Monday, April 18, 2016

Giving up the party to have more kids

Jacob Maris [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
When I was pregnant with my second, a young couple told me they weren’t having more children because they wanted to be able to do “everything” for their daughter. They couldn’t afford blow-out birthday parties for another one, and they’d just thrown a very costly Frozen-themed extravaganza for twenty of her closest friends.

I don’t host parties for my children now, and still want another baby. Think how much easier it is to raise kids who are attached to people, not things. There’s no Pinterest anxiety for mom; no $1,000 birthday parties with takeaways. I have a goal: to never be on my hands and knees scrubbing the carpet after a kid (whose last name I don’t even know) dropped cake on the floor and bailed without notifying an adult armed with Oxyclean.

I know—I’m a really fun mom.

But the kids will be alright. I’ve seen parents positively wilt when their child makes a demand. It’s okay to say no, and it’s okay to hear it. It prepares them for life—not “real life” that happens when they’re eighteen, but real life happening right now, when they need to behave at Mass, at the Post Office, or on a walk to the library.

Without truth, charity degenerates into sentimentality. Love becomes an empty shell, to be filled in an arbitrary way. In a culture without truth, this is the fatal risk facing love. It falls prey to contingent subjective emotions and opinions, the word “love” is abused and distorted, to the point where it comes to mean the opposite. —Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI
Maybe the permissive parents and the gift-givers hope the payoffs will, well, payoff. But it doesn’t work in the mob, and it doesn’t work in families either. You can’t buy loyalty, or love. I used to think parents gave in because it was easier, but do-what-you-want parents aren’t having an easier time of it. 

The Church sets clear priorities for parents, which have nothing to do with Frozen parties or iPads. According to the Catechism:
The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life, is by its nature ordered toward the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring; this covenant between baptized persons has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament. (1601)
Part of my “education” growing up went a little like this: If I refused to eat dinner I heard about starving children in Africa that would love my spaghetti (even if it did have mushrooms in the sauce). Which may explain why I ended up working in Ethiopia. My dad also frequently looked out the window and said, “I don’t see a gravy train going through the backyard.” Now that I’m a mom, I find there’s not one in my backyard, either.

We’re filling our own need when we give kids whatever they want. They’re kids; they can’t control their appetites as well as adults. It’s like going to an all-you-can-eat buffet where you eat pizza, sushi, beef stroganoff, and desserts dipped in a chocolate fountain. You eat it all, then push your chair away from the table, search your purse for some Tums, and think you really made out like a bandit. But did you?

You feel gross.

So when kids are glued to iPads at the grocery store and plugged into DVD players in the car, we’re selling them short. When every whine results in an adult scrambling to hand over the phone/chocolate/toy, or apologize profusely and promises to rectify the error—we’re filling them up with all the wrong things. It doesn’t bring them closer, but rather pushes them away with that same I-ate-too-much feeling.

Teaching children that life is always precious, and that people are more important than things isn’t something they’ll stumble across in a Disney Movie. Save that party budget to buy diapers for a second (or third, or fourth, or fifth) baby. No holiday should be about getting everything we want. We’re celebrating a person—the birth of a baby, the life of a saint, the coming of Christ—and not the world. The truly generous gesture, the greatest gift parents can give, is a sibling—they never go out of style, require no batteries, and last a lifetime.