Friday, November 8, 2013

What Do Children Learn When Their Parents Use NFP?

Some interesting comments have appeared on one of my NFP posts. They all address the effect on children of their parents using NFP – not necessarily the effect when the children are still children, but how the effect manifests itself when the children become adults themselves. [And if you have experiences to share along these lines, I’d love to hear from you. Comments are great, but emails are better, as I would appreciate having contact information for those willing to answer further questions. Contact me at]

A few months ago, a guest post on this blog by Fr. William Gardner addressed the topic of talking to children about NFP. I introduced his contribution with this comment  on a previous post (all emphases in this post are mine):

 I was enjoying the talk, until the point where she shared her new insights with her husband and they discussed what to do. At that point, I expected her to say, "It was so wonderful; God opened his heart, and he agreed we should not contracept”. Instead, she said (paraphrasing), "It was so wonderful; God opened his heart, and we agreed to learn how to practice NFP!" They had 3 children at that point (and still do), and appeared to be a financially stable, healthy middle class family. She kept going on about how horrible it would be if she got pregnant and how upset she would be, but how they were just going to "trust God" and abstain every month and live "according to God's plan" (!!)

I hope none of their 3 children ever hears that CD

In his essay, Fr. Gardner wrote:

…[T]he more that conception is controlled, the greater danger of misunderstanding the giftedness of human life.  But periodic continence is employed precisely because of its aspect of control over conception, or the avoidance thereof.
Bearing in mind these considerations, an indelicate parent might say to a daughter or son:  "Things were really rough, and then when we decided it was O.K. to have a baby, you came along!"  A more thoughtful approach might be the following:  "Things were really rough, and then you came along!"  The latter statement, although not revealing all the details of the situation, tends to emphasize more clearly the giftedness of human life.

The widespread, indiscriminate promotion of natural birth regulation will unavoidably contribute to the contraceptive mentality, precisely because of its emphasis on human control over conception.  On the contrary, the firm and forthright condemnation of artificial contraception, sterilization, abortion, and the homosexual lifestyle, without explicit reference to NFP will send a clear message that God's life-giving love is not to be opposed.

Think about it: the NFP sites never show bright, smiling children’s faces – just beaming couples who have eyes for no one else but themselves. What message does such a relationship impart to the children, as they mature and form their own ideas about marriage?

By way of an anecdotal answer to that question, here are excerpts from comments left at my post "Forward Boldly" Radio Show: Discussion of NFP. First, consider this one:

…What still needs to be investigated is the effect of NFP marriages on the children themselves. The speakers [on the show] pointed to an insidious inversion of the ends of marriage by the NFP cultists.  What does it do to a child to be secondary to the unitive dimension of their parents' marriage?

That is a very good question! And I think it puts the debate over the “equality” of the procreative and “unitive” dimensions of marriage into a different perspective.

Here’s another comment regarding the influence on the children’s perception of marriage and family size:

I think the consequences of the NFP lifestyle are broader than most modern Catholics are willing to admit. …My parents were very keen on NFP and I attribute that fact to the fact that neither me nor my sister has ever seriously considered family life…. [W]hen you grow up in a family of 4 surrounded by similar-sized families (probably contracepting) it has a long term effect on you. We both suffer from materialism more than our parents.

This certainly rings true. Our perceptions of an ideal family size are shaped by our experiences; though of course, another mitigating factor would probably be one’s perception of the effect of siblings on one’s own well-being.

Here’s one more comment along the same lines:

I was a well-loved, spoiled at times, only child who never thought her parents' NFP marriage was such a hot role model. Please God, I don't blame them for my certain spinsterhood but I've shown less interest in marriage than my peers who grew up in contracepting households that knew infidelity and divorce, and then repeated it in their own marriages. Talk about not learning from someone else's mistakes. We need a serious reassessment here.

Finally, here’s one from the post written by Fr. Gardner:

I don't know how old I was at the time, but I no longer believed in Santa Claus and I doubt I was in high school yet. It was the middle of December and I went snooping through my parents room looking for presents. Without my sister seeing (I never told her) I found the NFP books. I cried for days. The sudden realization about why we were the only children hit hard.

Again, this is only anecdotal evidence; I know there are NFP-using couples whose adult children have married and who hope to have large families. Interestingly, though, the examples I can think of, based on my own knowledge, are NFP couples who have 8 or 9 children.

Another aspect of the “side-effects” of NFP use (or perhaps it would be better to say “over-use”) is brought out in several comments that related NFP use to the “feminization” of the Church and the family. For instance:

I think both sides will agree that contraceptives objectify women for the benefit of misogynists who wish to use them as toys but has anyone ever considered that the NFP movement may be part of the feminization of the Church? We always hear that it is about her body, her cycles, and the perfection of her design. The implication is that men, who are ready to go at any time, are by nature flawed. And just try to ask if the phrase "marriage debt" is relevant today. Ask it on an NFP blog and you'll be called a Neanderthal before the end of the day.

An NFP marriage necessarily puts the woman in charge, and children, particularly boys, who grow up in homes where mother wore the pants are often candidates for homosexuality. I've seen it in the NFP homes of my parish but more often than that I find young adults who show absolutely no interest in marriage. One I knew expressed himself so well: "I'd rather have the marriage of my grandparents than my parents." It's hard to make the case that the Church's view of marriage is different from what they see on TV. None of them know anyone who was ever turned down for an annulment, and NFP is constantly touted for its effectiveness

Following the same line of thought, another commenter added:

We had to go through mandatory NFP training prior to marriage run by a husband and wife. I got to know them a little better when we were in their parish for two years.

The poor man, he never got to say anything and his wife never passed up an opportunity to talk about how NFP enriched their lives. He just stood there and nodded. I think he really enjoyed his time away from his wife and going to games with my husband. Neither their son nor their daughter ever expressed any interest in marriage.

I think that quite likely children perceive the double-speak that is involved with NFP use; kids are better at that than adults, and that’s why it was a child who insisted that “the emperor has no clothes”. Some of the commenters on my posts pointed out the fact that NFP is actually quite difficult to justify in terms of being different from contraception in the long run. For instance:

When I took my first NFP course, it wasn't by choice and I was a recent convert… I knew very little about moral philosophy and theology at the time… I was open to fuzzy-touchy-feely-thinking and reasoning from non sequiturs. It wouldn't be until I started reading good material, that my thoughts began to change…  I came to see that Catholic theology was a very precise Science…I struggled to square NFP arguments into the pattern of thinking I was acquiring and couldn't. Sure, I could see how contraception was intrinsically evil and NFP was neutral, but the arguments in favor of using it seemed like they were designed to appeal more toward hippies than theologians, Catholic theologians.

No one could tell me why this kind of marriage was better. No one could explain how it improved communications. What did couples talk about 100yrs ago and why did they stay together? 

Another commenter added some thought about Theology of the Body:

Christopher West has suggested we could never understand human sexuality until JP2's Theology of the Body because Scholasticism is inadequate. Piffle! TOB is little more than an excuse to use the Faith to talk about sex. It has even been used to justify sodomy.

In addition to having fewer kids, I have found the NFP parents are always trying to get away from them by taking vacations alone. By contrast, the so-called "providentialists" can't seem to get enough of them.

And finally, there was this wry observation:

I listened to this podcast well before the controversy got going over the article in Christian Order. It was a debate between an NFP advocate and a traditionalist. Both had six kids and at the end of the debate, the NFP-er said: "No, we don't use it. We can't even plan our lunches."

That would be an amusing note on which to conclude this post, sort of along the lines of Harry Crocker’s line: “Use NFP; it doesn’t work!”  But the bottom line is this: NFP was born of the concept of “responsible parenthood”; “responsible parenthood” seems to have been born of the fear of overpopulation, and it’s a phrase that, for all practical purposes, is used to mean “limit the number of children you have”. And that basic concept is at the heart and history of Planned Parenthood.  The last commenter I mentioned had also added this note:

Renew America author Randy Engel has also exposed the link between Planned Parenthood and the early promotion of NFP by Church leaders in the early sixties. I highly recommend it for getting your head around the motives.

You can read more about that in Randy Engel’s book The McHugh Chronicles. The first chapter is available on-line here.

If you have experiences and thoughts to share about how parents’ NFP use (or over-use) can affect their children’s perceptions of marriage and family, please comment, or email me. I would like to have contact information if possible, so I can follow up with questions. Contact me at


  1. "I think he really enjoyed his time away from his wife and going to games with my husband. "

    We are part of a parish that is big on NFP. My husband and I noticed that most of the guys in the men's group seem thrilled to get away from their wives any chance they get. I never connected the two things before.

  2. Interesting. Seeing my parents dote over their dogs today as if they were surrogate grandchildren makes me wonder if they thought of their naturally planned children the same way.

    Keith L.

  3. Do any NFP instructors warn about these potential consequences or are they just oblivious?

  4. Wow! I just thought that I avoided marriage because of finances. First not having enough and then wanting them all for myself. Maybe something else was at play sub consciously??

    My hometown had a lot of Fundamentalists, Pentecostals and J.W.s who pretty much tied the hands of the high school teachers, particularly those who taught SexEd. As a result, learning about "the birds and the bees" tended to concentrate on birds, bees, chickens, cows etc. For a long time, in my naïveté, I would look at my parents and think "eew, they did that TWICE?!" But, I was a precocious eavesdropper and
    NFP would steal my innocence. Despite the circumspect way my parents talked about sex, I soon learned to pick up on their private vocabulary and innuendo.

    Several years ago the book "EWTN, The Network Gone Wrong" bravely took on one of the NFP cult's biggest gurus Gregory Popcak and his truly bizarre idea that kids should learn how to track the mom's and their sister's cycles. My parents NEVER talked to me about sex but It didn't take me long to figure out what the little happy faces and sad faces meant on the refrigerator calendar. Later, they would be changed in my Junior High years to little yellow suns and grey clouds or some mixture. Maybe they thought I was on to them and they were trying to throw me off. In any event, my parents would starve as meteorologists. But, if the day was marked my a bright sun or a little happy face, I could be almost guaranteed to hear them "doing it" if I didn't fall asleep too quickly in my room down the hall. Who needed Popcak's charts or thermometers when you had mom and dad's cryptic calendar in the kitchen? Looking back, it's kind of sick but I was filled with curiosity. Later, the curiosity would turn to cynicism.
    While I still have the Faith, I have very little faith in the institution of marriage the way the hierarchy promotes it here in America. My parents chose a more difficult form of birth control because they wanted to be faithful Catholics but that is not why they chose to have so few children.


  5. What BS!
    Whenever my paranoid friends try to scare me into thinking a new witch hunt it heating up on the blogosphere and they are threatening to burn "NFP cultists" at the stake, I assure them that it is just a tempest in a teapot.

    The fires are likely stoked by inquisitors who are probably little more than thirty-something trekkies living in their parents basements, taking a break from their comic books to post on the internet and send women on guilt trips just because THEY could never get a date.

    Martha Thompson

  6. Martha, I'm only allowing your comment in order to point out that you seemed to have ignored the "Please be courteous and concise" rule.

    I've been called "judgmental" and all kinds of other negative things, but I think your comment takes the cake in that department. Why is it that NFP proponents rely so heavily on ad hominum attacks?

  7. Because the motives of those involved in the witch hunt are suspicious. No one should question the motives of couple who choose to use NFP. There is no way to "use it improperly." I could point to MANY sources to back up what I say but I think I'd be wasting my time (with your readers, not you personally). To date, you are the only woman I've heard say these sorts of things. It's usually just single men and semi-schismatic priests like those in the so-called Fraternity of Peter.

    Don't take this as discouteous but these kind of comments really strike a nerve with me.


  8. The anger manifested in comments such as these is not entirely unrelated to what Martha describes as "the semi-schismatic so-called Fraternity of Peter." Fr. Chad Ripperger of the FSSP wrote a very important essay on "Parental Roles and Leadership" in which he describes the demonic influence that takes hold of women who leave the spiritual protection provided by the authority of their husband or father and how it is manifested in being dominated by their passion of anger.

    This is a very important article that needs to be more widely disseminated. In its own way it is just as significant as his article "Operative Points of View" which I believe you have already brought to the attention of your readers.

    -John G.

  9. Martha, I don't understand a label like "semi-schismatic" as applied to FSSP priests! Holy smokes!

    And I beg to differ with your statement that there is "no way to use NFP improperly"! Even the staunchest of NFP proponents who have made comments here or elsewhere have admitted that NFP CAN be used inappropriately. I would submit that any use of NFP for other than "serious reasons" is inappropriate.

    I wonder why criticisms of NFP strike such a sore nerve in you. there something of a collective guilty conscience at work? In some ways, it seems to me that NFP proponents need to have everyone affirm and even promote the practice because they know in their hearts that something is just not quite right about it; and yet, the culture assures them that sex is pretty much necessary for a happy life, so they are seeking to maximize sexual enjoyment and minimize procreation. It is difficult for a good Catholic (and I assume most Catholic NFP uses want to be good Catholics) to reconcile the conflicting aims and claims of NFP.

  10. John, thanks for the tip. I'll take a look at that link...

  11. I've come to accept that NFP users are the scapegoats for everyone who avoids having children, justly or unjustly. The same suspicion and disapproval is applied to them alike. I can't change that. My father told me once that I don't have to justify my actions, because some people are never, ever going to understand and it would be a waste of time. So, yes, this whole thing seems like much ado about nothing.


  12. Marigold, in a sense, I agree that it's "much ado about nothing"; after all, even NFP promoters say that at best 2-5% of Catholic couples use NFP. The real problem is that Catholics have bought into the whole over-population myth and the idea that "responsible" parenthood means limiting the number of children they have. That stems from the contraceptive mentality that prevails in our culture. Sadly, though, the whole NFP culture has arisen from mentality, and mimics it. The only difference is that they call their version of family planning "natural" to make us all feel better about it. The result - fewer children - is the same. We've forgotten how valuable children - souls - really are, and how dear they are to God, and how much He wants us to join with Him in conceiving them.

    1. Well, there's the caricature of the NFP movement, and then there's the NFP movement itself. If you had read any of CCLI's literature, you would see that in their latest magazine alone there are several instances of people wanting to and anticipating having a large family (as in, that was the assumption and expectation.) People like this are entirely misrepresented in the 'operative narrative' found on this blog. So this makes me wonder if we're talking about the same thing, since there's "your version" and the the one I'm familiar with. By and large, people who have a so-called "contraceptive mentality" don't use NFP, they contracept!

      So you can try to link the two movements all you want, but please be aware that the Church does not; rather the documents are are pains to spell out the difference. And furthermore, it's a collective slap in the face to all those who do have well-grounded reasons. Not that they should care how they're portrayed. It's just one more cross to offer up!


    2. And if you'd read my book, you might learn something about the "operative narrative" here. No, most likely we're not talking about the same thing, because (in my experience) NFP promoters don't at all want to hear what I'm saying. They dont' read my book; they focus on Vatican II and post-VII documents as if the Church started in 1965; and they fail to grasp the full meaning and import of tradition and the thought of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church who preceded current "modern" thought on marriage.

      If you would actually read my stuff - without assuming you already know what I have said - you would find that I do not make judgments about serious reasons, and I do not engage in ad hominem attacks on individual NFP supporters. I do my best to stick with Church teaching and the facts.

    3. Mrs. Boyd, unfortunately I cannot afford to purchase/read your book, which I thought was basically an (expanded) compilation of your blogposts. We are raising (and trying to kept fed) a number of children, and my husband's job will be effectively ending to boot.


  13. Oops! I accidently deleted a comment which said:

    "The best summary I've found on this thread: <>
    Thank you Dr. Boyd. I thought I was just a simpleton. "

  14. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  15. It's still getting deleted. What I had quoted was: The Emperor Has No Clothes

  16. Anonymous...not sure what you mean about "still getting deleted"...

  17. I was at an antique store last Saturday with two of my daughters, ages 6 and 4. I was talking to an older gentleman about my family: my other children, who weren't with us.

    Out of the blue he said to me "you know, there are ways to prevent that." Meaning, my children.

    Well, come to find out he's from a Catholic family of ELEVEN kids! Needless to say, I wasn't very impressed by the job his parents did of instilling in him the inestimable value of new life.

    The irony is that here I am, a natural family planner, and my children would give anything to have another sibling. They are anxiously awaiting the day! Last month I thought I might be expecting, but not one week later we found out that my husband's job is ending. God's timing is infinitely wise (as I've seen time and again, even when I thought I was "planning".) He knows best, and He's in control of every aspect of our lives. If and when I do conceive, there will be much rejoicing from my kids, that's for sure.

    All this is to say that I don't worry about my family's outlook on childbearing. They are very favorable!


  18. This thread is disturbing on a number of levels.
    I've always been skeptical of the figures for how many Catholics use NFP. As low as 2% or smaller than the margin of error. There is an AGENDA here. The people who want to change Church teaching will lie. Plus, I don't think you can get accurate data from surveys. Dioceses don't take these surveys, sociologists do.
    Except for the most outspoken NFP advocates, who is going to admit to a pollster that they use NFP which is so often lumped in with Rhythm? They'd be laughed at!!

    I'm convinced that there is a silent minority that quietly uses NFP. To be sure, this is not anywhere near as large as those who ignore the Church on sexuality. We see people who go to Mass every week AND often fill the confession lines. Many times, husband & wife are professionals. I'd caution anyone against looking at a small family and speculating how they in particular are living so I have to speak in generalities. Many have trouble having children. But, don't we all know of a few TV perfect families that go to Church, and have very well behaved children and long for nothing material wize? Many of these kids go on to be very successful professionals. But how many get married? I see a lot of cases like those mentioned above. This NFP mumbo-jumb is headed for a train wreck.

    Jean Roberts

  19. Jean - you're right about the questionability of the polls and surveys. I wonder if some people say "no" to the question of NFP use because they say to themselves "well, we don't chart all the time, but we sort of know when the wife is fertile; but that's not really using NFP." And they are right in a sense - it's not "using NFP" the way the NFP promoters would have them do it.

    I also agree that one should refrain from guessing whether a couple with few children is contracepting. Although, I have been accused of doing just that, or "judging" whether a couple has "serious reasons"; but I simply don't do that. Like you, I prefer to speak in "generalities".

  20. Excuse me but I think both sides on this issue are extreme. Whether your talking the N.F.P. people who think their kids should chart their mother's cycles or the people who think N.F.P. is evil, I fail to see how the sex lives of the parents is any business of the children's.

  21. A most interesting post and I praise you for being open to criticism even if it's just ad-hominen.
    Many years ago, there was a thread on the 'NFP Works Blog' where some people raised similar reservations. They brought out the big guns to shoot those arguments down--priests, theologians, and chancery officials. Those arguments they couldn't address would disappear.
    Contracepting couples may experience guilt for their sin but I'm convinced now that NFP couples often experience pride, usually as an emotion, sometimes as a sin.

    Regarding Debbie's comment. It may offend her sensibilities but what goes on inside the bedroom affects people she doesn't even know. The state has an interest in the propagation of children. Contraceptives were outlawed for a long time on this basis. You are not an island.


  22. I wonder if maybe all would benefit from a little less talk about sex.


  23. The whole country could beneift from less talk about (and focus on) sex!


Please be courteous and concise.