I’ve heard many times, whether it’s from my spiritual director, my mom, or my own conscience, that comparison is the thief of joy. It robs us of the joy of the present and leaves us feeling miserable and inadequate. It’s so true, especially when you’re a young, married Catholic, trying hard to live out your marriage as the Church calls us to, and while it seems like everyone else is having children, you’ve discerned that God is saying to you and your spouse, “Not yet.”
Scroll through Facebook or Instagram—sometimes it seems like everyone is having babies. It seems like I hear a new announcement every few months or even weeks. I’m really happy for these couples, of course! But as I’m scrolling, I sense the ugly feeling of comparison seep in and begin to drag my soul down. Not only comparison, but pressure. Pressure to start a family now even though my husband and I have carefully discerned our reasons to wait. Pressure to be like everyone else.
Not Pregnant Yet?
Not long ago I ran into someone I hadn’t spoken to in several years. They knew I’d gotten married in 2017 and the very first thing they said upon seeing me wasn’t, “Hello!” or “It’s good to see you!” but rather, “What?! You’re not pregnant yet? No baby? Why not!?”
It made the pressure to be like everyone else increase double-fold. Perhaps it was my own insecurity, this person’s inordinate interest in my fertility, or a little of both. But I struggled not to give in to the temptation to compare myself to my friends and acquaintances who were having children. “Why aren’t we having babies like everyone else? What are we doing wrong? Is there something wrong with me?”
It’s taken me awhile to realize this, but if you are married, Catholic, and currently childless because you and your spouse have prayerfully discerned that it is prudent to try to avoid conceiving for the time being and you are following Church teaching and being open to life, you aren’t doing anything wrong. You deserve to embrace the peace and joy that comes with wholehearted, prayerful discernment.
Humanae Vitae and Serious Reasons
The Church calls us to be open to life in marriage. This means that spouses must make a full, total, faithful, and fruitful gift of themselves in their marriage, without the use of contraception or methods that would render the marital act not open to life. This doesn’t mean that the Church mandates that we have a child as soon as possible after getting married if we prayerfully discern we have serious reasons not to.
The very first sentence of Humanae Vitae reads, “The transmission of human life is a most serious role in which married people collaborate freely and responsibly with God the Creator.” Something of such great magnitude requires a couples’ complete cooperation with God, as well as prudence. Pope Paul VI continues to elaborate on what he calls “responsible parenthood,” which, “… is exercised by those who prudently and generously decide to have more children, and by those who, for serious reasons and with due respect to moral precepts, decide not to have additional children for either a certain or an indefinite period of time” (HV10).
The Church calls us to prudence, and at the same time intentionally does not specifically list what qualifies as a “serious reason” for a couple to abstain from sex on days of fertility in order to avoid conceiving. It would seem that this is because the Church wants us to cooperate with God in our discernment. To constantly ask Him what He wants for us and for our fertility, while being realistic and prudent about the current situation in which we find ourselves. Something that may be a “serious reason” for one couple—be it living situation, mental or physical health, finances, job instability, etc.—may not be a “serious reason” for another couple to avoid a pregnancy.
Being Open to Life
Discerning, in concert with God, when to have a child is not a process to be taken lightly. In my own experience, discerning this and being open to life means my husband and I are constantly praying for guidance on what God wants for us. It means frequently re-evaluating where we’re at in terms of our discernment, and whether we feel our reasons for postponing having a child are still legitimate in light of our prayer. I’ve learned that being open to life means asking God what He wants for us, and being open to His answer, even if His answer is “not yet.”
Despite the fact that my husband and I constantly pray about when to start our family, that we are “open to life” in our marriage, and that we firmly believe that God is still gently saying “not yet,” seeing so many other people our age having kids and hearing the probing questions of acquaintances who may mean well still makes the temptations to comparison arise.
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Fighting Comparison with Gratitude
I know I’m not the only Catholic woman to feel this way. I’ve spoken to a number of women—single, engaged, and married—who struggle with the temptation to compare themselves to others. They feel inadequate or guilty because they are not yet married with a child, even though they may be very happy with their current state in life.
Granted, we can experience the temptation to compare ourselves to others in many other facets—career, physical appearance, possessions, etc.—but perhaps because one’s vocation is so deeply personal and so intimately bound up in our identity as women, this comparing ourselves to others in terms of marriage and family cuts deeper and more profoundly.
The best way to turn this temptation on its head and send it running, though, is with gratitude. Spurning the temptation to compare ourselves by focusing more intently on gratitude will help us to embrace the peace and joy found in prayerful discernment.
How to Focus on Gratitude
How can we focus more on gratitude and less on what everyone else is doing? Start by removing the things that tend to make you compare yourself to others. Sometimes an intrusive question or rude comment can make us feel inadequate, but many of the things that generate temptation in our lives can be rooted out or at least mitigated.
The main one I’m thinking of is social media. You don’t have to “unfriend” your friends. But I’ve found that being aware of how much time I spend scrolling mindlessly, and making an effort to cast it aside when I feel myself beginning to wonder, “Why am I not like so-and-so?” really helps my focus stay on my own discernment and what God is doing in my life.
Focusing more intently on your own discernment by beefing up your prayer life, especially with your spouse, also fosters gratitude for one’s own state in life. This doesn’t mean we should pray harder in order to get a different answer from God if we don’t like the one He’s giving us. But rather, it looks more like becoming so engrossed in what God is doing every second of the day in my own life that I don’t have the time, energy, or desire to look at someone else’s life and see how it matches up with my own.
There is a Time for Everything
If you and your spouse are abiding by Church teaching on being open to life and at the same time have prayerfully discerned that now is not the time to have a child—no matter the number of friends and acquaintances who have babies and no matter the odd, probing questions you get from family and friends—embrace the peace of knowing you are sincerely pursuing God’s will for your family. In following where prayer leads you, you aren’t doing something wrong. You aren’t behind.
“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens” (Ecclesiastes 3:1). We aren’t called to live our current season of life comparing ourselves to others and feeling guilty that our lives don’t look like everyone else’s.
As one of my favorite Saints, St. Gianna Beretta Molla said, “Our task is to live holy the present moment.”Fighting Comparison with Gratitude: On Waiting to Have Kids #BISblog // Click To Tweet
Sarah Coffey is a freelance writer and copyeditor and also works for the Archdiocese of St. Louis. She and her husband, Jesse, both converted to Catholicism in college, and they reside in the St. Louis area with their cats, Stella and Cayden. You can learn more about her and read more of her writing here.