Pope Francis made some news last week when he suggested that choosing pets over kids could be a problem. The Guardian reported that the pope “railed against ‘a culture of well-being,’ which he said had convinced some people they were better off shunning procreation and getting a pet instead.”
It was not a new theme for the pope. Last year, he said, “Of those things that are not necessities, or superfluous things, the greatest amount is spent on pets pets are idolized.”
Of course, there are couples who cannot have children or who have very good reasons for not having them. And there are a myriad of possible good reasons for choosing to limit a family and to have fewer children rather than more.
But there are also some not-so-good reasons, too, and one of them is that a pet can give you the same fulfillment as a child. One reason that is a particularly not-so-good reason is that it suggests that we have children for ourselves, for our own fulfillment.
And there are plenty of other bad reasons. More and more, we hear couples suggest that they are not going to have children, or that they are going to intentionally limit their families to one or two children because they are worried about the overpopulation of the earth. In this paradigm, those who have several children are selfishly using up more than their share of the planet’s resources, and those who have “one or none” are heroes who are saving the earth and making life better for everyone.
This is very old reasoning (or rationalizing). The fact is that in most developed countries, the birthrate has dropped so precipitously that population is declining and only immigration can keep the workforce large enough to keep the country and the economy going. A birthrate of 2.1 children per woman is considered to be the “replacement level,” and anything less than that will decrease the population. There are now more than 100 countries in the world that have a birthrate below that replacement level, according to the World Factbook on the CIA's website.
It is true that many third-world countries, particularly in Africa, have birthrates that are considered too high, but birthrates in most of the developing world are declining rapidly, and many predict that they will level off at about 2.3, just above the replacement level.
So couples that are choosing “one or none” to save the world might want to consider that what will really save it is to raise children who can become responsible citizens and wage-earning, contributing members of the economy.
Other couples tell us that they are not having children because they can’t afford it.
They have been led to believe that the financial burden of raising a child is far beyond what a regular, middle-class family can bear. And it simply isn’t true. Prudent parents manage just fine, and the children often contribute and help with their own support, particularly for education.
But the saddest reason of all for choosing to have no kids is that “Life will be happier without them.” Whenever we hear that one, we have to bear our witness of the fact that our children have brought more joy into our lives than anything else ever could — not more ease, not more simplicity, not fewer problems, not more time for self — but more deep and real joy.
Hey, and why not have a pet too?
Richard and Linda Eyre are New York Times No. 1 best-selling authors who lecture throughout the world on family-related topics. Visit them anytime at EyresFreeBooks.com or at valuesparenting.com, and follow Linda’s blog at eyrealm.blogspot.com.
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