From the time I was little Mom saw to it that I went to church every Sunday. Not long before she told me the reason she continued to have children despite being able to properly provide for them, we had listened to a sermon in which the priest railed against married people who chose to have small families. “These young couples who want to limit the size of their families are not only cheating God,” he said, “but are just plain selfish.”
Even at sixteen, I found it hypocritical coming from a man who had no children of his own. The church provided for all his basic needs and he had no experience trying to support a family on a low income. At the same time, it was the 1970’s. Women wanted more freedom and control over their bodies. Scientists warned us about overpopulation. The youth of the day were choosing to forgo marriage for the joys of simply living together. During my teens there were conflicting messages within and without. I tried to make sense of the opposing viewpoints of a society in the midst of change versus a church that valued tradition over the rights of the individual.
It seemed that religious groups were simply appeasing the poor by giving them charity. This creates a cycle of dependence for the most faithful of their parishioners. When I asked my mother why she never wavered in her faith she said, “It was the one thing that got me through the hard times.” I had the notion it was best to avoid the hard times in the first place by ignoring church doctrine against birth control. But Mom was born among a generation of women who had few choices in life. I was lucky. I could walk a different path from my mother and that included having few or no children.
Of course, other things factor into whether someone will be poor or not. Doing well in school, career options, choosing a financially stable mate, budgeting for the present and saving for the future, for instance. I was always encouraged to study hard and get good grades, but making wise financial decisions was rarely, if ever, discussed in our home. By contrast, it is a frequent topic of conversation in most middle-class households, which gives their children a huge advantage.
To be continued. Part Two will be posted on Monday, August 9, 2010