*Warning: This post delves into a rather controversial subject. The good news is, I’m not asking you to agree with me. Mostly, I’m just sharing our journey and how we got here- and perhaps in the process, giving you some food for thought. I’d love to hear our reader’s thoughts- your opinions, what you agree and disagree with, etc.*
When I was a teen, I had several “make it or break it” issues that would have to line up between me and my future spouse. One of those was in regards to letting God control your family size. Because as far as I was concerned, natural family planning (NFP from here out) was wrong. (My beliefs on the birth control pill remain unchanged….that as an abortifaciant, it is wrong under all circumstances, and above and beyond that, not a good choice simply for what it does to the woman’s body….not to mention her potential to be able to conceive later when she does want to.) So, in the month between being “just” friends and getting engage, I shot out the question. Little did Ben know how important his answer was, but thankfully, he answered the right way! :-)
Now, almost 4 years later, my thoughts on the matter aren’t so black and white. It’s not very clear-cut anymore. There are a few things I still believe, wholeheartedly. I believe children are a blessing…I believe each child is a gift from God, to be rejoiced greatly in. I think big families are awesome- I love being part of one. I believe in accepting the good gifts God has for us.
But there are a few other things I believe, as well. I believe that with great blessings come huge responsibility. I believe that each child has a lot of individual needs which it’s imperative for the parent to meet. I believe that if these needs aren’t met, it could cause far-reaching emotional damage to your children.
I believe small families are a blessing, too. I know lots of small or smaller families who ache to embrace more children. God opens and closes the womb, for reasons we don’t fully understand sometimes. Sometimes, when a couple doesn’t conceive right away, or has large spacings, or “only” has 2 children, it isn’t their “fault”. It’s just the path God chose for them.
In general, I think the idea of letting God plan your family size is a beautiful thing. Choosing to hinder pregnancy is a serious and huge decision, especially because there’s no guarantee you’ll be able to conceive when you feel “ready”. But some of it has gotten ugly and out of hand in the homeschool circles. It’s turned into a holier-than-thou competition. This family’s more holy because their children are all 13 months apart….and WHAT? Your kids are all 3 years apart? What a bad Christian… Maybe that isn’t vocalized very often- but I guarantee it’s been thought. Even though I never went quite that far, I know there was always a natural draw for me to the bigger families, the ones with closer spacings, and so on. Those moms were more heroic. Ones whose kids are 2 years apart? They have it so easy, and they really aren’t exactly doing their job. Too often, in the “take over the world” mindset, judgment gets passed far too quickly on the families that God chose different paths for. Some women just can’t conceive very fast. Some can’t conceive at all. I don’t think we’re more or less holy for something that’s outside our control.
And there’s another form of ugliness….the lives of the children who live in these families. Families who are piously “obeying God” and having as many children as possible. Their kids may be 11 months apart or 15 months or even 2 years. The families are upright and fit all the rules to being a great Christian family. But inside, behind closed doors….their kids are starving for attention. In the race to obey God and have as many kids as possible, older siblings are getting left behind. Their needs are going unmet, possibly even unseen. Permanently scarring your children doesn’t seem very biblical to me. I’ve seen it personally, in a lot of families. I’ve seen kids who are absolutely starved for attention- to the degree that they’re difficult to like, because as soon as you give them 30 seconds, they’re like leeches you can’t get rid of. I’ve seen moms so totally stressed and burned out that they don’t take the time to smile at and play with their children. Every thing in their daily lives is just one more thing that has to get done- there isn’t any pleasure in what they do. And if you want to take their baby for a while- take it and welcome, because the stress is so high that having “one less thing to deal with” sounds great.
Just to clear the air on something, I’m not saying children spaced close together is a bad thing. I’m not saying that guarantees that your children will be attention starved. By many standards, Vivi and our next one will be fairly close (17 months). Each person can handle different levels. There are children 2 years apart who are just as starved. I’m just emphasizing that having kids spaced so closely together, especially if life as it is is already stressful beyond enjoyment, just to be a better Christian….might not be the best idea.
If I was stressed with Vivi, and didn’t honestly think I could meet her needs and the needs of this baby (whatever those may be), I had no business getting pregnant. As it was, that wasn’t the case for us. Life in general is very simple for us right now, and while Vivi is still “high needs”, she isn’t difficult. She just has a lot more needs than the average 11 month old. Nonetheless, she is gaining independence, and I’m confident that by the time the baby arrives, she’ll be enjoying many pursuits, including doing more “helping” (as opposed to being worn while I do stuff). Depending on the needs of this baby, and if/when it starts napping by itself, I’m confident I’ll still be able to give Vivi a lot of individual, one-on-one snuggles and time together. All that might sound a little pompous, which it isn’t intended to….to round off, I know there’ll be challenges. There were with Vivi. There’s sure to be with two individual munchkins. I’ll need God’s grace, I’ll get to the end of my rope, I’ll probably wonder how I’ll ever get it done. It’s just in general that I have reason to believe the transition will be smooth….not that every day is and will be perfect, because I’m Supermom! :-)
To wrap this segment up, I just feel so strongly about meeting your children’s emotional needs. I believe God views emotions as important, and one of our jobs as parents is to provide emotionally for our children- not just physically. Sometimes, children’s needs could be better met just by changing our lifestyles to better accommodate our children and their needs, as opposed to preventing more babies from entering the family. Perhaps some of the stressed-out moms need either some hands-on help from their husbands, or guidance into embracing motherhood and figuring out what is and isn’t important in her daily activities. Maybe families could cut out activities or change activities to focus more on the needs of their children. So, in some situations I’ve seen, I think lifestyle changes could be considered first, because the whole goal of using NFP shouldn’t be for selfishness and to keep living your self-centered lifestyle even as life changes. In fact, a lot of situations where kids are starving and moms are stressed/depressed simple lifestyle changes and sacrifices could go a long ways. I know they have in our ability to meet Vivi’s needs stress-free…it would be so much harder to parent her the ways she needs if Ben or I felt it was imperative to keep up our previous lifestyle or pursue selfish interests.
So, how do all those ideas play out in real life? Mostly, I just don’t have a cut-and-dry opinion on NFP anymore. I can see how some families use it responsibly not out of selfishness, but because they believe it’s in the best interests of their current baby and children. I can see situations where it might be wise to consider using it. And I still think- with the right heart and goals- letting God plan your family size is a beautiful thing. Mostly, I just believe that children are beautiful people- amazing gifts- and need to be treated as such not only in embracing pregnancy, but in meeting their needs throughout their lives.
On a personal level, I don’t see the shift in perspectives changing anything in our lives, at least at this point. I still want a big family, and I still adore babies. After Vivi, at least, my cycles didn’t come back for 6 months…by then, Vivi was much balanced out, and shortly thereafter I was feeling like she was way too big and I desperately needed a baby again. Also, I don’t see myself being able to do NFP, because I know I can’t wave a magic wand and get pregnant whenever I want to….and it would be really hard to not be able to conceive when I want to after months of preventing it. We’ll see what God has for us!