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A blog dedicated to the Source of everything good.

Saturday, October 09, 2004

Contraception, Part II: From Whence Shall My Help Come?

Recommendation: read Part I first. It sets the context for this and subsequent posts in this series.

Warning: lots of questions coming :-)

Many women thrive on tending to large numbers of children. Their personalities and circumstances are such that they have an overall positive experience. Often they have babies that sleep relatively well (after the first few weeks, anyway) and fall into a routine that makes management of home and family a reasonable task. They don’t mind the constant activity and clamor of young children, and perhaps aren’t bothered by disorder in their homes and lives. Interruptions cause them little stress. They can juggle dozens of tasks at once.

Then there are “less tolerant” women. Why are they less tolerant? Is there something wrong with them? Do they have an attitude problem? I'm not convinced that they necessarily do; surely the healthy parent who finds themselves over-stressed does not treasure their children any less nor necessarily have their priorities in the wrong order. (I’m not talking about garden-variety inconveniences associated with raising children, I’m talking about continuous overload. Not to mention difficulty of managing those “more spirited” – or ill -- of children.)

These parents do not necessarily suffer from depression, either, though depression is unfortunately quite common among mothers of young children. Everyone has different tolerance levels. Beyond these, certain circumstances threaten ability to function. Sleep-deprivation certainly exacerbates this tendency as does illness and inadequate nutrition. These are normal human limitations, not sin. And not excuses! Basic personality is God-given and therefore not changeable by us.

For many mothers, carrying, bearing, and nurturing large numbers of children does severely affect her health and quality of life (and indirectly her family’s as well.) Under certain not-so-infrequent conditions, a mother simply cannot properly care for her children before her oldest ones are old enough to help, and perhaps not even after. Especially if she has no family nearby and is lacking means to hire help.

Apparently this was Margaret Sanger’s initial concern. Yes, I realize I’m committing suicide by mentioning even a shred of philosophical allegiance with Ms. Sanger, but let me be clear: I find 99% of her ideas unconscionable. Considering her overall viewpoints, it’s very easy to assume that her concern for women (as discussed at the link) is disingenuous. But my belief is that it is a genuine and valid concern.

I’m convinced that there is more to having a workable family life than simply having the “right” parenting method or home-management philosophy. I’m relatively familiar with most of the ones out there and have tried many of their ideas. I’ve learned a lot. But surely there is no method nor viewpoint that makes life, children, or parents even close to perfect. Surely a mother is rarely as wise with her first child as with her 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, etc. Good parenting is a growing process. And all children, indeed all parents, have their differences.

Several families I know have children that are cooperative and unassuming. I do not believe that this is merely due to good training however. God makes a vast array of personalities, and for some families, “training up” their spirited children is no easy feat. It’s perplexing and exhausting! Parent who have had “easier” babies and children are no doubt tempted to pat themselves on the back and assume that parents whose kids are not so “easy” have just not trained or disciplined them correctly. Well, let me tell you, it’s just as easy for the parent of the challenging child to know in their heart of hearts that they are not so much less wise than other committed parents, yet wonder what they’ve done wrong and why things aren’t working!

Certainly there are wiser parents and less wise ones. But’s not about standards! To say “if only I used the right parenting method and had all the right wisdom, I could handle 12 (or whatever number) children” seems a bit simplistic. (Or maybe I’m dumber than I like to think?)

Anyway, back to my main point: no human mother that I know of (OK, maybe a few, but certainly not me; I’d love to be Superwoman/Supermom, but who am I kidding??) can bear children close together, tend to them, raise them full-time, keep a house in reasonable order, tend to her spouse, and have any semblance of sanity or energy left without help. (I’m talking the human kind, dependence on God goes without saying.)

Here are some of my questions: how many families with lots of children have babies and young children that sleep less than 11-12 hours at night? How many have babies and children that continue to waken very frequently (after the first couple of months at least)? How many have babies that are very difficult to get to sleep? How many have babies that scream almost constantly for the first several months, day and night? How many have babies that do not like to be put down (and cannot be “trained” into it)? How many breastfeed their children, esp. babies who won’t even take a bottle (of breastmilk) and need to nurse more often than every 3-4 hours? How many of these mothers use a pacifier, or have babies that will even take one?

How many mothers with many children go for weeks on end, months or years, even, of severely inadequate sleep? (For those who haven’t experienced this, take it from me – it’s awful.) How many are able to properly tend to their spouses, homes, and other children while tending a very “challenging” baby? How many of these families homeschool and are therefore responsible for all of their children 24/7, with the added responsibility of educating all of them properly and fairly? A mother in such a situation surely needs periods of respite; in other words, she needs outside help.

And so I ask, from whence shall this help come? From single friends? Perhaps sometimes. From grandparents? Sometimes, but not always. From other families with large amounts of children? Perhaps. From families with no or few children? Perhaps.

In the past and in other cultures, lucky mothers had servants and ladies-in-waiting. Even just a few generations past, it was common for upper-middle-class families to have housemaids, cooks, and nursemaids for their babies. Nowadays we still have maids, housekeepers, au pairs, and nannies, but not every family can afford them. Will God provide for this as well as all other needs? The testimony of some “quiverfull” families is "yes." But does the testimony of all families who attempt a quiverfull say “yes?”

Do starving, struggling families in third world countries say yes? (That’s a serious question. No snark here.)

Will God always provide needs we typically take for granted?

In my own personal, well, no, not always. So – am I and others with similar experience doing something wrong? Or, like Job, must we realize that we are clay in the Father’s hands, to do with as He wishes?

Perhaps, if it’s wrong to forsake contraception, it’s also wrong to move away from one’s parents’ community, and vice-versa. Grandparents are a natural source of help for an overwhelmed mother. But not all grandparents are willing or able to help to a degree that makes any difference. If young couples are selfish in that they want to limit their family size, then aren’t able grandparents also selfish in wanting their retirement, freedom, or whatever instead of being willing to help substantially with grandchildren? And what of the grandparents who have so many grandchildren they can’t possibly help with all of them?

The church should also be willing to help. But you’ll find thinking, even among good-hearted church people, that a family shouldn’t be having more & more children if they need help all the time, especially when contraception is available. Perhaps a family could look for another church. But surely God doesn’t require a family to forsake their church family merely to find another that supports “quiverfull" philosophy...unless children are the ultimate priority.

For the exhausted, struggling, and emotionally stressed mother, I also ask, what about the Sabbath? I can honestly say that I did not experience a Sabbath that was actually restful during the first year with each of my children, longer with my first. How does a mother who constantly, and I mean constantly, has young children to tend to, for years on end, experience the Sabbath?

And what might a husband’s role be in all of this? What if his wife begs for his help but he is not able or willing to take off work? Should a husband limit his working hours to merely 40/week? Should his family live strictly on whatever income he makes, living within their means even if this dictates an extreme limit in lifestyle? Even if it means forsaking development of their children’s talents as well as the quality of the education they may receive? What place might hired help have in such a limited budget?

We’re talking a major overhaul of society if we are going to throw out contraception entirely. The level of human suffering would certainly increase. Perhaps this is what God wants! Perhaps His desire is for certain mothers to keep having children so that they must struggle and suffer for years. This life isn't all there is, after all; those who suffer even unto death for His sake will be restored in heaven.

Well, I’m not claiming to have the answers. I’m just trying to think things through to their logical conclusions.

Part III: “Contraception and Stewardship” to follow


  • "Good parenting is a growing process. And all children, indeed all parents, have their differences."

    I think this is the key. I have eight children. I used to attend a support group for mothers of five or more children. I haven't experienced all the problems you mention, but I have experienced some of them and I've talked to moms with large families who have experienced all the rest and then some. I know one mom of seven whose children were bedwetters--the four oldest every night. I know another mother of thirteen whose house is falling down (termites) and who feeds the family on $700.00 per month. Her grown children are nevertheless delightful Christian adults, and the mom herself is sane, sometimes stressed, but feels called to this particular life.
    I really don't think any of us "naturally thrive on tending to large numbers of children." It's a blessing and a cross--both at the same time. And the problem is that I don't see how anyone can decide exactly how many children she can "handle" until after the children are there. I had trouble handling three. Four was a stretch. Then, I had child who died at eight months gestation, and I lost a lot of blood and was severly anemic. I just felt that I should keep going and trust the Lord to provide the strength I needed (and of course, eat right and all that stuff). My next child was born a year later.
    What I'm trying to say is that I think God has used my large family to produce growth in my life, and I'm definitely not there yet. I probably won't have any more chldren (48 years old), but the eight I do have continue to challenge me and drive me to depend on the Lord's strength. Interuptions cause me stress; I can't really juggle dozens of tasks at once. I am bothered by the disorder in my house. But I'm learning both to do it better and to relax about the things I can't do very well yet.
    As said in my comment on your last post, I don't belive that contraception is always wrong or that everyone should have as many children as humanly possible. I do believe that evangelical Christians in general have failed to think about this issue in detail and have used contraceptives and surgery to limit their families without even consulting the Lord in this matter. I'm glad to see that you're thinking about it, and I hope the Holy Spirit gives wisdom to you and all your readers.
    I know I haven't answered all your questions. That's because I don't know ALL the answers.

    By Blogger Sherry, at 5:23 PM  

  • Bonnie, a great article and good questions. But I think you nailed it with your observation that society would need a great overhaul... In fact SOCIETY HAS had a great overhall ( and not for the better) and it went hand and hand with the acceptance of contraception and abortion, first by society at large and then by Christian churches until what was unthinkable in the first part of the 20th century is NOW THE NORM!!!

    And we Christians allowed it to happen.

    Looking forward to your next post.

    By Blogger Elena, at 9:53 AM  

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