About two months before I got married last summer I remember running into an older lady I knew only at a very shallow level. We exchanged a few pleasantries and when I told her about my upcoming wedding she burst out, “Oh! That’s so exciting! Are you planning on starting a family right away?” I was a bit taken aback, to say the very least. I thought it somewhat presumptuous of her to ask me that, given the near non-existence of any sort of relationship with her. “Ha ha, no,” I chuckled, “no, I don’t think we’re quite ready for that yet.”
“Oh, you’re never ready honey!” she admonished.
I thought it was maybe just her, but since then I’ve had about a half-dozen conversations along the same vein. I think I understand and agree with the basic premise of this snippet of common wisdom. Maturity is quite unlike the world of video games where you level up to unlock upgrades and abilities. In real life things are much messier and asymptotic, meaning that there may be a standard and a goal that you’re aiming for but under our human limitations you’ll always fail to reach. Sure, I buy that. I wasn’t ready for everything that being married to my wife brought and have had to learn some things mid-course.
But I wasn’t completely unprepared for marriage, either. Before I even got engaged, I spoke with wise spiritual mentors about the meaning of marriage. I asked married folks in circles of friends and family whether they thought it would be a good idea if I got married. I read a bunch of books regarding the meaning, purpose, and theology of marriage. When we got engaged we spent six weeks doing premarital counseling. After all that I walked into my marriage and to my surprise it was different than I had imagined. The challenges have been different than I anticipated. Sex is a lot different than I had anticipated. My role as a husband isn’t quite as easy to define as I had thought it would be. Things have been different, sure, but not completely so. I wasn’t ready for everything, but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t ready for anything.
The problem is that we don’t use this “Never Ready” advice anywhere else in life, and nor would we want to. Imagine if my wife walked into her engineering firm right out of high school and asked for a job. “I know that I’m completely unqualified for this job, but they say you’re never quite ready so I figured I’d just dive in and learn by doing!” Right. Imagine if you enlisted for the army and you heard this: “We were going to put you guys through boot camp, but they say that nothing can prepare you for the horrors that await you on the battlefield so we’re just going to skip basic training and send you straight off to Iraq.” Right.
The premise of GK Chesterton’s novel The Napoleon of Notting hill is that the presidency is chosen by random lottery and paints a picture of how ludicrous it would be if we put a completely unqualified individual in as president. Yet somehow when it comes to parenthood, when it comes to being responsible for a completely helpless human being for 18 years we have an astonishingly blasé attitude that since you can’t fully prepare, then you might as well not bother at all and just do it.
I know that I’ll never be ready, but I’d like to take a few years to at least prepare somewhat. I’d like to develop a strong and healthy marriage between my wife and I before we add a child into the mix. I can’t imagine having to try to get your sea legs for marriage and parenthood at the same time. How does the gospel inform my theology of parenthood? Do I want to raise my children in a rural, suburban, or urban context? What are my convictions regarding corporal punishment? How do you teach a child the meaning of both justice/judgment as well as mercy and grace? Folks often say that the last child gets the best parents, but what if I didn’t just assume that my first child will function as a guinea pig to teach me how to be a good parent? What if I could be a decently good parent to each one?
Only the Lord knows the future for my marriage, but as far as it depends upon me I want to be a good steward of my children when/if God entrusts them to me. I know that at the end of the day the only reason that I can possibly be a good parent is because of God’s grace, but in my eyes that is no excuse for being rash.
Am I being naïve? Is there some piece of the puzzle that I’m missing? Am I right to believe this?