January 20, 2006

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

It’s a terrible thing to be childless

One of these generations, we’ll get it right. That’s what makes children, “grands” and “greats” the wonders that they are: They give us more chances to be good parents. We even have the paradigm of the Holy Family as our example. Of course, they got it right the first time.

Frankly, I feel sorry for those who choose to be childless because I believe their life options are limited. Sure, they get the nice house, the sexy cars, the boat and the condo in Cancun. But, what do they do for a challenge? I mean, a bad hair day and a tendon strained by jogging just don’t cut it.

Some of these folks justify their childlessness by pretending they’re the parents their nephews and nieces never had. They buy them expensive electronic games and doodads, take them on exotic vacations and pretend to listen to hip-hop as rapturously as the kids do. But, after all, that’s the easy part.

Are they there when everyone’s down with chicken pox or even bad colds? No. Do they suffer with these children through new fads in learning math, rejection of their adolescent crushes by the crushees, zits erupting on the day of the cheerleading competition? Heck, no.

Do they furnish the taxi service for all the daily practices leading up to the thrilling big games on Friday nights? No. For that matter, do they cart the kids around for all the sales trips promoted by the school, the band, the scout troop, the parish youth group? No, they just buy a Girl Scout cookie here or a package of gift-wrap there and congratulate themselves on their generosity. They may even count it in their tithe. Big deal.

And what of their spiritual contributions to the young? Are they good examples of Christian behavior, stability and God-centeredness? Maybe, maybe not. Check out the haste with which they turn off the TV or computer when kids appear. And, if they wear clothing that embarrasses even their adult peers, well …

Now, lest we knock childless people unfairly, we should remember that some parents and grandparents may be equally remiss in how they handle kids. In fact, those who’ve actually gone through the physical or adoptive traumas of (be)getting children, may be just as indifferent to their own offspring as the determinedly childless are to kids in general.

Sometimes, in mean moments, I wonder why certain folks decide to have kids at all, because they seem to spend so little time or attention on them. They seem to forget how short a time children even want our time or attention! Which brings us to the generational thing, the opportunity to try, try again to accomplish real parenting.

The New Year is always a great time for analyzing our lives, itemizing “what we have done and what we have failed to do.” It’s a time for considering our situations, our options, our privileges and responsibilities according to the paths we’ve taken, the decisions we’ve made.

The thing is, when you’re lucky enough (or maybe stubborn enough) to be a parent (all versions), you have more chances to succeed than you do being a plumber or an accountant. Praise God, if we don’t get it quite right this time around, we just wait for the next generation!

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)


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