A friend of mine asked me an interesting question the other day. She wanted to know if I regretted not having children.
I wasn’t quite sure how to answer, because I had never really looked at the situation in those terms. “Regret” in the purest sense is usually limited to free choices – situations over which we have some control. I can regret eating an entire batch of raw cookie dough. But I can’t really regret the snowstorm that left me stuck in the house with a hankering to bake. The weather is out of my control.
So I interpreted her question as really asking me if I regret not getting married during my “prime childbearing years,” since that was the part of the equation that was within my control. I told her I don’t regret it — that every time I faced that decision it was with prayerful discernment, and that God hasn’t led me down the wrong path yet.
But that wasn’t her question. She wanted to know specifically if I regretted not having children, even though I wasn’t married.
That has so never been an option for me.
Apparently, however, she hadn’t ruled it out as an option. Neither, I suspect, have a lot of Catholic women whose biological clocks are beginning to wind down. They know they want children, and they know their time is limited. What’s a girl to do when the big 4-0 (or 3-5, or 4-5, or whatever age they perceive as their deadline) looms and the right man still hasn’t made his appearance?
I understand the panic. A woman’s desire for physical motherhood is very, very strong – almost primal. As toddlers, we dragged our baby dolls everywhere we went. As children, we said “When I’m a mommy . . .” It was never “if,” always “when.”
That dream dies pretty hard.
And then we look around and see that maybe it doesn’t have to die. Granted, pregnancy requires the participation of two people. But we have so many more options these days. Hollywood is full of women who “choose” to have babies on their own. How do they do it? Often they don’t say. When they do say, the answer is usually “David Crosby”, whose aging, artificially inseminated seed seems to be available to just about any woman who bothers to ask.
Is that really so bad? What’s wrong with a woman giving life to a child? What’s wrong with David Crosby helping a lot of women give birth to a lot of children?
Here’s the problem: God designed the whole reproduction system, and He designed it to require two people — one male and one female. I believe He did that for a reason. Children need two parents. Not just two donors, or a mother and a donor and another mother, or a father and a surrogate and another father. They need a mother and a father, both playing an active and loving role in their lives.
Children who have a strong male and a strong female presence in their lives have the best chance of healthy psychosexual development. That’s because men and women “parent” differently. Women (mothers) tend to be more nurturing, (“I’ll kiss the boo-boo and make it all better.”) while men (fathers) tend to encourage kids to take risks. (“C’mon, jump! I’ll be here to catch you.”) Kids need both.
There’s a reason that the Church says artificial insemination is a sin, and fornication is a sin, and pretty much everything else a single woman could possibly do to “get herself pregnant” is a sin. Okay, there are a lot of reasons. But primary among them is that, in God’s plan, children come into the world through the self-donating love of a husband and a wife. As Scott Hahn says, “their love is so real that nine months later we have to give it a name.” In giving themselves to each other, they by extension give themselves to their children. It’s not that God loves children conceived in marriage more than He loves other children. It’s that He loves every child He creates, and He knows that in the stability of a loving family they have the best chance of being nourished and protected.
Certainly many of you grew up with single parents. Many more of you are single parents. And you know better than anyone that single parents can be heroes. And they are heroes precisely because a single parent is one person doing a two-person job. Certainly single parents can and often do raise really amazing kids. But most single parents will tell you that the absence of the other parent hurt their kids. A lot. Most single parents didn’t plan it this way. They got pregnant in a moment of weakness. Or they were widowed. Or they were abandoned. Or they had to leave because the children’s other parent was worse than no parent at all. They know it’s not an ideal situation. They’re doing their best with what they have, and often doing a really good job. But it takes a toll on them, and on their kids. Ask them if they think a mother should plan it this way, and they’ll likely look at you like you have a hole in your head.
I get wanting a baby. But it’s more important to want what’s best for a baby. Deliberately conceiving a child with a plan that the child will be fatherless is not wanting what’s best for a baby. It’s wanting a baby the way we want a car or a sweater or an iPod. It’s fundamentally selfish. I know, it doesn’t feel selfish. It feels like “I’ve got so much love in my heart, and I just want to share it with a child.” Again, “me.” What I want. What makes me happy.
This of course leaves open the question of adoption. The same principles apply. If a child can go to a family with a mom and a dad, that child should go to a family with a mom and a dad. That, in my mind, eliminates domestic infant adoption. Two parent families are lined up for years waiting to adopt those children. Older, hard-to-place children are often a different story, as are orphans languishing in third-world orphanages. Obviously life with a loving single parent in the United States is much better than life warehoused in some horrible overseas institution. I admire single people who open their lives up to these kids. But don’t do it in the midst of some kind of fantasy where life is one big series of sleepovers and Mommy and Me dress-up games. Adopting a child in these circumstances is hard, hard, hard. This is a calling, and the decision should be approached carefully and prayerfully.
Look, I get the fear of facing a childless life when that wasn’t your plan. Trust me, I do. But you can also trust me when I say that you’re always going to be better off when you do things God’s way. As I’ve said before, He’s very generous with His “Plan B.” Everybody lives with unfulfilled desires of some kind. Real happiness doesn’t come from trying to go around Him to get what we want for ourselves. Real, lasting happiness comes from Him, and our relationship with Him.
Which means you need to trust Him, and only Him. Follow His will. Hang onto Him for dear life. He will take very, very good care of you.
Trust me, I know.