Batman lives at my house. He’s about two-and-a-half feet tall with a tuft of blond-streaked, overgrown hair on his head. Besides the obligatory black rubber mask, he sports a red velvet cape that looks suspiciously like his older sister’s discarded Christmas dress, a pair of denim overalls, and — underneath it all — a diaper. Don’t tell Robin.
Usually, Batman fits in rather well around here. He goes about his business of saving the world from the forces of evil and allows me to go about mine of making meals, teaching school, and keeping up with the laundry.
This morning, however, Batman and I got off to a rough start. First, I stubbornly refused to pour him a cup of “special soda” from the bottle of cooking oil I keep in the kitchen cabinet. Next, I caught him flavoring my coffee with generous spoonfuls of Rice Krispies. The last straw came when I put an ice cube (always a requirement) in his sippy cup of juice. He had wanted to be the one to put in the ice cube, and no amount of apologizing, ice-cube removing, juice dumping, or re-pouring was going to fix this mess now.
I watched in silent resignation as Batman turned purple with rage, threw his Bat Body to the floor, and furiously pounded the tiles with pint-sized Bat Fists.
Experience has taught me the value of keeping my cool and holding on to my sense of humor, but years ago, when I first experienced the daily realities of parenting a two-year-old, moments like these were my undoing. I became convinced that the so-called joy of parenting was a colossal joke . . . and it was on me. I was a failure. And worse than that, I was a fool for having invested so much time, energy, and effort in this little family project that was doomed to disappoint.
Unfortunately, rather than encouraging those who struggle and helping new moms and dads to see the bigger picture, much in our modern society encourages the idea that children are costly burdens.
Years ago, my husband had a female co-worker who, when she learned we were expecting our fifth child, nearly choked. “I have two kids,” she said. “And I will not be having another. I’d rather eat glass.”
That’s right. Eating glass, she said, would be preferable to having a third child. Whatever the motivation, her phrase struck me as an astonishingly angry thing to say to a couple who were happily expecting a baby.
I thought of the glass-eating woman again recently when an acquaintance of mine announced that she is “sooooo done” with having kids, while her two preschoolers stood beside her shopping cart, listening. I am sure that women who talk this way love their children, and if pressed, would likely agree that children are blessings. So why do they say the opposite?
I really do understand feeling maxed out by family life. I do understand the challenge of the self-sacrificing kind of love that children demand with their very existence. But these kinds of sacrifices are tempered by the very real joy that children give us with their lives. Children bring demands, work, and sacrifice; but they bring blessings first and foremost.
No doubt about it, parenting costs — and not just time, effort, and sanity. It costs dollars, too. Many parenting magazines will cheerfully tell you that the “price” of raising a child these days is somewhere in the vicinity of $300,000.
For a real cost-benefit analysis, though, we’d need to factor in more than just the price of 4,382 disposable diapers and an average annual orthodontic bill. For an accurate projection, we should add the pleasant warmth of tiny breathing against our necks; the charm of miniature, wrinkled fingers with translucent fingernails; and the distinct privilege of being the most important person on the planet to some small person. We should include the peace, joy, and satisfaction that can only come from knowing and doing God’s will for ourselves and our families by cooperating in his divine plan for new life.
And of course we should factor in Batman’s impish grin when, just moments after completing his Bat Tantrum, he points a chubby finger in my direction and announces, “I yuv you, Mama!”
These things don’t come with a price tag, but we know their worth.