By the time our little one come into the world, Cheri and I will have been married almost nine years.
About half of that time was spent as quasi-newlyweds. And then the other half was spent trying to have kids.
I know what you might be thinking. You might be thinking that after that long, we are going to be in for a big surprise. This kid is going to wreck all of our habits and routines that we hold so precious. And you’d be right. But we are not going to be surprised when it happens.
Here’s the thing: we have gotten really good at not having kids. I don’t mean we are locked into our comfortable little childless rut. What I mean is that trying – and not having – kids for over four years has given us a lot of insight into what it means to have children, and what it does not mean.
Babies Are Not Marriage Counselors
For a lot of people, marriage and babies go hand in hand. In fact, I dare say that babies are a big reason that some of us got married. We wanted to get hitched and start a family. Maybe we even thought that having a child would draw us together, or smooth over any problems in our relationships.
Of course, anyone on the other side of things, who actually has a kid, knows that babies do none of these things. They strain relationships. Parenting tends to put a magnifying glass on the problems that were already hiding in our relationships. Add a baby to the mix, and things always get more complicated, not less.
Infertility tends to have the same effect, strangely. It puts the same magnifying glass on a relationship. It tends to exaggerate the tiny problems that were always just under the surface. And what we realized was that those problems were us. We were not going to be able to wait around for a baby to fix our marriage. A baby was never going to be the answer to any of our problems. A baby, if we ever got one, deserved to come into a home where Mom and Dad already have a stable, loving relationship without them.
Our Children Are Not Our Cheerleaders
When we first start trying to have a kid, I admit, our reasons might sound pretty shallow.
We did not want to be alone in our old age.
We wanted to have a little version of ourselves.
Stuff like that. Yes, it’s pretty shallow, but I’d wager our reasons are also pretty common. Let’s admit it, we are encouraged to be at least just a teeny bit co-dependent on our kids. We are taught that kids will bring meaning and purpose to our lives. We want kids because we imagine that it will be very fulfilling to us. All of those are true. Kids will bring some measure of meaning, purpose and fulfillment to our lives.
But that does not mean that meaning, purpose and fulfillment cannot be found without children. The first nine years of our marriage were not without purpose just because there wasn’t a tiny person running around, messing up the house. God calls all of us, some to parent, some to be childless, some to be celibate, and some of us, He calls to any of those for a season.
What we realized is that all of our reasons for having kids that involved what kids will give to us were not good reasons. We could not have a kid so that we would receive validation as people. We could not have children so that our lives would feel fulfilled. If we were ever going to have children, it had to be only because we wanted to help a child find these qualities in his life.
Our Children Are Not “Our” Children
Finally, we took a hard look at ourselves. If we were going to find meaning and fulfillment in our lives, we were going to have to do it on our own. If we were going to have a solid marriage, we were going to have to do it, with or without children.
And we realized one more thing.
We talk about “our” children and use those possessive pronouns “my” and “our.” We had been treating the idea of family with an urgent sense of acquisition. The same verbs and possessives that we used to describe our house, our cars and all of our stuff, we used to describe the children we desired.
But if we ever have kids, they will not really be our kids. They might be made in our image, if they are biological. But they are really made in God’s image. They are God’s children. He just lets us have them for a little while. We have choices about how we will steward them, but we will never own them. That is the wonder of parenting: how much we can pour into another person who then…leaves. Because that leaving is the goal the whole time.
What do you think? Any preconceptions of parenting that were shattered, either when you had kids or did not have kids?