The marriage act… ‘at the same time ‘unites husband and wife in the closest intimacy’ and together makes them capable of generating new life.’ Both the one and the other happen ‘through the fundamental structure.’ Since this is so, then it follows that the human person (with the necessity proper to reason, logical necessity) must read at the same time the ‘twofold significance of the marriage act’ and also the ‘inseparable connection between the unitive significance and the procreative significance of the marriage act. Here we are dealing with nothing other than reading the language of the body in truth. (Saint Pope John Paul II, TOB July 11, 1984).
When a couple gets married in the Catholic Church, they stand at the altar on the day of their wedding and vow to love each other totally, freely, faithfully and….fruitfully? Why is procreation included in the wedding itself? Isn’t the wedding day supposed to be about the couple and their marriage, not about children? Why is the Catholic Church obsessed about married couples having children?
Both the unitive and procreative aspects of marriage are valued enough by the Church that they are included in the marriage rite itself:
(Name) and (Name), have you come freely and without reservation to give yourselves to each other in marriage?
Will you honor each other as man and wife for the rest of your life?
Will you accept children lovingly from God, and bring them up according to the law of Christ and His Church?
The Catholic Church teaches in the Catechism that marriage by its very nature is “ordered toward the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring; this covenant between baptized persons has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament” (CCC 1601).
That being said, there are definitely reasons that a couple should avoid pregnancy in their marriage. There are many valid reasons to not have littles, and each one of those reasons is meant to be prayerfully discerned between the spouses and God. And there are also valid reasons such as infertility, finances, and health struggles. But there are some red flags thrown of the field when you’re entering into a marriage commitment and deliberately saying “No kids. Never ever.”
In my own marriage, if my husband and I did not sacrifice for each other on a daily basis, our marriage would be suffering. If either of us spent our time just thinking about my priorities and my needs, then the marriage would start to go downhill. The beauty of marriage is found in the cross – and so is the beauty of parenting.
For some millennials, littles are not anywhere on their radar. In a 2016 article , Rooster interviewed millennials and asked them their reasons for not having children. In the article, children were referred to as “thankless spawn,” “larval stages of a human money suck,” and “baby blobs.” Although some of the concerns given for avoiding children were understandable and grounded in facts, the reactions that millennials had to the facts were problematic, to say the least.
With a little digging, each one can be addressed from the Catholic point of view. Their answers also reveal that we live in a culture that doesn’t value the redemptive nature of sacrifice and suffering, so the concerns of these millennials make sense.
1. The world kinda sucks right now.
“Have you watched the news lately? That’s exactly why I don’t want kids.” – Taylor, 23
There is truth in Taylor’s statement, and it is grounded in fact. After all, the world is a crazy place. Political turmoil, international conflict, and natural disasters seem to be around every corner, lurking to jump out on us when least expected. But when has this world been a calm and pristine place to bring a child into? We are part of an incredibly messy humanity and thanks to concupiscence and original sin, it’s not going to look too pretty until the end of time thanks to Adam and Eve.
Between the 16th to 19th centuries, the Atlantic Slave Trade trafficked between 9 and 11 million Africans. From 1940-1945, 1 million people were killed in the Auschwitz death camp alone. In 1999, 12 students and 1 teacher were slaughtered at Columbine. Human beings are not the greatest at being cool, calm and collected.
People are messy, but what a beautiful ability we have through parenting to bring about positive, creative change. Are people rude and out for their own good? What an incredible opportunity to strive raise a child who is gentle, humble and selfless. Amazingly, through childbearing, a couple has the potential to become the change in society.
2. We’re as poor as hell.
“When a kid leaves your body, it costs a pretty $20-30K. I’ve got $52K in student loans to look forward to. That’s negative money I have to feed and clothe and educate a kid. Not trying to bring up a dirt baby.” – Seth, 25
Children are expensive. Prenatal checkups, hospital bills, medication, diapers, school supplies, daycare, tuition, and they do eat a lot (especially those high school boys).
If we wait until we’re ‘rich’ to have children, we’ll never have children. There will always be something more we think we need to ‘fulfill us’. A bigger house, a better car, a nicer credit card statement at the end of the month. But if we keep waiting for the perfect budget to have a child, we can excuse away children ’til the cows come home. Because life happens – it’ll never be perfect. In the end, we’ll find that those material things we had to have before we start a family (money, house, car, etc.) didn’t fill our hearts, either.
Children are priceless. You cannot put a price tag on snuggling with your newborn, or pillow fights with your three year old. You cannot say it wasn’t worth the money when your five year old asks you to hang a painting on the refrigerator, or your high schooler starts looking at colleges and thinking about their own future.
3. The failing environment and overpopulation make life miserable for the people that already exist.
“I have to say my commitment to the environment is greater than my commitment to humanity. Without an environment, there can be no humanity. So, I’m keeping my p**** shut.” – Heather, 24
A recent report from the United States Geological Survey (USGS) discovered that the hormones from women on birth-control, flushed into the water system and our drinking water, are impacting the fertility of fish – up to three generations after the initial exposure. In the study, the fertility of the fish was reduced by 30% and their offspring had a lower chance of survival. This is not to mention that humans are consuming these hormones through drinking water unknowingly.
This study is one of many that proves that human’s contraceptive chemicals are causing damage to wildlife, the environment, and the reproductive systems of animals.
In terms of the supposed overpopulation the world is experiencing, if we wanted to squeeze super close to each other, the entire population of the world could have a 10 meter by 10 meter room in the state of Texas.
“In a world often marked by egoism, a large family is a school of solidarity and of mission that’s of benefit to the entire society,” says Pope Francis. So do not be afraid by the myths of overpopulation. Instead, become a member of the beautifully large family that is the Catholic Church, and if God is calling you to it, a domestic church of your own as well.
“So overpopulation is not a valid reason for spreading illicit birth control practices. It is simply a pretext used by those who would justify avarice and selfishness — by those nations, for instance, who fear that the expansion of others will pose a danger to their own political position and cause a lowering of the general standard of living, or by individuals, especially those who are better off, who prefer the greatest possible enjoyment of earthly goods to the praise and merit of bringing new lives into existence. The final result is that they break the fixed and certain laws of the Creator under the pretext of correcting supposed errors on the part of His Providence.” (Pope Pius XII, 1958).
4. Pregnancy is. . . not. . . hot.
“I’m just not one of those people that thinks pregnancy is a beautiful. I see pregnant women and my eye bulges and I feel grossed out by the whole thing. There’s like, a person inside them. The only thing I want inside me is a vibrator or 26 burritos.” – Zara, 26
Our human, first gut reaction to something that makes us suffer or sacrifice something (including the physical shape of our body as women) is to run for the hills screaming ‘heck no’ or look for things we can do to prevent suffering. But labor and motherhood actually offers us the opportunity to do the opposite – to cherish, protect and love the human being who is causing our bodies to stretch and our internal organs to rearrange themselves.
Then, after child birth, parents are called to be present with their mini-me for the rest of their lives. Granted, that relationship shifts when the child reaches adulthood, but the ultimate goal of a parent is to prepare their child for the beauty of heaven.
If you fell in love with your partner for just their looks, you’re in for disappointment down the road. The reality of the situation is that our bodies are fleeting. Give someone another fifty years and most things about their physical appearance will change. Hair will go grey or go away. Medical conditions will come up. That slim figure may not be so slim. But if you and your spouse were attracted to each other by common goals, faith, and an appreciation for the whole person, a woman’s body during and after pregnancy will not kill your marital love life.
5. Because these days, people have kids for selfish reasons.
“People say it’s selfish not to have kids, but I think it’s selfish to have them. Think of all the overcrowding and disease and depleted resources we’re already facing. To bring them into the world just so you can see what the hybrid of you and your partner would look like is so dumb.” – Fiona, 24
Today’s society looks at children as a burden, not as a contribution. However, this assumption could not be further from the truth. Treating children like food sucking parasites is short-sighted idiocy even from a secular perspective. The children of today have potential to become tomorrow’s innovators.
“If we also consider the non-material aspects of children – their meaning for parents and for others who enjoy a flourishing of humanity – then the case for adding children to our world becomes even stronger. And if we also keep in mind that most of the costs of children are borne by their parents rather than by the community during the child’s early years, whereas the community (especially in developed countries) gets the lion’s share of the benefits later on, the essential differences between children and other investments tend to improve rather than weaken the social economics of children” (Julian Simon, The Ultimate Resource).
When we say ‘no’ to children forever on our own choosing, we’re never leaving the realm of our own desires. The desires to travel, own our own house, or to pay off the college debt are great. But those desires are not encouraging us to magnanimity or to sacrifice ourselves for the good of another. They’re offering us an environment of comfort where we don’t have to push ourselves or grow.
6. We’ll ruin them with terrible parenting
“I don’t want to know what a little me would be like. Have you met me? I can’t even keep a plant alive.” – Allen, 31
“I’m a complete mess. I drink and I f*** and I get absorbed in my work. I have all these qualities I dislike about myself that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy, so I’m sure as s*** not going to wish it on my own child. Meanwhile, I really do love my cat.”- Colton, 25
Peter DeVries once said, “The value of marriage is not that adults produce children, but that children produce adults.” The beautiful reality of having children is that childbirth and child raising have the ability to transform parents into the best version of themselves – and biology and psychology are helping prove that.
Through marriage we learn about loving a spouse and the sacrifice it requires. Similarly, when we haven’t become parents yet, the challenges and joys of loving a child are unknown. It is only when we learn to love the child God gives that we can learn to reflect the immense love God has already shown us as His children.
“Let everything take second place to our care of our children, our bringing them up to the discipline and instruction of the Lord. If from the beginning we teach them to love true wisdom, they will have great wealth and glory than riches can provide. If a child learns a trade, or is highly educated for a lucrative profession, all this is nothing compared to the art of detachment from riches; if you want to make your child rich, teach him this. He is truly rich who does not desire great possessions, or surround himself with wealth, but who requires nothing…Don’t think that only monks need to learn the Bible; Children about to go our into the world stand in greater need of Scriptural knowledge.” — St. John Chrysostom, Homilies on Ephesians, Homily 21
7. We want careers. So sue us.
“Every single person I know that’s had kids in their twenties has given up their lives and careers to become a housewife or househusband. Even if both parents are working, one person always has to work less, or has to focus less on themselves and their dreams and aspirations. I’ve worked so hard to get where I am and given up so much to reach my goals that the idea of giving up even more to stay at home and reroute my life in a different direction for the next 18 years doesn’t do it for me.” – Kathryn, 28
“When I picture my future self and the lifestyle I want to lead, I don’t see kids. I love my job and I want to get the most out of my career. The thought of having to give that up to do things like spoon-feed mushed peas to a baby who will die if I’m not around her 24/7 is too stressful for me. I’d always be worried that, in trying to better myself and make myself happy, I’d be hurting my child in the process.” – Wyatt, 26
Some men and women have to work to fulfill the basic needs of their family – food, shelter and clothing are necessities. Some men and women don’t have a choice in the matter. But the problem with today’s society is that it encourages people to look towards their jobs their only option for satisfaction and self-fulfillment.
Elizabeth Corey writes in her article No Happy Harmony, “The problem is not that this work is time-consuming or that it reduces or eliminates a woman’s ability to do other things. The problem is that the serious pursuit of excellence requires a self-culture. The excellence is within us and must be developed: my musical potential brought to fulfillment, my academic aptitude developed and realized through education…Parenting requires ignoring for a time the individual quest for self-perfection and excellence and focusing instead on the needs of another person.” Granted, a whole new set of excellences can be produced through child raising – we are given the opportunity to become excellent parents, excellent teachers, etc.
Parenting requires us to go out of our comfort zones and out of ourselves. To love another for their good, even if that means putting our desires for self-fulfillment on hold. Children need their parent’s non-divided attention, they need their whole parent.
This is not to say that parenting is easy and oh-so-perfect. Corey continues her thoughts on mothers, saying: “Although the rewards of caring for children are great, motherhood can also be tiring and frustrating, not to mention lonely. A woman must be extraordinarily self-assured to withstand the self-doubt that might cause her to wonder at times whether she has done the right thing.” Ultimately, we’re human beings who cannot be two places at once. Parents have to admit there are certain things they cannot do 100%, and some things they will have to say no to. But that sacrifice isn’t fruitless, and the lives of loved children are the witness to that.
8. Because they’re not going to fix anything.
“But kids aren’t Band-Aids; they’re life sucks who demand your complete attention for a minimum of 18 years.”
True, children aren’t Band-Aids to fix marriage issues. You shouldn’t have a child because your marriage is struggling and you think having a little would revive it. After all, marriages are repaired with grace, hard work, willing the good of the other, and continual effort.
But kids are not ‘life sucks.’ And to call them such greatly misses out on the beauty of what children are.
Children are the supreme gift of marriage and contribute greatly to the good of the parents themselves. God himself said: “It is not good that man should be alone,” and “from the beginning [he] made them male and female”; wishing to associate them in a special way in his own creative work, God blessed man and woman with the words: “Be fruitful and multiply.” Hence, true married love and the whole structure of family life which results from it, without diminishment of the other ends of marriage, are directed to disposing the spouses to cooperate valiantly with the love of the Creator and Savior, who through them will increase and enrich his family from day to day.” [GS 50 § 1; cf. Gen 2:18; Mt 19:4; Gen 1:28]
9. We don’t have a reason, we just don’t want them so stop asking.
“It’s my body and I shouldn’t have to explain to people what choices I make with it.” – Jalise, 31
Jalise is right. It is her body – and it has been her body from the moment of her conception. It hasn’t ever been a body that belongs to anyone else. In fact, we’re all here reading this article because someone who loved us recognized that our humanity from the very moment they found out they were expecting a baby into their family. They let us grow and develop in their womb, and then outside the womb after birth. Every human deserves that same chance. When we’re talking about a pregnancy, we’re talking about two bodies – a woman’s and her child’s. Parenthood calls us to find the meaning of our lives – a meaning found by sacrifice of our bodies, our time, our plans and our days (and nights).
“In this way Jesus proclaims that life finds its center, its meaning, and its fulfillment when it is given up. At this point our meditation becomes praise and thanksgiving and at the same time urges us to imitate Christ and follow in his footsteps…We too are called to give our lives for our brothers and sisters, and thus to realize in the fullness of truth the meaning and destiny of our existence” (Saint Pope John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae: 51).
Ultimately, the Catholic Church doesn’t have a list kept in the golden vault at the Vatican of all the reasons you can avoid a pregnancy. In her book The Sinners Guide to Natural Family Planning, Simcha Fisher says, “If the Church is distressingly vague, it’s because she doesn’t want to get in the way of the conversation you could be having with God. He doesn’t want to talk to The Church as a whole – he wants to talk to you.”
When a married couple decides whether this month is going to make the switch from trying to avoid to trying to conceive, they have to consider the factors of children they already have and children-to-be.
Let them thoughtfully take into account both their own welfare and that of their children, those already born and those which the future may bring. For this accounting they need to reckon with both the material and the spiritual conditions of the times as well as of their state in life. Finally, they should consult the interests of the family group, of temporal society, and of the Church herself. The parents themselves and no one else should ultimately make this judgment in the sight of God. But in their manner of acting, spouses should be aware that they cannot proceed arbitrarily, but must always be governed according to a conscience dutifully conformed to the divine law itself, and should be submissive toward the Church’s teaching office, which authentically interprets that law in the light of the Gospel. (Gaudium et Spes, 1965).
In every situation, we are all called to be responsible parents. But we are not called to reject parenthood. Even in cases where children are not in the plans for that month, or that year, or for the next five years, we’re called to be open to life. That could be through loving the children already in the family, or fulfilling the role of parenting through spiritual parenthood. But regardless, openness to love and life is something married couples vow at the altar…and it’s a vow that is meant to be lived on a daily basis.