I know some folks who do not, (or did not) want to have kids, which always puzzles me since I was so hyper-focused on my inability to have them. Usually I learn this bit of personal and private information as a response to a joke, a comment, or a direct question proffered to a young couple by some well-meaning or outright nosy person.
I too have crossed the sensitivity barrier by saying things that assume every couple will eventually have children. “Well, when you are parents…” or “After the kids come…” When a young couple responds by telling me “We don’t want to have kids” I am usually embarrassed and stumbling around for the correct response. My embarrassment comes from two sources: for one, I made an assumption that perhaps put the young couple on the spot, and secondly, I am trying not to respond on auto-pilot by shooting back a quick “Why Not?!” and further offend them by showing my shock, disappointment, sadness, or disbelief at their position. “Danger! Danger! Will Robinson! Please return to the ship at once before you say more stupid, awkward, inappropriate things!”
When I am finally in a place where I can collect my thoughts, I try to reflect on what would be better answers to my usual “Oh…ok…I didn’t know…but you two would be great parents…okay, I will stop talking now.” As my friends know-I am not good in an embarrassing verbal emergency. Give me a physical/medical/logistical crisis, and I bound into appropriate and helpful action-but social faux pas–not so good with those.
Here are some replies that have crossed my mind but they fall short.
- Well you will be better off; kids are a lot of work and cost a lot of money.
- I admire your honesty.
- When you are older it might be lonely.
- Hmm…and why is that? (again…too nosy…but I am always deadly curious….)
- You two can finally show the world how to do it right!
- But your kids would be so cute!
Before I share my tiny bit of older lady wisdom with you young peeps, let me explain that I do not believe everyone should be a parent. In fact, I hate to see folks who seem to have no interest in the protection and provision part of parenting children focus solely on the procreation of them. Therefore if someone is honest enough to state that they don’t feel that they can or wish to give kids what they need, and will not be having any, I can admire that to some degree. Kids are not a commodity; each is a person made in the image of God and needs and deserves lots of nurturing.
This post is only directed to one particular group of young people: those who are scared. Maybe you are afraid because you feel your are not up to the job (join the club), or because the world is a scary and violent place (sadly true sometimes), or because you worry that your own heart will break if others are mean to your kids (it will). Maybe you are scared that you will have to give up most of your waking hours (and many sleeping ones too) to care for your children. Maybe you are afraid that you are too selfish to do the sacrificial living that parenting often requires of us (honest and understandable). Maybe you are scared that you will have to be a good role model (no chocolate cake for breakfast– unless you are Bill Cosby).
Here is one thing I learned from having kids that no one explained to me; there is a holy winsomeness that each child has that will captivate your heart in a way that you never knew existed. Words fail me to fully explain it but most parents know what I am referring to. The feeling of overpowering love and joy that you experience as a parent does not come when you think it might. It is not often a public event; no, it is not during awards ceremonies, performances, ball games, or ballets. In those early days it comes when you are rocking them, singing to them, or just smelling that newborn baby head. (I have a theory that someone could sell Baby Head perfume and make a lot of money, as that sweet smell only lasts for about a week.)
This holy winsomeness also expresses itself when your child gives you their tiny hand as you pick flowers together, or during bedtime story reading when they ask you philosophical questions such as where dogs go when they die, or at lunch over a tuna fish sandwich, and they ask you why they call them tuna fish and not something else. (I never thought of it that way sweetie; you make a very good point.)
And there’s more. It is not just the content of these precious conversations. You will find yourself reveling in the way they pronounce certain words, or the look they get when they are puzzled or happy or sad. You realize your unique position in that no one else will completely know this precious little person as you do during their early life, and you will thank God that you got to see and hear those comments and looks and smiles. And you will be hooked for life. You will still be scared that you may not be equipped to give this child all that they need. But you will be so dazzled by their idiosyncratic winsomeness, and the holy trust that God gave you to do the best job that you can, that you will be OK. And you will enjoy this journey more and more, and think of it as dangerous less and less. In effect you will fall in love to a degree that you did not think possible. (And this is good because these feelings will need to be brought out of storage during the teen years.)
I share this because sometimes young couples are not factoring these things in. And how can they know about all this secret stuff unless we share it? You cannot get this from babysitting, although you may enjoy those children. Nope, to know this holy winsomeness you have to go all in.
So for those who are scared and are weighing the pros and cons, put holy winsomeness on the pro side, and weigh it as a 10 on a 1-10 scale. It is inexplicable, unforeseeable, and delightful. In fact, this is a shabby attempt to explain it; like many wonderful things, one must see for oneself. But as my Chinese friends have said to me many times, Bie hai pa (don’t be afraid).