Not having kids is a sacrifice, too

IMG950910Our best friends in Durham welcomed their new baby girl a few weeks ago, and I could not get to the hospital fast enough to visit them. Sure, I was pumped to finally bestow the onesie we had picked out months earlier, a gray tee emblazoned with Patrick Swayze’s head and the line from Dirty Dancing, “Nobody puts baby in a corner.” But there was a deeper ache that came after all the joy that I couldn’t decipher.

Talking Taboo: American Christian Women Get Frank About Faith officially launches today. It’s been two months since we went to press, four months since our Indiegogo campaign, six months since we got endorsers, ten months since we decided on the cover, one year since Enuma and I finished editing the manuscript, and almost a year a half since the project was conceived by the women behind I Speak For Myself, Inc. And during that time, on and off at odd moments of the day,  the concluding line of my essay in the anthology has circled round my mind: “The survival of the human race depends on sacrifices of many sorts, made for the good of all and the love of God.”

My husband and I are married without children, have been for over seven years now. If you were to believe the media’s coverage of other couples who are “childless by choice,” you would think we were independent, career-oriented, trendy, travelling-fools who would rather spend an evening out on the town than home on the range. You might also think we were selfish.

So reads the headline of a Daily Beast article that ran early this year: “Many of those opting for childlessness have legitimate, if perhaps selfish, reasons for their decision.” The writer interviewed young twenty and thirty somethings in the New York area who cited fears that having kids would take over their entire lives, hamper their mobility, and be a drain on their finances. In another article that ran locally in Durham Magazine this year, not having children, said one woman, freed hers up to do whatever she wanted with her time such as getting biweekly manicures and practicing yoga. “I need a lot of time to take care of myself,” she reasoned.

With the birthrate stagnate or declining in many developed countries, Rush’s and my decision to remain without kids of our own is increasingly not so taboo. What remains taboo in Christian culture is calling our decision a sacrifice instead of one of convenience. (In all likelihood it is both, but I presume the same is true of having biological kids.) After all, my pastor once said that couples who use birth control essentially treat children as hobbies to be picked up or discarded at leisure.

“Are we sure we don’t want to go through all that?” I asked Rush in bed the night we visited our friends in the hospital. “Sure, sure, that we don’t want biological kids? I just felt this impossible loss today that that would never be us.”

Truth be told, I also felt the impossible anxiety that runs rampant in people my age: FOMO or “fear of missing out.”

There is nothing we could do that would get 250 likes on Facebook short of giving birth to our own child.

Nothing we could do that would bring friends out of the woodwork to rally around us or family into town to celebrate for weeks at a time.

Nothing we could do to make church ladies so very happy and young children so very awestruck.

I don’t mean to be petty, just honest, that for most people publishing a book or  travelling to a Russian orphanage will never be as highly anticipated, praised, and supported as biological parenthood.

Yes, by choosing not to have children of our own flesh and blood, Rush and I will miss out on some of the most important rituals of human life. But I dare still call our choice a sacrifice. What the media has missed in all their coverage of the “childless epidemic” is that, for some of us, choosing not to have children of our own doesn’t mean we’re choosing to eschew community. We are sacrificing the (still) cultural norm of the nuclear family to make ourselves available.

To those new friends who had a baby.

To faith communities that need our time.

And to the Holy Spirit who dwells in the portable tent of our lives.

(You can read my full essay, “Married Without Children,” in Talking Taboo, available now through Amazon, White Cloud Press, or your local bookstore such as Flyleaf Books or The Regulator Bookshop where we’ll be reading this week.) 

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6 responses to “Not having kids is a sacrifice, too

  1. I really appreciate what you’ve written and am looking forward to getting the book soon. My husband and I will be married 7 years this coming March and we also have chosen the child-free route. We haven’t made definite decisions against trying to have children but for now we aren’t planning kids. For awhile I felt like an outsider, even within our church community where the norm (in small town TN) is to get married and have kids right away. So many people we meet automatically think we’ve not been able to conceive, or just don’t understand our decision. I could write a bunch but just know that I’ve been encouraged by reading this. Solidarity takes all forms…thank you!

    • Thank you, Lisa. We try to stay open to how the Holy Spirit will move us in marriage. I’ve been encouraged by meeting couples who didn’t have kids – biological or otherwise- until they’d been married 10+ years! Blessings to you and your husband as you continue to discern together and in community.

  2. This article explores a worthy topic, but felt incomplete and even a little off the mark. For example, Jennifer could say “I spent all morning working hard at making breakfast for some homeless people. I scrambled the eggs with a screwdriver and cooked the bacon with a curling iron. It was so much work, and such a sacrifice that I’ve chosen to go without a griddle or an egg beater! People look down at me for these choices, but I’m really making a difference and am saving resources by not spending extra money!”

    In this case, we experience Jennifer’s great intentions. We feel her sacrifices and hard selfless work for others. She performs great things (in this case, feeding the hungry). But we must also recognize the fallacy of her behavior… She makes the decision to not “spend extra money” on an egg beater or a griddle, but at what cost?

    The problem is that Jennifer sees an egg beater and a griddle as burdens rather than investments. She sees them as expenses rather than as gifts. She doesn’t see how useful they would be for helping her achieve her true goal of helping others.

    Do you see where I’m going with this?

    Children, rather than being seen as “costs”, “burdens”, “expenses” and “sacrifices” should be seen as “gifts” and “investments”. So long as children exist, society has a future. Can that be said about ANYTHING else over which we have control? Is anything in the world more valuable than the people who inhabit it?

    Married couples can decide to invest their talents in many things, but they should remember that they are uniquely designed through their lifelong bond to serve as the perfect foundation for bringing forth the next generation of our human family. This unique paring of husband and wife is unlike any other merging of individuals at work, on a team, through religious orders, or between friends or siblings. Regarding this vocational ability that is unique to a married couple, they are unrivaled and irreplaceable without cost. If a married couple decides to embrace another calling, which many may do either by choice or by biological necessity, they should be careful that they are not playing the curling iron who has decided to make sacrifices by cooking breakfast sausages.

    I wish you and your readers well as we attempt to selflessly discern how to best invest our time, talent and resources in our world. This discernment will likely last the rest of our lives as these sorts of decisions can get made and renewed on a daily basis!

    Thank you for posting on such a worthy topic. Although we may not agree on all points, it was an interesting read and will certainly prompt quite a bit of good discussion!

    • Hi Karol,

      Thanks for your thoughtful response to this post. I’d encourage you to read the full essay in the book to see my story fleshed out more fully! I’m not totally tracking with you on the eggs metaphor but I agree with you that children are gifts. I hope “to have” lots of children throughout my life – through nieces and nephews and goddaughters and godsons and friends and neighbors and maybe even adopted ones someday. I trust that there are enough folks still called to the vocation of biological parenthood that those of us who feel otherwise aren’t compromising the entire future of the human race. In fact, I mention in my essay that by the 4th century AD, John Chrysostom thought the command to be “fruitful and multiply” was no longer relevant because of population increases! The best I can do is be faithful to God’s unique calling on my life and the way it contributes to a whole ecosystem of human flourishing.

      Peace,
      Erin

  3. audrey richards woita

    Great post, Erin. My husband and I are childless, not by choice, intentionally. But I see how the Lord is working this out for His glory. What I want isn’t always what is best. Thank you for sharing your wisdom on this topic…it’s rarely discussed from this vantage point. Appreciated!

  4. I’m also a childless wife, but not by choice. What my husband and I’ve experienced is worthy of a 25+ year marriage’s experiences…the job losses, health issues, financial upheavals…it doesn’t make life easy. To top it off, it makes me question my faith in God a lot. People say “it’s part of God’s plan.” What does that mean? God planned for me to suffer with a fertility issue? God planned for my husband and I to be broke half the time? Am I just a huge experiment to be “tested” on? Did I do something bad? I don’t know, those are questions I ask myself.

    What I do wish is for more charity and understanding. Yes, I’ve been married for 7 years and no I don’t have children. No, I don’t wish to be questioned about whether or not I want children because it’s no one’s business. And a lot of these questions are coming from people who aren’t even married or show interest in family life! Sometimes I think, the nerve. Prying into someone else’s private life. I once put a stop to it by bluntly saying “this isn’t up for discussion” and WOW you should have seen the looks on their faces!

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