Despite what the “child-free” movement would have us believe, having children today is normal, good, and natural. Parenting should not be viewed as an insurmountable financial risk or a great emotional and psychological burden. It is not something for experts only. But it does need a heart of love for children and a willingness to sacrifice for them. Without the readiness for sacrifice, how can we experience what life is all about?
Of course, there are many people who are all too familiar with sacrifice, working in difficult circumstances or dangerous jobs with little reward. You might expect them to argue that in a hazardous, frightening world it is simply too hard to protect someone as helpless as a child. But a recent conversation I had with a young police officer challenges that assumption, too.
Among my various pastoral duties, I serve as chaplain for several state and local law enforcement agencies. This gives me the chance to join them in serving those in need around my county and state. Mark, one of the officers I counsel, was involved in a serious altercation with a troubled young man who had outstanding warrants for his arrest. While attempting to bring him into custody, the situation became violent.
During post-incident counseling, Mark shared with me how profoundly this experience had affected him. He and his fiancée, Rita, reevaluated their priorities and decided to marry a year earlier than planned. In fact, I was honored to offer a prayer of blessing at their marriage, and later to bless the arrival of their son. Mark shared his thoughts about parenting:
We always thought about having kids. Our main fear was for their future. Will they live in a world of chaos, unable to enjoy growing up, always in fear for their lives? What will the survival rate be in the future? We realized that we need to raise kids with the right morals and attitude – “soldiers of tomorrow.” It’s up to us to raise our kids to be what we want the world to be. My contribution to tomorrow is to teach my son values like the difference between right and wrong. As scary as it is with the world going to hell, at least I can do something for one person.
We’re not going to be here forever. We have to pass on what we can, because otherwise it stops here. I learned a lot from my grandfather. He would be upset if all the knowledge and life lessons that he shared ended with me. So I feel relieved that I get to pass it on to another generation. My son can take it on and hopefully pass it on to his kids.
Parenting is a roller-coaster ride. It’s not always easy, but it’s not always going to be tough either. The rewards compensate for the costs that you pay. The things that are given back to you far outweigh the “burden” of not being able to go out to the bar for a drink, or whatever you want to do. Nothing beats the feeling of their arms around you. Just to look a child in the eye and know that you’re the reason they’re here, to see them explore the world – you can’t put that kind of feeling into words. Part of me that was locked away for many years is coming back out and I’m learning how to play like a child again.
I deal with harsh realities every day. To come home at night and just sit there and watch my son sleep – it makes the world okay.
Sceptics will say that it’s one thing for a family with two parents and two jobs to talk about welcoming children. But I heard the same message from someone with none of these benefits. Lisa, a home-care nurse, raised her daughter alone.
My friends keep asking me how I did it. I’m still not sure how to answer. I could say it was tough. I could tell you that we ate whenever we had something to eat, and it was sometimes once a day. I could tell about sharing a mattress in front of the faulty heating element. But my daughter, who is nineteen now, will tell a different story: how we laughed till we knocked the heater over, how we cried onto each other’s shoulders. Of course she would have liked a dad. Of course I kept praying for him, and he didn’t come back. But where would I be without her? I don’t think I would have made it alone. And I hate to think of the world without her in it.
Not every child is as fortunate as Lisa’s daughter, raised by a brave and resourceful mother, or Mark’s son, with two strong and determined parents in a secure home. But I’ve found that children remain children at heart, even those who have been deprived of a childhood. They may be victims of abuse, addictions, or broken families. Though emotionally scarred, they look at you with so much hope. You can see the questions in their eyes: “What can you do for me? Where do I fit into this world?” Over the years I have learned that every child has a story to tell. Each of their stories needs to be told to someone who has time to listen – a parent, a trusted teacher, a guidance counselor.
New children are born into our world every day, and as Tagore writes, each one brings “the renewed message that God has not lost faith in humankind.” It is a mystical thought, but it carries a challenge as well. If the Creator has not lost hope in our humanity, who are we to do so?
This article is excerpted from Arnold’s Their Name Is Today: Reclaiming Childhood in a Hostile World.