Pope Francis is wrong. His statement that Jesus “doesn’t like” married couples “who don’t want children, who want to be without fruitfulness,” assumes a lot of things. It assumes that such married couples don’t value relationships. It assumes that they have pets they spoil instead of children. It assumes that a decision to not have children is brought on by a desire for material things, and ignores any other considerations (genetics, health, overpopulation concerns) that may have gone into the decision. The Pope also stated “in the end, this marriage comes to old age in solitude, with the bitterness of loneliness.” Yikes, the Pope has doomed my marriage? My life?
Having or not having children is a personal decision. I am not bashing anyone who has made the decision to have children and am not saying that such a decision is selfish or that parents are selfish. Because that is the first issue: why is a personal decision about whether to have children even framed as one of selfishness? I hate the fact that married friends of mine who have made the decision to remain childless will often preface conversations about it with “Maybe I am just selfish, but…” Why? Why is a decision about bringing another life into this world even discussed in terms of “selfish?” I could make the counter argument that having biological children is selfish when there are adoptable children in need of homes, but I don’t believe it. Having children is a personal choice, with huge ramifications. Other life decisions, such as not marrying or choosing a particular career, customarily are not subject to such pejorative terms, so let’s stop using “selfish” when discussing this decision.
But given that married, childless couples are often accused of being selfish, let me give you 5 concrete reasons why I’m not and why my life is fruitful, not barren as Pope Francis believes.
1. I have time for my friends and family. Always. Despite the fact that until last year I was a practicing attorney with a busy career, I have always made time for my friends and family and they know they can count on me. I take their phone calls, make plans with them, listen (and talk, who am I fooling?) and enjoy their company. I don’t have the distraction of children vying for my attention. I can stay up late to talk through a crisis because I don’t have to get up 3 times in the middle of the night for a feeding or nightmares. I value my relationships and work hard at them.
2. I have time for my friends and siblings’ kids. I have babysat, gone to kids’ soccer games (which I hate), baseball games, basketball games, school plays, spelling bees and school concerts. I am thrilled to cheer for my friends’ kids, niece and nephews and to see them perform. I do this because I want to, not because I have to. I do this because I love your kids.
3. No competition. My friends can brag all they want and I won’t one-up them because I don’t have kids. Oh, I might mention my niece and nephews because I am proud of them too, but there is no competition as to whose kids are more gifted, talented, faster potty trained, whatever. I am happy to hear about how great your kids are without secretly comparing them to mine.
4. I don’t give up on my friends. Raising kids is tough work. I know that the early years are the hardest and that parents are exhausted and frustrated. I know that when I invite my parent friends to do something, they will likely decline, but I keep inviting anyway. I know that I have been replaced by the neighbors because it is easier to walk out the back door and have a beer on the patio rather than call me and invite me over. I know that when my friends’ kids go to school, the parents of their friends will replace me, again. I get this and, while my feelings are hurt, I will take whatever time I can get with you.
5. I am married because I want to be. I am not staying in a bad marriage for the sake of my kids. I am not having kids in an attempt to save a bad marriage. I am married because I love Matt more than anyone and love being with him.
My life is not barren. I have great friends and am a great friend. I am close to my family. I have a strong marriage. I don’t think I am doomed to be a lonely old lady. What would it say about our society if the only bonds that sustain people in old age are those with their own children? Where would that leave single people, for surely the Pope is not advocating children out of wedlock?! Where would that leave couples whose child died or who were unable to conceive, because surely the punishment of a marriage ending in “a bitterness of loneliness” would be cruel? Where would that leave priests and nuns? Let’s see married childlessness for what it is: one (major) life decision, not a indication of personality or values or worth or happiness.