Thursday, 26 June 2014

Young Marriage vs Old Marriage

When I announced my engagement on Facebook almost six years ago, an old friend who had been married since he/she was in his/her early twenties congratulated me and said that I'd be spared a lot of suffering, getting married so late.

I am sure he/she also said something like "It's been great, but..." because he/she has a lot of kids, all of whom are wonderful and gifts from God, but...

The longer you are not in a fully sexual relationship, the fewer kids you are likely to conceive. That's just how it is. Any Christian who is really, really certain she does not have what it takes to raise children should not get married until she does. Natural Family Planning is a great tool for actually implementing some kind of family creation plan, but a good rule of thumb is that if you are under thirty and having frequent sexual relations, without contraception, you are going to get pregnant.

I'm not sure, though, why a Christian woman would be so sure she does not have what it takes to raise children. I suppose that if she has NO experience of caring for children, or pets, or plants or anything, then the idea of being a body slave to an extremely intelligent yet vulnerable human being must indeed be scary. However, women--most of us dirt poor--have always had and cared for babies. The vast majority of women in history have not worried about their babies' second language acquisition or whatever worry is the current obsession these days. The vast majority of women simply hoped (and hope) to keep their babies alive. If you can keep a baby alive and as comfortable and clean as possible, then you are good mother material.

But although babies and how many you might have, and how closely together, is uppermost on the minds of young Catholic women who hope to marry one day (and do boys think about the baby question quite so much?), there are the less pleasant spectres of abuse and divorce. When I was 21, I taught Latin to a class of twelve and thirteen year olds, and one day they were fascinated by the concept of annulments. This school, incidentally, was so anti-divorce that it asked me during my job interview (totally against the law, by the way), if I were divorced. It simply loathed divorce. And so my little moppets were fascinated by the topic of annulments which, I believe, they saw as a get-out-of-jail free card they would keep JUST IN CASE. Little did they or I know at the time that one day I would seek and receive an annulment myself.

Abuse is a tricky one, and all I can say is that an abusive 19 year old boyfriend is not going to stop being abusive once he's married, and neither is the abusive 19 year old girlfriend. The fastest and most effective way not to be abused by a spouse is to not marry an abusive person. In Canada we say (or used to say) as first date advice, "Watch how he treats the waitress, 'cause that's how he'll treat you." I have found a lot of truth in this, although there is almost so much an abusive man can do to a waitress compared to what he can do to his girlfriend, wife, sister or mother. Incidentally, any man who hates his sister or mother with a passion needs a therapist, not a wife. Even if his mother IS a real witch, unless he has made peace with that, he's going to pelt you with his mother issues.

Another way to avoid abuse is to put off marriage until you are old enough to handle carnaptious and aggressive young men. There are 19 year olds who can stop a rampaging rapscallion at ten paces, and there are 27 year olds who can't. Knowing how to look a loved one in the eye and say "Hey, you can't get away with that" is something that, for me, came with age. And I'm still not great at it, so it's just as well I married sweet-tempered man whose motto is "Anything for a quiet life."

Really, nobody should get married until she or he is a mature adult, and maturity comes at different ages. It would be better for the mature Single of thirty-plus to date a mature Single of twenty-five than an immature Single her own age. A mature 25 year old can handle marriage-and-babies, an immature thirty-something can't. He'd rather wait until he is 40, and then at 40 he may very well say he feels too old now.

The greatest disadvantage of old marriage is the risk of not having ANY children, but one advantage--if you feel this is an advantage--is that you will almost be guaranteed a smaller family than you might have had, had you married at 22. But the far greater advantage, if you have always been a late bloomer, is that you will have more confidence and maturity. You will now know who you are, and what you can and can't put up with, and the humility to change what ever it is that you do that drives your loved ones nuts. Having had many of your illusions shattered, you will be much more rooted in reality than you were when you were a wee sprog of 25.

And now I must rush off and do my Polish homework.


Julia said...

My parents have four children (which, as I like to say, is double the "legal limit" in our country) but I've recently been meeting Catholics around my age who come from families of eight or twelve children, and I'm fascinated by that.

I'm really curious about how they manage with finances, but since it's super-rude to ask, I don't. What I really want to do is sit down with a mum-of-eight and take notes. ("Tell me your secrets!")

But I can't do that. So I ponder this mystery alone. (How do they afford their mortgage? Did they have a large inheritance? Do they have private health insurance and income protection? What happens if all eight kids need orthodontic work? How much does the husband need to earn to keep his family alive? Does the mother have difficult pregnancies? If they have a special needs child, how do they provide so well for him? Etc.)

Considering that I'm nearly 24 and nowhere near getting married, I'm unlikely to ever have eight children myself, but these super-mums (including my own mum) have my awed admiration.

Seraphic said...

My parents had five. They were super-careful with money, and my dad worked really hard at his career. My mother made full use of municipal programs for our various extracurricular activities and denied herself luxuries.

I've heard having 2 children is harder than having 6 because with 6 you can get the older ones to take care of the younger ones.

PPS, the only Single in the world I try to nag into marriage & parenthood, is in shock because I said a small family could be an advantage. I think that if you are very poor or rather ill, it probably would be. I'm not sure, though.

MaryT said...

Julia - I definitely have those questions too! I am the oldest of 10 - yes 10! - and my parents own their house (completely paid off mortgage), had 7 kids in braces, don't have any debt, and always went out for dinner on a weekly date night. I lived with them for 18 years, and I am not sure how they did it!

We were by no means wealthy - and I know there have definitely been lean times, like if the engine in the van exploded and they needed to buy a new van. But I think much of it came down to not spending money on extraneous things. They always took care of the bare necessities first - food and housing - and if there was some left over, so much the better. We never went on extravagant vacations - rented a cabin at the lake for two weeks in the summer, instead of going on a cruise, for instance. And if we DID want something special, we got a job and bought it for ourselves. All of us older ones have traveled a fair bit all over Europe and North and South America - and we did it on our own steam, with the money we earned ourselves. And that is the benefit of a big family - you learn independence and self sufficiency very young :)

I think the crux is, that God is generous. He really is. And he rewards the generosity each person is able to give.

Julia said...

Seraphic, why do you try to nag PPS into marriage and fatherhood? (Also, why would it be a shock to PPS that some might think that a small family could be an advantage? Most people, at least where I'm from, think that that's true. "Two kids, and THAT'S IT", they say.)

MaryT, your parents must be amazing!

Although there were *only* four of us kids and we weren't poor, money was tight. My parents paid off their first house, but it wasn't long before another baby came and we needed a bigger place. Even then we were two to a room (I only got my own room at 18, not that I minded sharing with my sister). We didn't have a computer till I was 15, and we didn't have the internet till I was 17, which was about the same time I got my first mobile phone. Cheap haircuts, hand-me-down clothes etc.

Like you, MaryT, we never had fancy holidays. Maybe a few nights in a country town somewhere. And my mother has always been very big on insurance (we have, like, nine policies) and those premiums add up. Then there were school fees, music lessons, orthodontics for four kids etc. My mother has always been very good with the budget and never spends on herself, and while I don't think we were ever in serious financial trouble, date nights for my parents were absolutely out of the question (and still pretty much are). But Australia is a RIDICULOUSLY expensive country.

Mum often feels guilty that she didn't have more children (the last was born when she was 36) but honestly I think another pregnancy would have ended her career. She experienced pregnancy-related carpal tunnel syndrome, and in her line of work, carpal tunnel means curtains. And there was no way we could have survived on Dad's income alone back then. She went back to her high-pressure job eight weeks after the fourth was born and I think she was barely functioning.

I have a friend, a poorly-catechised only child born to Polish migrants, who once said something I found to be pretty insensitive. She said that couples with four or more children (or whichever number she chose) are selfish. Her reasoning is that it's selfish to have that many children because the world is overpopulated blah blah blah. I just told her that each extra child does not result in a doubling or tripling of resource expenditure.

lauren said...

Well, I didn't get married young, and I'm not married now, but I will say that I love being in my thirties. I feel much more relaxed, much more confident, and much more settled (emotionally and mentally) than I was in my twenties. I think I'm more generous and more gracious to the men in my life, while at the same time being less tolerant of truly bad behaviour. So those are all changes for the better.

In my early twenties, I wasn't sure what sort of man I would want to marry, but I was pretty sure that I could be happy with a number of different types of men. In my early thirties, I have a much clearer sense of what I want and need, but far less confidence that a man with those traits is actually out there. I don't quite know what to do with this. I don't feel cynical or bitter, but I sometimes miss the optimism about meeting men that I had in my early twenties.

Nzie said...

Julia, not only was that insensitive of her, but it's completely inaccurate. Check out the Population Research Institute for more details. Also, the corollary bad for the environment stuff usually ignores things like a lightbulb uses the same energy no matter how many people are in the room, etc.

As far as managing big family finances - we've had lean years and fatter years. It was very difficult sometimes. But it somehow manages to work out. We were cramped in a small house for a while (it had 3 bedrooms - parents, children, grandmother) before we converted the family room to another bedroom (so parents, 3 kids, 2 kids, grandmother). Even when we moved to a 5 bedroom house, it was parents, boys, girls, grandmother, great grandmother. And you know, it worked okay. When I come home, I share a double-bed with a younger sister. Sometimes we're cover thieves, but we've also had all sorts of silly fun together. It was nice to get my own room during college and as an adult, but really, it's okay.

I like the idea of at least 4. But since I'm upper 20s and single, who knows. I also do want to develop a professional life. So we'll see. I think for me, I benefitted a lot from not dating seriously or getting married young. Some folks are ready to jump in early 20s and that's great for them. :-)

Seraphic said...

I nag PPS because he's a MAN, smashing hearts left and right, at least according to local legend, so really he would probably do less damage if he settled down and began his patriarchal career.

Anamaria Scaperlanda Biddick said...

Before I had a baby (in January), I honestly was not sure what it took to keep a baby alive and comfortable and was therefore really nervous about whether or not I could do it. I mean, I like sleep, and the only thing I had was a vague picture of not getting much sleep for weeks or months on end. This is despite babysitting quite a lot as a teenager- toddlers and little kids I knew I could handle, but a BABY? They can't do anything for themselves.

It was harder even than I had imagined in terms of sleep and feeding (I knew this would take practice, but I also thought, well, our bodies are made to do it, so, you know, it'll happen. It did, but it took more than just practice and was hard). And comfortable? She was colicky. She was rarely ever comfortable- sometimes only if I put her in the babywearing wrap and walked outside (not inside, not sitting down outside, no, walking).

But I could do it. I could do much more than I thought I could before she was born, my own body could be pushed further than I thought.

Anyway, all this is to say that we need to pay attention to where God is calling us in the present, and he will give us the grace to handle it, even when it's hard. It's little use worrying about whether or not you want a big family or a small family before that happens. I remember thinking about this in college, where I met Catholics who came from 8 or 9 kids for the first time (ok, so Catholics who came from 8 or 9 kids and weren't weird). "Do I want 8 or 9 kids, or more in the range of 4, like parents?" That was a completely irrelevant question to my life. I didn't have my first baby until I was 29, so 8 or 9 kids is out for me.

The only thing that is relevant to that is just to learn NFP really well before you get married. Learn at least a little about a few different methods, find one that works well for you (but know about others in case it stops working well when you're breastfeeding or something), so if you prayerfully discern to space kids, you have the means to do it.

Sorry for such a long and rambling comment. I just wish I hadn't spent so much time wondering about abstractions that really have no bearing on my life in reality.

Anamaria Scaperlanda Biddick said...

And, Julia, if you are curious, spend time with one of these families and observe. In my early twenties, I spent a LOT of time with a family with seven children, and I learned a lot about how they manage caring for each child, finances, activities/sports, etc. Yes, even finances, which were not discussed directly, I picked up on a lot related to this- going camping for vacations, where they grocery shop, what they buy for food and clothes, buying cars outright, etc, etc.

Though I'm most likely too old to have seven kids, this experience was absolutely invaluable for me learning to make a home, raise children, and stay sane. Most of the cooking I know how to do I learned from the mom (and some from the dad, who was a professional chef for awhile).

I didn't share a room after age 12 until college, and more's the pity, I say. Sharing rooms can bring someone out of their moody adolescent self. It also helps you learn how to be considerate of another person spacially, which is something I wish I was better at!

Julia said...

"...a lightbulb uses the same energy no matter how many people are in the room."

Nzie, believe it or not, that was the exact example I was going to use in my comment. And I pointed out to my friends that families with two kids these days typically build houses that could easily contain four kids, therefore pretty much using up the same resources.

Seraphic - fair enough! Bad behaviour, PPS.

Annamaria, congratulations on your baby daughter! I think it's great to have a daughter for a first-born (not that first-born daughter me is biased at all). I do wonder if these super-mums of eight or ten would publish a book on Coping With Life (although I guess that's what mummy blogs are for). But on the point of camping for holidays, even that's expensive. The initial start-up cost is big. That equipment is expensive!

Modesty said...

My Godmother had 7 kids (my godsiblings. ^^) and they ended up living out in the country, buying a cow and chickens for milk and eggs. They also apparently ate a lot of the same few meals.

My mother would threaten that if I wanted to live with them I'd have to get used to PB&J sandwiches and macaroni and Cheese and grilled cheese. (From when I was 6 to now, I cannot abide grilled cheese sandwiches. The very smell or sight of them makes me nauseous.)

I'm the eldest of 4, and I'm sure when the time comes I'll ask my parents more about finances and family. Right now, I'm having a hard enough time affording myself. XD Health insurance and taxes...why must you go higher than my paycheck can cover??

Also my plan is to marry a catholic doctor. XD Save on medical bills AND a nice income. (My dad was a doctor...he'd just be jealous if I married one.)

Domestic Diva said...

My grandparents had 6 kids, and their lifestyle was much like what Mary T describes. My grandfather, a convert to Catholicism, always said "Every baby brings its own loaf of bread," and it was true that every time they had another baby he got a raise or a promotion or some other windfall. Yes, they made sacrifices, but everyone had what they needed. God was generous.
I am friends with a matriarch and several of her 8 adult children. She is a master garage saler, going each week to the area garage sales especially in nicer neighborhoods. She always finds lovely, lovely things for a fraction of their actual cost. As her children were growing up, she found this a good way to afford nice things for them when money was tight.

Julia said...

Thanks for all the info! It's so interesting to read about everyone's experiences.

I've read through these comments with my mother, and we've concluded that it's really hard to compare Australia to North America. Australia is expensive. It really, really is. The average house in my suburb goes for $800,000. And my suburb is not even the most expensive in my city. Wages have not kept up with inflation. Everything costs a bomb. Public transport costs $12 a day, for example. Parking is about $2.50 an hour. Feel like a small coffee? Goodbye to $4.50.

I think in order to compare Australia with the US, you'd need to be thinking about the most expensive cities in the US to get an idea of expenses in Australia. A thousand people per week move to my city, pushing up rental prices etc. As my mum says, "You've got to make a lot just to stay standing still."

Wow. I'm really selling Australia, right? I like living here, but I'm nervous about the future of my generation here. We're a generation that's perhaps going to have to accept that we'll never be home-owners. And it's pretty bad in all the capital cities here, so it's not just a matter of moving to a smaller city and bingo, problem solved.

I don't know. I'm no expert on economics either here or in the US. Maybe other Australian readers of this blog have different views.

Perhaps I'm touching on a sore point here, but I have another question for those of you with many younger siblings. Did you ever resent being responsible for many younger siblings? I was eight when my youngest sibling was born, and I helped with him to the extent of bottle-feeding him and keeping an eye on him, but I don't remember changing nappies or anything. I never *had* to do anything, really. Certainly no cooking or anything. Did you ever feel "lost in the crowd" among the eight or ten kids? No judgement, just interested in people's experiences.

Seraphic said...

I resented having to wear cast-off clothing, and because other kids made fun of my clothes, I couldn't understand why I couldn't have clothes just like their clothes.

I wonder now if I didn't get picked on for my clothes so much because the kids saw that it bothered me. At any rate, I assumed my parents wouldn't by me "fashionable" clothes because we were poor and we were poor because there were so many kids. Apparently getting clothes from K-Mart was hysterically funny, so I kept my mouth shut about my grandmother's enjoyment of going to K-Mart on Saturdays and catching "Blue Light Specials."

The solution to bullying over clothes would have been either to be convinced that kids' clothes really don't matter, except as protection from the weather, or to put me in a uniform school. Eventually I went to a uniform school, and WHAT a relief.

That's the only resentment I can remember regarding being in a big family. I never went without anything, really. And "being in charge" was great. So possibly my brothers and sisters have some resentment stemming my childhood tyranny.

Domestic Diva said...

I'm the oldest of three (not exactly a big family), but I was 10 when my brother was born and I nominated myself his "second mom." I did do lots of housework (because Mom thought this was an important life skill, and I'm glad now that she did). I fed him and changed his diapers, and even babysat him during the day while Mom went to the store (hard to imagine leaving a 10 year old home in charge of the baby now, but we thought it perfectly safe then). I never resented that.

I notice in my friends' families that generally girls up to puberty like to help and do "stuff like mom," and especially 8-10 year old girls tend to care for a new baby like a mom. Once the baby gets big enough to mess with their stuff, it becomes a different story.

Agreed that you can't really compare the US & Australian economies…how unfortunate for Australia that it's so expensive!

Sheila said...

I was one of two and we were terribly poor. So I got made fun of for my cousin's handmedowns -- not even a big sister to be my consolation prize for the old clothes! And then when I was a teenager we had more money and also more kids. I was put very much in charge of my next brother and I LOVED it. I was depressed and angsty and desperately needed to be needed by somebody. Seriously, every angsty teen needs to be given a baby brother; they are the best.

The big families I know, vary a lot. Some really could afford that many kids. Some couldn't and just figured it was God's will and they'd figure it out. Often the answer is a lower standard of living -- day-old bread, crooked teeth, drafty old houses, toes coming through holes in your shoes, food stamps. People say "God provides," but what I see is that people in America, especially if they have a supportive church community, never actually starve. They might, however, be very uncomfortable, in which case they can remind themselves that people in third world countries have it so much worse.

The management stuff is all stuff you grow into. No one has ten kids all at once! (Well, I know an adoptive family that did!) First you do laundry weekly, than twice weekly, and next thing you know you have worked out a system to do it morning and afternoon and have the bigger kids fold and sort it before dinner. You learn to call roll when you get into the car and to alternate big kids with little kids at Mass. You just get the hang of it. Having slightly older moms to get tips from is handy; I have a few I am always taking notes from. I've also discovered a couple books at the library on large families, not Catholic specifically, and found a lot of good advice.

For most people with large families, private schooling is not an option. Two incomes become less practical, when you are paying daycare for three toddlers and after-school care for four big kids. So there's a reason the single-income homeschooling family is the model for big families. Some have work-at-home jobs or family businesses, and that helps. Jobs with insurance that pays a flat rate for all children rather than an amount per child is invaluable -- that's how ours works, and it's a load off my mind. These Christian health-sharing ministries do the same.

And as far as disabled kids go -- in every family I know that has one, the disabled child winds up being the last. I suspect the parents knew it was prudent to stop there and take care of the neediest one.

Overall, though, I can't help but ask the question .... why are large families taken as the ideal, such that people mourn not getting to have one? Being open to children is the ideal, and if the number God has in mind is one or two, that's not inferior in any way. Big families have that nice team spirit, it's true; but small families can be very close and the kids do get more of your attention. And it is just a fact that having more kids is more work. If God calls you to have three kids instead of ten, I say God probably knew what you could handle and you should praise him for it.

Emily said...

New reader here--who is PPS? A rogue bachelor known only to Auntie?