16913 Germantown Road
Germantown, Maryland 20875-0320
Life Choices: Parenting
Presenter:Rev. Amy Russell
Sermon Date:Sun, 10/15/2006
My husband loves Jimmy Buffet. He loves to turn on the Buffet CD and crank it up high and sing about all the cheeseburgers and paradise. I try to sink down in my seat and pretend I’m not there. But you have to admit that Jimmy Buffet is a person who loves life to its fullest. I saw Buffet in an interview on the Today Show the other day. He was asked out of all of life’s pleasures what did he enjoy most in his life. He answered without hesitation- “My kids.” With all of the exciting adventures a man like that has had, he still feels that the most fulfilling part of his life was having kids.
Whoopi Goldberg has a different view on parenting. She says, “Nobody is ready to be a parent. It doesn’t come with instructions. You do the best you can. Some people are cut out for it. I wasn’t.”
My sister says that this is one of those things that you just know about yourself. She always knew that she wanted to have kids. But life didn’t bring her the right partner to have children with. So, she decided to become a single parent and adopt. At age 40 something, she adopted my nephew Rod, who was born in Brazil. She says that some people feel that they are parents and some don’t. She thinks it’s something you just know about yourself.
Others wouldn’t agree with her. Some struggle with this major life decision, not knowing whether they were "cut out” to be a parent.
Many of us came to parenthood without a lot of thought. Some married young, got pregnant, and thought that was just what you were supposed to do. Getting married in 1973, my husband and I waited to have kids for six years into our marriage. I was beginning my career and I didn’t see any reason to jump into having kids. I knew that I wanted kids and I knew my husband wanted them, but we were too busy enjoying our new busy lives to think much about it. But then something happened. There was a major snowstorm in Boston where we lived in February, 1977. This was the blizzard of the century. There was about four feet of snow. The state closed down for a week. You weren’t allowed to go to work because the roads weren’t clear.
Well, I tell you when my daughter, Bethany was born in the fall, the hospital nursery was full of cute blizzard babies. It seemed that when people are snowed in, they find something to do!
But it wasn’t like we decided to get pregnant. We didn’t have a lot of intense conversations about whether we would be good parents or whether parenthood was the right lifestyle for us. We thought that some day we’d have kids, and then we got pregnant. We kind of fell into parenthood, as many do.
These days I think that young people are much more intentional about deciding whether or not to become parents. I think there is less pressure to have children. Although, if you asked anyone newly married if there’s less pressure, I’m sure they would not agree. I think at any wedding of young people, they probably get asked by the aunts and grandmothers, “When are you planning to have a family?” as though this was the only choice open to them. They certainly still feel the pressure to procreate.
Why do people have children? Today, despite the increased availability of birth control and the lessened societal pressure for couples to have children, there are still 80% of women of are still giving birth.
We all have heard about the “biological clock” that women in their thirties who haven’t yet had children feel. It’s a biological imperative that nature implanted in our genes, some say, the urge to procreate. But for some this see this urge as simply a biological function that can be ignored. Others feel that having children will complete them, will somehow fulfill their mission in life. Some see having children as a way to leave their mark on the world. Others feel that they will be renewed by the experience of seeing a child of their own enjoy the adventures of life.
When people fall in love, many feel that having a child together is a natural extension of their own union. That it’s nature’s way of expressing their love for each other. Some say that parenthood allows them to shed their own selfish view of existence and to give to someone outside of themselves. And some experience parenthood as an accomplishment and feel great pride in having and raising children.
We sometimes hear couples who are having problems in their marriage say that they think having a child will bring them closer together. This is a myth. Most of us know that parenthood is sufficiently stressful that adding this stress into a marriage with problems is a sure fire death knell for a marriage. One study of 250 couples in the first years of marriage discovered that after they had their first child, 50% of these couples reported marital dissatisfaction after the birth of their first child. They discovered that parenthood brought with it more dividing issues than bonding.
Some couples may decide to have children and then experience the difficulties of infertility which are emotionally devastating. We’ve all heard the descriptions of going through the living hell of trying desperately to become pregnant and to have these hopes dashed time and time again when the methods use prove unsuccessful. Others have gone through the very sad experience of miscarriages. Some women find that they cannot carry a fetus to term. I cannot even imagine the grief that this experience must be for couples trying to become parents.
After the trials of hassling with infertility methods and finding them unsuccessful, some couples decide to accept the fact of their inability to have children and decide to remain childless. And some make the decision like Jenifer and Albion did to adopt. Both decisions must be difficult ones. But they must be the right decision for that couple.
In our society, there is much pressure put on married couples to bear children. Lafayette, founder of the Child Free network, says that there is still much pressure put on people to have children. She says, “What I speak out against is the pressure and the prejudice of a society that demands parenthood from us all and creates anxiety, despair, and frustration in those who do not want or cannot have children. Not everyone should have children. Not everyone wants them. Not everyone is capable of doing a good job of rearing them.”
Leslie Lafayette experienced the difficulties of feeling her biological clock ticking after she had already divorced her first husband. All of her friends were having babies. This was the eighties the time when women were expected to be “supermoms”. To carry a briefcase in one hand, and a diaper bag in the other. Working mothers were idolized. With all the hype around having babies and having a career being toted as the way a woman should live, she convinced herself that she wanted a baby. Even though she was not married, she began to try to get pregnant. After not using birth control and still not getting pregnant, she went to an infertility doctor. She was horrified at what it would cost and with no guarantee of getting pregnant. Soon after that, she began to hear about the AIDS epidemic. She realized that trying to get pregnant with any guy she happened to be dating was a definite risk. And sperm donors were also risks at that time.
She finally become pregnant with her ex-husband. She was filled with “wonder and awe”. She felt like she had achieved something. About nine weeks into her pregnancy, she miscarried. She experienced tremendous grief over the loss of this possible child in her life, now gone forever. But with the pressure she felt biologically to have children combined with the hype she continued to feel from society about a life lived without children not having any meaning- she felt she must find a way, any way to have a child. She decided to pay a surrogate mother to have a child for her.
She spent thousands of dollars and went through incredible emotional stress with the first surrogate mother, which fell through and then arranged for another one. With three months to go in the pregnancy, a friend suggested that it was time to have a baby shower for her. She began to think seriously about the practical aspects of filling a room with baby furniture and the turn her life would take once the baby filled that room. She finally called the surrogate mother and canceled the arrangement. She closed her life to motherhood finally.
Leslie Lafayette, and many like her who went through this kind of soul struggle with deciding not to become a parent, is completely happy about her decision. She feels that she was responding to biological urges and societal pressure when she was determined to become a mother. She now feels that she would not have been happy as a parent. She realizes what she has missed out on. The joy of raising a child and loving that child. But she also says, “However, I’ve also missed total exhaustion, despair over finding competent childcare, sleepless nights due to teething or frantic worrying about paying the bills, lack of time for my writing, my reading, my animals, or my music, and perhaps pulling out my hair over drugs, pregnancy, accidents.”
Many like Lafayette are opting for the childfree lifestyle. The American Demographics magazine predicts that by 2010, more than 50% of couples will be childless in our country. In Europe this trend is even more pronounced.
While my first child was unplanned, when she was born, my life changed in a way that I couldn’t have predicted. I felt as though this tiny person was someone I already knew. That she was connected to me in a way unlike any other person could ever be connected to me. Many parents who adopt report this same feeling. I felt that while I knew that this was the most daunting challenge I had ever faced in my life- caring for someone who was totally dependent on me, I also felt that I would innately know what she needed and how to care for her. And that was largely true, until she became a teenager.
Raising two children has been the most challenging task I have ever faced. And it has been the most fulfilling. Since I never really questioned whether or not I would have children and did not have to face the difficulties of infertility, there was never a decision for me. But looking back on my life, I can see the kinds of things that I was not very good about as a parent. Being good at disciplining my kids was never my strong point. Being patient at the little things like listening to long stories that they liked to tell. But despite my failings, my kids seem to know that I love them and that I’d do anything to make them happy. Recently, my daughter gave me a birthday card that said “I always knew that I was loved.” Somehow, that seemed like the highest praise someone could give you as a parent.
But deciding to be a parent or to remain childless is such an individual decision. No one can make this decision for you- not even your partner. Both partners must make their own decision and then make it together, with each other. Because both partners must be present and equally responsible for bringing a child into the world, or for deciding to raise a child.
I don’t think that people should decide to parent in order to fulfill some life role that was mapped out for them by previous generations. Today, people have so many more choices. With the options of good available birth control, and the options of many infertility methods and the option of adoption, there are many options available to people today making this decision. These are not easy decisions. They require knowledge about oneself. What will be fulfilling for some, can be utterly devastating and draining on others. Some people want to be parents. Some don’t.
I admire people who for whatever reason have decided not to have children but who enjoy knowing and interacting with children in other ways. We have many people like that here in this community. People who volunteer their time in RE and who offer themselves in relationship to the beautiful children we are raising as a community here at Sugarloaf. We are lucky to be able to share in the joy and surprises of children watching our Sugarloaf children and youth. What a privilege it is to have them among us!
Making the decision about parenting is not easy. This poem seems to reflect some of the misgivings some may have as they consider the step of parenting:
one hesitates to brings a child into this world without fixing it up a little, paint a special room, stop sexism, learn how to love. vow to do it better than it was done when you were a baby. vow to make, if necessary, new mistakes. vow to be awake for the birth. to believe in joy even in the midst of unbearable joy.
- by Alta (3:6)