I’ve never held a dear desire to have children. Making that statement inclines me to hide my face for a moment. I’m well aware that it doesn’t fit. It has long felt like something ‘wrong’ in me. I’m Catholic, wholly pro-life and pro-family. I don’t believe in the use of contraception of any sort and I celebrate the beautiful gift that is our cooperation with God in creating His most precious creatures – human beings. I hold children to be among the greatest gifts bestowed by God, never burdens and never unwelcome. I am the youngest of 7 children and those siblings… well, there’s little I wouldn’t do for them. When friends or family members announce pregnancies or introduce me to their new little ones, I rejoice with them. I relish the tender snuggles and vivacious antics of my 11 nieces and nephews. I mourn with those close to me who have lost a child or struggle to conceive. I love children. And yet…
For years I’ve been aware of my lack of desire to be a parent. It hangs about in my mind in disconcerting contrast with most of my peers. It leaves me wriggling uncomfortably under the expectations that are voiced by those who know me. I feel a bit ashamed of myself as I hear the hopeful remarks of others, longing for the day they will have children of their own and eager to embark on that journey. Meanwhile, I have longed for marriage, praying for God to prepare me for that vocation and prepare my spouse in the years before I would even meet him. But children… I’ve wanted to want them. That’s not the same though, is it?
There have been stages to my self-assessment in this regard. First, I wrote it off as nothing to be troubled over. “I’m sure eventually God will put that desire in me.” “When I meet the right man then I’ll begin to long to have children with my spouse.” “Of course I want a family. There’s no reason to be impatient or desperate about it.” More recently I moved into a state of worry as I admitted the fears I hold about being a parent. I worried that deep down I do have a strong desire to be a parent but I’m too scared to acknowledge it. How can I possibly be capable of raising children? This world is so full of influences and events that will inevitably undermine my efforts. Families are too capapble of hurting each other. There’s so much pain and disappointment involved. The fears piled up and I wondered how I’d ever admit to my spouse how afraid I am of having children.
Then I met Matt. No, he has not ushered in an era of longing for motherhood. Our attachment to each other didn’t act as a magic wand casting a spell on the parental part of my heart. What Matt did bring was his son. Matt brought reality to me in the form of his six year old, tow headed, rambunctious, eager to please, says-the-darndest-things son. Matt invited me into his life, at the heart of which is his son. I stepped hesitantly inside and took a look around. There was plenty to see, even if I kept to the wall. What I saw was parenthood. The daily choice to put another person first, a person entirely dependent on you for his well-being. This fundamental decision of parenthood, to love and do so unrelentingly captivated me. I saw a man who was shaped by his fatherhood, who was on the path he was on because he was a father. I knew this wasn’t how it had to be, wasn’t the ideal or the convenient or the easy or the carefree way. Yet it was what he chose day in and day out.
It was startling. And like nothing that came before, it took hold of me. Essentially, Matt gave me a new lens. I have long seen the beauty and goodness of children but now I began seeing the beauty and goodness of parenthood itself. In all its struggles and sacrifices, joys and encouragements, unknowns and questions, it is good. I don’t know how I missed it before, or not missed it so much as left it uncomprehended.