Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Some Thoughts On Other People's Children

Cathy and I do not have children. I do affectionately refer to my cats and dog as our "furkids", but there is no denying that I will never understand the joys or heartaches of having offspring of our own.

To say that I have made my peace with it would be to imply a loss I do not experience. Some feel that childlessness is a state to be pitied; however, as I have no existential reference point, I simply do not feel any sense of deprivation or loss.

As is normal, we have plenty of friends with children. I can think of several such friends that would, should I envy the prospect of parenthood, cause me to be both immeasurably happy for them and deeply disturbed by my own lack of parity. Some friends make parenthood look (almost) easy, but I believe that is simply a lack of perspective on my part.

The cries of neither the tribulations nor the triumphs of our offspring will be heard in our home. Instead, Cathy and I experience slivers of parental joy by offering to watch the kids while our friends actually have a date night, or perhaps attend a function or work late or some other important reason.

Some joy can be derived vicariously from being a parental stand-in. We even have friends who are trusting enough, or perhaps possessing the required senses of humor, to allow me participation in the changing of diapers, getting kids bathed and teeth brushed before bed, and other less-than-glamorous activities. Bedtime stories were a joyful discovery; I actually enjoy reading bedtime stories to children. As I have the luxury of being the non-parent, I suspect I receive a little bit of leniency and good behavior from the children, and I reciprocate by being slightly less stern as their parents would in the course of an average day.

From time to time, the apparent lack of children in our lives comes up in conversation. This is a natural phenomena, and all of our acquaintances go through this process. Once biological children are ruled out, the option of adoption is usually suggested, along with observations about our obvious fitness to be extraordinary parents.

Generous, optimistic projections of how our potentially adopted children would change the world aside, I do not believe I would make a great father. Sure, no father is perfect, but make many sacrifices to have children and to guide them to adulthood. I do not think I could be half the dad my own father was, and at 40, I simply have never faced the need to deprive myself in the ways I think a child would deserve.

Rushing to my defense, our friend point out how we provided for Cathy's mom for over a decade, or how we have sent (a not-insignificant amount of) money to my mother to support her since my father's death. Duty, love and obligation are entwined in my mind regarding patently. Children require sacrifice. Sacrifice is not something I am accustomed to making, and though I would learn, parenthood is not a state of affairs I find myself in nor desiring to enter into.

Biological imperatives, often couched in the creation mandate, do not sway me to have children. If the command to be fruitful and multiply has not yet been met, then I am a monkey's uncle. That said, I do think that it is normal and desirable for a society to have a steady state of population. Nonetheless, I so not think every couple needs to have children, nor do I think that it is a requirement of a marriage. Children need parents, but married people do not have to be parents.

Children are a gift, and when would-be parents spurn that gift, adoption is a beautiful solution to an intractable state of affairs. Parenthood should, from my limited and experience-free perspective, reflect the way God treats all His children. That is a task too high for me, and as we cannot have biological children of our own as a couple, I assume that God has something else in mind for us. Adoption may not be it, either.

We have friends who have adopted, and acquaintances who have done so as well. Some adopt to fill a need of the world, for they have more room in their hearts to welcome children without a home of their own. Others have adopted to fill a need of their own, and just as eating and sleeping are needs, some rightfully need to be parents, and there may be some beauty when children need parents who need them as well.

Adoption, as a notion, gives me the tingles. To understand why I get that tingly feeling, you'd have to hear my thoughts on human depravity and redemption, and perhaps be a little surprised of how little I think of myself. But I'll try briefly...

The very thought of God adopting us, to make the untouchable cherished, to truly redeem something not merely useless but repulsive, is (in a word) just AWESOME. God's love fills me with wonder and it terrifies me. That is what adoption means to me.

Adoption is (should be?) deliberated parenthood. I doubt most natural parents have any idea what they are really getting into with their first child, but good parents are deliberate in undertaking the task. I like to think we know some good parents, who perhaps upon reading this would not think of themselves but should, for they demonstrate God to their children regularly. God's example should inform everything from discipline to recreation, but I remain the opinionated man without children.

Cathy and I neither need children nor feel "called" to parenthood. What I had believed I felt was a calling to be pastor, a cash-poor one at that, and being childless made sense back then. Now I do not know why, but I am comfortable with it. Should we ever have children, it would be a task requiring much grace from a loving God who is willing to give it, so while I would find the prospect awesome, it would be a great privilege and adventure.


  1. I just read this now (after reading your awesome running post). I commend you! Parenting isn't for anyone, and no one should feel bullied into becoming a parent because "It's something you should do". With that said, come and hang out with us and our kids! We miss you!! :)

    1. I know, right? They're getting big, and I wonder if they'll remember us at this rate! I still have beverages from the South to share with Sam...