I’m 24 years old and two years out of college, which puts me at that age when nearly all my friends are getting married. It seems to me very common that young married couples of the “good Catholic” variety are beginning their marriage with a year or two (or a few) of NFP. Our generation has produced 1Flesh and Iusenfp, and we’ve loudly touted NFP’s benefits: periodic abstinence forces us to love our spouses for more than just sex, we learn to work as a team, we women find some semblance of order in our chaotic body chemistry. That’s all good, as far as it goes, but shouldn’t we lament the fact that we have to start our marriages this way? It’s great that young couples are starting their marriages with NFP instead of contraception, but it’s a shame that it’s so hard to be prepared for children at the beginning of our marriages.
We do not live in a family-friendly or kid-friendly society, and I don’t just mean that there’s sex on TV. The modern trend toward globalization results in long-distance dating, then long-distance engagement, and one party or the other must be uprooted if the spouses are to share an apartment. (I left my full-time job.) It also means that mothers, mothers-in-law, friends-that-go-way-back, and others who can help with a new baby are far away. (Our mothers are 500 and 700 miles from us.) Education is inflated, and many in our generation are pushing 30 before they’re financially (and geographically, if that ever happens) settled. (My husband will finish undergrad in May and is looking at grad school.) Cost of living within societal norms (two cars, two smart phones, your own apartment, eating out with friends frequently, medical costs) almost requires two incomes. The trend toward individualism pits career against family, material success against familial love.
Several people have asked my husband and me why we didn’t wait a year to get married – after he graduates, he’ll be more employable, and without geographic ties, more opportunities will be open. But in the words of a long-distance-engaged friend of mine, “Have those people ever been in a relationship?!” Relationships directed toward discerning marriage have a natural progression, either toward marriage or away from each other. It’s hard to postpone any “next step” in the relationship, and I think it’s often a bad idea to try. Many in our generation are left in a situation where we’re spiritually, emotionally, and physically ready for marriage and children, but financially, geographically, or otherwise logistically, not.
Many couples have legitimate reasons for postponing their first pregnancy, and that decision should be left to the couple’s prayerful discernment and pastoral counsel: I suspect Humanae Vitae’s “grave motives” was left unclarified on purpose. But to all those young couples beginning your marriages with NFP, don’t forget that children are an integral part of your vocation. Cultivate your desire for children. Be generous. Talk about children as part of your long-term plans and try to put yourselves in a position that’s more amenable to starting a family.
My mom says that with contraception, pregnancies are called “mistakes,” and with NFP, pregnancies are called “children.” Guard against a contraceptive attitude. In some way, you already are “ready for children” – you’re two mature, responsible adults willing to make sacrifices if push comes to shove. In the light of eternity, that’s more important than financial stability. If God gives you a child sooner than you plan, you will be able to handle it.
Over Christmas dinner last week, my brother said that when his friends see his baby, they ask him when is the best time to have one. He tells them it’s never a good time to have a baby; no matter what your circumstances are, you’ll have to make sacrifices.
Our grandma piped in, chuckling: “For a long time!”