Giving Gifts, Counting Costs

Rumors are flying. Is she or isn’t she? Will she or won’t she?

The subject is celebrity mom Katie Holmes, naturally, and the second child she is rumored to be currently gestating or planning to conceive with her husband, Tom Cruise. Let the talking and stalking begin!

I don’t usually pay much attention to tabloid obsessions with movie stars’ procreative activities. How seriously can we take reports that Joan Rivers has birthed an alien baby, after all?

 

The Katie Holmes story caught my eye, though, because whether it is true or not (it appears not), some of the popular reaction to her potential pregnancy was a telling sample of modern women’s ambivalence toward motherhood.

The statement that Holmes was rumored to have made was, “Suri would love a brother or sister to play with. I think it would be good for her. It’s hard to say no to her.”

Jeanne Sager, a blogger and mother of one, called this statement the “world’s worst reason for pregnancy” and had this to say in response:

When people hear we have an only, their first question is: when are you going to “give her a brother or sister?” Give her? Why should it be up to her? Or Suri for that matter?

Our kids don’t carry our babies. They don’t breastfeed them. Or get up in the middle of the night with them, pay for their diapers and shoes and college. They don’t bear the emotional burden of raising their siblings to adulthood. In short, they have nothing to do with the important issues upon which a decision to have a child are based.

So just to recap, the “important issues” to consider before becoming pregnant are: breastfeeding; getting up at night; paying for diapers, shoes, and college; and the emotional burden of raising the child to adulthood. In the end, it’s a simple cost analysis, in which the parents do the giving and the kids do the taking.

When we consider motherhood this way, it’s inevitable that we will come away feeling rather stingy. We all have limited resources. Just how much can we afford to give to a brood of life-sucking babies?

I’m certainly not going to argue with the notion that motherhood costs us something. Of course it does — physically, financially, emotionally, and spiritually. But the costs of a child aren’t the only factors we should consider.

I prefer Pope John Paul II’s take on siblings and parenthood. Our beloved pope apparently sided with Holmes years ago when he challenged American parents toward greater generosity.

Americans are known for generosity to your children. And what is the best gift you can give your children? I say to you: Give them brothers and sisters.

Children are a gift to one another? These are poetic words, but they don’t fail to acknowledge the trials involved in answering the call to raise a family. Like any gift we offer, like anything we do out of love, raising a family requires personal sacrifice.

 

John Paul was right to call brothers and sisters a gift to one another. When we give them siblings, we not only give our children the gift of knowing that they are not the center of the universe, we give them lifelong human connections. We give them the gift of learning early on that they are loved much — and by many.

What a child costs us can be calculated — in lost hours of sleep, grocery bills, and tuition payments; but how do we place a price tag on the gift of a unique and immortal human soul, created in the image and likeness of God?

We can’t.

We can’t calculate how a baby’s brain develops a deep sense of security and confidence in her own unique self worth when she is cuddled by an older brother while he reads his history book.

We can’t quantify the love a toddler feels when he shares his bedroom with a roomful of older brothers who read him stories, sing to him, and answer his every blessed question about bears and bumblebees until at last his eyes grow heavy and he drops off to sleep while listening to the sound of his oldest brother’s breathing in the bunk above.

We can’t put a price on the kind of growing up that mothers and fathers do when they are challenged to give up controlling notions of what their family size is “supposed to” look like. We can’t count the ways in which family members — mothers, fathers, and siblings — help one another to grow in holiness and generosity.

We can figure the cost of 18 years of basketball sneakers and ear infections, but how can we count the kind of real growth, the kind of real work toward holiness, and the kind of blessing that takes place in a family?

We can’t. We can only live it. And, thanks be to God, I do.

Danielle Bean

By

Danielle Bean, a mother of eight, is Editorial Director of Faith & Family. She is also author of My Cup of Tea: Musings of a Catholic Mom (Pauline 2005) and Mom to Mom, Day to Day: Advice and Support for Catholic Living (Pauline 2007). Her blog is a source of inspiration, encouragement, and support for Catholic women of all ages and life stages.

MENU