Spring has arrived, making our hometown heavenly — bright blue skies at dawn reveal more new calves in the fields, more lambs in the pens and glimpses of spotted fawns peaking through tall winter grasses in safe places along the riverbanks. We have a nesting pair of Canadian geese nearby and can’t wait for the goslings to appear.
Easter is the season to celebrate new life, so I’ve been increasingly concerned over conversations that condemn large families as detrimental to our economy, natural resources or individual sanity.
A few years ago, I was the mom at the grocery store with a 3-year-old strapped up top, twin babies in car seats filling the cart below and room for actual groceries stuffed underneath. From friend and stranger alike, I was never greeted with “Hello,” but “You’ve got your hands full,” instead. I didn’t mind the comments or the stares, but what did bother me were the frowns.
Our self-imposed falling birthrate in the United States has prompted heated conversations among varied groups — from economists to politically-minded folks who fear the overpopulation of our planet. But I keep wondering about the spiritual effects of our society choosing to have less children or no children at all.
I’ve also been curiously reading excerpts from recent interviews with a conservative author of a new book entitled, “What to Expect When No One is Expecting: America’s Coming Demographic Disaster.” I need a beach and a long-distance vacation to actually take the time to read his book and I’m not a big fan of doomsday anything, but the author, Jonathan Last, makes some points worth considering.
He believes America’s real crisis is not the national debt, the unemployment rate or crippling fuel prices. He says our biggest problem is our low fertility rate. Some of his points include:
• Pets over babies
He reports that American pets outnumbered children for the first time in 2006 and the trend is continuing. Nurturing by nature, couples who are choosing not to have children appear to be parenting multiple pets instead. He reportedly said studies show that people with pets are less stressed than people with children, but I don’t think living stress-free should be our over-arching goal in life. Just like pressure and high temperatures help form diamonds, challenges in life — including raising miniature versions of ourselves — make stronger people with more character and wisdom.
• Budgeting for kids and aging parents
Generations ago, parents had a sense of economic security by having lots of children. Kids helped with farm chores and then later, they traded roles and took care of aging parents. Today, on the ledger, kids would be considered a financial liability rather than an asset. While children are expensive to feed, clothe and educate, I argue with some of the inflated estimations of actual costs. For our family, having five kids has resulted in us living on a more conservative budget and actually raising them more economically with less impact on natural resources. Looking to older generations, I think we all should have a long-term goal to be more involved in caring for family as they age. In his book, Last blames government entitlements for making it easy for Americans to forego their responsibilities to take care of aging family members and he doesn’t like the looks of a nation with so many more older citizens than younger ones.
• Religion doesn’t direct procreation
He said that currently, specific religions don't influence procreation as much as they used to and that large families are correlated more to church attendance than sect. Last said that in the past, Catholics, Mormons and evangelical Christians traditionally had big families based on religious ideals, but now fertility rates are not tracked along sectarian lines.
In one interview he said, "We actually don't have real differences along religious lines. It's a question now of ‘religiosity,’ or how much one attends church.” He surmised that those who regularly attend worship services tend to have more children.
I agree with Last that having children is an indication of our personal appreciation for the past and hope in the future. My heart goes out to those who want children, but are unable. But for those choosing to drastically stunt the reach of their family tree, I worry they may not “see the forest for the trees.”
I believe growing families that are emotionally healthy and spiritual give vital stability to society. Families make each individual a little less selfish, more service-oriented and self-reliant through hard work. Parents who provide children a stable, healthy environment are contributing to a bright future not only for the child but for the community as well.
And so, I see a healthy, pregnant American woman as one of the bravest souls on earth who is sacrificing her own comfort not only for the sake of her child, but for our nation as a whole.
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