Rhona Canoy .
SO… Because it is that time of year (again) when I come face to face with parents, it got me to thinking about parenthood and progeny. For the most part, we take having children for granted. It is the expected outcome of marriage, although these days it is just as commonly the result of unprotected irresponsible ignorant sexual activity. But still, we never really ponder on children and why we have them.
For those in long-term permanent relationships, it is a foregone conclusion. When people get married, it isn’t long before they must parry uncomfortable questions about when they’re having children. That is, of course, if pregnancy is not the reason why they got married in the first place. So I wonder if couples ever have that all-important discussion about whether and when to have children. Well, yeah. It is an all-important discussion because of all the responsibility that comes with it. The financial aspect alone is quite suffocating, because it is (in the Philippines) a decades-long commitment. From diapers and formula for the child to diapers and formula for the grandchild. In some cases, the commitment is unwittingly lifelong.
Why do we have children? In the more economically difficult rural areas, the assumption used to be that more children meant more hands-on help in the farming endeavor. Although I doubt that this still holds true nowadays. Kids growing up in the rural areas dream of moving to the urban jungle, dream of getting an education and hopefully working abroad. Just like the rest of the offspring in their generation. However, I think that the population growth there still is hinged on the lack of information and availability of birth control. But if one goes out into the countryside, it is undeniable that one sees more children in homes. Try going to a rural church on any given Sunday and you will find that there are more children than adults at the worship services.
We’re still searching for the answers to why, though. The more romantic response I’ve heard would be “because children are a symbol of our love.” Huh? Bringing another entity into the world as a symbol of love seems weird. That little person didn’t have the opportunity to fill out an application form, and ends up in a family situation not of their desire or choice. And what one does with the little creature after it’s born is another conversation altogether. What? The words “I love you” weren’t enough?
The decision to have a child is one that cannot be made lightly. Parental attitudes these days have certainly changed and most moms and dads (mostly moms, though) treat their kids as an extension of themselves. Sometimes as a bulletin board upon which they hang and display their precious vicarious accolades. And yet the decision to have a child must include the realization that this child is not ours to keep or to mold to our liking. This child will grow to become what he or she turns out to me, and the best we parents can do is to give them advice now and then. Sadly, the grownups do the most damage to them as well. We force our expectations, our sanctions, our demands, our dreams upon them, never even considering the effect stimuli such as these can have.
Worse, Filipino parents don’t know when to let go. Some see their children as their Social Security check, expecting them to care for the old ones when the time comes. I’m not really sure that’s part of the contract. And the kids themselves (even as adults) don’t know when to let go either. How many young people with families do we know who still live with their parents simply because it’s the convenient thing to do? It would be easy to judge them and say they are taking advantage of their parents’ generosity. True, to some extent. And yet the question begs asking: weren’t these children raised to be dependent? Where then does the fault lie?
Worst are those who must suffer disdain because they have chosen not to procreate. I find it offensive that if people don’t have children, it’s because they can’t and not because they won’t. Or to have just one child. Same thing. “Just one? How come? What’s wrong?” Or the pressure button, “When are you having another one?” It’s like they’re just having puppies. Why can’t being responsible as parents be seen as a noble act? We lack conversations about progeny. We assign all the accountability to God, calling the event a blessing. Such may be true, but only until it is inconvenient to care for them. Go visit the DSWD nursery and look at all the infants in there, abandoned by mothers who felt they couldn’t care for them or, worse, didn’t want to care for them.
Have the conversation, please. Not just between spouses but also between parents and children. The rate of teenage pregnancy in the Philippines is the highest it’s ever been. And the archaic attitude of “That’s okay, our culprit is male” still persists. Darling, it takes two to tango. Don’t raise your son to haphazardly spew his seed all over the place and then in a cowardly fashion run away from his part of the outcome. There are more single parents now than ever before, and even though I am a single parent, I have through the years gained the painful wisdom and understanding of why a child should ideally have two parents. But let’s leave that topic for another discussion.
No matter how much we claim that we love our children, we must also remember that they are victims resulting from choices we make, or accidents we allow to happen. Let’s be wholeheartedly responsible for how they grow to become worthwhile human beings, not as we want them to be but rather as they are meant to be. They will inherit this earth. We proclaim this time and time again. Let’s mean it. Someone said (and I quote this again, having done so in one of my earlier columns) that we don’t raise children to survive in a harsh and cruel world. We raise children who will make the world less harsh and less cruel. I think that’s an admirable parental goal all of us should aim for. Our job is to get our kids ready for that daunting job.
Besides, although I am always happy to hear that some couple is expecting a small arrival, my sick brain can’t dismiss the picture of what it took to make it happen. Eww.