Friday, July 6, 2007

In Another's Words

Friday May 12, 2006
When having babies isn’t exactly a blessing
by rabbi shmuley boteach
A funny thing happened to me the other day when my wife and I had, thank God, another baby (a boy). Many of my friends didn’t seem all that happy for me.
Sure, they went through the motions of smiles and congratulations. But it was evident that many thought me insane. Why would a young man and his wife ruin their lives with eight children? Who could afford the day school bills? Didn’t we want to live a little and not just be burdened with kids?
It got downright surreal when a European film company pressed me — while my wife was in labor — to finish shooting a segment that had an urgent deadline. I told them they were insane. And the next day I was mildly criticized by a Jewish organization for having to cancel a lecture because the timing clashed with the baby’s brit.
I don’t mind that the world doesn’t really love babies, just that it pretends to. It’s time we got honest about our priorities.
Most people get a new car every two or three years, but one or two babies through the life of their marriage is plenty. You can get drunk on an airplane, laugh hysterically with your mates, and still not really anger people. But if you dare bring a crying baby on board you will be given malicious looks as if the little thing was a package that ticks.
The contempt shown to parents of large families is the last acceptable prejudice in our society. As such a parent I find myself apologizing wherever I go, as if I had committed a crime. The frequent and loaded stares from scornful onlookers seem to imply that the famine in Africa was caused by my selfish insistence on overpopulating the earth.
Long ago my wife and I discovered that few hotels were prepared to accommodate so many children, even if we took three or four rooms, which is why we bought an RV for travel.
How strange to live in a world where loving children casts one in infamy. Having a large family implies a backwardness and primitivism deemed unbecoming in the West. Large families, it is thought, exist only among religious weirdos or Third World hovels. Rich countries, by contrast, prefer to increase their standard of living rather than the number of the living.
Looking at Western birthrates for 2001, the United States averaged only 14.2 births for every 1,000 Americans. One can go for days in a wealthy city like Manhattan without encountering a single pregnant woman.
Riches and children have become inversely proportional — the more of the former, the less of the latter. The high birthrates of poor African nations like Uganda (47.52 births per 1,000) or Niger (50.68 births per 1,000) are deemed to be prime causes and indicators of their penury. Contraception has become a synonym for civilization.
A Christian mother of six once wrote to me: “I find it troubling to worry about getting pregnant again because I don’t want to face the criticism of friends and family. Why do people not see children as a blessing?”
It’s a fair question, which deserves a fair response.
Why is it that even many synagogues today are not children-friendly? Why are people impressed that Jay Leno owns 20 motorcycles, but disgusted that some religious families choose to have 10 children?
Let’s not finesse the response. We all know why. A world that has lost its innocence has trouble appreciating beings that are innocent. A world that has become selfish has soured to the idea of leading a life of selflessness. A world that has become grossly materialistic is turned off from the idea of more dependents who consume resources.
I work hard to support my family, but I give up no pleasures in doing so, because my children are my foremost pleasure.
By just looking at my children I become more innocent. By loving them I become more noble. By spending my money on them rather than on myself I find transcendence. And by being a father, my spirit soars.
I am often asked by women how to tell whether the men they are dating are marriage material. I say, “See if he enjoys children. A man who loves children is playful. He will spend his life joking with his wife because he loves to see her laugh, and will flirt with her because he loves to see her smile.”
Once husbands and wives worked hard to ensure they could afford the blessings of a large family. Today the higher your earning bracket, the fewer children you have. Many turn money from a blessing to a curse.
Before he died, the Lubavitcher rebbe launched a campaign asking parents to have one more child than they had originally planned. It is a campaign that a dwindling Jewish community should revive as it continues to disappear.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is the host of TLC’s family dynamics TV show, “Shalom in the Home,” and author of the upcoming “Ten Conversations You Need to Have With Your Children. “ Information:


Stay, stay at home, my heart, and rest;
Home-keeping hearts are happiest,
For those that wander they know not where
Are full of trouble and full of care;
To stay at home is best.

Weary and homesick and distressed,
They wander east, they wander west,
And are baffled and beaten and blown about
By the winds of the wilderness of doubt;
To stay at home is best.

Then stay at home, my heart, and rest;
The bird is safest in its nest;
O'er all that flutter their wings and fly
A hawk is hovering in the sky;
To stay at home is best.
~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow