Yes children can be a handful, but…
This piece is as much about having children as not having them. And I need to begin by stating the obvious: Not all people want to have children. And some do want to have children but are unable to. So I am not picking on anyone here.
If you are quite content with childlessness, read no further if you prefer. Some of these folks who want no children believe that kids are a burden and a foil to their free-flowing and fun lifestyle. Yes they can be that, but they can also be so much more – they can be such an amazing blessing.
Like everything in a fallen world, there are pros and cons. I am now a widower, but I have three children who care and who help, so even though I am now living alone, they make things so much easier. Simply coming around for a visit, or bringing a meal, or helping to do some chores around the home is a great blessing.
But we all differ of course. I know of some folks who have no children and are aging – as we all do. How they will cope remains to be seen, but it could be quite hard on some of them. As we age, as when we are quite young, we are so very dependent on others.
I would think that if you are an only child, and you grow and age and remain childless, well, if nothing else, that particular branch of the family tree will come to an end. Some will not care if it does. But I think of lonely aging people with no kids and no family members. That has got to be tough for so many of them.
Do they just get dumped in an old folks home with only strangers to look after them in their final days? Sure, that sometimes happens to the elderly who DO have children. But presumably the offspring will regularly visit their parents while in such care.
Again, some folks say they quite prefer having no kids. That is up to them, and I judge them not for this. But whether you are a non-believer or a believer, there is something to all this that seems to mitigate against the ‘no-child’ mindset. For example, the evolutionist would say we are meant to reproduce ourselves to keep the species going. That is what our genes do, and are all about.
The Christian would say that children are a gift of God, and a way of reproducing a spiritual heritage. Either way of looking at it, children are a fundamental part of who we are as human beings. Of course the Christian recognises that while having children in a married home is the norm, God has also given some people the gift of singleness (see 1 Corinthians 7 for example).
I repeat: I fully realise that not everyone is called to be married and have children. And some who desperately want kids cannot have them for various reasons. But instead of this article being a lengthy essay on the pros and cons of having children, let me just use it as yet another excuse to highlight a few books I have been discussing a lot lately.
I refer to two important volumes edited by William Bennett: The Book of Virtues (Simon & Schuster, 1995); and The Moral Compass (Simon & Schuster, 1993). I have reviewed both books in recent articles:
Both books remind us that moral education and storytelling are intimately related. One of the chapters of The Moral Compass is on the issue of marriage and family. The chapter celebrates the many joys, blessings – and difficulties – that parents will face. I want to share a poem from it called “The Charge of the Night Brigade”:
A scurry of feet on the bedroom stair,
A twitter along the hall-
And this is the charge of the night brigade,
To capture me heart and all.
And there is the Captain, Sleepy Eyes,
And there is Lieutenant Dream,
While the only arms of love are theirs
As into my heart they stream.
A low, little laugh as they form in line
Robed in their slumber gowns-
No armor rude with its harsh intrude,
No helmets that clank and frown;
They come for the hug and the goodnight kiss,
And unto my heart they bring
The song of the bedtime troops of love,
With its old, ineffable ring.
I sigh as I think of the lonesome folk
In their fortresses alone,
Where never the children charge with their cheer
Where the bedtime song’s unknown;
Who sit in their childless realm aloof
Nor ever behold at all
The Sleepy Eyes and the Golden Dream
Come marching down through the hall.
Who never have felt to run their necks
Nor even upon their lips
The soft caress of a little arm,
Or a kiss with its sweet eclipse;
I do not know what I would do
Were the bedtime troops away,
And I almost dread the time to come
When they all march to the grown up fray.
In a single file, to a merry tune,
Whispering, wild with glee,
They turned the knob and opened the door
And rushed to the heart of me;
Retreat is vain, resist I won’t,
So on my lap they leap-
The troops of the night brigade that come
For the kiss of the tender sleep.
I was going to say that now that I am home alone, I no longer have that issue. But I stand corrected. My cat does her best to keep me awake each night as she sleeps with me, and my dog does her best to wake me early each morning when she wants to go out! So even childless adults can still struggle in this area.
But as I say, there are good bits and bad bits to everything, including having children. But most parents would never trade all of this (the easy as well as the difficult) for having no kids at all. The benefits are innumerable. And what good parenting does for children is inestimable.
With that in mind, let me share one more piece from the same volume and chapter. Many of my book-loving friends at least will appreciate this one. It is called “When Mother Reads Aloud.” It goes like this:
When Mother reads aloud, the past
Seems real as every day;
I hear the tramp of armies vast,
I see the spears and lances cast,
I join the thrilling fray;
Brave knights and ladies fair and proud
I meet when Mother reads aloud.
When Mother reads aloud, far lands
Seem very near and true;
I cross the deserts’ gleaming sands,
Or hunt the jungle’s prowling bands,
Or sail the ocean blue.
Far heights, whose peaks the cold mists shroud,
I scale, when Mother reads aloud.
When Mother reads aloud, I long
For noble deeds to do —
To help the right, redress the wrong;
It seems so easy to be strong,
So simple to be true.
Oh, thick and fast the visions crowd
My eyes, when Mother reads aloud.
Yep, this is but one of a million tasks a mother can perform – and fathers too. Indeed, my previous piece was all about this most noble of professions: motherhood and homemaking: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2024/01/20/the-most-noble-profession/
But having offered a few more quotes from the fabulous Bill Bennett volumes, let me conclude this brief piece by featuring another one of my favourite authors. G. K. Chesterton, writing in The Superstition of Divorce put it this way:
From its first days in the forest this human group had to fight against wild monsters; and so it is now fighting against these wild machines. It only managed to survive then, and it will only manage to survive now, by a strong internal sanctity; a tacit oath or dedication deeper than that of the city or the tribe. But though this silent promise was always present, it took at a certain turning point of our history a special form which I shall try to sketch in the next chapter. That turning point was the creation of Christendom by the religion which created it. Nothing will destroy the sacred triangle; and even the Christian faith, the most amazing revolution that ever took place in the mind, served only in a sense to turn that triangle upside down. It held up a mystical mirror in which the order of the three things was reversed; and added a holy family of child, mother and father to the human family of father, mother and child.