Thursday, August 25, 2011

Should we make more money?

Published in the Umatuna, the newspaper for the Archdiocese of Agana, Guam, August 28, 2011.


Some months ago I found myself in a conversation with the author of a new book about Natural Family Planning. I had written to thank him for writing the book. He replied and inquired about my family. I advised that my wife and I were blessed to have eleven children and shared a bit about the joys and challenges of a large family.

I was a bit amused at his next email in which he asked what I did for a living. I knew why he was asking. Today, most couples preset their family size to what they believe they can afford so its natural to think that larger families means a larger income.

He also shared that though he had just written a book about being open to life, he was struggling with doing what he had just written about. Like many Catholics, he had reached the maximum number of children he thought his paycheck could bear and had employed NFP to put off having more kids.

As most Catholics know, Church teaching allows recourse to periodic abstinence for the spacing or even suspension of child bearing for serious reasons. “Serious reasons” is the key to the morality of the method and financial considerations can be among those reasons.

My friend had arrived at what he believed to be his economic threshold with two children, but then, so had I. The difference was that with child number three I shifted career gears in order to provide for a family size that was in excess of my original plan - though my reason for the shift was not to afford more children, but to afford the children I already had with nice stuff: house, car, education, vacations, ballet lessons, comfort, gadgets, etc.

In hindsight, it seems to have been a “divine trick”. While I might have pursued a larger income for material reasons, a larger income made me less concerned about the prospects of a larger family, and a larger family we soon had. And while challenges remain, the bottom line was the more control we had over our income, the less concerned we were about another child.

In answer to my friend’s question, I replied that though I had begun my work life as a teacher, my growing family forced me to increase my income and I had moved to a career in sales. He commended my wife and me for our openness to life, shared that sales wasn’t for him, wished me the best, and I no longer heard from him.

I wanted to tell him that sales wasn’t for me either and that if I had my druthers I’d be conducting choral ensembles and not business presentations, but children had trumped my druthers.

Out of this little episode a question formed: If one is limiting the size of one’s family because of money, and one has the ability to make more money, does one then have the responsibility to make more money? After all, as Catholics we stood before God on our wedding day and promised to “accept children willingly and lovingly” from God.

This is a tough one. A desire for more money is often associated with greed and materialism. Yet lack of money is probably the main reason couples do not accept more children “willingly and lovingly” as they promised they would. What to do?

There are the obvious limitations such as illness and physical or mental incapacity. But beyond these, the question remains: Is it moral for Catholics to suspend the fount of life because of self-imposed fiscal limits? Is it moral to eschew a career change that could support a larger family simply because one finds the work uncomfortable?

I don’t have the answers, and in hindsight, I’m glad eleven children slipped into our lives before I even had the questions. Well, off to work.

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