National Catholic Register


Don't Judge Parenthood by the First Six Years

BY Jennifer Fulwiler

| Posted 10/5/11 at 7:47 AM


This past weekend, we celebrated my oldest child’s seventh birthday. For me, it was also a celebration of my exit from the “tunnel of parenthood,” that crazy phase of life when all your children are little.

I’ve had five children over these past seven years, so there were times when the tunnel was pretty dark (and loud). As a lazy introverted only child, battling morning sickness and exhaustion while having three kids in diapers ranks as one of the more difficult things I’ve ever done. Add in a medical condition that makes pregnancy dangerous for me and means that I have to give myself shots every day while I’m pregnant, and you can understand why there were more than a few moments that I thought, I CAN’T DO THIS!

During this time, my obstetrician offered about a zillion times to do a tubal ligation. Looking back, it frightens me to think that I might have considered it if I hadn’t been Catholic. I think the temptation peaked around the time my third child was a few months old: I was exhausted and overwhelmed, and felt certain—I mean, 100 percent positive—that I could not possibly handle one more thing, let alone another child. Of course, there would be nothing wrong from a Catholic perspective of using Natural Family Planning to hold off on having more kids; I even knew plenty of people who had effectively used NFP to get exactly the amount of space between children that they felt they needed. But we’re bad at NFP. So when my doctor held out an “easy” solution that would “free” me from morning sickness and shots and labor and sleepless nights and everything else that comes with the childbearing years…well, let’s just say that I could see how a person might want to sign up for that.

A few months later, when I found out that baby number four was on the way, I was stressed: I was convinced that this baby would push us past our limits, our family would suffer, I would lose my mind, the fabric of the universe would come apart at the seams, and it would get worse from there. After all, it had gotten steadily harder with the past three babies; a fourth child would obviously only add to the difficulty.

But that’s not what happened.

While it was challenging, some things were a little easier. My oldest child was almost five, which meant that he could finally begin to do things on his own, and could even help me in small ways. I was more confident in my parenting abilities, so I didn’t stress about every little thing the way I used to. The older kids didn’t have any trouble adjusting to having a new baby in the house. I still had three in diapers, but our lifestyle was completely set up for having young children, so even that had gotten a bit easier. To continue the analogy from earlier, I saw a light at the end of the tunnel.

Now that baby number five is here, that trend has only continued. Yes, there are new challenges. But my oldest two children are now seven and five, and have a small list of daily chores that make a huge difference in terms of my workload. They can get themselves dressed, get their own snacks, and take direction well—and their four-year-old sister is close behind them. Now that they’re out of the toddler phase, they play together nicely for long periods of time, and the only adjustment issues we’ve faced with the new baby are arguments over who gets to hold her next. A couple of years ago I felt like we were simply surviving; now, it finally feels like we’re thriving. I would never have predicted that I would say this after having a fifth kid, but: It is so much easier than it used to be!

The misconception that parenting only gets harder as you have more children is especially dangerous these days, when permanent surgical sterilization is so easy to come by. Looking back, it’s troubling that my doctor was so encouraging of the option of tubal ligation during my first few years of motherhood. Obviously, I don’t think that sterilization is a good option at any time, but it seems especially tragic when women are encouraged to permanently end their fertility when they’re still knee-deep in diapers. Because they may find, as I have, that things change once your oldest child is older than six, and that a whole new life awaits once you’ve passed through the tunnel of parenthood.