Go Ahead, Have Another Kid

Yesterday was my youngest child’s 4th birthday. She followed me around all day asking for details on her cake, ice cream, and presents. To each response she would squeeze my leg and say, “You are the best mom EVER!” Her siblings came home from school and bounded in the door excitedly, yelling “Happy Birthday!” She gave them each a hug, in turn, and said, “You are the best sister(or brother)…ever!” We had a wonderful evening celebrating our enthusiastic, loving, and intelligent little girl. She is our fifth child and despite my children’s pleas for more siblings – my five c-sections and general weariness demands she be the last.

Babies as a scourge.

As I saw this image on my Facebook and read the caption, I couldn’t help but think of my sweet little 4-year old. What would life be like if, like a scene from The Avengers, we snapped our fingers and she, and three of her siblings, vanished – leaving us with only our oldest? Life, for us, would be instantly transformed. However, I highly doubt we, or the environment, would be better off in their absence. Our family would have much more money – more resources to buy new cars, a bigger house, more trips. Is that better? It seems likely that our now smaller family – with our excess – may end up being a bigger strain on the environment. Our demands always seem to exceed our supply. All the resources my four additional children consume – mostly in the form of peanut butter sandwiches and second hand clothes – are unlikely to equal the burden to fulfill the desires of a bored and wealthier family of three. Children help us be content with less stuff – we made the trade for more life.

The other thing that struck me from this billboard, was the image of that sweet black baby. It took me back to my days working with cute babies in Eastern and South Africa. While doing my research and service work, I encountered many pregnant women or new mothers, often in the most destitute circumstances. I would sometimes question the wisdom of these women’s choice to have a child in such conditions. “Isn’t it irresponsible to get pregnant when you couldn’t even afford wood floors for your shack?” However, despite my reservations, these African women took a different view. They would always refer to their babies as a blessing. A new child is always met with celebration in African villages. In contrast, we, in the West, produce billboards featuring black children with a caption encouraging less children. I only pray those of African ancestry stick with the culture of abundance, rather the culture of scarcity we find in the affluent West. (Talk about Neocolonialsims and exporting bad ideas…)

The reality of life with our fifth child seems a direct contradiction to the popular idea of today – “humans are a parasite on the earth”. The earth, they say, is at risk of collapse and each additional child brings it one step closer to destruction. The “scarcity-doctrine” in popular culture has convinced many to either have no children or very few. China went so far as to limit each couple to one child. They came close to creating a sibling-less, cousin-less, aunt and uncle-less society. Is this the path to stability? What stability? Won’t we just need more resources to fill our new lack, in a spiritually and emotionally disconnected planet?

“With each new baby, the whole universe is again put on trial”

G.K. Chesterton

In America, we recently saw Amy Coney Barrett, a woman with seven children, nominated to the Supreme Court. Rather than feminists celebrating in the streets at this momentous sign of societal progression, we see questions about her choice to have a large family. Some call her irresponsible for having so many children; others question her motives in adopting children from Haiti. The concepts of “love” “goodness” and “self-sacrifice”are starkly absent in such perspectives.

Does each human soul detract from the world or enhance it? Michelangelo, one of five children, did consume materials from the earth to build the dome of St. Peter’s, but is the world worse off for it?

“Brothers and sisters are as close as hands and feet.”

Vietnamese Proverb

I am the youngest of seven. My eldest brother still recalls my Dad lining up all the kids after my birth and introducing them to their new little sister. He told the children, “This baby is perfect, let’s try not to corrupt her.” They did – and I reveled in the corruption. We had a great childhood. Now we seven live all over the world, but we have a cherished bond that still stabilizes me.

“Children of the same family, the same blood, with the same first associations and habits, have some means of enjoyment in their power, which no subsequent connections can supply.”

Jane Austen

Is the world collapsing?

We certainly need to carefully consider if and when we should have child. But according to Prince Harry, he, a happily-married prince, would be irresponsible to have more than two children…“for the sake of the planet”. But is all this panic and guilt-tripping about population growth actually based in fact? No. The truth is, our world is headed into a demographic winter. The population is decreasing at a rate that is not sustainable. The choice of how many children a couple should have is very personal and should not be dictated or judged by outsiders. However, from society’s point of view – responsible and loving parents should be having more children, not less.

The answer to anyone who talks about the surplus population is to ask him whether he is the surplus population ; or if he is not, how he knows he is not.

GK Chesterton

It is, of course, true that more people will eat up more resources. This is something we should be aware of and adapt with. My university degree is in Environmental Studies. Sustainable development and conservation are topics I am passionate about. The environment should be protected and parents need to be the primary educators of their children in how and why we care for the earth. But the idea that we are headed towards population disaster is only true if you mean we will have too few people to support the existing ones. We don’t need any encouragement to have fewer babies. We are already choosing not to at alarming rates.* Ultimately the difference between those advocating for a sibling-less society and those, like my African friends, that see each child as a blessing, is perspective. One says “Humans are the scourge of the earth”, the other “Humans are the caretakers of the earth.”

The reality of love.

In order to live in the truth, we cannot allow ourselves to become detached from the spiritual and emotional realities of life. If we exist in a purely material world, reality becomes warped. Statements like “humans are a parasite” don’t sound horrific anymore. Love and goodness are mythical because a material world only runs on power and envy. Such a materialistic life will only lead to misery. We need connection – the more we get, the better life becomes.

Our lives are only full when we have love and a purpose to which we can dedicate our lives. Children fill our lives with love. They are the reason for our striving. They do not take our time, they are the reason we were given time. Every day with my youngest child is a day I get to experience more of life. Her laughter, cries, and the unfolding of her personality are priceless. Her siblings are more emphatic, considerate, wise, humble, and entertained because she exists. As a mother, I teach my children to care and protect the earth and be the solution to environmental problems. They will not be a source of scarcity, but contributors to the abundance of this planet.

Our youngest.

So in answer to this ad, I say – Less joy, less excitement, less life, is not the gift you want to bestow on your child. Give them a sibling, and see the Earth flourish as a result.

Ally

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Resources.

Lowest birth rate ever. https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.wsj.com/amp/articles/u-s-birthrates-fall-to-record-low-11589947260

Benefits of Siblings. https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.fatherly.com/health-science/siblings-how-having-a-brother-sister-changes-kids/amp/

China’s one-child policy. https://www.google.com/amp/s/api.nationalgeographic.com/distribution/public/amp/news/2015/10/151030-china-one-child-policy-mei-fong

Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood, “The most merciful thing a large family does for one of its infant members is to kill it”.

https://www.dandc.eu/en/article/chinas-one-child-policy-having-catastrophic-consequences-millions-pensioners

Prince Harry. https://www.google.com/amp/s/amp.cnn.com/cnn/2019/07/30/uk/prince-harry-babies-scli-intl/index.html

More People, More Ideas, More Innovations, More Value Created. https://www.humanprogress.org/julian-simon-was-right-we-create-faster-than-we-consume/?utm_content=bufferfe8d6&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_campaign=buffer&fbclid=IwAR3Z9Y8Oyvsj9PxTOgcWW4477o7vBcPFPvOxNyMml6E3N1R043qNOGgqIJw

Demographic Winter. https://www.intellectualtakeout.org/article/demographic-winter-here/

GK Chesterton, “In Defense of Baby Worship” https://www.chesterton.org/babies/

Come: An invitation to learn, to rest, to continue

A guest post from Brittany M. White


“How’d you sleep last night?” he asked.

The sun had not yet risen but the small lamp in the room revealed a slight curve of hope in the corner of his mouth.

“Okay,” I responded, swinging my feet to the side of the mattress. I knew the moment I stood I’d have to make the bed. It was my way of ‘burning the ships’ and going forward with the day. What I wanted to tell him was that I was tired and sad, maybe a little nervous by all that surrounded me in the year 2020. I resolved with, “I’m not sure what’s next.”

I placed the final two pillows, straightened the corners of the covers, and my husband walked back into the bedroom with two cups of coffee in his hands.

“Come,” he said softly and motioned to the chair beside him.

As I made my way to him, I felt the word resonate on every level of my being and I found myself staggering through the voices of those who came before me. In Dickens where the Ghost of Christmas Present bursts with, “Come in, — come in! and know me better, man!” (Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol).* Or when Odysseus seeks hospitality from strangers in the Odyssey, “Come, take some food and drink some wine, rest here the livelong day and then, tomorrow at daybreak, you must sail. But I will set you a course and chart each seamark, so neither on sea nor land will some new trap ensure you in trouble, make you suffer more (Homer, The Odyssey).** And Jesus to those weary saying, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).***

At least once in our lives those closest, our neighbors, and the strangest of strangers, will find themselves curious, tired, or in need. As a social media-driven society we are taught to connect and tag; to highlight possible solutions and disconnect from anything further than our custom feeds. But there is a practice, a unique patience, that used to be implemented in bearing the weight of a present situation or problem.

Odysseus Overcome by Demodocus’ Song, by Francesco Hayez, 1813–15

Xenia is the Greek term for generous courtesy and hospitality. We know its opposite very well as xenophobia, the fear of someone who is perceived to be foreign or strange. As we awake within our nations day to day, how many of us are receiving those with different thoughts and lifestyles in love?

C.S. Lewis writes, “The great thing, if one can, is to stop regarding all the unpleasant things as interruptions of one’s ‘own’, or ‘real’ life. The truth is of course that what one calls the interruptions are precisely one’s real life––the life God is sending one day by day.” (Yours, Jack)

What if, through what we consider interruptions and unpleasant, we focused on the possible friendship of those within our present, instead of the fear? What if our first words each morning, despite how we felt or what’s surrounding us, began with, “Come”?

– Brittany M. White

Ideas Have Consequences Video

The other day my 11 year old son walked in as I was watching the news. He is a smart kid and despite our best efforts to shield him from unnecessary anxiety – he knows of the protesting, rioting, racial tension, and political turmoil common in America. He asked a simple question as he saw the report of a riot, “Why are people burning things down?”.

My point in posting this video is not political. I attempt to keep the discourse on this site philosophical; I believe that is where political and societal answers are found. As parents we want to be able to answer our children’s questions intelligently. I am unable to explain the intentions of every maker-of-chaos in this world (that includes myself), but I found this video helpful in unpacking some of the philosophies undergirding modern perceptions and movements.

“Good philosophy must exist, if for no other reason, because bad philosophy needs to be answered.” C.S. Lewis

Happy Families

Anna Karenina, Ivan Kramskoi

In the epic novel Anna Karenina, we are told the story of a woman in a very unhappy family. Tolstoy explains, “Happy families are all alike. Every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” As his novel shows, there are limitless ways to produce misery – and misery is an never-ending pit. The Karenina family was torn apart by selfishness, naïveté, and betrayal – but the causes of human suffering are numberless. Dr. Jordan Peterson has said, “No matter how bad things get, they can always get worse.” However, all diverse forms of destruction tend to derive from one foundational vice – pride.

“The Christians are right: it is Pride which has been the chief cause of misery in every nation and every family since the world began…For pride is spiritual cancer: it eats up the very possibility of love, or contentment, or even common sense.”

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Conversely, the path to familial happiness is always pretty much the same, and the destination is peace. Getting there requires humility and self-sacrifice. In many ways it is more difficult to build a happy family, we all tilt toward pride and self-centeredness – but efforts in the short-term reaps eternal benefits.

When we get married and begin our life together, our initial perspective is crucial. Are we in this for ourselves? I am embarrassed to admit watching the show “The Bachelor” a few times. It is actually a fascinating study in human nature. I have noticed that when the women are asked what they want in a spouse the responses are usually quite self-centered. “I want someone that will adore me and give me freedom” “I deserve someone that accepts me as I am.” While these are understandable desires, the best perspective to take, if we want to create a lasting and happy home, is one of self-sacrifice. “I want to give my love to someone.” It may difficult to make such statements before we find the right person – but once we do, our attention needs to move from ourselves to the one we love.

To achieve a happy home we must let go of our natural proclivities and vices. I remember as newlyweds, my husband and I were advised to always speak respectfully to each other. I wanted a good relationship so I determined to do just that. My husband had no problem, I was not prepared for how difficult it would be for me. I am one of seven siblings. Sarcasm and debate are our primary methods of communication. It was very difficult for me in those early days of marriage to bite my tongue and speak respectfully. I had to hold back the perfect snarky statement or let go of a witty comeback- I felt fake and mourned the loss of my old style. However, as time passed, I noticed that I felt safe with my husband in a way I hadn’t in the environment of one-upmanship I had with my siblings. I no longer felt a burden to compete, but instead felt love and companionship. Now when I descend into my old sarcastic or argumentative self, I feel chaos and angst replacing peace.

Creating a happy family requires much more sacrifice in the beginning (or during course correction), but the farther we travel the road of sacrifice – the more straight and simple our course becomes. We see the reason for our efforts and we become practiced in prioritizing others. I got used to speaking differently with my husband and now it is mostly habit. As we let our “deadwood” burn off and put the family first, we get to experience the joy found in a loving home. As Tolstoy points out, a happy family can seem quite ordinary – no chaos or contention – nothing worthy of an epic novel. However, when we find that peace and joy, we know the sacrifice was worth it.

“For strait is the gate and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” Matthew 7:14

-Ally

Eyes to See

“Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.”

Epicurus

How much brighter today will be if rather than thinking of our lack we think of our abundance. How much more peaceful our relationships when we are grateful for the joy they bring, rather than their imperfections. It is not naivety or weak submission to take some time off from “striving for more”. There is always time for discontentment, but we rarely make space for fulfillment. Ingratitude numbs our senses – it prohibits us from seeing or hearing anything but the negative.

My family recently moved into an older home. While we remodel the downstairs, my husband and I and our five small children are all sleeping in two rooms upstairs – five beds on the floor, one bathroom, and a sink and microwave for a kitchen. Despite my attempts to make this into a fun adventure, a few days ago the stress of our remodel and the discomfort of a hot day in Texas, caught up with me. As I laid in my bed that evening and allowed my jaw to unclench, I looked back on the day. I saw that I had been completely blind to any goodness. I couldn’t see my beautiful children playing so well together, only the mess they made. I didn’t hear the birds chirping in our trees, only the annoying hum of our fans in our AC-less house. I didn’t remember the blessing of finding the home I had prayed for, with land for our children to play. I only saw patches of dead grass and weed overgrowth.

Unfortunately, we are hard-wired to notice the negative. We must use our free-will and seek the positive. It is all around us. Blessings are found even in the darkest day. 

“Hear this, you foolish and senseless people, who have eyes but do not see, who have ears but do not hear.”

Jeremiah 5:21
Head of a Veiled Woman, Anders Zorn

I was certainly a fool that day. I was blind to an entire day of happiness. I lost it and traded it for misery. For stressed-out mothers, it is easy to do. Often our families lose that day along with us. We must close our eyes of ingratitude and open our eyes of thankfulness. The more we open grateful eyes, the easier life becomes and the more joy we find in living.

“Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Tough Woman

Artwork: Emile Claus, The Haymakers

“The perfect woman, you see is a working-woman; not an idler; not a fine lady; but one who uses her hands and her head and her heart for the good of others.”

Thomas Hardy

I adore this painting. It tells the story of our female ancestors. This poor and slight woman is tough. She guards her children cautiously. She works hard all day with them near her side. This is the kind of woman that has held the world together for all of human history. Our female progenitors were anything but weak. They should be honored for their strength, not pitied or seen as a lesser version of our modern “empowered woman”. Millions of women, like the one depicted in this painting, toiled, and loved, and toiled more – so we, their children, can live and flourish. We owe it to them to continue the tradition of hard-working mothers.

-Ally

Beauty Matters

There are moments as a mother that I feel depleted; unable to garner the energy to comfort another crying child or plan another meal. I try and “cowboy up” and push through, but often this physical and emotional weakness stems from a spiritual deficiency. When we feel drained, what we often lack is beauty. What is beauty? There have been many books written on the subject, but simply put – beauty speaks to and enlivens our soul.

“Beauty matters. It is not just a subjective thing but a universal need of human beings. If we ignore this need we find ourselves in a spiritual desert.”

Roger Scruton

To truly invigorate my soul I must stop and partake in the beauty which surrounds me. This may be as simple as appreciating how adorable my toddler is, or really tasting that piece of watermelon. The wonderful thing about appreciating beauty, especially for an overworked mother, is that it usually requires stillness rather than activity.

“Certainly work is not always required of a man. There is such a thing as a sacred idleness, the cultivation of which is now fearfully neglected.”

George MacDonald

We must make time to seek out and appreciate that which makes life worth living- real and living things. Beautiful things. We can reconnect with the soul of life and forget for a brief moment the ugly things which consume us. As we listen to inspiring music, gaze at a sunset, appreciate artwork- we are able to disconnect from the stress and worry of a materialistic and competitive world and feel alive.

Young Woman Seated by a Stream (Contemplation)
Wilhelm Amberg, German, 1822 – 1899

Resources:

Beauty: A Very Short Introduction https://www.amazon.com/dp/0199229759/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_api_i_-Y-qFbA0QE1JY

A Prayer to Notice

Praying Girl, Roberto Ferruzzi

“I remember my mother’s prayers and they have always followed me. They have clung to me all my life.”

Abraham Lincoln

Prayer has always been a weakness of mine. I find myself often falling into “vain repetitions” and hesitancy. Even my son noticed they need work. A few months ago after our nightly family prayer he said, “Mom, how many times are you gonna pray that we can sell our house? You said it twice in one prayer!” Recently I have come to a greater understanding of the place and power of prayer. Prayer is not a means to ask favors of God – but a method of bringing our mind in line with Truth. One aspect of prayer I find particularly crucial for mothers, living in a world of distraction, is its ability to help us notice.

Why Notice?

When we examine our lives honestly, we see periods of progress and periods of regression. Sometimes I work out everyday and other times I have ice cream everyday. Sometimes I am patient with my children and other times I should probably lock myself in a closet. The reasons for such fluctuations are varied and complex but the path of progress always begins with one thing – noticing. When life is hectic and my mind is full of the weeds of worry or busyness, I fail to notice. My sight is blocked by the overgrowth – I can’t see my descent into bad habits or intemperance. I don’t see the child struggling to adjust to school, I don’t see my waning affection toward my husband. This path of oblivion has a sharp decline. Inevitably I will be knocked out of my stupor- perhaps I will trip on a huge boulder and smash my face – (ten pounds gained, a deteriorating relationship with a child). I will then be forced to wake up to my descent. Then I will notice. Then I will stop and look upwards towards the point of decline.

This is the power of prayer – it can prevent disaster. It can help us see ourselves clearly (who lies to God?). As we see the will of God and the path of progress, we can keep the weeds clear. It is better to notice often than wait and plead for a miracle as we hang off the cliff.

As a believer, I know that as I pray, God will guide my thoughts to the things of most importance. I know that God can comfort me and use me. But even a non-believer can see that daily self-awareness can save them from a precipitous fall. When our children see us praying, see us aware of our weakness and their needs – they will see a mother that notices.

Quotes on Prayer

“And why should the good of anyone depend on the prayer of another? I can only answer with the return question, ‘Why should my love be powerless to help another?”

George MacDonald

“The function of prayer is not to influence God, but rather to change the nature of the one who prays.”

Soren Kierkegaard

“I don’t ask God for favors or for wishes. But, I do think that if you sit on the edge of your bed, and things aren’t going very well for you, and you ask what foolish thing you’re doing to make it worse, that you’ll get an answer right now. And it won’t be the one you want, but it might be the one that of you listen to could set things straight.”

Jordan Peterson

“I have been driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had no where else to go. My own wisdom and that of all about me seemed insufficient for that day.”

Abraham Lincoln

“Be not forgetful of prayer. Every time you pray, if your prayer is sincere, there will be new feeling and new meaning in it, which will give you fresh courage, and you will understand that prayer is an education.”

Fyodor Dostoevsky

“Relying on God has to begin all over again every day as if nothing had yet been done.”

“We must lay before Him what is in us; not what ought to be in us.”

C.S. Lewis

The God to whom we pray is nearer to us than the very prayer itself ere it leaves the heart; hence His answers may well come to us through the channel of our own thoughts. But the world too being itself one of His thoughts, He may also well make the least likely of His creatures an angel of His own will to us.”

George MacDonald

Mother as Saviors

We must never downgrade our role as a mother or our capacity as a woman to produce change in the world. The more pride we take in our mission, the more we reject the absurd notion that motherhood stifles our progress- the more we can let go of the judgement of the world and start shifting the culture. We must stop caring what other women or Instagram followers think of us, we must stop worrying how “impressive” we may come off to the world. The only opinions that matter come from those whose love is constant and unconditional – our family and our God.

You, the average mom, can do more to build a better future than any CEO, any politician, any Hollywood star – you hold the key to the soul of the world – children. Your love, work, and intentional parenting are raising the future.

On Hell

“For the one principle of Hell is “I am my own. I am my own king and my own subject.” – George MacDonald

“What is hell? I maintain that it is the suffering of being unable to love.” – Fyodor Dostoyevsky

“The best way to keep a prisoner from escaping is to make sure he never knows he’s in prison.” ― Fyodor Dostoyevsky

“There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, in the end, “Thy will be done.” C.S. Lewis

“All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. Those who knock it is opened.” — C.S. Lewis (The Great Divorce)

“At the end of things, The Blessed will say, “We have never lived anywhere except in Heaven.” And the lost will say, “We were always in Hell.” And both will speak truly.” — C.S. Lewis

We must picture hell as a state where everyone is perpetually concerned about his own dignity and advancement, where everyone has a grievance, and where everyone lives with the deadly serious passions of envy, self-importance, and resentment.

C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters

“Hell is a state of mind – ye never said a truer word. And every state of mind, left to itself, every shutting up of the creature within the dungeon of its own mind – is, in the end, Hell. But Heaven is not a state of mind. Heaven is reality itself. All that is fully real is Heavenly. For all that can be shaken will be shaken and only the unshakeable remains.”
C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce

Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one–the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.”

C.S. Lewis (Screwtape Letters)