"Your body is the first thing any child of man ever wanted. Therefore dispose yourself to be loved, to be wanted, to be available. Be there for them with a vengeance. Be a gracious, bending woman. Incline your ear, your heart, your hands to them.... To be a Mother is to be the sacrament - the effective symbol - of place. Mothers do not make homes, they are our home." from Bed and Board, Robert Farrar Capon

Friday, September 7, 2012

Why Have Children?

I came across a great article in World Magazine the other night.  It is called Metaphysically Deceived, by Mindy Belz.  In it she quotes a small passage from a wonderful 1993 essay by theologian and ethicist Gilbert Meilaender called "The Meaning of the Presence of Children," which I then found and read in its entirety, and I'm so glad I did.  (For some reason I cannot create a link to it because it was a PDF download, but you can type the article name into Google and download the PDF for yourself if you're interested), and I think it is well worth reading.
It is so good that I just have to put up this (rather lengthy) excerpt:

 The Meaning of the Presence of Children, by Gilbert Meilaender -

 There is, I claimed at the outset, a certain pathos in the question, Why have children? 
It suggests a loss of spontaneous confidence in life and an impoverishment of spirit. This does not mean that such a question is unreasonable, particularly for those whose circumstances make hope difficult, though we may doubt whether they are the ones always most likely to raise the question. In any case, I do not seek to judge the difficulties facing any particular married couple or their special circumstances; rather, I seek to reflect upon the social significance of our attitude toward the presence of children. 

The formation of a family is most truly human, a sign of health, when it springs from what Gabriel Marcel called “an experience of plenitude.” To conceive, bear, and rear a child ought to be an affirmation and a recognition: affirmation of the good of life that we ourselves were given; recognition that this life bears its own creative power to which we should be faithful....
The desire to have children is an expression of a deeply humanistic impulse to be faithful to the creative power of the life that is mysteriously ours....

 But granting all such provisos, there is still a sense in which planning alone cannot capture the “experience of plenitude” from which procreation, as its best, springs. There is, after all, no necessity that human beings exist—or that we ourselves be. That something rather than nothing exists is a mystery that lies buried in the heart of God, whose creative power and plenitude of being are the ground of our life. That life should have come into existence is in no way our doing. Within this life we can exercise a modest degree of control, but we deceive ourselves if we forget the mystery of creation that grounds our being.  To form a family cannot, therefore, be only an act of planning and control—unless we are metaphysically deceived. It must also be an act of faith and hope, what Marcel termed “the exercise of a fundamental generosity.” 

To the extent that we moderns have understood the family as a problem to be mastered, and not a mystery to be explored faithfully, we have quite naturally come to adopt a certain attitude toward our children. They have been produced, not out of any spontaneous confidence in life, but as the result of our own planning. We are, therefore, tempted to suppose that we must— and can—become their protectors, the guarantors of their future. Paradoxically, having lost the metaphysical underpinnings of procreation as a participation in the Creator’s own gracious self- spending, having lost much of the real significance of the family, we make of it more than it is.

In love a man and a woman turn from themselves toward each other. They might, however, miss the call of creative fidelity to life and be forever content to turn toward each other alone, to turn out from themselves no more than that. But in the child, their union, as a union, quite naturally turns outward. They are not permitted to think of themselves as individuals who come together only for their own fulfillment. In the child they are given a task. Their union plays its role in a larger history, and it becomes part of their vocation to contribute to the ongoing life of a people....

In many respects this is the most fundamental task of parents: transmission of a way of life. When the son of the ancient Israelite asked, “‘What does this mean?,” his father told again the story of the mighty acts of God, the story of their common life as a people....  Parenthood is not just biological begetting. It is also history—a vocation to nurture the next generation, to initiate it into the human inheritance of knowledge and obligation....

And until we rediscover the inner meaning of the venture of parenthood as a mystery to be lived rather than a problem to be controlled, we will be ill equipped to deal with the ills we confront."


  1. Wow that IS good. The family as a mystery to be explored reminds me of Capon in Bed and Board. I can't wait to read the whole thing.Thank you

  2. Thank you for this post it is very encouraging...
    I like the part that says , "To form a family cannot, therefore, be only an act of planning and control—unless we are metaphysically deceived. It must also be an act of faith and hope, what Marcel termed “the exercise of a fundamental generosity.”

    This is good news to me!! Being three weeks away for having my fourth child!! I am very excited and glad, but there is also the sinful nature that has doubts and fears about the future; about taking care of these children. ;-)

    But we serve an abundant God with and abundant earth "fundamental generosity". It is a different story than the stories that prevail in this age... "to many peaople...", "Limited resources"... , "global warming...", "lower your carbon footprint..." to name a few. The world is run by fear!

    It made me think of the scripture, "I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread."
    Psalm 37:25

    Thank you Lord!

  3. Thank you Lord for turning Hans and I "outward" - and giving us children that all our "planning and control" could never have brought us to being (daily) reduced to "faith and hope" and trusting and crying out to God!!!
    thank you Leah!

  4. Thank you, Leah, for reminding me again today that my children are an expression of hope and faith toward God. The woman in Proverbs 31 does not fear the snows of winter, for all her household are clothed in scarlet. The article is very encouraging, setting our focus once again on the "home" in us which our children truly need - Jesus Christ.