"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
My son is getting married. He is our seventh born. At the bridal shower for his wife-to-be, I read the following part of Capon's Bed and Board. I told everyone, this isn't for the the new bride, it is for those of us who have been in the trenches for a while.
"Marriage was instituted in
the time of man’s innocency, but it has operated since under the shadow of the
fall. Therefore its materialities, along with our other materialities, become
the means of our cure. He who perished by a tree is saved by a tree. He who died
by an apple is restored by eating the
flesh of his Savior. Bed, board, rooftree and
doorway become the choice places of our healing, the delimitations of our
freedom. By setting boundaries, they hold us in; but they trammel [restrain] the void as
well. By confining, they keep track of us—they leave the children free to play a
little, rather than be lost at large. Marriage gives us somewhere to be. It is the place where,
night by night, forgiveness and fair speech return, that the sun not go down
upon our wrath…We ask, and are taken in
marriage…and we find ourselves thrown down into a very small piece of ground
indeed. A trench…Adversity has made us bedfellows. It is not what I imagined
at all. Where are the two triumphant giants of love I expected? There are only the two of us, crouched down
here under a barrage of years, bills, and petty grievances, waiting for a sign,
which shows no sign of coming. Most likely we shall die in this trench. There is
really no place else to go, so in the meantime we talk to each other. The sum
and substance of what we manage to say, however, is “Well, here we
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."