I will confess: many times we take the easiest road--path of least resistance.
This isn't because we don't love our kids or don't want what is best for them. But we are tired, emotionally spent, and some nights don't have the fight in us; we are simply trying to survive. We buy happy meals if it staves off a tantrum or because it's more convenient than making dinner, we are not above bribing with treats in desperation, and we don't always follow up on discipline as we should.
I will also confess: I feel guilty about it, and fear the accumulation of unforeseen consequences.
It feels good in the moment, like we get some respite from the discomfort and exercise of hard parenting. But it also becomes difficult to draw lines later. If we let them skip dinner at the table tonight, why not tomorrow night? If one episode of Toy Hello Kitty Cash Register on YouTube, why not ten? It makes me worry that we are making things harder for ourselves down the line by not being the kind of strict parents that hold the line whom I secretly admire.
People often forgive us or give us a pass because parenting can be hard. "It's ok, you're only human," "You're doing the best you can," "It gets the best of us sometimes." All true, and well meaning and even helpful sometimes. If we 'slip up' and let our guard down by allowing too much screen time, it's not the end of the world.
Of course, all of this would be moot for Deb and I if it weren't for two sperm and two egg that found their way to one another on two separate occasions, resulting in two new humans, two eternal souls, two gifts to their parents. We have often marveled with each other that our kids are the result of sex--one instance of sex (well, two)--that changed the course of our life forever. Sex...is powerful.
Gas stoves, water heaters, etc have pilot lights--a small flame that is kept burning that lights the larger flame when you want to cook, heat, etc. Sex drive is kind of like a pilot light...always on (to a greater or lesser degree), and when it is time to cook/heat, etc, it catalyzes the flames that lead to attraction, arousal, climax, and, sometimes, life itself. Fire can light a dark room when held by a candle's wick...or it can burn down an entire city. It can both aid life (keeping us from freezing to death, able to cook food, light paths and shorelines, etc) and can rob us of it (rape and assault, molestation, etc).
People accuse the Church of being obsessed with sex, controlling other people's bodies, heavy in laying on the guilt, having no authority to speak on the matter, living in the dark ages, completely unrealistic and unreasonable. I used to be one of those people. But I have recently come to a point, now in my late thirties, where I am beginning to appreciate the wisdom of the Church's teaching on the gift of sex and sexuality (it only took about twenty years).
When I became Catholic in 1998, I had no problem with assenting to essential dogma like papal infallibility, teachings on Mary, Apostolic succession and authority, confessing sins to a priest, etc. But I simply could not accept this seemingly completely unreasonable moral prohibition against the use of artificial contraception. I kind of understood where they were coming from (though the Natural Law arguments were kind of lost on me as an 18 year old college freshman), but I just could not get past the impracticality of such a teaching. It was an affront, an unwelcome challenge to my presuppositions about sex and sexuality, which, not being formed in such matters growing up or in any kind of religious context, I gleaned from the culture I lived in. Not to mention I was in the height of my sexual peak and keeping a lid on things at Penn State--even as a new Catholic with a less-than-virginal background--was no easy task.
A catalyst in this growing appreciation of the deep truths about human life and sexuality was stumbling across Dr. Janet E. Smith's talk "Contraception: Why not?" a few years ago. I remember sitting at the kitchen table and listening to the audio and thinking, "Wow, this kind of makes sense." She seemed funny, well-reasoned, intelligent, articulate, and a proponent of what she refers to as "sexual common sense." A world of hurt has been born of the sexual revolution of the 60's, and it's becoming apparent in the fruits of its tree, what Pope Paul VI prophetically anticipated and set forth in Humanae Vitae in 1968 (a little long, but definitely worth a read):
"Responsible men can become more deeply convinced of the truth of the doctrine laid down by the Church on this issue if they reflect on the consequences of methods and plans for artificial birth control. Let them first consider how easily this course of action could open wide the way for marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards.
Not much experience is needed to be fully aware of human weakness and to understand that human beings—and especially the young, who are so exposed to temptation—need incentives to keep the moral law, and it is an evil thing to make it easy for them to break that law.
Another effect that gives cause for alarm is that a man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection.
Finally, careful consideration should be given to the danger of this power passing into the hands of those public authorities who care little for the precepts of the moral law. Who will blame a government which in its attempt to resolve the problems affecting an entire country resorts to the same measures as are regarded as lawful by married people in the solution of a particular family difficulty? Who will prevent public authorities from favoring those contraceptive methods which they consider more effective? Should they regard this as necessary, they may even impose their use on everyone. It could well happen, therefore, that when people, either individually or in family or social life, experience the inherent difficulties of the divine law and are determined to avoid them, they may give into the hands of public authorities the power to intervene in the most personal and intimate responsibility of husband and wife.
Consequently, unless we are willing that the responsibility of procreating life should be left to the arbitrary decision of men, we must accept that there are certain limits, beyond which it is wrong to go, to the power of man over his own body and its natural functions—limits, let it be said, which no one, whether as a private individual or as a public authority, can lawfully exceed. These limits are expressly imposed because of the reverence due to the whole human organism and its natural functions, in the light of the principles We stated earlier, and in accordance with a correct understanding of the "principle of totality" enunciated by Our predecessor Pope Pius XII. (21)
St. Pope John Paul II's129 addresses in Theology of the Body (described by George Weigel as a "theological time bomb set to go off in the third millenium of the Church") gives witness to the Church's vision of authentic sexual expression. I had heard the term before in my twenties but was never really exposed to its teaching. Here I am, twenty years after my conversion, 7 years into my marriage, 2 kids later...and discovering it for the first time.
I've often wondered what would happen if abortion was made illegal or (hypothetically) impossible to obtain. Would would happen? Would we be overrun by 'unwanted' babies? Would Main St. USA suddenly look like the streets of Calcutta? Would people resort to their own forms of infanticide?
When I drill down in the scenario a little further, there are a lot of layers. Babies don't just appear out of thin air...they are the result of sex! When people don't want babies to come from sex, they often use contraceptive measures. When you don't want a baby with someone (because you might not know them that well, are not legally married to them, whatever) and contraception fails or isn't used, abortion is considered as an 'option' to 'deal with the issue.' It makes complete sense, from a secular perspective. It's part of being 'smart.'
So, it all comes back to sex. It used to be common knowledge that sex can and does result in babies, but with the advent of contraception, that link sometimes gets forgotten about until a 'surprise' pregnancy brings us back to reality. As a society we are so far removed that to even suggest that perhaps the best place for sex to find expression is within monogamous marriage, or that the best approach to sex is to wait until you are married to have it, or that if you are single abstinence is a viable option for protecting and guarding oneself from STDs, pregnancy, and emotional damage, and that to pretend otherwise is to invite widespread dis-order--both personally and socially--is anathema to secular sensibilities.
I was really encouraged when a group of faithful Catholic theologians, doctors, nurses, academics, and mothers and fathers, led by Dr. Smith, responded en force to the 'Wijngaards Statement' issued a few weeks ago by a group of Catholic academic dissidents to the United Nations. Dr. Smith and Catholic University of America were like a light in a culture that has gone dark, putting forth and disseminating sound and reasonable teaching with 2,000 years of application to back it up.
I can't turn back the clock and erase past mistakes, but thankfully it has not been an issue of 'too little too late' in my life. The fruits of bringing our sexual expression in marriage in line with the Church's vision for human sexuality has born subtle, but good fruit, in our marriage. It is sometimes hard to have self-control and practice periodic abstinence, especially when you want to be together in that way. But it also teaches something valuable--patience, understanding, self-discipline, focus. Shifting from the adopted mindset of babies as burdens to babies as gifts has likewise been taking place, and that in turn leads to a healthy shift in perspective in other areas. Sex itself, when not sterilized, becomes more than what it appears to be on the surface, and a kind of exhilarating self-abandonment keeps things exciting and open. It is not easy to fight against concupiscence--after all, it comes naturally as a result of the Fall. But now, twenty years later for me, it makes sense...common sense.