty much all the time!

We have an offbeat family: I have one stepson, Jacob (my wife's prior marriage was annulled); two adopted children, Michael & Sandy; and two birth kids, Christian & France. They all seem the same as far as being our kids. Of course, I knew the two 'birthies' from conception. They're the only ones whose whole lives I witnessed: photos on my wall from ultrasound to graduation. As of today there's a practical end to both of these people residing in my house in any permanent sense; they join their two older brothers.

So these two are effectively out of the nest, and we are living with our youngest child, Alexandra. She and her sister were inseparable, now....? So change comes to Sandy after a lifetime of sharing everything with France, happily together every day.

I'm not sad that my kids are all growing up and leaving the nest; but I do feel, well, less than happy? If I define my adulthood as starting when I got married, then adulthood has been inseparable from childrearing. When Sandy leaves that'll be the end of decades of life as a 'houseparent' (in this case meaning a parent with live-in dependents), which is the only way of being married my wife & I have experienced. She's my best friend, we'll still get on like gangbusters when it's just the two of us. But being a houseparent has been such an integral part of our lives, I do wonder if something else will fill in that space. Now that I'm experienced at parenting, I'm running out of kids to parent. Last year for about a week we flirted with adopting some more kids...decided we were too old (both in our 50s now). Tempus sho' do Fugit. Maybe the houseparent phase is drawing to a natural close, and that pitcher will just be empty, but unexpected, new pitchers will need to be filled. Sounds good anyway. In the meantime, the kids, who have been like oxygen, are running out.

Who doesn't love this from Psalm 128:

Thy wife shall be as a fruitful vine by the sides of thine house: thy children like olive plants round about thy table.

That verse has lived in my house: how many thousand laughing meals did we have at our dining room table, and I'd see my fruitful wife at the other end, between us our children shooting up, and God just bursting like the sun out of everyone? And I'd think over and over: I'm just like the guy in the Psalm. And now: the two of us and our last daughter, soon to be gone. Per Psalm 127, a quiver full of kids is good, and we're down to our last arrow.

Not much to laugh about today. But plenty to be grateful for. And God flows out of the grandson at dinner as surely as He has from our children.

And there's this: having children liberated me (more or less) from being a slave to myself (I'm sure I'm not unique in this, I just don't presume to speak for others). How surprising it was to feel more free because of parental responsibilities. Learning to be other-directed without even having to think about it. Who would I be without the lessons learned through my kids? And for all these years I never had to wonder: what are doing with your life? Why, I'm raising kids! I'm making a big contribution! Once my kids are all autonomous, what answer will I give?

As Pee Wee Herman once said, I don't know!

I'm still nonplussed.