Why Would Anyone Get Married and Have Poopy Kids?

It’s not a rhetorical question. It’s a real question with a real answer and that answer is one word and that one word has the power to set us free…

marriage and parenting

Photo Credit: Kit4na via Compfight cc

“We can’t go back to the park if there’s poo hanging out of your bum.”

It’s one of those things you can’t possibly fathom saying, until you become a parent.

I’m standing in a dark, dank public pool restroom. A wad of toilet paper in one hand and a defiant look on my face. My daughter sits on the toilet and the blaze in her eyes makes my defiance look like a joke.

We’re in a poopy standoff.

She’s refusing to finish her business and demanding to return to the park, where her brothers are playing with their mom. I know if she doesn’t finish, we’re going to end up with a pant-load of nastiness going down a playground slide.

We’ve been here before.

I finally make the decision to take her home. She’s angry, but I’m angrier. I’m angry because, in a matter of hours, I’m leaving town for a week and I wanted to create some memories with my family at the park before I depart. And I like to get what I want.

I like to be satisfied.

Satisfaction vs. Sacrifice

We live in a world organized around customer satisfaction:

A world of grande-triple-shot-skim-light-whip-lattes.

A world in which you can watch football on thirty channels at the same time.

A world in which entire store aisles are dedicated to cereal. Just cereal.

A world of smart phones with twenty different apps for every activity—Angry Birds, Angry Birds Rio, Angry Birds Space. I’m waiting for Angry Birds Psychotherapy Office.

In this day and age, what we call satisfaction is really consumerism run amok. And it has run its way right into our most important and cherished relationships:

If a job becomes frustrating, we start sending out resumes.

If a friendship gets tough, we “unfriend” them on Facebook and in our hearts.

If a marriage stops feeling good, we file.

If our kids get complicated, we disconnect in whatever way is most convenient.

In our consumer culture, our addiction to getting what we want—to getting immediately satisfied—has been nurtured and encouraged. And it is simply devastating to our souls and to the souls of the people we love.

We need places in this world where we can rediscover the truth about our culture of satisfaction:

it’s a false hope,

a crummy promise,

and it will never deliver.

We need pockets of rebellion in which we forsake immediate gratification. We need places of uprising in which we nurture the opposite of constant satisfaction—places in which we learn the way of sacrifice.

I think there are many ways to walk in the way of sacrifice—they all involve relationships of one kind or another. But I’ll tell you a few of my favorite ways:

Get married.

Have a kid.

Get into a poopy standoff.

A Little Guy and a Big Guy

October 2003. Sometime after midnight.

My oldest son is only a few weeks old as we sway back and forth in a rocking chair. He’s a loose ball of heat and vulnerability balanced between my knees and staring back at me. He’s still incapable of smiling (unless he has gas), so he just stares at this big guy staring back at him.

The window next to us is open and a breeze floats in and with it comes the strains of a party happening next door—the carefree laughter of the big guy’s friends dancing into the room on the breeze.

The big guy listens to the music next door, and he listens to the murmurs and gurgles coming from his lap. I’d like to tell you he just feels grateful for the gift on his knees, but that’s not the truth. The truth is, as the laughter from outside seeps in, his satisfaction seeps out. He can’t have what he wants this night. He feels the sacrifice. He feels the limitations and he feels a little bit of dying inside.

He doesn’t yet realize marriage and parenting are like a twelve step program for the satisfaction-addicted soul.

He doesn’t yet realize his life is being saved in the process of losing it.

He doesn’t yet realize the opposite of satisfaction-seeking is sacrifice, and if we embrace it, it has the power to set us free.

How Sacrifice Sets Us Free

As long as we are searching for satisfaction, we are enslaved to the objects of our search. But when we willingly enter into the way of sacrifice, we are set free by the subjects of our love.

We are set free from the morass of customer satisfaction.

We are set free from our Selves—unleashed from the egos we construct and protect.

We are set free to embrace the truth about satisfaction: true contentedness is what happens when we give up searching for gifts and we learn to become a gift.

Marriage and parenting teach us that true contentedness is not found in what we get—it’s found in what we give.

And over the years, we give ourselves away in love:

when we trade in a lifetime of sexual plunder or immediate emotional gratification for a lifelong rollercoaster ride with one beloved person,

when we trade in our personal dictatorship for a democracy of two who won’t “shut down the government” if the going gets tough,

when we trade in the safety of disconnection for the vulnerability of connectedness,

when our children wake us up for feedings and for vomit and for nightmares and we join them in it,

when the pediatrician doesn’t have a diagnosis (or worse, does) and there is no cure,

when we choose to set loving boundaries with our kids in a nasty public restroom and the boundary limits us as much as it limits them.

Before you know it, a decade has come and gone, and you begin to realize sacrifice is really the only thing worth embracing after all, because it’s the only thing you can hold on to and still remain free. I think that’s why people still get married and have kids.

And, frankly, the sacrifice is holier and more sacred when the kids are poopy.

Question: How has sacrifice set you free? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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“Everyone seems to have an opinion about marriage these days. Here’s mine: I don’t care if you are gay or straight, marrying for the first time or the tenth, secular or religious, liberal or conservative, Republican or Democrat, black or white or both…if your marital relationship becomes tainted by a consumer mentality, it will be torturous at best and doomed at worst.” —From The Marriage Manifesto

 My eBook, The Marriage Manifesto: Turning Your World Upside Down, explores the ways marriage can become a rebellion against the consumer mindset. It’s available free to new blog subscribers.

If you are not yet a subscriber, you can click here to subscribe, and your confirmation e-mail will include a link to download the eBook for free.

The book is also available for Kindle and Nook.

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Preview: Next Wednesday’s post is tentatively entitled, “How to be Beautiful in One Simple Step”

Disclaimer: This post is not professional advice. It should be read as you would read a “self-help” book. For professional and customized advice, you should seek the services of a counselor, who can become more intimately familiar with your specific situation. Counselors can be located through your insurance network or through your state psychological association.

Kelly is a licensed clinical psychologist and co-founder of Artisan Clinical Associates in Naperville, IL. He is also a writer and blogs regularly about the redemption of our personal, relational, and communal lives. Kelly is married, has three children, and enjoys learning from them how to be a kid again. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Kirsten Martens

    this is one of your best blogs yet… and I can very much relate to it! thanks for the insight 🙂

    • drkellyflanagan

      You’re welcome, Kirsten, and thank you for reading!

  • Lama Tassabihji

    Amazing post! Just love your writings!!

    • drkellyflanagan

      Thanks, Lama! I love that you read them. : )

  • Janet Trapp

    Having six kids and homeschooling from the start I know sacrifice but there is always more to be had!! This really spoke to me because my husband is never really satisfied in his job and we are shackled (as he puts it) to our house that is in a place that houses are selling for way less and we have way too much in our house. (It is a big house and it is always needing repairs, as all houses do but these are always BIG amounts of money since the house is BIG). We LIVE in our house with homeschooling and I love our house (when I am not hating it ;0) So thus we can not move easily for a different job and there are very few jobs in this area so he must sacrifice as well, and making sure I know it the whole way… Then again isn’t that what Jesus came here to teach us??? That unconditional Loving is sacrifice??? Enough of my rambling but truly a big thanks for yours!!!! ~God bless~

    • drkellyflanagan

      Wow, Janet. Six kids and homeschooling is a whole other level of sacrifice. I know some folks with big families who home school and its difficult for me to comprehend the level of commitment and energy that requires. Bless you! And add to that the burdens of maintaining a home in this kind of market. Please give my best to your husband, too.

  • Jennifer Newell

    Once again you have us thinking. As your kids get older you laugh about the stand offs or the crazy way they pushed your buttons. They are treasured memories as the grow to the amazing men and women that are meant to be.
    Thanks for this.

    • drkellyflanagan

      Jenn, I want to be able to sit around with my kids and laugh about these times. Thanks for giving me a vision of it and the hope that it’s possible!

  • Lidin Rancier

    The way sacrifice has set me free is that the things I’ve sacrificed for have given me purpose. And by having purpose you feel fulfilled which in turn sets you free. I don’t find myself searching for what makes me happy because I feel it. My sacrifices have been what makes me feel happy and complete

    • drkellyflanagan

      Lidin, Thank you for this. I love the idea that one of the ways that sacrifice sets us free is by delivering us into a sense of purpose and meaning. Viktor Frankl would agree with you. That’s wonderful company to be in!

  • Anonymous

    Sacrifice usually results in my wasting time in abusive relationships. Sometimes, you really do have to cut people out of your life, and do things you want to do, as opposed to what some controlling person thinks you ought to. Sacrifice can enslave as much as satisfaction, if you take it to far.

    And I really don’t get your whole satisfaction vs. sacrifice and freedom thing. It doesn’t make sense to me, because I’ve usually found hard work pretty darn satisfying (in a mutually healthy relationship, or when learning new skills).

    I think your point about instant satisfaction is important,
    though. A lot of people don’t realize that the good things they want
    take work, patience, and sacrifice, and hence, give up far too quickly. The satisfaction that comes from learning and exploration is one of the greatest pleasures in life, and it’s a shame some children have been taught otherwise.

  • Christina Stopka Rinnert

    Thanks for this. It really touched a nerve with me. I have teenagers – 17 and 14 – and the oldest finished high school a year early (yay him!) but now we are all struggling a little with the changes that are happening within our family dynamic. The three of us are so close (long story for another time) and the thought of him going off into the big-bad-terrible world both frightens and excites me. Learning to sacrifice my own stuff for theirs has been a process; learning to let them go is just another lesson.

    • drkellyflanagan

      Christina, Thanks for sharing your story. It’s ironic, isn’t it? You spend your life sacrificing to raise them, so you can finally offer the biggest sacrifice, which is letting them go. I hope you all do well in this part of the process.

  • Lisa Bartelt

    I can’t imagine how selfish I would be if I didn’t have a husband and kids because I’m still pretty darn selfish with them. Sacrifice, for me, is similar to surrender. When I give up my way, my rights, my expectations, I’m more able to see the moment or season for what it is. Not perfectly, by any means. Sacrifice is such a long haul that it’s hard to even recognize sometimes that it has payoffs. They’re just waaaaaaay down the road. Thanks for this. As always, it’s great work.

    • drkellyflanagan

      Thanks, Lisa. I like what you say about the payoffs of sacrifice being “waaaaaay down the road.” It’s almost like it’s designed that way, because if the payoffs were immediate, it wouldn’t be sacrifice anymore!

  • newly wedded.

    Hi. I’m in the midst of deciding to have kids or not. And I do understand the joy of love reciprocated and the joy of being depended upon and being sought after by a child of your own. And I feel that’s really because after sacrificing so much, and giving and loving so much, your mind and body needs some positive feedback to justify the actions, some tangible reason to show that living beyond yourself is a noble way of life (which it is). But the trade off is really a lot of energy and health and many of the best years of your life. and while you talk about the intangible benefit of being free from consumerism by subjecting yourself to constant sacrifice, I do not see myself as an addict or victim of instant gratification (except in good food). I am already very content with my current position in life and I do not want it to be changed. I just still don’t see how this long term sacrifice yields a long term gain that’s far more satisfying than a relatively painless life as a couple just enjoying each other’s company creating memory after memory without children. And after you take that big step to have your first kid. Isn’t there also a bigger step to decide to have your second one, and your third? what many more considerations would come in then? when your current time, energy and finances are already so tight just caring for your first kid and probably soon to be ageing parents. I find it hard to arrive at the wisdom that comes from the decision. Would appreciate your comments on this doc. Thank you!

    • drkellyflanagan

      What a wonderful, thoughtful question. I would love to hear the wisdom and insights of others before I jump in. Others’ reactions to this question?

    • Katie S.

      I too would like your comments on this thought Dr. Kelly. My husband and I have been married 6 years and are still undecided when it comes to children. Many of our friends and family have them, some do not. I don’t see either way as being better, each has its advantages and disadvantages. Our close friends who have no children are some of the most selfless people I know, and they give of themselves to their family, friends, and community. I think being childless provides them the resources (emotionally, time-wise, etc. not just financially) to be more giving in their everyday life. Our other close friends with children want us to have children so we can have the same experiences they have had. But I think you can grow as a person and learn selflessness without having children. I think many people in our society use their children as an excuse to not have to do more good in the greater world. Yet I know that there are things I will never experience and feel and may never learn if I don’t have children. It is such a scary decision, because there is no way to take it back and there is no way of knowing how it will impact and change your life.

      • drkellyflanagan

        Newly wedded and Katie,

        Again, thanks for your thoughtful comments and questions. Several thoughts:

        First, I think the questions themselves reflect an awareness of the gravity and responsibility of having children, which is actually really encouraging to hear.

        Second, I would also normalize the hesitation and uncertainty and even the fear. I don’t know too many people who didn’t feel at least a little afraid of having children. When my wife told me we were having our first, I dissociated for about a day. : )

        Third, there’s a sentence in the post that’s very intentional: “I think there are many ways to walk in the way of sacrifice—they all involve relationships of one kind or another. But I’ll tell you a few of my favorite ways…” I included that sentence because I didn’t want anyone to receive the post as a pressure to have children, or implying that getting married and having children is the only way to live a fulfilling life. Katie, I like what you said, that there are other ways to learn how to sacrifice and give.

        Finally, I think the question Newly wedded is posing is one of pursuing comfort versus sacrifice. I don’t pretend to have all the answers here, but I suspect if you asked a bunch of people nearing the end of their lives, “Do you wish you had pursued more comfort, or do you wish you would have sacrificed more for the people in your life?” the vast majority of them would choose the latter. In the end, sacrifice is its own special brand of comfort, I guess.

        So, for what it’s worth, those are my thoughts! Would still love to hear the ideas of others…

        • Katie S.

          Thank you for your thoughts Dr. Kelly. You are right, there are many ways to walk in sacrifice through a variety of relationships. I wonder if we have children as a way to force our hand in that sacrifice. I feel that it would be easier to sacrifice for my own children than for other people in my life. I know it is easier to sacrifice for my husband because of how integral he is in my life. Perhaps those of us without children or other dependents must make more conscious choices about sacrificing ourselves. Just my rambling thoughts. 🙂

          • drkellyflanagan

            Couldn’t agree more. It’s one thing to sacrifice for our own blood, but it’s a whole other level of commitment to sacrifice for the stranger. Thanks for this, Katie.