A woman at church came flaunting her eight-month-old granddaughter yesterday. She brought her right up to me and another childless woman in the choir, apparently thinking that because we’re female, of course we want to see the baby. The child is beautiful, a blue-eyed doll who stared at me the whole time. I was appropriately complimentary, even as I felt that familiar squeeze of pain. Put simply, I want one of those and I’ll never have one.
But anyway . . . We’ve been talking about religion and how we might feel especially left out at church. Let’s look at another aspect, which I suppose is particular to the Catholic church. Priests and nuns take vows of chastity. They agree to never marry or have children. They sacrifice parenthood for a life devoted to God. In essence, they take God as their spouse. Although occasionally someone leaves the religious life to marry and have a family, I have never heard any religious people who stayed with it complain about not being able to have children.
The reasoning in the church is that one cannot be fully committed to the religious life with the distractions of a human family. In other churches where marriage and parenthood are allowed, the ministers seem to make it work, but not always. For example, one Episcopal priest I know decided not to get married because she felt she couldn’t do both effectively.
It’s not only priests and nuns who decide they can’t be parents and do their life’s work at the same time. Many artists of all sorts choose a life without children. Although I always thought I could write and be a mom, too, I often wonder how I would have had time to do my writing and music while raising a family. Perhaps I would have had to wait until now, when my children would be grown and living elsewhere, to dive into my career. All those years not raising children gave me the freedom to pursue my dreams. If I were the one showing off the baby grandchild, I would not have been able to concentrate on playing the piano at church, a job I love.
I’m just saying that sometimes people choose a life without children because it fulfills them in other ways. Maybe we didn’t choose that life. Maybe it chose us, but maybe we’re meant to do something else, something we couldn’t do if we had kids. Think about it.
4 thoughts on “Choosing childlessness for God or art”
I had this conversation with my priest once. I asked him how his family had felt about his becoming a priest, and I specifically asked if his family had difficulties with his lack of procreation. He sort of shrugged it off as unimportant; he said that the only problem he encountered was his sisters, who knew his childhood secrets and felt he wasn't qualified to lead a parish. He acted as though never having a child had never crossed his, or anyone else's, mind. This was shocking to me, considering how hard he has driven the importance of not just having children, but having lots of children! (He was very much in favor of huge Catholic families, and criticized our generation for “contraceptive-ing ourselves out of existence.”) I never quite understood that dichotomy.
The actress, Helen Mirren, has this to say, “No. Absolutely not. Absolutely not. I am so happy that I didn't have children. Well, you know, because I've had freedom. . .I was never going to be anyone's mum or grandmother. But I can dig that beautiful earth-mother thing.” (IMDB)
Great comments. Keep 'em coming. Jossalyn, it is kind of crazy, isn't it? Millicent, I have heard Helen Mirren talk about this before. She's one of many women whom I admire who never had kids.
My uncle was a priest and my future aunt was a nun. They met and knew they could not deny temtation and left the church, married and had three children. My uncle was a guidance counselor till he retired and my aunt became a nurse. Still helping people just in different way. I think both would have stayed with the church if they could have.