Tuesday, July 10, 2007

My Catholic Grandmother

My grandmother converted to Catholicism when my dad was two-years-old. A solid convert, she had a total of 11 pregnancies and 9 healthy births. She stayed home with her children, born across a span of twenty years, while my grandfather provided.

Had they limited their number of kids, they would have lived a comfortable, middle class life. Actually, I happen to believe that they did live a comfortable, middle class life-- just not by today's standards. The kids usually received one big Christmas present. As in, one present for all of the kids, not one per child. They shared bedrooms. They passed down clothes. They were expected to help with dinner and share the care of the little ones.

They also had food enough for all, a roof over their heads, and all nine children attended college.

My husband thinks I romanticize all of this. (Maybe I do, a little bit. Especially when I picture big, loud, messy dinners with a slew of children from teenage to toddler!) Really, though, I bring up my dad's story to contrast it with the sense of entitlement so common in childrearing today:

  • My child is entitled to his own bedroom by a certain age.

  • My child is entitled to music lessons.

  • My child is entitled to attend camp.

  • My child is entitled to ride in a car manufactured in the last six years.

  • My child is entitled to a pair of heelys.

  • My child is entitled to a dinner that she did not help prepare.

  • My child is entitled to help buying his first car.

  • My child is entitled to a college education paid by me.

What does this entitlement have to do with birth control? Well, most folks I know openly admit to planning their family according to what they "can afford." Yet, ironically, the greater the income, the lower the birth rate.

Some people would say that this is because the wealthier you are, the better educated you are, and therefore you have more knowledge regarding birth control and more concern for "overpopulation" (a theory, by the way, not a fact-- but I'll save that debate for another day). I don't buy it, though. I think the lower birth rate has more to do with ensuring Sally's riding lessons.

When I think about birth control in this light, I'll take my grandmother's conviction over today's materialism hands down.

But there's more to this story...


Susie said...

I'm not sure it's a sense of entitlement for your kids ... I kind of think it's a sense of entitlement for yourself to be a kid and to enjoy the kind of creativity and productivity and genius that particularly thrive in childhood. We can spend our time raising children or discovering the cure for malaria (or whatever ... insert your non-child passion here). I'm not saying parents can't be creative and productive and genius ... I'm just saying it's harder when all your time is spent devoted to raising your kids.

Martha's World said...

Susie-- Tell me more. I'm kind of following your train of thought, but want to make sure I'm hearing correctly. You always have good insight!

Interestingly, my grandmother went on to start an interior design company for private jets when the last of her kids hit the teenage years. She's still running it, at 80 years old. Back in the 80s, she did Olivia Newton John's and Bruce Springteen's!

Elizabeth said...

I'm loving your topic of late, esp. since my husband has recently decided that he wants another baby (???)

I'm pretty sure you know that, for the longest time, we've said we only wanted one. I can definitely see where you're coming from on this post (re: parents' reasons for family planning), but our reasons were much more emotional. Ex: I was an only child and loved it. We wanted to be able to devote tons of time and attention to one child. I had PPD with first baby. Etc., etc. Our reasons were never really financial.

With that being said, I find myself thinking now- "Well, if we did have another baby, HOW would we afford one?". And, more selfishly, "What will happen to my (insert leisure pursuit here) time?" While I love the thought of being pregnant and nursing a little one again, I just can't picture my life with one...

As you can see, I'm very much divided over the issue as well *g* Your insigts are much appreciated! Keep writing!

Martha's World said...

E-- That's exciting news, that the possibility of another is on the table! I did remember your wanting one and some of the reasons behind it. But, boy, these are tough decisions.

Susie said...

I'm sleep deprived! But I'll try to clarify. I simply mean that the phenomenon of wealthy people having small families strikes me as not being particularly about assuring that each child has the things you listed as "entitlements;" it strikes me as being more about the parents' choosing to devote their time and energy to time-consuming pursuits in addition to (and, in some cases, instead of) raising children. Wealth creates opportunities for adults to do things the objects of which are not subsistence. Those pursuits can bring great pleasure and also produce amazing things. But it's hard to engage in these pursuits while simultaneously caring for children. That's why I believe that, for some people at least, the choice not to have a larger family is about the parents' time, not about the kids' entitlements.

Martha's World said...

Ooh, Susie, for someone sleep deprived, you sure hit the nail on the head. That makes a lot of sense.