Tag Archives: sacrifices

On Privilege, Planning, and Progeny: Wading into the NFP debate

Simcha Fisher, in her inimitable style, has set off an explosion in the middle of NFP week with her lastest piece The Privilege of Saying “No Thanks” on NFP. Her assertion, in response to another blog, is that anyone who can say “no thanks” to family planning is coming from a position of privilege. While Fisher focuses most on financial privilege she notes that this is only one kind. Other considerations include the privilege of a healthy relationship between spouses, or the privilege of good health either mental or physical.

When Fisher speaks of poverty she speaks with the passion of someone who knows this suffering intimately. This powerful and purposefully discomfiting language combined with the word choice of privilege seems to have set off a wave of defensiveness from many readers. It doesn’t sound nice. It shouldn’t. Suffering isn’t nice or clean or pleasant. It makes you squirm. If it isn’t clear yet I don’t disagree with Fisher’s article, and I don’t think her words were cruel but it’s unfortunate how often we can’t hear each other because of a particular word choice.

It is unfortunate that camps exist in Catholic family planning land. I call it family planning because whether you use NFP or not you are planning. You’re making a conscious decision about how to conduct your family life. Which is really Simcha Fisher’s point at the end of the day I think. We’re all examining all the factors involved and making a good faith decision to live God’s will for us as best we can. If your will is not constrained in your choice then, well let’s call it lucky or blessed if privilege feels too loaded.

Since both camps exist in a world hostile to our lifestyle, it’s especially sad that both feel judged and attacked by the other. I can see why people who have bravely (and it is brave even if you are privileged) said “no thanks” feel that their sacrifice is somehow denigrated by the “charge” of privilege. As Fisher pointed out in her piece this was not her intention despite tone designed to shake us out of our complacency. There is no fault in being blessed. It’s just good to note that you are, give thanks, and show charity to the less fortunate.

Maybe if hearing this point feels like an accusation, looking at it from the perspective of the other will help. You are not the only ones who feel their position is misunderstood or portrayed negatively. NFP couples feel the same. Let’s flip the camera for a moment. Saying “no thanks” and having a large family does involve taking on large burdens that many in our world would not undertake. If it feels that having those burdens treated as an advantaged position seems dismissive of their difficulty realize this is actually the exact same feeling many NFP couples experience when they are discussed as a whole. Often having fewer children is discussed as a privileged, easier reality when it is one we would happily trade in.

As I wrote in The Generosity of Catholic Family Planning years ago, we find a lot of sympathy for the infertile and a lot of praise for those who do not use any method of natural family planning. But at best those couples who could have children but sometimes don’t are seen as having an acceptable excuse.

It is assumed, at least by the language we use, that all families who have less children than they might have in fact want less children than they might have and have luckily come down with a perfect case of grave cause to justify that desire. No. Couples using NFP as the church allows are very often grieving their position. First there is whatever suffering is requiring the avoidance of pregnancy. But watching the opportunity for a child come and go is often a cross itself. Of course since they have children they are not allowed to grieve. This should be enough for them to many observers. And since they have slightly fewer children their generosity must be slightly less as well to another set of judges.

On the contrary, such couples are making a tremendous sacrifice and I’m not talking about having to go without sex on the days of fertility. I’m talking about sacrificing fertility and potential children out of a conviction that this is what obedience to God’s plan requires of them at this time. Yesterday I packed away the newborn clothes. Without becoming too awkwardly personal I suffer from layer upon layer of separate health conditions which will eventually make it necessary for me to forgo more children. It is the time bomb at the centre of many family discussions. I won’t lose my fertility mind you. No the decision will be a month by month reminder that I could have more kids but shouldn’t. I sadly realized that in all likelihood this would be the last time I took out at least one set of newborn clothes, either girl or boy.  Forever I will either have way too many children for some or not enough for others. A whole set of people, the set I should have in my corner because we’re all in this crazy counter cultural open to life family life together, will forever see me as privileged enough to have only 5 or 6 while that “only” means something much sadder to me and mine.

Here’s the thing, privilege and disadvantage aren’t mutually exclusive. Joy and suffering often go hand in hand, crosses and blessings. None of this is quantifiable and comparable. Placing ourselves on scales and trying to weigh out who has it best and who deserves what praise and what sympathy will lead to jealousy, pride, scrupulosity, and anger. It isn’t a competition. Where we are blessed let us give thanks and be inspired to help each other. Reach out to the big “no thanks” family and help them. Reach out to the NFP family and help them. Heaven knows we all need it. We may find our own crosses bless us with the ability to help others with different ones. Often the best way to lighten a cross just a little is to help carry another’s. It can be a privilege.

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A Sacrifice Freely Given

Last week I hit a major blogging milestone!  I really feel like I’ve arrived.  I got my very first angry personal attack response.  Actually response is a generous term.  It would imply the comment had something to do with what I wrote.  It came under this article, about marriage, but the string of comments were all about why I shouldn’t have wasted my youth having babies and how I ought to have a useful career.  I can only assume it wasn’t the article that offended her, but the two sentence author bio at the bottom. I sat for awhile, mystified, and attempted a response.  (Pro-tip: If you write something about being polite and not a hypocrite you will be hampered in responding to internet trolls. )  Her next comment, in response to mine, was even angrier.  Luckily, any temptation to try another reply was removed when she was banned by the moderator.  There is really no point in trying to defend yourself against this sort of attack. After all, what can you say to someone who can judge your entire life on the basis of a couple of sentences?  

Still I did find myself wanting to stick up for myself, not so much to this one woman as to the all too common point of view she so charmingly expressed.  What I found sad about it was that, aside from the creative use of the word “rump” it was all very familiar.  I’ve read similar comments under just about any article about large families or stay at home moms.  These comments usually employ the highly effective shot gun approach to personal criticism: spray absolutely everything you can think of at your opponent however unrelated and there will be so many things to respond to that they actually can’t formulate a coherent response.  Bonus: YOU don’t have to be coherent.  Sprinkled liberally amongst accusations that I am judgmental, prideful, and prematurely decrepit, came the standard main points which I have tried to organize a little bit by heading.

1) Personal: You don’t know yourself; your husband/religion oppresses you; you have no life/interests outside your children; didn’t take enough “me” time, you’re too stupid to do anything else.

 2) Societal: You are a burden on society; all you do is sit at home “pumping out babies” (these comments always say pumping out babies); you’re lazy; you’re irresponsible, you’re letting down Womankind and Feminism.  

3) Financial: Your husband supports you; society supports you; you need financial indepence.  My dear commenter friend was deeply concerned about who would support us if Mike died.  She thoughtfully let me know it wouldn’t be her nor the clergy who “guilted” me into having four whole kids.  

There is plenty to unpack there and most of it I won’t even bother with.  Just briefly let me say that I’m not pumping out babies.  I’m raising human persons thank you very much.  Somebody is always raising the children, whether you pay a teacher or babysitter or do it yourself.  Here’s a fun website for calculating a housewife’s “income”Furthermore, if someone is so short-sighted that they can’t see the economic importance of children (or future earners, spenders, creators and taxpayers if you prefer), then I don’t have time to argue.  Frankly I also don’t believe I need to justify my children as a benefit to society.   I believe society exists to benefit the individual, not the other way around.  My children are individuals with value in themselves first and foremost.  You’d think the people who rail at me for not taking enough “me” time would get that.

There is one point I’d like to make though which addresses several of the accusations above and which I feel is not expressed enough.  Everyone makes choices about their professional and personal lives.  Often we consider these decisions from the point of view of the goods we choose.  But we can also look at it from the other side, the goods we sacrificed.  Now this is is a first world problem.  Thank goodness we live in a time and place where women can tear each other to pieces over their differing priorities and choices because we have so many options.   Absolutely it’s a luxury that I can decide to stay home and have my husband support me.  I can choose to have the size of family I want.  Let’s pretend for a moment that I really do get to sit around on my lazy rump all day eating chocolate because I’m a stay at home mom.  (That’s a nice image.  I’ll try and visualize that next time I’ve gone a month with three hours of sleep a night, no option to take a sick day, cooking and cleaning and teaching people to read and grow up to be contributing members of society.)  But I digress, even if it were true that life at home is a breeze, there would still be significant sacrifices involved for stay at home moms, and I think society ought to acknowledge that.

My husband doesn’t oppress me, he does support me.  And I don’t mean financially.  He supports my decision to stay home, home school, and have what is considered a large family.  That was my call.  It was also his.  We chose to marry each other because we have similar priorities and beliefs.  We are equal opportunity oppressors.  I leech off his income and he has someone do his laundry.  Or maybe, just maybe, I give him the home life he desires, and he gives me the home life I desire in return.  He sacrifices the fancy car he could afford without kids and a wife, the freedom to relax after work at the bar instead of coming and helping with bedtime, but I sacrifice too.  I deserve to be acknowledged as making a conscious and free sacrifice just as surely as the career woman who sacrificed time home with her children.   That is seen as a noble sacrifice, my job is seen as either a cushy deal or something I was brainwashed into.

Young women like me were raised in a world where they were given tools to pursue careers and very few tools to be homemakers.  We were raised in a world that respects intellectual and professional pursuits, where those pursuits are the hard fought prizes of feminism.  If you don’t think then, that it is a sacrifice to give up those things, think again.  It’s not the oppressive sacrifice of something stolen from me.  It is the freely given sacrifice of a woman who knows what she wants and is willing to let go of other things she wants to get it.  I love school. I would love to have a Ph.D, to teach at a college, to make a living writing.  These things may happen for me someday.  They are real desires of mine.  But I prioritized the goods in my life and picked the ones associated with the stay at home mom over the others, at least for now.  In fact, I sacrificed something I’m really quite good at, academics, for something I truly struggle with.  I’m a terrible terrible homemaker!  Some women really do love this kind of life.  I love the results of it so much that I am willing to put up with how much I DISlike the day to day of it.  This is true, I think, of the majority of women like me.  It is a sacrifice I am glad to have made.  Proud to have made.  But like all sacrifices it hurts.  

Nor is it limited to professional sacrifice.  I remember as a child watching all the Moms when we would go on camping trips.  The sat around with the babies at the campsite while we went hiking and fishing with the Dads.  How sad, I thought.  When I’m a mother I’ll still be cool and fun and go on all the adventures.  It never occurred to me that these Moms were sacrificing something they would have loved to do to take care of those who were too young to participate.  Now I can scuba, I love hiking, I love fishing trips with the guys, and I spend a lot of time back with the other Moms while the childless women go have fun.  Someday my kids will be old enough that I can jump back into the fray.  Then what fun we will have!  But right now baby needs to nurse and I’m happy to make that sacrifice while she needs me.  It doesn’t mean I don’t love all the things I used to love.  I just love her more.

Beyond that, it is an act of courage to give up an independent income.  Look at divorce in this country!  My husband flies a plane in the Air Force and every year I’m reminded how close we come to losing him when some other family gets a call about a deadly crash.  We stay at home moms have gone all in with our marriages.  God forbid something happened to Mike, it would be scary at first trying to get on my feet.  I wouldn’t become a burden on the state because we’re insured, because I would have family support, and because I would step up and use the professional skills I have to do what needed to be done.  I’d lose the luxury I have right now of staying home, I’d make new choices. But it isn’t lazy and irresponsible to depend on him now.  It’s courageous and hopeful and humble.  I chose to give up independence.  I wasn’t forced, and I didn’t do it to be a kept woman, I did it to contribute in a different way.

None of this, I am quick to add, is to say that those women who have not made the same choices I did are cowardly, prideful, selfish, or any other thing.  I think it is a real sickness of our time that women are each others’ worst enemies.  We are so quick to judge, to paint each other into caricatures with generalizations, to take offense.  I come from an unconventional two income family.  I am grateful for the sacrifices my mother made to contribute to the family finances.  They are the opposite of some of the sacrifices I make and just as poweful.  That’s my whole point.  Each woman finds herself in a unique set of circumstances.  Each deserves the respect of having her choices acknowledged as her own.  I am well aware many people think my choices are outdated or in some other way wrong.  That I can live with.  Just show the courtesy of believing me when I say they are my choices.  And admit that they are complex ones full of pros and cons just like anybody else’s.

If you liked this piece, I have written more on becoming a SAHM from a Career Woman background here.

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