From Here To Eternity

From Here To Eternity

Its always seemed to me that the discussion of conception and child-bearing is an intensely private one, one to be held primarily between husband and wife. Perhaps this is why I view with hostility the neverending outpouring of articles in almost every secular periodical regarding just these topics which Torah considers so sacred.

Is the newstand the appropriate forum in which to discuss one's most personal questions? Every possible facet is touched upon, usually without sensitivity or delicacy, exactly as if one were deciding which pair of shoes to purchase or which brand of margarine to try. One child, two children, none at all - let us look at them objectively, they claim. Objectively! How can one be objective about such a subject?!

One such question which arises often in such women's magazines is: Assuming a woman wants to have two children (which is probably .4 more than she is allowed) should she have them (a) close together in age, i.e. within two years, (b) with a 3-4 year age difference, or (c) with a wide separation in ages? There follow several arguments pro and con with, of course, no definite conclusion.

One of the major arguments made these days is the harm in having children close in age. Writers wax poetic in describing the doom and potential danger being perpetrated on the poor defenseless babe who will be pulverized by his antagonistic sibling. We are warned of emotional damage and physical neglect in this thoughtlessness on our part. How, we are asked, can we ruin a child's existence by inflicting on him a brother or sister before he has reached maturity?

All of this controversy might sound good on paper, but let us examine it in actuality. In Orthodox communities we see hundreds and thousands of "test cases", families who have children close in age. Yet these children are much more settled, more mature, more capable than are their counterparts of the one/two children middle class families of America today. The modern day "advisers" are addressing the wrong question. They should be concerned with not how many to be raised, but with how well to raise them.

Children close in age are a blessing to the parents, certainly. Even more so, they are a blessing to each other. In the very early years, one might be too overwhelmed by the actual physical work involved in caring for the little ones to actually stop and take notice of the bonding developing between children close in years. As they mature, a closeness develops which the child himself does not realize exists, but occasional episodes of extreme loyalty and devotion bring to the surface. It is there - a kinship between brother and sister which neither time nor trouble can ever breach.

As good a rapport as a child establishes between himself and his parents, there is still that large difference in age which does not allow for complete understanding. A child in those formative years needs someone his/her level to feel free to talk with - someone who is always there, who is sharing the growing pains, both in school and at home, who is sypathetic and above all,who is "with it"! She needs someone on her level to play with, to share with and to learn from. This child will mature more quickly and learn to care for others and not be eternally selfish and concerned only for herself. Another child after several years of having mommy's complete attention might only serve to cramp the first one's style and raise additional conflicts.

Another query which I see often is: Should I have my child in my early twenties and then pursue my career, or, should I establish myself first, take off X number of years (months?) to raise my child and then just take over where I left off? Editor of magazine A answers quite lengthily about the benefits of the first plan, while editor of magazine B replies equally extensively to the opposite. This poor confused woman will of course pose her question to magazine C whose editors will probably relpy that if it means giving up her skiing vacation in Switzerland next winter, then she had better not have a child altogether. I mean, how  much are you willing to give up just to have a child? My goodness, with all the time, energy and frustration that went into composing her letters to the editors and awaiting replies, she could have had her baby, knitted two afghans and taken a part time job. She certainly would have had a lot more to show for her exertions.

In His infinite wisdom, the Al-mighty dictated that the order of the world should be that women should bear children when they are young and strong enough to undertake this monumental and momentous task and yet mature enough to handle the strains and decisions involved. This is our moment of glory, the fruits of which are to be enjoyed for a lifetime.

One should not delay the blessed event until the last possible moment. It is in a woman's innate nature to wish to bear and nurture children.

For those who have a child/ren and consider returning to the work force, keep one major point in mind, You are now a mother, ultimately responsible for another person. That child - that family unit -  must always remain your priority. Employment is a means to increase your income and is possibly or probably necessary, but how can you miss your baby's first step or first word? Work for a living, if you must, but never live for working!

Another fallacy put forth in the press is the fact that children do not strengthen a marriage, but to the contrary, put a strain on it. Under the chupah (marriage canopy), a couple is blessed with being a "bayis ne'eman b'Yisroel", a house built on Torah and mitzvos. Our home, a Jewish home, is held solidly together by our children, the mortar which holds each brick firmly in place. What accomplishment could join two people together more completely than this child that is part of both of them equally? Every family discussion centers on the children, what they have accomplished, what they need to accomplish, etc.

Whenever an achievement is reached, large or small, this adds another brick to our building. A bris, kiddush, bar mitzvah, or even a baby's smile, a first tooth or first day in school - our building grows higher and higher. Crises too (heaven forfend), bring families closer together, a childhood illness causes concern shared equally by both parents. The more chidren, the more bricks - a veritable skyscraper of trust and unity based on the strength of the family.

An additional point that I cannot understand goes beyond the scope of the Lubavitcher Rebbe's call for the larger family, beyond the religious issue of having children. This is the stand of many women who of their own volition refuse to reproduce themselves at all - never to bear a child, willingly. No one could ever convince me that there is any career more worthwhile than a child. The simplest, to the most sophisticated and complex woman has the innate feeling of needing to be needed, of needing to be a mother, if for no other reason than to know that when it is your turn to leave this world, after 120 years, that there will be someone left who will remember you, who will testify to your having been there on earth. No amount of money or honor or success in any field of endeavor can replace the closeness of mother and child. As much as a child needs a mother, a mother needs a child.

It is foolish to protect your child from the danger of being hurt during his lifetime by just not bearing the child to begin with. Every person experiences knocks and bumps during his lifetime, but there is so much joy and accomplishment along the road, as long as one keeps to the right path. Give the child a chance, an opportunity to explore this world. Perhaps, just perhaps, he would be the one who could solve many of its problems. But you just didn't give him - or the world - the chance.

I have no complaint with modern terminology: Family Planning. We all have to plan for our family. We plan to send our children to the proper schools and plan to be able to keep them fed and clothed. We plan each day of their lives as carefully as we can. We plan to escort our children under the chupah and have the pleasure of our grandchildren playing under our feet. Our family planning takes up an inordinate amount of our time.

The proponents of Zero Population Growth promulgate the concept that one should consider deeply before conceiving a child and make sure that your are ready. This too is a theory accepted by the Jewish people. Every person is obligated to consider the chinuch ( moral and spiritual education) of his/her child even before conception. Yes, we too advertise thinking deeply into conception and forever after the birth of this very special human being.

Magazine articles come and go and are rarely remembered more than a few days. Your children will be with you forever, G-d willing. Which way will you turn? Is there really a choice?  

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