Parenthood is Impossible (because God Made it That Way)
I have a friend who once told me that, at one point in her life, she suffered from severe anxiety, indigestion, and insomnia.
“Then,” she said, “I made a single change in my life that cured all of that. What was it? I quit leading youth ministry at church.”
Whatever it was about youth ministry, it did not sit well with her disposition and gifts. I have known other professionals, with lucrative careers, who quit their jobs in order to improve their mental health by alleviating the stress associated with their careers.
In light of this, two truths have finally become clearer to me:
- parenthood is an irrevocable decision because it is an integral part of the vocation to marriage, which is an irrevocable abandonment to union with another, and
- parenthood is impossible to do well because it is a Christian vocation and, by definition, all Christian vocations are impossible to do well, humanly speaking.
A vocation that requires trust in God
Succinctly put, if you decide that parenthood is too stressful for you, if you decide that its demands are beyond what you can handle, there is no quitting. This daunting truth keeps many from ever saying yes to God in this way. Just as covenantal marriage is a complete and irrevocable yoking of one’s destiny to that of another, even without knowing ahead of time what the destiny will be, so parenthood is a decision to yoke yourself to the life of your children—in sickness and in health, in good times and in bad, for richer and poorer, till death do you part. In that sense, becoming a parent requires a complete abandonment of self to Divine Providence, a desperate clinging to Christ, and a firm trust in God’s grace.
A friend of mine once mentioned that he had observed, in most couples who have chosen not to have children, a certain “kind of lingering incompleteness.” This was not meant as a slam against childless couples; it was an observation that embracing parenthood changes people in a way that no other life decision does. One cannot achieve the end of parenthood without actually being a parent. Other interactions with children, such as being a teacher or a nanny, can mimic certain elements of parenthood, but they are not parenthood.
Parenthood forces one into a type of maturity that is characterized by self-abandonment. If your child throws up at 2 a.m., you need to clean it up, even if you yourself are sick and tired and can barely move. If your children need to eat at the end of an exhausting day, you need to make their meal, because no one else is there to do it.
A friend of mine, a dear mother of a low-functioning Down’s Syndrome child, said to one of her other children, “Do you think I had the strength to get up a 5 AM every day, after an exhausting day the day before, to once again get your sister ready for school, to attend to the endless special needs she had as well as keep the house and attend to my other duties? No, I did not. I was exhausted and empty and literally did not have it in me to do one more thing. Oh, but Jesus…”