November 09, 2015

Bricks in the Wall: Having children changed me

I was eighteen when I conceived my older son. To say it shifted the way I view the world fundamentally is a massive understatement.

I've talked before about how I believe atheism has improved my parenting, but the truth is, my children played a large role in my atheism. I was raised to believe that humans are fundamentally broken, bad, and corrupted. Even the smallest child was a broken creature in this belief system.

I remember not long after my older son's birth, looking down at him sleeping in my arms and wondering how he could be broken or sinful. This was mere hours after I'd brought him into the world, but it flitted across my mind nonetheless.

I was reminded in Christian parenting groups that my child was, fundamentally, sinful. Corrupted. A part of a decaying world order set into motion by the Fall of Man. My children were simply a continuation of this legacy.

And yet, what I saw day to day didn't reinforce those assertions. My daily observations saw that my children--especially my older son--wanted to do good, to be good. There was strife, naturally, when my motivations conflicted with their motivations, but overall, it was a matter of looking at them and not seeing them as wanting to sin. I looked at them and saw autonomous creatures with their own motivations, and I had no desire to break that.

Having children broke another aspect of my faith, too. I'd so often heard God likened to a parent. "God gave his only son--can you believe it?" "God loves you like a father, that's why sometimes he has to let you experience the consequences of your bad actions." I'd heard things like this my entire life.

But looking at my own children--it made me look at God differently too. I would do anything to prevent pain or suffering for my children. Indeed, I still remember the first time one of my children made an honest-to-goodness "Mommy, I'm hurt, save me" cry. We were visiting my younger sister's apartment, the home of a group of college students, and naturally, it wasn't fully baby-proofed (and I wouldn't expect it to be!). My father was watching my younger son, who was about six months old, and Little A scratched himself on something. Whatever it was, it drew blood and surprised him, and he let out a cry I've only heard that one time--and all the way across the room, talking to my sister, I felt my own hackles rise. It was primal motivation, and I could quite literally feel my logical side shutting down, being overridden by a single command: "Your baby is hurting. You have to find him."

Granted, Little A was only across the room--but I could see in that moment how easy it would be to violently defend my offspring.

And it made me question God. Why? Why is there so much suffering? If I had the ability to look out over the lives of my children, beginning to end, I would spare them whatever pain I could. I would go to great lengths to protect them from whatever pain I could.

But God? God saw all of this before he ever created the world, supposedly. That's what omniscience means. And yet...he made the decision to create the world anyway.

I have a very dear friend who suffers from a genetic disorder that causes her great pain. It's not fatal, and she manages to live a relatively quiet and "normal' life. But she's decided never to have children, because she's afraid that she would pass this disorder on to them, and they would live the same life of pain that she has. Despite the desire to have children, despite having a partner she loves very much, she's made this decision--I can't imagine a more right or moral decision in that moment, even though I wouldn't blame her for having children anyway.

But God? God didn't think the same way. And when I look and see all the pain and suffering and war and famine and rape and murder and all of the other things going terribly wrong, I have to ask myself, "Why create all of this at all if you knew how it would turn out?"

This was not a thought that crossed my mind before having my children (although I'm sure others have had similar thoughts without needing the partum catalyst). For me, having children fundamentally changed my thought process.

And without that change, I think I would never have shaken off the yoke of my childhood faith. I don't think I'd have ever escaped.

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