Friday, February 22, 2013

About having a big family

I don't do it to save the world.

I do it out of fidelity to a God who loves us all.

But I admit to getting a self-righteous kick out of reading the recent stories bemoaning the nation's falling fertility rate. Even the secular and liberal bastions of online discourse are starting to talk about it: We are now below the replacement rate, it's actually not a good place to be, and (though they are loathe to say so) our biggest hope is religious, conservative, procreating families like mine. Here's Slate:
In developed countries, childrearing has become a lifestyle option tailored to each couple’s preferences. Maximizing fertility is rarely a priority. My wife and I are a case in point. I’m 46, she’s 39, and we have two toddlers. We waited about as long to have kids as we feasibly could because we were invested in building our careers and, frankly, enjoying all the experiences that those careers let us have. If wanted to pop out another ankle-biter right now, our ageing bodies might just allow us to do so. But we have no intention of trying. As much as we adore our little guys, they’re a lot of work and frighteningly expensive. Most of our friends have just one or two kids, too, and like us they regard the prospect of having three or four kids the way most people look at ultramarathoning or transoceanic sailing—admirable pursuits, but only for the very committed.

That attitude could do for Homo sapiens what that giant asteroid did for the dinosaurs. If humanity is going to sustain itself, then the number of couples deciding to have three or four kids will consistently have to exceed the number opting to raise one or zero. The 2.0 that my wife and I have settled for is a decent effort, but we’re not quite pulling our weight. Are we being selfish? Or merely rational? Our decision is one that I’m sure future generations will judge us on. Assuming there are any.

Heh. Yeah, I guess I'm "very committed." I have been tempted to joke, post a tongue-in-cheek status update on Facebook about how many of the childless people I'm picking up the slack for. But the Church, while counseling in favor of love and generosity, wisely leaves such decisions up to spouses. There are so, so many legitimate reasons for having no, or fewer, children.

(And who would blame a priest or religious for not procreating to replace themselves, or say they are not committed?)

Then there's this piece in The Daily Beast, about how many choose to remain childless, and even stay single, for "legitimate, if perhaps selfish, reasons," and my thoughts get a little more serious. The writer also talks about why it may be good for individuals but it's bad for America. I, on the other hand, can't help but think about how it goes beyond America. I found its treatment of the attitudes behind this choice to be begrudgingly honest, even as the writer seems to affirm them.
Postfamilial America is in ascendancy as the fertility rate among women has plummeted, since the 2008 economic crisis and the Great Recession that followed, to its lowest level since reliable numbers were first kept in 1920. That downturn has put the U.S. fertility rate increasingly in line with those in other developed economies—suggesting that even if the economy rebounds, the birthrate may not. For many individual women considering their own lives and careers, children have become a choice, rather than an inevitable milestone—and one that comes with more costs than benefits.

“I don’t know if that’s selfish,” says Jordan, the daughter of an Ecuadoran and an Ohioan who grew up in the South Bronx, explaining her reasons for a decision increasingly common among women across the developed world, where more than half of the world’s population is now reproducing at below the replacement rate. “I feel like my life is not stable enough, and I don’t think I necessarily want it to be ... Kids, they change your entire life. That’s the name of the game. And that’s not something I’m interested in doing.”

That might evoke the response, "Well, if that's the way you are, yeah, it's better that a person like you doesn't have children." Selfish people shouldn't have kids, right? (That's an argument I hear people make of themselves when choosing to abort. "I'm too irresponsible, I'm horrible with kids, I have major issues. I shouldn't be having a baby.") And when it comes to passing down values to future generations, these, one might argue, are not the ones we want perpetuated.

But when a child is born, there is the chance that that new soul will make different choices, rise above tragic circumstances. There is the chance that the parents themselves will be drawn by their children and their heartstrings closer to Love. "A baby is God's opinion that the world should go on" goes the saying, credited to Carl Sagan of all people. Children are a sign of hope; they are an embodiment of hope. Are people abandoning hope? Or are they just short-sighted, seeing nothing but themselves and their own interests?

I can sympathize with fearing the "costs" of having kids. The expense, lifestyle changes, bodily changes, opportunity costs—I get it. Better than they do, I'd say. It's worth it. But that's a hard sell to a lot of people, and the best change—what happens to your heart, your soul when you have a child—is probably their greatest fear. They are afraid of becoming someone other than "who they are." They don't want to lose themselves. But you have to lose yourself in order to find yourself. To save yourself.

As far as movements go, people have no idea how close the "childfree by choice" one is to hell. You can see it in the rejection of marriage, as well as children. For what is hell but a rejection of communion? Increasingly hell is understood to be not the will of God but a choice the soul makes, seeking itself over God. An overarching desire for control. A rejection of others, a refusal to love. Choosing not to have children for selfish reasons is a failure to love. God is a family; Satan looked out for number one. God made the sacrifice and loved, unto death and beyond. Satan made the choice to serve himself.

Ultimately, it is a self-consuming choice.


Valerie said...

Beautiful post, so full of truth. I recently watched a documentary on EWTN on the myth of overpopulation. Yes, our "developed" nation is now at the point where we are not at the "replacement ability" of fertility rates. In fact, it's been this way for quite a while, but advances in medicine, keeping the older generations living longer lulled us into a sense of complacency...or "maintenance" if you will.

We are one of those families that are "committed". Unfortunately, that means only 3 children of Earth, but we have 5 more in Heaven. So, although I can't claim to be a "large family" blogger...I do have a large family with 5 little saints waiting to welcome me to Heaven. If they're anything like my precious three on Earth, I can't wait to meet them!!!

Andrea said...

Wonderfully written!

Nicole Stallworth said...

Valerie, it must be a great consolation to think of those little saints waiting for you. You have been generous with God in a way few people may be able to relate to. It's a good race you're running.

Andrea, thank you! Thanks for stopping by and reading.


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