By: Gregory Popcak
Bobby and Tara have been married 12 years. They have three children. Tara would love to have another child, but Bobby isn’t so sure. “With three kids in Catholic school, I’m just not sure we can handle the expense.” Says Bobby. Plus, Tara and I barely get enough time together as it is. How’re we going to have time for a baby, our marriage and the kids we already have?” Tara knows there are concerns but she feels strongly about having another child anyway. “I just don’t feel like I’m ready to be done yet. I’m good at being a mom. I love kids. I don’t want to be one of those older women you bump into who get all wistful when they see your family and say how they wished they had had ‘just one more.’”
Bobby and Tara have always had a good marriage, but this disagreement is causing them to fray at the edges. Tara asks, “How do you decide who’s right? There really isn’t any ‘compromise’ we can make. We either have another child or we don’t. How do we decide who wins?” Deciding when its time to have another child is one of the biggest questions couples face and disagreements about this question are one of the most common complaints I hear from couples calling in to my radio program or consulting me in my pastoral counseling practice. The good news is that there are a few simple steps any couple can use to resolve this issue in a way that guarantees that everybody wins.
Step One: What Does God Want?
The first step is to find out what God wants by getting into the habit of praying together about God’s will for your marriage and family–not just about your family size, but every large and small decision of family life, especially family size. God has a plan for your family, and the closer your family reflects God’s plan, the happier your family will be. Discerning that plan requires a husband and wife to pray together about all the decisions–big and small–in their lives. It often happens that God gives both a husband and wife different pieces of the larger puzzle expecting them–through prayer and communication–to cooperate with his grace to figure out how to put those pieces together and reveal his solution to their struggles. When couples do this, they not only solve whatever problem they’re facing, they grow closer to each other and him–which is God’s sneaky little plan all along). But to get to that place, the couple has to really work and pray together. For instance, it might be that, in their individual prayer times, Bobby feels that God is saying that addressing their financial and marital time crunch is serious enough to delay having another child right now. Meanwhile, in her individual prayer, Tara may feel just as strongly that God does want them to have another child some time soon. But these are not mutually exclusive realities. They may learn that they are both correct, for instance, it may be that God has another child in mind for them assuming that they can work together to overcome the obstacles that are currently in their path. And together, by working to overcome those obstacles, they will not only arrive at a place where having another child makes sense, they will have become better partner and friends, and better at discovering God’s plan for their happiness in the process.
Step 2. Consider the Family You Have.
In the document Joy and Hope, the Church asks families to prayerfully consider the following when discerning whether it is time to have another child.
“Parents should regard as their proper mission the task of transmitting human life and educating those to whom it has been transmitted…..Let them thoughtfully take into account both their own welfare and that of their children, those already born and those which the future may bring. For this accounting they need to reckon with both the material and the spiritual conditions of the times as well as of their state in life. Finally, they should consult the interests of the family group, of temporal society, and of the Church herself.”
In other words, the Church asks families to consider that they need to both be open to the possibility of conceiving and be confident that they have what they need to teach their children love God and to love each other. Regarding this latter point, when the Church says that parents are responsible for “educating” children, she doesn’t just mean teaching them a trade or paying for college. The Church is referring to parents’ obligation to teach children how to love God with all their heart, mind, soul, and strength and love their neighbor as themselves. Only the parents can for sure know whether or not their desire for another child (or lack thereof) is actually rooted in a genuine concern for–and honest assessment of–the emotional, relational, and temporal resources they need to raise a child who has everything he or she needs to be a loving, godly person.
Step 3. Be Prepared.
But even when considering the issues listed under the second point, a couple shouldn’t place themselves in a position of saying, “That’s it. We’re done.” Rather, the couple should prayerfully ask, “If we don’t have those resources now, what do we need to do to get the additional emotional, relational, or temporal resources we believe are necessary to raise another child to love God and his or her neighbors?” Why? Because by asking this question, the couple is able to approach objections to the possibility of another child both realistically and generously. For instance, it may be that parents decide that an older child’s behavior problems–or the couple’s marital problems–require too much of their attention to be able to properly attend to a new baby at this time. But coming up with a plan to address those concerns becomes the way that the couple can both work to make the marriage and family more intimate while remaining open to the possibility that, at some point in the future, they may be ready to add another member to the family. It might turn out that the problems a couple identify will take a long time to resolve and the couple may never be able to have another child. But the point is that the couple is always working to make things better and always open to the possibility that things could change. Taking this approach, parents are able to always remain open to life and do so responsibly, keeping in mind their mission not only to be willing to have more children, but their responsibility to raise those children in a faithful, loving, environment that gives them the best education for living a holy life. By following these three simple steps, it’s possible to find the answers that were evading Bobby and Tara and other couples like them. Scripture tells us that all things are possible with God (Mt 19:26). It turns out that this applies to solving tough marriage questions as well.