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Single Living

A friend of mine asked me an interesting question the other day. She wanted to know if I regretted not having children.

I wasn’t quite sure how to answer, because I had never really looked at the situation in those terms. “Regret” in the purest sense is usually limited to free choices – situations over which we have some control. I can regret eating an entire batch of raw cookie dough. But I can’t really regret the snowstorm that left me stuck in the house with a hankering to bake. The weather is out of my control.

So I interpreted her question as really asking me if I regret not getting married during my “prime childbearing years,” since that was the part of the equation that was within my control. I told her I don’t regret it — that every time I faced that decision it was with prayerful discernment, and that God hasn’t led me down the wrong path yet.

But that wasn’t her question. She wanted to know specifically if I regretted not having children, even though I wasn’t married.

That has so never been an option for me.

Apparently, however, she hadn’t ruled it out as an option. Neither, I suspect, have a lot of Catholic women whose biological clocks are beginning to wind down. They know they want children, and they know their time is limited. What’s a girl to do when the big 4-0 (or 3-5, or 4-5, or whatever age they perceive as their deadline) looms and the right man still hasn’t made his appearance?

I understand the panic. A woman’s desire for physical motherhood is very, very strong – almost primal. As toddlers, we dragged our baby dolls everywhere we went. As children, we said “When I’m a mommy . . .” It was never “if,” always “when.”

That dream dies pretty hard.

And then we look around and see that maybe it doesn’t have to die. Granted, pregnancy requires the participation of two people. But we have so many more options these days. Hollywood is full of women who “choose” to have babies on their own. How do they do it? Often they don’t say. When they do say, the answer is usually “David Crosby”, whose aging, artificially inseminated seed seems to be available to just about any woman who bothers to ask.

Is that really so bad? What’s wrong with a woman giving life to a child? What’s wrong with David Crosby helping a lot of women give birth to a lot of children?

Here’s the problem: God designed the whole reproduction system, and He designed it to require two people — one male and one female. I believe He did that for a reason. Children need two parents. Not just two donors, or a mother and a donor and another mother, or a father and a surrogate and another father. They need a mother and a father, both playing an active and loving role in their lives.

Children who have a strong male and a strong female presence in their lives have the best chance of healthy psychosexual development. That’s because men and women “parent” differently. Women (mothers) tend to be more nurturing, (“I’ll kiss the boo-boo and make it all better.”) while men (fathers) tend to encourage kids to take risks. (“C’mon, jump! I’ll be here to catch you.”) Kids need both.

There’s a reason that the Church says artificial insemination is a sin, and fornication is a sin, and pretty much everything else a single woman could possibly do to “get herself pregnant” is a sin. Okay, there are a lot of reasons. But primary among them is that, in God’s plan, children come into the world through the self-donating love of a husband and a wife. As Scott Hahn says, “their love is so real that nine months later we have to give it a name.” In giving themselves to each other, they by extension give themselves to their children. It’s not that God loves children conceived in marriage more than He loves other children. It’s that He loves every child He creates, and He knows that in the stability of a loving family they have the best chance of being nourished and protected.

Certainly many of you grew up with single parents. Many more of you are single parents. And you know better than anyone that single parents can be heroes. And they are heroes precisely because a single parent is one person doing a two-person job. Certainly single parents can and often do raise really amazing kids. But most single parents will tell you that the absence of the other parent hurt their kids. A lot. Most single parents didn’t plan it this way. They got pregnant in a moment of weakness. Or they were widowed. Or they were abandoned. Or they had to leave because the children’s other parent was worse than no parent at all. They know it’s not an ideal situation. They’re doing their best with what they have, and often doing a really good job. But it takes a toll on them, and on their kids. Ask them if they think a mother should plan it this way, and they’ll likely look at you like you have a hole in your head.

I get wanting a baby. But it’s more important to want what’s best for a baby. Deliberately conceiving a child with a plan that the child will be fatherless is not wanting what’s best for a baby. It’s wanting a baby the way we want a car or a sweater or an iPod. It’s fundamentally selfish. I know, it doesn’t feel selfish. It feels like “I’ve got so much love in my heart, and I just want to share it with a child.” Again, “me.” What I want. What makes me happy.

This of course leaves open the question of adoption. The same principles apply. If a child can go to a family with a mom and a dad, that child should go to a family with a mom and a dad. That, in my mind, eliminates domestic infant adoption. Two parent families are lined up for years waiting to adopt those children. Older, hard-to-place children are often a different story, as are orphans languishing in third-world orphanages. Obviously life with a loving single parent in the United States is much better than life warehoused in some horrible overseas institution. I admire single people who open their lives up to these kids. But don’t do it in the midst of some kind of fantasy where life is one big series of sleepovers and Mommy and Me dress-up games. Adopting a child in these circumstances is hard, hard, hard. This is a calling, and the decision should be approached carefully and prayerfully.

Look, I get the fear of facing a childless life when that wasn’t your plan. Trust me, I do. But you can also trust me when I say that you’re always going to be better off when you do things God’s way. As I’ve said before, He’s very generous with His “Plan B.” Everybody lives with unfulfilled desires of some kind. Real happiness doesn’t come from trying to go around Him to get what we want for ourselves. Real, lasting happiness comes from Him, and our relationship with Him.

Which means you need to trust Him, and only Him. Follow His will. Hang onto Him for dear life. He will take very, very good care of you.

Trust me, I know.

 

(This post has been read 166 times)

16 Comments

  1. Jennifer-309886 February 1, 2008

    Dear MaryBeth, I wholeheartedly agree with you on this. It's tough but true- I'm a 35 year old woman with no Mr. Right on the horizon so I know exactly what you're talking about. Like you say though, if we can trust in God, He will really take care of everything! Thanks- it's a great article (I'm going to send it to my older sister, she's in the same situation as me).

  2. SandraMaria-234871 February 2, 2008

    Very good article. God is the center of my life and I belive in the divine plan of my Lord.
    Thanks Mary Beth very good your reflexions.

  3. Robin-286575 February 12, 2008

    I, also agree with Mary Beth about…when there is a choice. At 36 I became involved in a relationship which resulted in me a never married woman conceived an unwanted child by the father…I had a strong desire to have a child at that point and was very seriously considering giving the child to my childless happily married sister to raise.
    Am I ever glad that I did not. He is the love and happiness of my life. I thank the Lord everyday for his gift to me. It has brought me unbelieveably closer to God, a stronger loving woman and person better able to do my job. My son sees this. I make regular visits to my other sister's house so my son experiences male role model. At one time I saw things as black and white and someone on here might ask…what kind of CATHOLIC woman has a relationship with a man whom she barely knows? a human one that makes mistakes….what we do with that is God's grace to us. Recently I met a wonderful man on this site who loves my son. My prayers have become blessings.

  4. Maggie-254305 February 18, 2008

    Interesting article – but I dont completely agree. I believe God would love if we were all granted the gift of marriage and children with our spouse, but God also knows those circumstances are not always blessed in our paths. I believe God chrishes a woman who gives brings life into His world, even if she uses the gift of modern science to achieve conception.

  5. Lisa-80639 February 24, 2008

    I believe that God has a plan for everyone, whether married or single. And we need to trust Him. But I respectfully disagree that it is selfish for a single person to adopt. I personally know someone who made that decision. The process has not been easy. However, she is willing to make major changes in her life- including giving up her original career plans. I think this is an example of giving oneself for the good of another.

  6. Richard-15378 February 27, 2008

    I can understand everything of which she writes …. But I also know the unrelenting sadness of never having had a child …It makes life for me at times almost unbearable …. I know, I know, this is a man talking, and I know sometimes we are not supposed to feel things like this … But I do … I had a great opportunity to have a child almost 13 years ago and I made a bad mistake in judgment … Now I have no child, no nice woman for a wife, basically nothing … I know I need to have more faith, but it is just so heart-breaking to not have a son or daughter to love and teach and care for and yes, to learn from ….

  7. Louis-156078 March 3, 2008

    any luck so far???? well I am child less also and think it is ashame for not having any.all good to everything you have to say.I am adopted myself and feel I should procreate if not for the needs you feel!!

  8. Frank-174649 March 4, 2008

    Perfectly said MaryBeth. Before I got to your credit roll I said to myself, this woman should write a column for a Popular womans magazine. Lord knows how starved the female intellect has been as a result of the trash woman read in the popular mags. So MaryBeth you should syndicate your brain everywhere you can in print as well as over a microphone!

  9. Sandra-314176 March 11, 2008

    I enjoyed reading your article – A Child at Any Price? It really helped me put things in perspective. I believe i have a better understanding of my life and what the future holds. God definitely has a plan for me and I think it is a good one.

  10. Laura-287884 March 22, 2008

    I found so many points in this artile wrong. First off if it wasnt in Gods plan for single parents there wouldn't be any. He has his plan and it is so. which means he planned on single parenthood. I myself am from a single parent family with four children. I beg to differ on the fact that a child needs "a strong male and a strong female presence in their lives have the best chance of healthy psychosexual development". My mom played both rolls to me and my three siblings and it neither took a tool on her nor us. I dont think there is anything that could have been done better. Growing up we had family friends who had both parents. Now looking back at my siblings and I and all the kids from " male/female" house holds we came out better. Every single one of my moms friends children have been in some sort of legal trouble in the last five years and three of them are locked in a prison for a min of 5 years. And these are kids we grow up in Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts. We are the only four who have never been in trouble with the law and all four of us have graduated college with a degree and are in public service of some kind. I dont think it has anything to do with have a stong male and female in your life its about how the ones you have teach you and the morals and vales they instil in you as you grow. Had my father stayed we would all be dead. My mom came out stronger and I pray everyday that I will someday if God decides to grant me with children that I will be able to give my children half of what my mother has given to me.

  11. Laura-287884 March 23, 2008

    Also as a second thought to my first commmet. Was Mary not concieced with Jesus as a single women? The way the story goes per the bible is that she was pregnet before she was married. So why would it not be right for people to raise children as a single parent when God plced his only son in the womb of a single women?

  12. Sara-325777 March 25, 2008

    This is in response to Laura. First, Mary Beth said that having both a father and a mother is the ideal situation and I'm glad that you and your siblings turned out the way you did.
    Second, Mary was engaged to Joesph and I assume they were married shortly after Jesus birth. Joesph played an active role in raising Jesus as well. Mary Beth is not saying it is wrong to raise children in a single parent home but just that having both a father and a mother is preferable.

  13. Elisabeth-296513 March 29, 2008

    Interesting question. I agree with everything in the article because those have been my thoughts, too. The conclusion, though; that's easier said than done!

  14. Adrienne-320336 April 1, 2008

    I understand the reasons against artificial insemination, but there are SO many children out there who's mother's did chose life, yet they have no parents at all. Regardless of my marital state or my ability to have children, is it also wrong of me to consider adoption?

  15. Nancy-240829 April 2, 2008

    Thanks Marybeth for your words of wisdom. God's plan for the family and motherhood are the ideal standard. I have been wrestling with this idea & at 47 I know first hand the pressure of the biological clock ticking. But I feel many single women on Catholic Match are really called to Spiritual Motherhood. They have a religious call on their lives and just haven't said "Yes" like Mary yet. That primal maternal instinct can be beautifully expressed through the consecrated life. There are so many "children of God" left abandoned & unloved in the world that surely we can mother them with true hearts of compassion thus "birthing them into the Kingdom of God". Mother Teresa was a wonderful example of this love in action & "spiritual motherhood". Let us ponder like Mary, the way in which God wants to use us for His Glory. May the Holy Spirit empower us to do His will. God bless you!

  16. Jarrod-294811 April 17, 2008

    I do not understand what it is with people who decide that the only way they can have children is through pregnancy. Why can't more couples, especially Catholic couples, try to adopt children instead? There are so many children waiting for wonderful homes, yet couples still insist that they should make one of their own instead of trying to lessen the burden of an unwanted child on the rest of society.
    I shudder to think what my life would have been like if my parents did not adopt me. Would I have found a home as good as the one I was raised in?

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