Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Is the Success of Marriage Measured by the Number of Children?

In 2+ years of marriage, my husband and I have never had kids. I’ve never gotten pregnant, and I’m not pregnant currently. In this experience, God has opened my eyes to so many amazing lessons and blessings, and I am so abundantly overjoyed that my husband and I get to witness to the beauty of marriage each day! It’s really awesome, and I love marriage. There’s so much we can learn about marriage, and from marriage, and today I want to talk about a topic near and dear to my heart. Take a deep breath and get ready for this: 

The thing about the Sacrament of Marriage, which I think we can sometimes fail to lose sight of in our circles of large families, is that the success of a marriage isn’t counted by the number of children around the dinner table.  

I’ve heard a variety of comments about marriage & children over the past couple years, and here’s one which has really stuck with me:  
 They love each other so much, they just look at each other and she’s pregnant!

 The person who said this to me didn’t mean anything bad by it, but was just expressing a sentiment quite common in many family-friendly communities. “Super Catholic” and “super loving” families many times are pictured as ones who drive huge vans and can form their own sports teams. I love big families, I think they are awesome, and if God wants to bless my husband and I with tons of children, I would be super happy about that. But what I don’t love is how we have come to rate the success of a Catholic marriage in terms of the number of kids.
 What happens when we do that?

 Well, look back at that “love each other so much” comment. If we’re rating a couple’s love by the number of kids they have, then how are those childless couples—or couples with one or two kids—supposed to feel? How are we subconsciously treating their relationships?

I just want to let y’all know that if a couple has 0-3 kids, it does not mean that their love is any less than a couple who has 4+ kids.  (By the way, I just picked those numbers arbitrarily; different regions of the country have different ideas of what constitutes a “big” family)

As my blogging friend, Annie, points out so splendidly, in beautifully pro-life communities where couples happily welcome children early on—and frequently—in their marriages, where do those of us without kids fit? Are we less? Are our marriages less? Are we failing to fulfill our mission to be open to life and God?


We are not less, our love is not less (just ask anyone who has used NFP with periodic abstinence, and they’ll tell you that sacrificial love plays a huge part in their marriage!), and our marriages are not less.

In fact, a blessing I have really seen in my marriage is that because it’s “just us,” many people who know us focus in on the Sacrament of Marriage. Think about that for a minute. For many people who have kids, when we meet them for the first time, our attention is usually diverted to the children. This is totally understandable, because children are great. Sometimes, though, we lose sight of the actual marriage of the couple, and focus only on the kids. Like I said, kids are awesome—but we also need to rejoice in the epicness of the sacred marriage bond between a man and woman. 

Since it’s “just us,” people often give me comments about our marriage. They don’t have anything else to focus on—they notice how my husband and I treasure and cultivate our sacramental bond, and this inspires them. We have many problems, and are very imperfect people, but we strive for greater holiness—as a married couple.

Marriage is ordered to life, and couples need to be open to life whenever God sends it—but our marriages can—and should—be completely epic, regardless of whether or not we have fifty bajillion kids:
"By its very nature the institution of marriage and married love is ordered to the procreation and education of the offspring and it is in them that it finds its crowning glory…Spouses to whom God has not granted children can nevertheless have a conjugal life full of meaning, in both human and Christian terms. Their marriage can radiate a fruitfulness of charity, of hospitality, and of sacrifice.” (CCC 1652-1654)

Just like the beautiful Christmas
lights at Oglebay Park,
our marriage is supposed
to radiate & light up the world! 
There are chances to give, radiate this love and sacrifice, and bring God's life into the world in so many ways, and couples who have few children--or no children--totally take part in this epic, beautiful mission!!!!! A marriage, that holy union between a man and woman, is amazing, and every couple, regardless of how many children they have, needs to refocus on their marriage. 
“The distinctive character of the institution of matrimony is preserved when the community of husband and wife expands to become a family. However, for a variety of reasons this may not happen, but lack of family in no way deprives marriage of its proper character. The inner and essential raison d’ etre of marriage is not simply eventual transformation into a family but above all the creation of a lasting personal union between a man and a woman, based on love.”
         (Wojtyla, Love and Responsibility 218)

Epic, right????? Ah, I just love anything written by JPII!!!!!!!! Ok, ok, I can’t resist—just one more:
 “Marital intercourse is, and should be, the result of reciprocal betrothed love between spouses, of the gift of self made by one person to another. Intercourse is necessary to love, not just to procreation. Marriage is an institution which exists for the sake of love, not merely for the purpose of biological reproduction.”
           (Wojtyla, Love and Responsibility 233)

So basically, I know my thoughts are crazy scattered and rambly right now, so I just want to summarize my brain's workings in a few points:

  • Big families are awesome. Small families are awesome. We need to not determine the success of a marriage by the number of kids. God's plan for each couple and each family is different, and every person is called to epic holiness in whatever scenario God places them. 
  •  Childless couples do not love each other less, and their marriages are not any less, than those couples who have bajillions of kids. Some couples are purposely trying to avoid having children, others are infertile, and others just haven’t been given a child from God yet. It’s not any of our business to know (or ask!) a couple why they don’t have X many kids, but to rejoice in the beauty of marriage! Every couple can have an epic marriage and reach great heights of holiness, no matter how many children come along-just look at Sts. Anne and Joachim! Today's Feast is a great time to think about this!
  • Married life & love is ordered to life; but sex and marriage do not exist solely for biological reproduction, that would be terribly utilitarian! Couples must be open to life, not just pregnancy-wise, but in any other capacity that God sends-- through other people, through adoption, through spiritual motherhood/fatherhood, through building up parish communities, etc.
  • St. JPII is epic. Just read everything the man ever wrote.

“It has always been the duty of Christian married partners, but today it is the greatest part of their apostolate, to manifest and prove by their own way of life the indissolubility and sacredness of the marriage bond, strenuously to affirm the right and duty of parents and guardians to educate children in a Christian manner, and to defend the dignity and lawful autonomy of the family.” 
(Pope Paul VI, Apostolicam Actuositatem)

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  1. Love it! Especially the part about how other people get to notice your marriage instead of your children right now. What a good thought! You guys can totally evangelize through that! :) Beautiful!

    1. Thanks, Annie! I'm so glad you like this! I love how the Holy Spirit has, over the past couple years, brought different blogs, conversations, and writings into my path so I could pray and think about this topic :)