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She Can't Afford the Right Shoes

Yesterday I found my way to the local strip mall beauty salon. Since it was the day after Easter Sunday and most folks did their primping last week I was the only customer. As my stylist set about giving me a trim I listened to the conversation around me. One stylist looked like she was in her early thirties. She talked about her two children one of whom is a teenager. It became obvious that she is unmarried but now seeing someone. She stated clearly that she was not about to have any more children. If her new beau wanted children he was going to have to look elsewhere. She had a boy and a girl. Why did she need any more children? Another beautician chimed in how it was better to have one “good” child than a house full of children for whom you could not provide everything. After all, children want a new pair of name brand shoes every week. You can’t do that when you have a lot of children.

I was very silent during this exchange. It was so sad to hear children spoken of as acquisitions rather than gifts from God. It was unbelievable that someone would reject the gift of life because they couldn’t afford the right brand of sneakers for more than one child. I really didn’t know what to say. I paid for my haircut and went on my way. But I have felt haunted by these sentiments ever since.

When did our culture turn parenting from a self-giving vocation to a parent-centered avocation? Having children is now about the benefits children provide for the parents. It completes their image. The thinking isn’t much different from a man who might seek a beautiful woman to look good on his arm. In the same way this man showers his eye candy with jewels so that she befits his stature, parents shower their children with material goods and enrichment programs so that they reflect well upon Mom and Dad. If they can’t give their children name brand clothing, a new car, private music lessons and an Ivy League education, why have children?

I believe this mentality developed forty years ago with the widespread use of contraception. Children are no longer a sign of God’s will for a marriage. Rather they are something we control based on our own will. The Church clearly states that couples are to be prudent with their fertility. There are valid reasons to avoid conception by abstaining from sexual activity during fertile segments of a woman’s reproductive cycle. However, the inability to provide the latest and greatest of worldly possessions does not strike me as one of those valid reasons. We are coming up on the 40th anniversary of the Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae Vitae. If you have not read it, I urge you to read it now. It is clear the prophetic nature of this document was not appreciated forty years ago. We must pray that it is appreciated now.


phbrown said…
Well said; children have truly become something we “control based on our own will.” A not-always-appreciated side effect of this mentality is the rise of the infertility industry. I say this not to downplay the very real pain of those who want kids and find they can't conceive—my wife and I were infertile ourselves—but rather to note that more than a little bit of that pain (my own included) is culturally-induced. If we can turn off our fertility at will, surely we can turn it on at will, too—except that God does not always cooperate with our plans.

And so we have the sad spectacle of folks who put off having children during those inconvenient years before getting themselves established, only to find, when they decide they're ready, that their fertility isn't what it once was. All too often, such folks resort to life-destroying methods (think IVF) to conceive life, when they could have been blessed for the asking ten years earlier.

Again, the pain of infertility is very real, regardless of the cause. But we have much more infertility now than in the past, and the means we use to address it are often at odds with the stated pro-child purpose of infertility treatment. Much of this difference comes, I believe, from the same planning, controlling attitude towards children that (in the general case) underlies contraception.

Sarah said…
Denise, you're right on (as usual).
Jennifer F. said…
I believe this mentality developed forty years ago with the widespread use of contraception. Children are no longer a sign of God’s will for a marriage. Rather they are something we control based on our own will.

Amen! I completely agree. I also feel so sad when I hear conversations like that.
JLF said…
I encountered this same attitude this weekend. I was introduced to several new colleagues and we were getting to know each other by discussing our families.

I am joyfully married with two children - a 2 year old daughter and a 2 month old son. My colleagues admired my baby and commented that it was great that I had a girl and a boy. Indeed, I am very blessed to have my daughter and son (and would be regardless of their gender), but the women were surprised that I hope to have more children. I responded that having children was so wonderful that I couldn't help but hope for more. They then brought up the expense, as though financial concerns are the most important part of raising chilren.

Although I didn't realize the importance at the time, I had a very good role model for raising a Catholic family. My mentor in graduate school has seven beautiful children who are well-loved, well-taught, and well-provided for on a very modest budget. Now that I feel surrounded by a culture intent on creating the perfect image of a family as a boy and a girl smiling in their name brand clothes, it is very comforting to reflect on the obvious joy my mentor took in his family and to remember the many ways he allowed God to be in charge of it.
Linda said…
I can appreciate what you're saying. However, I think one should also consider that it's very expensive to raise children now -- even on a Target wardrobe. A recent Time magazine article says that it costs over $200,000 to raise the average child to adulthood now, not including college costs. Just sayin'
phbrown said…
Two observations, Linda:

1. Kids are expensive. My family's budget shows it. But at what point should my wife and I (in effect) say to the kids we might have had that it's better for them not to live at all than to live without <insert material good here>? If the material good in question is food or clothing, OK, I have to say that I don't think we should attempt to have more kids than we can feed. But if the material good in question is designer sneakers or Happy Meals or cable TV—well, that's going to give a different answer.

2. My wife and I found out in grad school that you really don't have to live the average-American lifestyle to have enough. One of the major steps is not trying to keep up with Mr./Ms. Average American. If you focus on what works for you and your family, you might be amazed (as we were) on how little you really need. You can't get the expenses (including the kids' expenses) down to zero, of course, but just because everybody else is spending $200K per kid on average doesn't mean that you have to spend that much. It just means that Americans on the whole are playing the complicated values/lifestyle/needs/wants tradeoff in such a way that it comes out to $200K per child on average.

Linda said…
True, but I'm just saying that there is a bottom line in there somewhere where some people perhaps can't afford a third or fourth child. Or an eighth. Or whatever. I do agree that children do not need a designer lifestyle, but they do need health insurance, food, clothing, a bit of recreation and a roof over their head. Last time I checked these items weren't free.
Anonymous said…
I see what Linda is saying, but I have to agree with Peter. I am raising 4 children on one income while I stay home with the children. We are blessed to have saved money on a house by building ourselves (literally, doing almost all the work) and that my husband's job has very good health insurance. Having a larger family on one income has taught me how to find the best deals at the grocery store and the joy of garage-saling/second-hand shopping. (Better for the environment as well!) We have a garden late-spring-early fall which not only provides us with almost all of our vegetables, but also teaches the children many valuable lessons. If I may say, I think Peter is saying that what we Americans view as "necessities" are anything but. I agree that if one cannot feed, cloth or shelter the children they have, then that is good cause to possibly avoid another pregnancy. But I also strongly believe that the Good Lord provides if you're open to recieve. I don't know if I will have more children, my oldest is 6 and my youngest is only 1, however I get so upset when I hear comments suggesting that any more than two children in one family are burdensome. Past generations must look back and laugh at what we think is impossible. Somehow those big families of the Great Depression made it through...

God Bless,
Linda said…
Well, if a person thinks more than two children are burdensome, I try not to judge that person. Even if a person seems to have money, you can't always know for certain what's going on in that person's mind and heart. In my own life I gave birth to two children and always wanted a third very badly. However, I had an immense caretaking job to do when my parents fell ill (I was an only child), plus a job & it all seemed like all I could handle at the time. We didn't have much money. Actually, I could barely handle it at all! I always prayed that someday I would have a third child, however. Later, after my parents died my only son was murdered in the Columbine shootings and we adopted from China as by then I was too old to have another child. Now, I am no longer even Catholic because for about a month after the shootings we were treated like rock stars but then pretty much ignored. I now belong to a Protestant church where at least I feel we are "seen." You can check out my son's website at if you are so inclined.
phbrown said…

I think you're getting at several very important points, which we do all need to remember.

1. You're pointing out that there may be entirely legitimate reasons for limiting family size, and you're right. Matter of fact, the Magisterium agrees with you on that point, which is the whole reason why Catholic teaching allows NFP for serious reasons.

2. You're pointing out that there's a major difference between criticizing a cultural pattern and judging the individuals within that culture who seem to fit the pattern. Criticizing the culture—which I took to be the point of Denise's original post—is part and parcel of being “in the world but not of it.” Criticizing individuals—or, more legitimately, individual behavior—requires enough detailed knowledge of that particular situation to make the call. Sometimes we have that; when my kids start baiting each other, I know quite enough to tell them that this is unacceptable. Often—especially in cases of other folks' decisions about family size—we really don't know all that's involved, and uninformed condemnation just doesn't pass the charity test.

3. There are reasons other than money (like the parents having other duties—care of one's own parents would go here) why folks may legitimately limit family size. Sometimes, people may even talk about these decisions as financial even when (at bottom) they might not be, simply because the money arguments are so easy to make. Again, we have to be very careful when criticizing individuals.

Linda said…
Ya know, I could be way off base here, but I rather think Jesus would have offered at least a nominal condolence on the brutal murder of my innocent and wonderful son before he launched into a lenthy lecture on NFP.
Catholic Mom said…

Please know that I did not write this post to be judgmental of those who discern to limit their family size. The Church openly supports such discernment. Yet such discernment needs to be made prayerfully and in light of Divine Providence. Surrendering ourselves to God's will is the ultimate challenge of being a Christian. Jesus was obedient even to the point of death. Mary offered her Fiat, the perfect "yes" at the Annunciation. However, we do not have the Divinity of Christ or the grace of Mary's Immaculate Conception so we are each hampered by our own human weaknesses. The conversation that prompted this post was guided by shallow earthly concerns. When God is left out of the decision making process, the decision is intrinsically flawed. That was my intent with this post. It was most definitely not a declaration that large families are the only faithful response in a Catholic marriage.
Catholic Mom said…
Also, Linda, please know that I watched the Columbine tragedy unfold from a hospital room as I spent the final hours I would ever spend with a loved one of my own. I prayed for all those involved then and I continue to keep all those affected by such senseless violence in my prayers. May God bless you.
Linda said…
Thanks for the prayers. I'm sure Columbine is a complete bore and way in the past to a lot of people, except if it was your kid it wouldn't be. Unfortunately there is something to that old standard Catholic moniker of "our Lady of Perpetual Sorrow."
Linda said…
And, I still say that there have got to be WAY more pressing problems in this world than who is and who isn't using NFP. Jesus didn't say anything about it, and I doubt if he would be obsessing over it. Only a minority of Catholics obsess over this anyway, as studies have shown. Myself, I'd rather figure out how to avert the next school shooting.
Catholic Mom said…
Linda, I cannot begin to fully appreciate how you have suffered because I have not walked in your shoes. I am sorry your Catholic community did not meet your needs during your time of acute grief. This was a failure of a group of individual humans, not a failure of the Church. What you call "obsessing" about NFP is actually the very counter-cultural movement of recognizing the true sanctity of all human life. It is seeing every child as a gift from God. It really doesn't matter if only a handful of Catholics truly appreciate this. Truth isn't decided by majority rule. Those who are working to promote the loving culture committed to human dignity envisioned by Humane Vitae really are working to stop the next school shooting and the next case of child abuse and the next case of domestic violence and the next abortion. I hope that someday along your spiritual journey you will be able to read Humane Vitae and see what a powerful life affirming message it proclaims. It is much deeper and more profound than a mere prohibition of artificial birth control.
RAnn said…
I just have to comment on the $200,000 figure to raise a child. I heard it bantered about in various places and went looking for the computations at one time. What I discovered is that one component of that figure is rent! In other words, if your house payment is $1,000/month and you have a couple and two kids living there, each kid is "charged" $250/month. They do the same with the electric bill, phone bill, cable bill etc. Now, I don't know about you, but among people I know, the size of the house payment has a lot more to do with the size of the income than the size of the family. While it is true that my power bill would decrease somewhat if I ditched the kids, if I chose to live in this house it wouldn't go down that much. In short, the real cost to raise kids, while it can be made to be substantial with lots of toys, private schools, camps, designer clothes etc., isn't anywhere near $200,000 unless you want it to be.
Mary Margaret said…
Oh, Linda, please accept my condolences on the loss of your son. No tragedy is ever really over and done with--Columbine was a terrible and tragic event. I should remember more often to continue to remember the victims and their families in my prayers. I am so very sorry. I can't imagine your pain.

I don't worry much myself about how others are treating their fertility, even though I completely agree with the Church's teachings. I know that my older daughter is using a barrier method of contraception, and although I believe that she and her husband are wrong, we rarely discuss it.

I, like you, longed for a third child and never had him/her. I never had an option to adopt.

I understand why you were so hurt that you left the Catholic Church. I know that the members of the church abandoned you, but Jesus never will. I hope you come back--I can't imagine life without the Eucharist--but, regardless, I will pray that you find peace in your life.
Chris said…
very interesting post- how sad that the world has come to this.
We have adopted 2 children and in all the mountains of paperwork we had to fill out, not once were we asked what brand of shoes/clothing we planned to provide for our child...

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