by Melody Tan
Editor’s note: Please welcome Melody Tan as a new columnist at Adventist Today. She’s been an assistant editor at Signs of the Times magazine in Australia, and is about to be a new parent—as you’ll read below. We’re delighted to have her on our team!
Her eyes grew to the size of ping-pong balls and her lips, shaped to form the words that were about to come out of her mouth, froze as she took a step back, shielding her young child behind her.
Why is she reacting as if I just said I was planning to harm her child? I’m sure all I said was, “I don’t want children.” I looked at her, confused.
Reactions like these taught me about 10 years ago to keep my lack of desire to reproduce to myself. It meant I didn’t have to constantly explain the difference between hating children and not wanting my own, and that just because I enjoy playing peekaboo with a child does not in any way indicate my biological clock has started ticking.
For the record, I do not dislike children. I happen to think they’re cute, are capable of saying the most hilarious things and have the stealth of ninjas when it comes to making their way into your heart. In fact, I often find it easier to carry a conversation with a two-year-old than a full-grown adult. But I am also a big fan of being able to hand them over to someone responsible, especially when they’ve had an “oops” in the lavatory department.
So don’t get me wrong when I say I have always struggled with my “point” for having children. I am most certainly not judging anybody else for their choice to have children because I recognise it’s none of my business. And my heart goes out to those who want children but for a variety of reasons are not able to have them.
Most importantly, I sincerely believe mothers are awesome (being blessed with one myself), especially those who have always known they would be a mum, including those who want to, but aren’t. Their boundless love, enduring patience, unquestionable faith and incalculable generosity are admirable (and that’s just towards people in general), and such a wonderful reflection of the unconditional love that God Himself has for us.
We may call God “Father”, but I’d like to think His love encompasses both the maternal and paternal, that He can also be the one we turn to when we scrape our knees, have our hearts broken or need to figure out how to get that tough stain out of our favourite white top.
I think mothers are wonderful; I just never thought motherhood was something for me, largely because I don’t think I possess the boundless love, enduring patience, unquestionable faith or incalculable generosity required for raising a child.
At the same time, any reason I could think of for myself having children eventually led to what I felt was self-centredness: having someone to look after me when I get old; to bring more joy into my life; because babies are adorable . . . and perhaps underpinning all of these was the knowledge that the world is overpopulated and under-resourced. And with so many orphans needing a loving home, if I really wanted an offspring, why shouldn’t I adopt one instead of introducing a brand new human being in the mix? God did call us to be good stewards of the earth and look after the orphans, after all.
And then my husband and I decided to get pregnant. It wasn’t a spur of a moment decision—we prayed long and hard about it and weighed up numerous pros and cons. I could easily blame my husband for my hypocrisy, that he was the one who wanted children, but that would be like blaming him for me being married to him.
God was mostly silent on the issue, and so we decided to let Him make the decision for us. Being in our mid-thirties, we figured the odds were against us anyway, so we would really need divine intervention if having offspring was in God’s plan for our lives. (In the end, it was what we were impressed to do.)
And now as I write this, a few weeks shy of Mother’s Day, I find myself gently stroking and talking fondly to my belly as I feel odd sensations of wriggling and little (and not so little) bumps just under my skin. Yes, we’re counting down the months to the start of our sleepless nights, my belly is starting to become unrecognisable and we are converting our guest room into a nursery.
For someone who has never considered herself maternal, it’s an odd situation to be in. I am confident God has answered our prayers and that He will be with us through this new chapter of our lives. And yet doubts linger: Will I be capable of loving the child like a “real” mother? What if I completely mess things up and end up raising a traumatised, disturbed and unstable child, simply because of my own hang-ups and flaws?
And then there are the spiritual questions. While I obviously hope to raise a child who will know and love God, how can I impart concepts that can be highly esoteric for a young mind? God has been incredibly real to me since I first got to know him some 15 years ago, but how do you share that kind of knowledge, experience and feeling with a three-year-old, or a 13-year-old for that matter?
My local church has a thriving—and growing—kids population who not only actively participate in kids’ Sabbath School, they are very much involved and part of the main service as well. Although the oldest is now only about nine, all the children in church have grown up in a culture where they are integrated into the main church. We have no mother’s room or a special section for children to sit in; they are often included at some point during the service, be it collecting the offering or “leading” the song service; their prayer requests or answers in an interactive sermon are never ignored.
It’s a way of doing church that I love (even when it makes it difficult to listen to the sermon sometimes) because I believe it inculcates a church-going habit in children from a young age, they have an extended “family” who loves and knows them, and nothing gives you a sense of belonging better than knowing you have a part to play in its operations.
When quizzed about Jesus or the Bible, these children give the “correct” answers and the stories their parents share of their spiritual insight belies an innocent and beautiful faith. Yet, at the same time, I wonder if they truly understand who this Jesus is, especially when they can’t see Him! And when you have statistics that say around 85 per cent of 18 to 25-year-old Christians in Western societies are leaving the church, and closer to home, when only three (including yourself) of the 20 or so people from the youth group you used to belong to still regularly attend church, you start to wonder if you can do “enough” to help your own child to “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8).
And so this question continues to bubble away at the back of my mind: What is the point of having children? What is the point, especially when it seems so hard to raise a child in a troubled world—a world that you know is going to end soon—especially when there is a four in five chance your children are going to grow up rejecting the One who will give them hope, meaning and salvation?
But perhaps the desire to have children is as inexplicable as our longing to find someone to love and marry. It’s just an innate personality quirk we inherited from our Father. After all, “God is love” (1 John 4:8) and for some of us, that translates to a love for a partner or a child.
God first gave His instructions to “be fruitful and increase in number” (Genesis 1:28) to Adam and Eve, in a perfect world. The world may have changed thanks to sin, but I’d like to think that humans, marred as we are, continue to hold on to the remnants of God’s character and who He wanted us to be, and for some (or many, judging by the number of parents in the world), that means wanting children. Maybe there is no logical point for having children, but as children of God, wanting them is just part of who we are.
Yes, we are about to add yet another human being to an overpopulated and under-resourced world. The only thing we can hope to do is to tread lightly on this earth, be responsible for the environment, sponsor as many children as we can through aid agencies, love and trust that God will never leave nor forsake us, and teach our child to do the same. The rest, as they say, is up to God.
Melody Tan is a writer, editor and reader, nervously anticipating meeting her beloved firstborn (delivered by stork, preferably).
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