Are children the enemy of marital happiness? A survey of modern American culture would lead anyone to conclude the answer must be “Yes!”
After all, virtually every sexual relationship between men and women incorporates one form of birth control or another. While sexual activity is an imperative, avoiding children has become the default position for nearly everyone.
While the Catholic Church remains alone as the only religious organization condemning contraception use, still its members contracept at the same rate as the general population. In fact, nearly every engaged couple who wishes to have their wedding at a Catholic Church in the US is required to attend a class about Natural Family Planning (NFP). As it is most often taught, NFP, for all practical purposes, gets promoted as “Catholic contraception.” That is, it is a form of birth control—that is, a form of limiting the number of children—as sanctioned by the modern prelates of the Church.
So, with all this effort put into limiting the number of children people have, even within the Catholic Church, you would think the supposed goal of marital happiness would be achieved, right? Americans are conditioned to think a small family size will lead to greater happiness for all involved.
But is that what we find when we look at society today?
UNHAPPINESS IN MARRIAGE
You don’t need me to convince you that the marital institution has fallen into shambles in America.
Young people do not hold marriage in high regard. They have witnessed how their parents’ and grandparents’ generation dismantled its meaning and gave it a bad reputation.
The divorce rate is supposedly 50%. How can we expect young people to enjoy marital fidelity when they have few, if any, models of it in their own lives?
Cohabitation remains at an all-time high, it seems, in this society, in part due to the divorce culture this generation grew up in. What good would vowing a lifelong commitment make if the other person is likely to walk away at some point anyway? May as well leave a backdoor escape, for when the inevitable happens. This is the mindset of many, some of whom I have talked to myself.
Those who do choose to marry are entering into the institution later in life compared to, say, their grandparents’ generation. While marrying later in life increases the likelihood both spouses are financially well off, it also means they are delaying childrearing that much later.
Married folks are having fewer kids than in generations past. Are children the enemy? It would appear so. People have been inured into thinking that children serve more as accessories than as necessities to marriage. They are good in small quantities, but otherwise stand in the way of happiness.
Fr. Cormac Burke, author of Covenanted Happiness: Love and Commitment in Marriage, puts it this way: “An age that does not see children as a natural consequence of married love, may be on its way towards seeing them as its natural enemy.” As I see it, I think we are there already.
Fr. Burke explains this modern-day mindset, “For children make demands, and there is being popularized today a concept of love that does not want to have demands made of it.” Isn’t that the truth?
Married couples these days don’t want to have to sacrifice for the sake of their children. They don’t want to have to give up cable TV, not having the latest technology, nor that second vacation, in order to afford more children. “Yet the whole of this modern philosophy of marriage is becoming replete with calculations, practically all of them cold, and many of them quite selfish and quite mistaken,” argues Fr. Burke.
ARE CHILDREN THE ENEMY? CALCULATIONS MADE TO ANSWER THAT QUESTION
The Catholic priest argues the first calculation, or determination that leads folks into determining children are the enemy is to conclude that two people can suffice to make each other happy.
“Once two people have begun to believe that they are ‘made for one another’, they may end up believing that they are not made for anyone else, and have no need for anyone else—even their child, and even especially their child—may be a rival to their love,” he explains (emphasis original).
Fr. Burke says the next calculation is that a certain number of children will add happiness to a marriage. This number is often one or two. Society still finds it socially acceptable to have one or two children in a marriage. The culture teaches the ideal is to have a boy and a girl, replacing yourselves before you die, and calling it good.
The third calculation most every married couple makes has virtually become a “dogma,” Fr. Burke observes. That is, “more than a certain number of children (two or three at a maximum) will certainly run counter to married love and happiness” (emphasis original).
We all must agree that this has become a dogmatic belief of pop culture. Each child a couple adds after their initial two or three becomes a drain on their happiness—and even a strain on society. “[O]ne can easily end up regarding any number—even one—as an enemy,” the clergyman concludes (emphasis original).
WHAT IS THE CORRECT ANSWER?
Are children the enemy to marital happiness? The correct answer remains a resounds, “No!”
In fact, Fr. Burke rightfully argues that procreation remains the “fulfillment” of marriage. “Nature has designed married love to be fruitful. Fruitfulness, in other words, is natural to love. It is something that love naturally longs for, so much so that love feels frustrated if it cannot bear fruit,” he argues.
Fr. Burke explains how married couples ought to see the “project” of their children as the “greatest and most precious” of all their endeavors together. After all, their children uniquely unite not only the spouses’ wills but also their bodies which create a new life. Fr. Burke wonders how we have grown to discount the “greatness and sacredness” of God’s plan for married couples.
Our author identifies the stakes at play in a fruitful marriage versus a contraceptive one. “The couple that expects their love to grow while at the same time they neglect or frustrate its fruitfulness, are denaturalizing their marriage,” Fr. Burke argues.
He goes on, “They have not understood the way that marriage can normally give happiness, and are not likely to find the happiness that their marriage could have given them. Their love, without the protection and strength it is meant to draw from children, can easily give way before the pressures of life.”
Fr. Burke observes that every marriage passes through a crisis, in which the couples must decide whether they are committed to one another despite the trails of life. He points out correctly that having children within the marriage increases the loyalty of the couples and gives them extra motivation to weather the storms of life, in order to come out the other end intact.
“Can any stronger motives exist for a couple—than the responsibility and love they have towards their children—to push and encourage and compel them to be faithful, whatever the cost, whatever their feelings, whatever the state of their nerves, whatever efforts—however extraordinary—they may have to make?” the priest wonders.
Undoubtedly, rough times await most every married couple, but that is the prescription needed to produce virtuous people.
“The fact is that sacrifice is a positive need for married life. In particular all the sacrifice that children demand of their parents from their earliest years is a major factor designed by nature to mature and develop and unite the parents,” the author rightly observes.
He follows this immediately with the conclusion we wish to make today on the question, ‘are children the enemy of married love?’ Fr. Burke writes, “It is good that the husband and wife sacrifice themselves for each other. But it is even better that they both together make sacrifices for their children. Shared sacrifice is one of the best bonds of love.”
What do you make of Fr. Burke’s observations and conclusions?
Please leave a comment below.