Chapter IV. Marriage and Children
The relation of marriage to the love of children is defined so that there cannot be any doubt about it in the following passage from Swedenborg's Conjugial Love (68).
These words remind us once again that marriage is a heavenly and spiritual institution, and the question of having children ought to be settled with that in mind. Again, this will sound very idealist to some people: it is setting up a standard of perfection which is difficult to follow. But is this really so? The answer is that it is only the case if people are so much concerned with worldly considerations that they cannot see any other. The New Church point of view on the question is the way to freedom, even if it brings heavy responsibilities with it. It gives parents who love their children from a spiritual affection a freedom from the many doubts and restrictions of the spirit that are the lot of any thinking parent in the critical age of change in which we live. They are able to take the view that, while they will do all in their power to give their children everything that is possible in the way of food and clothing, education and accomplishment, yet the giving of these things is not an end in itself, but the means to a greater end, which is that they shall eventually enter heaven, "the Lord's Kingdom." What a relief it is to know that a parent's labours will not be in vain, and are not merely an effort to provide one's children with things that will only be of any consequence for the few years of life on this earth, and that the children themselves are only things of time, who will live out their brief span and be snuffed out like a candle, as their parents were before them. Instead of that gloomy view, there is the thought present that in each baby there is the possibility of an angel.
To meet even more thoroughly the criticism that all this is too ideal, it should be said with emphasis that the New Church attitude does not require us to live in a sentimental, too-indulgent dream as regards children. It requires us to recognise the realities of human nature, which has an innate tendency to be self-regarding and evil, as well as having undisclosed possibilities of good. In fact, the New Church attitude gives every little detail of life with children in the home a significance that it could not possibly have otherwise. Dressing a baby, helping him to walk, teaching him to talk, and later on to write and to read, helping a growing boy or girl to reach out to new experiences and new ways of doing new things, even doing the daily washing, or the mending, or paying the bills, each of these things are uses contributing to the great end of the child's creation. They all have to do with this natural world, but help to fulfil a spiritual purpose, which illuminates and inspires merely mundane things as nothing else can.
These few sentences help to show that bringing up children is, for New Church parents, essentially a matter of religion in daily life. Potential parents, those who are thinking about having a family, can also think about the matter in the same way. Is it a good thing to have children in this world where there is so much evil? If it is, what is the right number to have? What about the difficulty of providing for them? Is it better to have one or two, well looked after, and well educated, or a number who will probably not have these advantages in so great a degree? Should birth-control be practised?
A writer of a book such as this would be insulting the intelligence of his readers and, in a sense, trying to take away some of their freedom by giving ready-made answers to some of these questions. Circumstances in every case are different, and it is far better for people to work the answers out themselves from principles of truth. It is to these therefore we must turn, and try to think from them.
By implication, something has already been said about the first question listed above. It may be that evil in the world will affect our attitude in bringing up our children in innumerable ways. We shall certainly have to adapt ourselves to the situation which it creates every day, as for example, when it appears in our children, in ourselves, in other people whom they meet, when it affects our lives as a result of war, economic competition, accident, illness and many other things. In spite of all this, the truth remains that it is by means of children that the heavens are peopled. We may add to that also, that it is by means of them that our country and the human race are enriched, and that the life of the little circle in which we move is enhanced. If we hold strong views regarding the way human beings should live together in harmony and mutual uses, our children give us the best opportunity of teaching these things to others. And, above all, they may be the means of increasing the influence of the Lord's Church on earth, which in the long run is the best way of serving our neighbours that we can think of.
As regards the question of the right number to have, it is again pointing out the obvious to say that parents must decide for themselves according to circumstances. Nevertheless, it is really essential to add to this that the decision must be "from principle." Recently it has been the custom to leave these two considerations out altogether, and some people who are prepared to include them, allow circumstances, which may mean their own inclinations, to govern principle. In such a decision, it is very necessary not to allow short-sighted or self-regarding motives to masquerade as concern for the welfare of one's family. How many people, for example, have decided that their position in life cannot possibly allow them to have more than one child, because they can only afford to look after one properly, when the truth is that they thus deprive their only child of the companionship and happiness which he would have had in a larger family for the sake of a number of things which in no way compensate him? There are others who say these things, when their real object is to see that they themselves have a car or some other possession for which they have no particular use apart from their own pleasure. It is possible, however, that the number of these people is frequently over-estimated. Probably the object in many such instances is to avoid work rather than poverty. It can be said at once that such an attitude is the reverse of spiritual and to that may be added the judgment that when such a view is widely accepted, society is well on the way to degeneracy, since it prefers lazy comfort to use, and has no faith in Providence, denying that there is such a thing as influx into effort.
Is there, then, no room for prudence in bringing up a family? Must it grow irrespective of material requirements and of the need for children to be properly cared for and educated in religious and secular things? The teaching of the New Church is that Providence works through human prudence, and that prudence in the case of parents includes proper provision for the spiritual, moral and natural needs of their children. Thus it is that parents must balance these things out for themselves.
Perhaps a remark of a mother of four charming children, illustrating the New Church principle of influx into effort, may fittingly bring this discussion to an end. "When you have one child, you wonder how you are going to do all the work. You think the same when you have two. When you get to four, you wonder why you grumbled when you only had one, and simply can't imagine how you managed to fill in your time when you had none."
There is no direct teaching on the subject of birth control in the Doctrines. Nevertheless there are principles to work from, which should be taken to heart much more than they are. "The first end of conjugial love is the procreation of offspring." (CL 385.) Such is the right order in this matter, and we should notice very carefully that children should be the fruit of true marriage love, which itself is a union of husband and wife, complete in soul and body. Children who are born when there is no real union, whether within legal marriage or out of it, are not, from one point of view, the true fulfilment of the Divine purpose, though Providence regards their final happiness in the same manner as in the case of other children. In other words, there should never be children who are unwanted from any reason whatever. Every psychologist will confirm that the "unwanteds" make up a great proportion of his patients. This implies that, as far as is practicable, prospective parents should have children when their mental attitude and natural circumstances are favourable, and should try to remove fears and reservations which make a baby unwelcome in the family. Unfortunately it is very easy to be deceived by too great a regard for one's own comfort, so that the decision not to have children, though physical union continues, is nothing but the result of selfishness. It is obvious, however, that there are circumstances which may forbid the increase of a family, and yet which may not forbid physical union, itself the product of a real and genuine love. Physical conjunction of man and wife has the procreation of children as its greatest use, but it serves other uses also. It seems reasonable to conclude that each use should be served, and it is for each married couple to decide how this may best be done, being very much on their guard against being led away by merely selfish desires.
This chapter is not intended to be a full discussion on the upbringing of children, but is only an attempt to say something of the place of children in marriage. There is a whole chapter in Conjugial Love on the conjunction of marriage love with love for children which is dealt with in Part I of this book. It describes the two "universal spheres from the Lord," a sphere of procreating and of protecting what is procreated. The sphere of love for children may be with the evil as well as with the good, but with them it is a love of themselves reflected in their children, a fact which sheds an illuminating light on human nature. The chapter also shows that spiritual and natural causes can join together marriage love in parents with love for children, and that with those people who have in them that which is spiritual, love of babies and children is from what is interior, but it is really only external with those who are natural.
Experience goes to show that if a love of children is present, they will be a blessing, in spite of the responsibilities, worries, and exasperations which are the lot of most parents. It is true that going short to provide for the children is not a very happy experience, that sleepless nights and long-drawn out concern for them when they are ill can be very wearing, and that when one of them decides that his breakfast looks better on the carpet than on his plate the situation becomes infuriating almost beyond control, yet they bring happiness which can come by no other way. They take thoughts and affections away from self, and the very act of giving one's energies unconsciously solves many of one's own psychological problems. It is in this case much more blessed to give than to receive.
Yet the fact is that one receives much. The smiles and gentle cooing of a three-months-old baby are the means by which we may receive the sphere of the celestial angels who are present with it. What a privilege for a parent to have! In teaching them stories from the Word, and later on something of the inner meaning of the glory of the sense within the letter, who can say where the line between giving and receiving can be drawn? There are even more obvious things to be taken into account. Often the care of parents for children has been outdone by that of children for parents. Always there may be the thought that the Lord has through us created immortality in our sons and daughters.