Thank you all for the great comments to my posts on contraception (here and here and here). I appreciate everyone’s honesty. This is especially relevant for me right now since I’m about to face family planning decisions for the first time in my life after my second baby gets here in July.
A lot of issues regarding contraception, NFP and large families have been brought up (for those of you who haven’t been keeping up with the discussion I encourage you to scan through the comments — great stuff). But the one that’s most interesting to me is the issue of the difficulty of raising children.
There’s a huge, HUGE problem in the world right now that is wreaking havoc on societies (particularly America) that isn’t given the credit it’s due: the breakdown of communities due to the mobilization of society. The 180-degree change in day to day life that’s happened since post-WWII advances in communication, economics and technology have made it commonplace for families to bounce around from place to place, often making moves of thousands of miles or more.
A book or two could be written about all the devastating effects it’s had on people, but let’s think for a moment just about how it affects women:
Pretty much all of our ancestors who lived before 60 years ago lived in the same geographically small communities their whole lives, as did their immediate and extended families. Your next door neighbor was your sister, your parents lived down the street, and cousins, nieces and nephews were constantly in and out of your house. Even your neighbors who weren’t relatives were people you’d known your whole life.
As a woman, having daily help was a given. Younger sisters, nieces and other mothers were constantly around. All throughout the day you had little breaks where you could take your eyes off the kids for a minute since there were trusted relatives or friends around to watch them.
Contrast that to today:
We mothers have no breaks. I liken being a stay-at-home mother today to being an air traffic control operator who works 12 hours a day, seven days a week, while being on call all night. You have NO mental break. Ten minutes to grab a quick shower? Not with a toddler in the house. Just take him into the bathroom with you? Fine, but be prepared to spend 15 minutes cleaning up after a wet toilet paper party. Having a bad day and need five minutes to collect yourself over a cup of coffee? Out of the question. And for those of us whose children don’t sleep well, don’t forget to throw chronic, often debilitating exhaustion into the mix. The theory of sleeping when the baby sleeps is nice, but nap time is your only time to pay bills, return phone calls and emails and have a moment to yourself.
To not even be able to turn your back long enough to brush your teeth, to not have a moment to yourself after hours and hours of being around a toddler who’s going through a “testing limits” phase, all while functioning on much less sleep than your body requires, is an incredibly stressful way to live. Throw in the needs of a new baby on top of that and it becomes borderline impossible. God designed us to live in close-knit communities and family groups; the modern situation of being on your own personal desert island, by yourself in a house all day where you are the sole person available to provide for your children’s safety, nutrition and entertainment, is totally unnatural. It tests the limits of psychological endurance.
On a personal note, I had this theory before I had children and have only found it to be more and more true the longer I am a mother. In fact, when my son was six months old I convinced my mother to sell her house (in a different city) and move to my town so that we could move in with her (I also wanted to save money since we were starting a business, but the main motivation was getting a support system in place for myself). Since my mom does have a job I used the money we save from living here to have a babysitter come a few hours a week to give me time to pay bills, plan dinner menus, go to midwife appointments, etc.
Sound luxurious? It is compared to the lives of most mothers today, yet it’s really just the historically “normal” way to live. And I have to say, the difference is night and day. It’s like a different life. I still find being a mother difficult, but it’s more of a healthy challenge than the “I think I would DIE if I had another child right now!” type of feeling I used to have when I was by myself all day, every day.
To drag poor ‘ol Steve G. into this and use the example he gave: If his wife lived in a traditional setting with sisters nearby and a bunch of little nieces and cousins in and out of the house all the time, arguing over who gets to hold the baby next and playing with his sons, I doubt she’d be “terrified” by the prospect of another baby right now. Yes, it would be something to try to avoid, but it wouldn’t feel like the end of the world if it did accidentally happen as it (rightfully so) probably would now.
I think this is part of the disconnect between people who are not/not yet parents and those who are. I can see how it seems like, “C’mon, it can’t be THAT hard to have kids, it’s what God designed us to do and what people have been doing for tens of thousands of years.” Or why so many mothers get depressed about their situation, feeling like “Why is it that women all throughout human history have been able to do this and be happy but somehow *I* can’t?! What’s wrong with me?”
The missing link here is that women have, up until very recently, never had to do it alone. And that makes all the difference in the world.
And I think this situation makes the case for NFP and openness to big families an uphill battle. Today’s mother of six is taking on a much, much greater challenge than the mother of six who lived 150 years ago. I’m not exactly sure what the solution is, but I think that addressing this issue is key to having a society that’s open to new life.
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