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Are Children a Burden or a Blessing?

Earlier this summer, I picked up an old copy of Life magazine while on vacation. The cover picture and title caught my eye. There was a picture of a small baby (no older than a few months), and below the picture, the cover read, “The Baby Riddle: What will happen to American life if each family has one child? Or two? Or three?” The magazine was dated May 19, 1972.

After my wife gave birth to our fourth child two weeks ago, I decided to take out the magazine and read through some of the articles. Here are a few of the highlights—remember that it was written nearly 40 years ago. Addressing the “problem” of continued population growth, the author writes:

Both the Pill and easier abortion laws have helped lower the birthrate in recent years. So have inflation, job shortages and the women’s rights movement, all of which tend to encourage later marriages and fewer children. Last month, after an exhaustive two-year study, the presidential Commission on Population Growth and the American Future recommended that we now seize the chance to stabilize our population. The commission, headed by John D. Rockefeller III, favors abortion on request, free contraceptive information and supplies for all, including minors, and a national policy of zero population growth. Married couples would be encouraged to have an average of only two children (the present average is 2.3).

Back in 1972, many sociologists were sounding the alarm about a population bomb that would threaten food production, infrastructure, and the American dream. The magazine article proposed that if American families had three children, the population would balloon to 322 million by the year 2000 (current population of the U.S. is over 312 million based on the population clock from the U.S. Census Bureau), half the country would be short of water, food costs would increase by 40–50%, and 93% of all students would receive a worse education in 2000 than they could have received in 1972. These crises would all be the result of a population explosion.

But wait, there’s more:

Besides these direct measures [free contraceptive services, liberalized abortion laws, and state-subsidized sterilization], the commission noted with disapproval the large number of social and psychological pressures in our society that encourage too many people to get married and, once married, to have children.

Here we see a government commission disapproves of social pressures to get married and once married, for couples to have children. Well, I guess in some respects, they have gotten their wish. According to a report from the National Center for Health Statistics (a division of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), “nearly 4 in 10 U.S. births were to unmarried women in 2007.” In addition, the report states, “Most births to teenagers (86% in 2007) are nonmarital, but 60% of births to women 20–24 and nearly one-third of births to women 25–29 were nonmarital in 2007.” Social pressures for marriage have subsided, but women are still giving birth. The difference is that 40% of all births are now to single women, meaning that children are being reared in single-parent households at an alarming rate.

Some may see this trend as a positive example of the feminist movement. However, Maggie Gallagher suggests that marriage is important for the well-being of children. Among other conclusions, she reports, “Marriage reduces child poverty. Children in intact married homes are healthier, on average, than children in other family forms. Babies born to married parents have sharply lower rates of infant mortality. Boys and young men from intact married homes are less likely to commit crimes. Children raised outside of intact marriages are more likely to be victims of both sexual and physical child abuse.”

Finally, the article cites a then-forthcoming book by Shirley Radl bemoaning the fact that she ever had children. Here are some of her thoughts:

When I was pregnant the first time, we celebrated our eighth wedding anniversary. My husband gave me an exquisite pearl bracelet. Six years later I was picking up the pearls in my vacuum cleaner. My son had destroyed it. It is a sad symbol of how two children affected a once-beautiful relationship.

Bearing children is a gamble with lives of innocents. The greatest failure is to have children and learn too late you’re not equipped for that career. We who learned the truth must level with an unsuspecting generation of potential mothers. They must look beyond the myths, seek the truth, judge their capacities accordingly. Plan carefully: the life you save may be your own.

The overwhelming thrust of the articles in this 40-year-old edition of Life is that children are a burden. The act of having children must be weighed like a financial decision—do I invest in myself or in children? The focus is on personal rights, dreams, aspirations. If children get in the way of those things, then they must be a burden. Is that how Scripture describes children? Absolutely not!

In Psalm 127:3–5, Solomon writes:

Behold, children are a gift of the LORD,
The fruit of the womb is a reward.
Like arrows in the hand of a warrior,
So are the children of one’s youth.
How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them;
They will not be ashamed
When they speak with their enemies in the gate.

The biblical perspective is that children are a gift, a blessing, a reward. Do children place a burden on the lives of adults? Yes. I will not deny that there are things we cannot do because we have four children. Do the rewards of four precious lives outweigh the burdens? No doubt about it! We need to maintain a biblical perspective on children and the blessing of having them in our lives.

_________________________

“The Crucial Math of Motherhood,” Life, May 19, 1972.

U.S. Census Bureau, “U.S. POPClock Projection.”

National Center for Health Statistics, “Changing Patterns of Nonmarital Childbearing in the United States,” May 2009.

Maggie Gallagher, “(How) Does Marriage Protect Child Well-Being?,” in The Meaning of Marriage: Family, State, Market, & Morals (eds. Robert P. George and Jean Bethke Elshtain; Dallas: Spence, 2006), 197–212.

Shirley Rogers Radl, Mother’s Day Is Over (Arbor House, 1987).

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Evan Lenow

Assistant Professor of Ethics, Bobby L. and Janis Eklund Chair of Stewardship, Director of the Center for Biblical Stewardship, Acting Director of the Richard Land Center for Cultural Engagement, and Chair of the Ethics Department

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