Other Husband & Wife Articles

Other People’s Children

by Pia de Solenni

One married couple without children + two nephews, ages 5 and 6 + one Mini Cooper + a 10-hour road trip = one of the easiest trips we’ve ever done.

Let me explain.

My husband and I just returned to Seattle with two of our nephews who were excited about a trip of their own since their sisters and a cousin had travelled the year before. The good thing about road tripping with small children is that they do indeed fit in the back of a Cooper, just like the salesman promised. And they traveled really well. Admittedly, our trip was aided by Dramamine for a bit; so in the absence of someone to pester, the other brother surrendered to sleep for a while.

Maybe it’s true that familiarity breeds contempt and that the boys are just too shy to misbehave much around us. But I’m pretty certain that the success has to do with the way they’ve been raised, and their parents deserve the credit for that.

Their visit, just a few days under way as I write, has reinforced much of my thinking on child rearing. I think a lot of people dread children because our culture and our media portray them as an all-consuming, hair-raising experience. At the park the other day, my nephews finally gave up and asked to go home. You see, it’s no fun playing when all the other kids are micromanaged by their parents. It’s as if the parents didn’t realize that playgrounds are designed so that their offspring can fall without doing themselves much damage.

If my experience of children were limited to what I see in the culture at large, I’d probably agree that children are just too much trouble. In fact, a recent New York Times Magazine article does a great job of putting forth several examples of the pitfalls of having children. But, as the author suggests, the challenge may not be the children but rather the parenting methods employed. Ironically, parents with less money and less structured parenting styles seem to be happier. (No word on the children, but I’m thinking that they’re probably happier, too.)

Our nephews aren’t perfect and I was “that lady” in the coffee shop yesterday with the tantrum-throwing child, but that incident was short-lived and we’re really enjoying the opportunity to spend time with them. (As I write this, I’m thanking God for Netflix instant watch cartoons.)

When people see us with our nieces and nephews or encounter them in their families, they comment on how well-behaved they are and how fun they are to have around. (Their parents share the raised eyebrow look when they hear this.) And the same is true especially of other large families that I know. Sure, there are the occasional dirty looks from those who just see carbon-consuming, ozone-destroying units. But there’s also a lot of goodwill and joy.

People enjoy seeing happy children and children can be happy even if their parents don’t have two luxury cars in the driveway of a McMansion, a team of nannies, expensive activities and toys, and a planned schedule.

In the past, I’ve frequently stated that the most effective and hardest-working pro-life activists are parents. When people see parents who are happy to be with their children, parents who don’t see their children as just another project, it makes child rearing seem both attractive and doable. That’s a great service in a world where both marriage and children can seem foolhardy. 

Pia de Solenni is a moral theologian and cultural analyst who writes from Seattle, Wash. She can be reached via Facebook and Twitter. (Her website is getting a prolonged makeover and is currently offline.)