Excerpt from Preparing Children for Marriage
Are you ready to have a fun discussion with your children? Ask them if they plan to have children and how many they would like to have. When I bring up this topic in premarital counseling, many young couples admit that they haven’t given it much thought. If they haven’t thought about it, that means their parents haven’t talked about it. That’s problematic because the cultural messages that young people hear on this subject are often anti-children. Let me give you a taste.
Comedian Rita Rudner once said, “My husband and I are either going to buy a dog or have a child. We can’t decide to ruin our carpet or ruin our lives.” Pets have become replacements for children and have been one reason the pet market has increased in the United States from 17 billion in 1994 to over 60 billion today.[i] Many young couples are choosing pets in place of children because, as one sarcastic card says, they are “cleaner, cheaper, cuter, easier to train, and don’t ruin all my life plans and goals.”
Honda CR-V ran a full-page ad with the question, “Before I have children I want to ____.” Under the question are pictures of all kinds of adventures and accomplishments: learning to play the banjo, skydiving, sailing, running a marathon, and climbing the corporate ladder. It encouraged young people to do everything on their to-do list before they took the next step and had children.
The “childfree and loving it” movement suggests that childlessness is a superior lifestyle choice and provides plenty of books to help couples navigate this world. Two examples are No Kids: 40 Good Reasons NOT to Have Kids[ii] and Two is Enough: A Couple’s Guide to Living Childless by Choice.[iii] They argue that having children leads to unhappiness, economic challenges, decrease in marital satisfaction, and lasts for life.
What is the driving motivation behind a movement to discourage becoming a parent? Selfishness. Having children, the argument goes, will collide with your life plan, all the stuff you want to do, and your happiness. According to this viewpoint, children are a burden, not a blessing.
In their book Start Your Family, Candice and Steve Watters make this insightful point:
Couples weighing the decision to start a family are increasingly surrounded by books, articles and Web sites spotlighting the costs and sacrifices ahead of them. Those messages encourage couples to think long and hard about the world they’d be bringing children into, and remind them to count all the costs before making such a monumental decision. Caution and preparation are helpful, but sometimes it seems that’s all couples can find on the topic of having kids these days. Churches often have little to offer on this subject. Increasingly, though, it takes vision for “why” to overcome the growing—and often compelling—arguments for “why not.”[iv]
Candice and Steve apply their observations to the church, and pastors should listen up. But these observations apply to parents as well. Parents and pastors need to talk with young people about this subject and help them embrace a biblical view of childbearing.
Can you provide a compelling biblical vision for your child to combat the arguments for “why not”? Separating marriage from childbearing in discussions is a disservice to young people. Our culture has created an unnatural division between them, but the Bible provides a very different picture. Your child needs a grand, Jesus-centered, countercultural vision as to why they should have children.
I summarize the biblical and the cultural message in the following way: early, often, and many instead of late, long, and few. American culture tells young people to delay having children until later in life, wait longer between having children, and only have one or two total. The unwritten rule is that you can have a third child if the first two were the same gender and you want to try for a child of the opposite gender. If you have four children, people will remind you that there are ways to prevent this from happening. Have five or more children, welcome to the freak show.
Why have children? First, God commands married couples to have children. In Genesis 1:28 we are told, “God blessed [Adam and Eve]. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it.’” This is the first command God gives to humans, and it comes right on the heels of marriage. God blessed Adam and Eve’s marriage and then told them to work and have babies so that they could be good stewards of God’s creation. Because of the biblical command, it should not be a matter of if your child will have kids when he or she is married, but how many he or she will have.
How many children should you encourage your child to have? The Bible never gives a number, so I won’t either. There are small families and large families in the Bible: families with one child and families the size of a small orphanage. Roy Zuck claims that the average number of children per monogamous couple in the Bible is 6.1.[v] That doesn’t mean we need to aim for that number. But the pattern of Scripture is helpful to recognize. The Bible is always pro-children, and you and your child should be pro-children too. I’ve had countless older couples tell me, “We wish we had more children,” but I’ve never had parents tell me that they wish they had one less (even though we’ve all had our moments).
Because God is pro-children, this should inform our decision-making. As you talk to your child, teach him or her the “round up” principle. When deciding whether or not to have a child, round up to the higher number. One child or two? Round up to two. Two or three children? Round up to three. Three or four children? Round up to four. You get the point. When culture says, “Late, long, and few,” the Bible says, “Early, often, and many.”
Second, the Bible speaks of having children as desirable. Having many children is viewed as a blessing from God, while barrenness is painful (and my heart goes out to anyone who has felt this pain). A full quiver (many children) is described as a good thing (Ps. 127:5). Leah’s response at the birth of her son reflects the Bible’s overall demeanor toward children: “Leah said, ‘Happy am I!’” (Gen. 30:13). In the Bible, women of faith pursue childbirth, as it is motherhood that makes the world’s salvation possible through the birth of Jesus (1 Tim. 2:15). In addition, children are the Bible’s retirement plan (1 Tim. 5:8) and help us understand the Father heart of God.
One author notes, “The kingdom of God looks like a busy cul-de-sac filled with playful children, not an intimate table for two. As Zechariah 8:5 puts it, ‘the streets of [Zion] shall be full of boys and girls playing in its streets.”[vi] If the kingdom of God is filled with children, doesn’t it make sense for your child’s home to be filled as well?
Third, having children is a means to grow faith in God. Parenthood causes us to be in the very place God wants us—in a state of total dependence on him. Remember all the “what if’s” that run through a person’s head at times like this? What if I can’t afford another child? What if I don’t have enough love or time for another child? What if the child has a disability or is difficult to parent? What if my child grows up to love the Green Bay Packers? (Agreed—that would be horrible.) Your child may head toward the late, long, and few route as the “what ifs” become convincing. If this is your child’s path, this is where you must nudge him or her to trust God and to depend on him to provide for future needs.
To “be fruitful and multiply” is one of the purposes of marriage. In God’s plan, children are brought into the world through marriage, which is meant to serve as the primary evangelism and discipleship center for children. In the Bible, marriage and childbearing are so closely connected that one could argue that if a young person is not ready to have children, he or she is not ready for marriage. A childless or child-lite marriage deviates from God’s expected norm and ought not to be purposefully pursued. Pro-children. This is what I see in Scripture and what I encourage you to impress on your child.
[i] American Pet Products Association, “Pet Industry Market Size & Ownership Statistics,” 2016, http://www.americanpetproducts.org/press_industrytrends.asp
[ii] Corinne Maier, No Kids: 40 Good Reasons NOT to Have Kids (Canada: Emblem Editions, 2009).
[iii] Laura S. Scott, Two is Enough: A Couple’s Guide to Living Childless by Choice (Berkeley, CA: Seal Press, 2009).
[iv] Candice and Steve Watters, Start Your Family: Inspiration for Having Babies (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2009), 2.
[v] Roy Zuck, Precious in His Sight: Childhood and Children in the Bible (Grand Rapids: Baker Books), 92.
[vi] David Schrock, “A Blessed Necessity for Every Marriage” (Journal of Discipleship and Family Ministry, Winter 2013), 64.