I had the delicious and unexpected treat of going out for a (single) glass of wine (don’t worry, it’s very European) with my best friend a few nights ago, and as she sighed and I sighed and we both laughed deliriously over stupid things that probably weren’t even funny, the stress and pace of the post-holiday fallout of parenting small children hopped up on Peeps and red dye #5 began to fade into the background.
She looked seriously into her glass of chardonnay, frowning as she confided a struggle,
“Our [son’s occupational] therapist is Catholic, and she talks about it sometimes, but she always makes these comments about how crazy my life seems, and how she couldn’t do it. Last week she mentioned that she’d known a sister in law who’d “tried NFP” but that it just didn’t work for them. I feel so much pressure every time she comes to our house, and even though she’s super sweet, it seems like she’s constantly judging our lifestyle and commenting on hard it all is.”
She looked up at me meaningfully; “it is really hard. But I don’t want to show her that we’re those crazy people having all the kids and not able to deal with it. Because we are dealing with it, it’s just hard.”
And she was right.
It is hard. One of the least compelling arguments in the “pro NFP” camp, from my experience, is the wide eyed blissful assurance that marriage “the way God intended” is a beautiful symphony of tandem charting and gentle caresses during times of abstinence during predictably regular cycles.
Oh, how many young (and not so young) couples have come upon the stark reality that sex is complicated, that marriage is difficult, and that children are a lot of work…and felt somehow betrayed by a lack of warning or foresight?
The solution, of course, offered by the culture is to detach the prissy morals and norms from sex, and to make children an optional add-on once there’s plenty of money and plenty of time to go around. And to limit the damage to 2 or 3, tops, because my gosh, they are they a lot of freaking work.
And they are a lot of work.
But I would propose that so is anything worth doing. And while it’s folly to drag a battalion of 4 or 5 kids through the grocery store in search of milk and bananas, it’s fine to announce that you’re training for your latest ultramaraton/sprint triathlon/charity bike race and that it takes up approximately 12-25 hours of free time each week. People will defer to you with utmost respect because of your enviable self discipline and commitment.
These same people will think nothing of lauding a 65 hour work week in a promising career, because that’s the kind of determination it takes to get somewhere, after all.
But if you choose to spend time and energy investing in a family? Forming children?
Utter madness. And what’s more, don’t you know what causes that? (wink, wink)
It’s a matter of where we collectively place our values. Work, status, personal achievement: by all means.
Family, children, self sacrifice: not so much. And better you than me.
That’s part of what makes it tough to have even a single child in this culture tough: they’re commodities at best, liabilities at worst.
And so we who go a bit further than the norm can, and should, I think, expect to raise some eyebrows. And while it’s well and good to make an effort to show a little joy and a little satisfaction in the path we’ve chosen, I think it’s important to be transparent in the suffering, too. Not in the “woe is me, give me state funded childcare and public sympathy or else I perish” way, but in a simple acknowledgement to a stranger or well meaning (or not) healthcare worker that yes, it is an awful lot of work, and yes I am tired, and yes we are stretched to our limits…but we’ve been called to this vocation, and we’re embracing it even in the difficulty.
It’s okay to say that it’s hard. It’s okay to acknowledge that parenting is deeply taxing, and that marriage is an effort of frequently heroic proportions (especially on my husband’s part), and that it is worth it.
I very stupidly communicated this to my sweet friend by nodding sagely into my wine glass and gravely reciting “some people are worth melting for,” because Olaf was right and sometimes self immolation is the ultimate expression of love. Even if that made us both laugh the high pitched, slightly frantic laughter of people who have not slept properly for many months.
But he was right. Some people are worth melting for, and sometimes the effort ends up being the reward in itself, because nothing is so beautiful or so transformative as sacrificial love.