Children as commodities

I read a post at Project M the other day about why couples desire to have children.  I thought it was really beautifully written and brought up a lot of points that my own husband and I have come to as well.  In summary, Kathleen describes how the desire to share her love with her own children comes naturally from the abundance of love that she shares with her husband (although she says this much more eloquently – so you should go read the article!).

I’ve been trying to put down in words for a couple weeks now why my husband and I want to have children and why its so frustrating to not be able to in the mean time (in case it isn’t obvious!).  The thing is, over the course of coming up on the short end of these desires month after month, I’ve realized that some of the reasons I have are incomplete.  That maybe I should re-evaluate why we’re trying to start a family in hopes that I’ll develop less frustration at our current situation and more peace in why we’re here, as well as develop other possible life routes since, as we all know, fertility is not guaranteed.  For simplicity, we’ve come up with a couple reasons why we desire children that fall into these two basic categories:

  1. We want to pass on our genes. I like my husband enough to think that this world would be a better place if there were more people with his qualities!  And I don’t think I’m too shabby either :)  And OH how I would love love love to see little mini Michael-son’s running around, a perfect little blend of our physical features as well as a literal, tangible reflection of the love we have for one another!  We could enjoy them being all cute and tiny and tolerate the bad times knowing that the overall package was worth it!  We could be kids again as we’re with them growing up, what fun!  It would be an easy career path for me to choose to stay home to raise them and I wouldn’t have to think about what else to do :)  In short, we want children because they’d be incredibly cute (as a result of our genetic mixtures, of course we’d think they were perfect!) and provide us with loads of entertainment as we raise them.
  2. We want children in order to become less selfish. This is actually probably my husband’s number one reason to want children.  And he says this often.  We’re both afraid of becoming more and more selfish as we grow older and only having ourselves to worry about.  With children comes great responsibility, not only with our time and emotions, but also physically and financially.  I really believe that these sacrifices are necessary to help guide you towards greater treasures (the heavenly kind) and help teach you to value human relationships greater than material wealth.  Nothing worthwhile is easy and we all know that raising children isn’t a walk in the walk!  This is ultimately what I feel we as Christians are called to do, to build up the kingdom of God.  With greater incomes and more opportunities to spend money on ourselves, we might be tempted to take more elaborate vacations/buy nicer things than we would if we had many tiny mouths to feed right in front of us.  Would that really be the best use of our resources?  We know that the sacrifices in having children are far outweighed by the benefits we (and the rest of the world) gain from having them.  We would partake directly in building up the kingdom of God by raising little souls to glorify him!  What greater calling is there than that!

Ok, so, while I personally am inclined to think that the second reason for wanting children is a little more noble perhaps than the first, I’m realizing that there are major problems with each reason.  Let’s look at them again.

  1. We want to pass on our genetic material. Ok, if that came across as really cold and incredibly egotistical, that’s probably because at the root of it, it is. There’s no other way to get around it.  As cool as we are, we’re really not that amazing (I know, shocker, right?).  The world will survive without our little genes running around.  There’s really not too much else to say other than I think this is the hardest reason emotionally to tackle.  I think this is a natural desire biologically to pass on your genes, but having children that look like you is not necessary to serve the kingdom of God.  I don’t think there is anything wrong with wanting these things and this is how God designed procreation to happen and these desires are not intrinsically evil!  I guess I do see it becoming wrong if my intense desire for these things causes me to sin, i.e., be envious of those who have this, etc.  (Wanting to have children to enjoy childhood again seems like an OK thing if that’s something that I like/enjoy/am good at, so nothing really wrong there!)
  2. We want children in order to become less selfish. Yes, I still do believe that having children is one path towards becoming less selfish, but just because you have children, it doesn’t follow that you’ll become less selfish.  There are plenty of stories of mom’s and dad’s out there that make you cringe with how selfish the parents are.  The biggest irony in wanting children to become less selfish, as my husband and I have discussed and we both agree, is that its not a good sign when your pursuit of children makes you selfish (since that’s what you’re trying to avoid!).  How awful is that!  I guess I’m saying that parenthood is not the only path to sainthood.  In fact, it seems the majority of saints weren’t parents (probably for a variety of reasons, but maybe one is because its that much harder!).  I should want to spend my money/time on others without being forced to! And to use children as your personal path to sainthood just doesn’t seem right, maybe since that’s an entirely utilitarian approach to something that seems so sacred.

Which brings me to my point. Partially through my involvement with the Ruth Institute and partially from my own experiences, I’m realizing that one of the most detrimental things we can do is treat children as commodities, in the same way that we treat our fertility as a commodity.  Children aren’t ours to create when we want because we just want themChildren are ours to accept – not demand – as gifts from God. It seems that viewing children as commodities is the same mentality that’s responsible for creating that weird possessive, controlling, hovering parent (as opposed to a parent that recognizes that they are merely a shepherd  guiding a soul in this life) and the “must-have-children-or-bust” infertile woman/couple (as opposed to someone struggling but still trying to accept their sub/infertility and/or other routes to parenthood).

We can’t think of children as accomplishing something for us, although they may sometimes and oftentimes do do awesome things for parents (and may play a part in helping them get to heaven), ultimately that’s not their main purpose.  A child’s purpose is to ultimately grow up to glorify God and find salvation through Him for themselves. In the same way that someone can use a boy/girlfriend or drug to fill a vacancy in themselves, we can use children.  I’m starting to really trust that if God requires me to have children to get to heaven, I will have them, biologically or adopted.  If not, I won’t, and I’ll find another way to serve Him.  God wants me in heaven, so, I should be at peace with either way.    I know I’m not there yet, but I hope one day I will be completely at peace with this because right now it still causes me a lot of anxiety.

Which brings me to my next point. I watched this video on CNN.com and words can’t really describe what I’m feeling.  A mixture of being angry, sad, disgusted and disheartened is probably close.  No one is entitled to children as they are a gift. But I do thank that video for helping me sit down and finally articulate why viewing children as commodities is so detrimental.  Such a slippery slope.

I’ve said it before, but I really do intend to post more on same-sex “marriage”.  Maybe I need some encouragement? :)

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12 thoughts on “Children as commodities

  1. AH! It was hard to watch the clip for sure. Yikes! As for being more “adjusted” I’m not surprised because that is the culture we live in and I feel like I am the “radical”

    I also feel so blessed to be in a church that believes the Bible is still relevant and has the information and teaching to back it up well. It can get twisted so easily….

    And I’ll end my rant there

  2. I love this post, and I needed the reminder. Sometimes I feel that it isn’t fair that I don’t have a husband and children. They are a gift. I hope if I ever do get married and have kids that I will appreciate them all the more because of this time of wondering if it will ever happen for me.

    And the video? Talk about kids as a commodity!

  3. Great post, Alison, and thanks for the kind mention.

    I often have to remind myself that while I emphasize the “noble” parts of my desire for a child, there are lots of selfish reasons hidden in there, too. I want children because it would make me feel more fulfilled and help me to define my life. I wouldn’t have to go to work. Stuff like that. That’s ultimately about ME.

    I’m really interested in your second reason because I’ve dealt with some of the very same issues. I too want kids to help me become less selfish, but that’s kind of the easier lesson. You know what I’m saying? It would be easier to learn selflessness from a gorgeous child with my genetic makeup than from a needy non-relative. Maybe God wants me to learn the more demanding way.

    And I’m definitely guilty of demanding children from God, like he owes me. “Look how great we’d be as parents! You give all the single women children; aren’t we more deserving?” That’s something I need to deal with.

    It’s comforting to have someone else going through this journey with me. Thanks for being open about it so I don’t have to feel so alone.

    • you read my mind. i hesitated to say “that’s the easier lesson” but, well, i’m realizing that’s why i’m putting up such resistance mentally. i don’t want the hard path! i also hesitated to say that because i guess i don’t want to belittle the natural-parent path either. there’s the pain of childbirth and pregnancy for one, and i’m sure many others. and if that’s the natural/majority path and how us humans are supposed to procreate, i can’t pretend like there’s a better way. there’s just a different way for me. and we’re not cursed, just really really lucky :) ha!

      • Understand what both you and Kathleen mean by the cuteness factor because my husband and I have actually said aloud as we deal with some infant/toddler crisis “It is a good thing you are cute” ~ but there is a 24/7 aspect to parenting that teaches selflessness in I think a unique way~no excuses when they are crying at 4am you get up even if you have already been up a couple times that night.

        All of this to say that your second is reason is an important and profound one ~you are right, not everyone seeks to become less selfish as parents, but it is one important lesson you can learn if you are open to it.

      • Joy, I’ve heard many parents say the same thing! I think the even more selfless part of parenting comes from what you just mentioned, the fact that you’re the ONLY ones there for that child, so you have great personal investment and responsibility in caring for them (even if you do have extended family).

        So I’m curious if you think this type of selflessness can be learned elsewhere or if its only parenting that can give it? I wonder about if we’ll end up doing missionary work, which I feel would be similar although not quite the same. Its so frustrating to be so open to learning those lessons, but to be unable. I would think that if we desired to become less selfish, we would find a way, whether or not we become parents!

  4. Very interesting.

    Out of curiosity, do you have any thoughts about how we could change the “children as commodity” mindset?

    Also, I couldn’t bring myself to watch the video, but please please do write about same-sex marriage! I always want to but just don’t feel like I’d be able to give a good enough account – I know you would do great!

    • Hmm, this made me think! You definitely never let me say something without trying to figure out a way to fix it! (Thank for that, btw). Would it surprise you if I said that promoting the more widespread use of NFP or fertility awareness would be great first step? Didn’t think so. I really feel like it all goes back to a lack of faith and desire to absolutely control our fertility. There could probably be more things too…

      • Ha, well it’s not that I want to challenge you or anything. It’s just that I assume you have given this so much more thought than me, and you are more knowledgeable than me, so I assume you’ll have some wise solutions up your sleeve! (No joke!)

        I agree that spreading NFP/FA is one of the most important things we can do. I really think a lot of it comes down to a right understanding of our sexuality (including our fertility). How to spread that, too? It goes hand in hand with NFP classes, and yet how to get the masses to even think about taking that seriously? (Just something to think about, not for you to have to answer, unless you have something!) An exciting challenge, I guess!

    • Seeing as I just finished “Authentic Catholic Woman” and it talks about it in the end, I would refer you back to that book. Her basic theory was that we get rid of vices by promoting/living the opposite. Monks and sisters (like the Poor Clares) lived in absolute poverty to promote the fact that all the riches were superfluous. She gives other examples but I returned the book to the library and can’t think of them. As for family and commodities, I think one of the best ways is to be active in promoting marriage and family and sacred unions and groups that God created. Honoring children and not talking in a criticizing way that puts them down around others.

      The commodity thing to me is so tied to feeling like we can get every step in life when and how we want – married to anyone when we want, divorced if it doesn’t work out, children by any means necessary So I agree with Alison’s comment that NFP does have a part because it acknowledges the truth about marriage and family.

  5. My wife is the best mother in the world. One way she became that was to treat each child in a way totally opposed to the idea of kids as commodities.

    Her practice with the birth of each one was to say, “Who are you? I can’t wait to get to know who you are, in yourself, little one.” And she had the discipline to keep asking this as they grew and developed. This attitude helped us remember they are not our possessions, and definitely not put here to fulfill some frustrated ambitions that we may have had for ourselves.

    This does not mean we left them totally on their own. Because while the question “Who are you?” was a sincere one, we already knew a few important things about them. First, they are children of God. As such, we have the duty to bring them up in the faith, to develop a moral sense which and a home environment in which the true answer to “Who are you” could be gradually revealed. Else our culture will give them the answer, and our culture’s answers are all false, sad to say.

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