Fr. Maciej Zięba, O.P., has died, and while we mourn his loss, we also need to take a moment to appreciate his...
Children: Burden or Blessing?
What are children for, anyways? Are they gifts to be cherished for their own sake, or are they produced to fulfill personal ends and expectations? Are children undeserved blessings or the cataclysmic overthrow of normalcy?
This question was implicitly asked in an article I recently stumbled upon, written by an anonymous man expecting twins with his wife. I was stunned by the extreme negativity and anger with which he described the pregnancy. The father was grumbling, lamenting that the unasked-for burden of an “extra child” essentially heralded the close of all joy once found in their comfortable lives.
As horrible as this might sound, we found ourselves wishing these twins away … having kids is a selfish endeavor, and in these cases it’s all very relative and highly personal. In our case, my wife and I know better than to think that life with three children is going to be perfect … This time around, we’re counting down — not like expected parents but like cancer patients with only months to live.
A selfish endeavor, relative, personal–these better describe modern art or eating vegan, yet here they frame children as ways to satisfy vague, individual wants, rather than goods in and of themselves. The message is rather egocentric: children are for my happiness and should fit conveniently into predetermined roles I have set for them. When such expectations are exceeded (such as by having one more child), life will quickly become an unbearable chore.
Aside from the terrible psychological effects these statements would have on any child, they entirely miss the purpose of marriage and the family. In Familiaris Consortio, Blessed John Paul II described this modern attitude as a “corruption of the experience of freedom,” which sees within the family an “autonomous power of self-affirmation, often against others, for one’s own selfish well-being.”
Marriage, the family, and children go beyond fulfilling personal expectations. “The family has the mission to guard, reveal and communicate love,” says JPII, “and this is a living reflection of and a real sharing in God’s love for humanity and the love of Christ the Lord for the Church His bride.”
Surmising this theological analysis in common terms: while raising children is no easy task, it was never meant to be. Changing diapers will forever be terrible, and sleep will never be an excess commodity. Yet a higher purpose remains through all the challenges and trials. In short, motivated by love, the family challenges us to draw beyond our inner selves and act for the good of others. In this, paradoxically, we will find our individual fulfillment as well.
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