In my last post, I wrote about the sacrifices that children necessitate–and how selfish our refusal to make those sacrifices really is. But it is just as important for us to pause and consider the irreplaceable blessings of having children.
This is increasingly challenging in our culture because it’s so hard to meaningfully discuss a subject without a common frame of reference. Explaining the joys of parenthood to the childless is often like describing a fine wine to someone who’s never had anything but Kool-Aid. We in the West have smaller families with fewer children. Most of us didn’t grow up around children much younger than ourselves, and we didn’t get much opportunity to see families parenting such children. We were sequestered with people our own age for the entirety of our schooling. Our TV shows and movies, when they portray families at all, generally keep the parents and the kids in their own separate worlds that only intersect for the sake of drama. All in all, the raising of kids is a far more alien experience for us than it was in previous generations.
But the challenge is deeper than that. It wasn’t until I became a father myself that I understood the vast gulf between the abstract idea of raising children and the tangible reality of raising my children—-these real people with their own feelings and character and personalities who I made, who I named, who are my own flesh and blood. And this makes a huge difference in how we understand the blessings of parenthood. In these past four and a half years, my life has been filled with some amazing moments that impress on me just how much I love my children.
For example, there’s the time my oldest was praying the Lord’s Prayer at bedtime and said, “Give us this day our daily toast.” We just looked at each other for 5 seconds before he corrected himself: “Bread AND toast.” Or there’s the time I was trying to brush my youngest’s teeth, but he closed his mouth as tightly as he could. Then he looked at me and, just in case I didn’t get it, opened his mouth just long enough to say, “Shut.” I could go on and on, but there’s nothing quite like seeing a half-naked toddler suddenly run down the hall flailing his arms and yelling “Oh no! I’ve escaped!!” There’s nothing quite like watching an infant end his yawns as though he were taking a huge bite off of them.
But because there’s nothing quite like it, all of these stories fall into the category of “You had to be there.” The joy in those moments with my children has more to do with who they are than with what they did. The stories fail to capture the experience because it’s nearly impossible to convey the personal knowledge that makes them so great. For the most part, telling other people about your kids is like telling them about your dreams. Dreams and children may be wholly engrossing to the person who had them, but nobody else is particularly interested.
All of this is to say that the joy of parenthood is always going to be mostly unknown until one is in the midst of it. God may have known us before he formed us in the womb, but parents do not know their children until after they’re born. To experience the blessings of children, you have to be there. Embracing the joy set before us requires a leap of faith.
We do face specific difficulties in our culture that make it harder to embrace the challenge of family than it would be otherwise–distortions that make such happiness even more abstract. But that isn’t our biggest problem. The natural unknowns mean that choosing to become a mother or father requires faith, hope, and love–faith in God’s continued providence, hope that we and our children will find a way to overcome the myriad of challenges that face us, and a sacrificial love that puts others before ourselves so that we *can* know them. If we fail our posterity by never bringing them into existence, it will be because we lack these virtues. The future, on the other hand, belongs to those who can cultivate them.