Voluntarily Childless

Sunday’s Deseret News reprinted an article from the Chicago Tribune detailing how a "Growing Number of Couples [are] Opting Not to Have Children."  While the choice to have children or not is obviously a personal one and unique to each couple, I am a little disturbed at the implications of the choices which are being made by a growing number of people (especially in light of Erica’s recent post over at T&S regarding the Bishkek Baby House).  While I can understand some of the concerns, outlined below and forwarded by these voluntarily childless couples, which cause couples to decide not to ever have children, I have a feeling that there are more important things at stake.  Things that matter whether you believe in God or not.  But before going on, let’s examine the context here.

Here is the situation discussed in the article:

Growing number of couples around the country are electing to have what they call "child-free" relationships.

A lot of young women today . . . are realizing that the feminist ideal that you can have it all — kids and a successful career — is not feasible.

There are many reasons why a woman might not conceive, but the conscious decision to avoid children appears to be playing a larger role these days.

Here are some of the reasons given by those who wish to remain forever childless:

  • Desire for greater Freedom

"When [one couple] decided to keep their marriage free of children, they took a lot of things into account.  They considered their mutual desire for greater freedom, something that enabled her to get a graduate degree and start a small consulting business." 

  • Enjoyment of the "smaller things"

There was also their enjoyment of what she called "smaller things" like being able to sleep late when they wanted and dine out whenever the mood struck them. 

  • General uncertainty about issues such as global warming

But there were larger issues as well.  "We worry about global warming," said the 25-year-old who lives in Charlotte, N.C. "We worry about what the world will be like in the future. There’s so much uncertainty, and I can’t see bringing a life into such a world."

  • Getting married for "us," not for children

"Babies have just never interested me," [one 24-year-old Chicago retail saleswoman] said. "My husband and I didn’t get married to have children. We got married for us."

  • Lack of parenting qualifications

[One 44 year old consultant who has decided to remain childless] said after 11 years of marriage she and her husband had concluded that they would make terrible parents.  "We didn’t feel we would be qualified," she said. "It was not that we wanted to be rich or anything like that."

  • Desire to take advantage of "opportunities"

Nicki Defago is a Britain-based author who recently wrote a book titled "Childfree and Loving It."  She said that for her and many others like her, the decision not to have children was the result of many factors.  "In short it’s because there is so much more opportunity for women these days," she said in an e-mail exchange. "You don’t need kids to fill your life." Defago observed that not having to raise children had given her and her husband a great many material advantages. "We have a wonderful life," she said. "We have a home in London and a home in Spain. We work hard over the summer and take the winter off to travel. We are not tied into school timetables."

Obviously, not everyone agrees with the sentiments expressed by these non-progenitors.  Take, for example, the words of one Evangelical Christian, the president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville:

"God’s purpose in creation is being trumped by modern practices," Mohler said in a phone interview. "I would argue that it (not having children) ought to be falling short of the glory of God. Deliberate childlessness defies God’s will."

So I guess one reason given by those who feel couples should at least try to have some posterity is that God wills it.  That’s good for those of us who (1) believe in God, and (2) believe that God wants us to have at least some children (even one).  Latter-day Saints tend to believe both of these premises, and believe that one of the first commandments given to men on Earth was to "[b]e fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth" (Moses 2:28).  Not that Latter-day Saints believe, as often sterotyped, that they must do so single-handedly…

Short of having a posterity because one believes God commands it, what are some other reasons why couples ought to have children, in your opinion?  Are there more philosophical or other types of reasons, aside from pleasing God, why couples such as those detailed in this article should re-consider creating posterity?

This article has provided a list of why certain couples choose NOT to have children. What is a good list of why we choose to?

Here are some possible reasons, unconnected to a belief in God:

  • Desire to leave a part of us behind when we leave this world:

My children embody many of my physical, emotional, and cognitive traits.  When I die, the part of me that resides in my children will live on through them, and through their children, etc.  Assuming there were no God or life after this life, it would be a way to live on perpetually in some form.

  • Insurance policy to ensure care later on in life

Although one can never guarantee that children will care for their aging parents, I have to believe that most children would not forsake the man and woman who gave them life.  Having children is one way to ensure that we will not be thrown to the mercy of society for care, but will be able to survive well by having recourse to familial resources.

  • Betterment of society in general

By raising the next generation of workers and custodians for this world, we contribute to society’s well-being.

Those are a few reasons I can think of.  However, without God in the equation, these reasons (for the most part) seem just as selfish to me as those propounded by couples who don’t ever desire children.  By selfish, I mean that the reasons are generally self-serving, not that the reasons are bad or somehow evil. 

As the father of four children (one of whom still resides in his cozy uterine home), my reasons (of which I must sometimes remind myself when frustration occasionally causes me to question our choice to have children) revolve around faith in the promises God has made regarding parents having "joy and rejoicing" in their posterity.  At times, I have nothing more than that faith to sustain my decision to have children, because it is often frustrating.  And then there are other times where that faith gives way to certain knowledge of "joy and rejoicing", and I truly have cause to rejoice right at that moment because of the blessings which are my children.

I guess what I am trying to say is that children bring joy, despite their associated inconveniences and frustrations.  They bring joy, both to the couple, the children, and society at large, regardless of whether or not God was a factor in the couple’s decision to bring those children to the earth.  Children enrich our lives and our society in many ways.

While I can understand some of the reasons forwarded by those not ever wanting children, I can’t help but think that this choice ultimately limits happiness, both now and in the hereafter.

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27 Responses to Voluntarily Childless

  1. john f. says:

    This was an alarming story. Greg Fox linked a San Francisco story a few weeks ago at T&S’s notes from all over about a human extinction group that advocated that noone should have any more kids. The group was advocating this in all seriousness. The group also stated in that article that it was not “anti-human” at all.

  2. Jordan F says:

    I just thought of another reason to not remain childless, related to Erika’s post about the orphans. If you can’t have children or don’t want to put your body through the stress of it (another reason likely championed by the voluntarily childless), there are so many millions of children who are not being held or loved at this very moment. Those children need a place to call home.

  3. john f. says:

    The Bishkek baby house post was so very, very sad. The thought of those children growing up like that makes me sick. I am grateful that they have shelter, food, clothing, and care. But I wish much better for them. Erika is to be hailed for her work there. I wish she could have a more permanent impact on them. But I know that nothing she is doing there is in vain.

  4. J. Stapley says:

    I think if we probe why God wants that we be parrents, one will find lots of interesting possibilities. Hopefully, among them is the possibility to become more christlike through progenation and raising children. This doesn’t have to be the case however, look how many people have really messed up families. If people are not willing to change through parenting, then I have to believe that the ardained mandate for such is nullified. No?

    I don’t really view certain beliefs as being particularly valid, moreover, they don’t apply to “gentiles” either. E.g., progeny will result in greater exaltation; and there are righteous spirits waiting to come to us and by not having children we frustrate the plan of God.

  5. harpingheather says:

    People always tell you how kids will break your heart… they forget to say how they put them back together.

    Having children is the single most important thing you can do with your life. That may be over-stating it actually but I feel very strongly about it. Being a parent teaches you so much about yourself. It helps you grow as very few things can. Also it teaches you about love and the nature of love. As an adult it’s easy to think “I love him because he makes me feel appreciated and supported” or “I love Mom, she’s been through so much for me.” Helpless and unable to communicate at first, infants help you exprience what it’s like to love someone or something for no other reason than that they exist. Older children (especially teens) help you love someone whom you completely disagree with!

    Family is the university for love and people who opt out are missing something vital in the experience of life.

  6. Jordan F. says:

    JS:

    The ordained mandate for families is probably not nullified even in those cases. The God-given right and duty to create life still exists, and people need to change to fulfill it. And the duty becomes a privilege if people let it, which you seem to agree with.

    While I think that people have certain duties to be co-creators with God whether they realize it or believe it or not, I also agree that not everyone shares that belief system. What secular reasons are there to have children? I mentioned a few things in my post- can you think of any?

    I don’t really view certain beliefs as being particularly valid, moreover, they don’t apply to “gentiles” either. E.g., progeny will result in greater exaltation; and there are righteous spirits waiting to come to us and by not having children we frustrate the plan of God.

    Hmmm- I see what you are saying here, I think. There seem to be some sort of “folk” beliefs out there among Latter-day Saints in the sort of “Saturday’s Warrior” vein of thought. I personally don’t buy into all the “Saturday’s Warrior” stuff either. However, I do believe that progeny adds to exaltation. It would seem that part of exaltation is your progeny arising up and calling you blessed. At least that seems to me to be part of it. And what greater gift than to share eternal life with your progeny after raising them in light and truth? Do you think that is one way in which God gets some of his glory- through us (his children) glorifying him?

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts here, JS!

  7. Jordan F. says:

    HH:

    Thank you for that wonderful example of how children can bless our lives! I really needed that reminder tonight, since the kids were rather difficult going to bed. Sometimes I wonder if I am really allowing myself to grow from such experiences, or just kicking against the pricks, but that is my problem and not my childrens. I need to remember that, and make myself learn from such things. Thanks for the reminder!

    Family is the university for love and people who opt out are missing something vital in the experience of life.

    Yes- I think this notion is one of the very important things that the voluntarily childless miss out on. Sure you can get through life without a university education, but you may miss meeting your full potential by doing without it (and not even realize that you have not met it! Then again, if a tree falls and nobody hears it, does it still make a sound? Similarly, if you don’t meet your full potential and never know it, does it matter? I guess it does on an eternal scale, but I digress…)

    The point is that I think you make a great spiritual and secular reason why children are such a vital part of any couple’s life- one of the “more important things at stake” that does not necessarily have to be related to a belief in God.

    I’m really glad you mentioned this!

  8. Ronan says:

    Jordan,

    You’re a rich lawyer now. Get a nanny (all the joy of kids, none of the hassles)!

  9. Jordan F. says:

    Ronan:

    Are you available for hire? ;P

  10. J. Stapley says:

    RE: secular reasons for having children. To Love and be Loved, I would posit. But this is far from spiritual mandate.

    To be fair, I’m not sure how I come out on this one. My brother is a pedatrician. He regularly gets to see the fruits of poor parenting. It is hard for me to believe that God wants some of these people to be parents.

  11. Jordan F. says:

    JS:

    I have to believe that God wants everyone to be parents, and good ones at that. Of course, as with every expectation or desire God has for us, people continually fail to live up to it.

    But when I read certain stories in the news about cruelty or neglect towards children, I also wonder why God blesses such people with children. However, the people cited in the Deseret News article would likely all make fine parents, which makes it all the more tragic that they decide not to have children, in my eyes.

  12. Claytonain says:

    I think not enough people are concerned about adoption. If you really want to change the word, I suggest going for that.

  13. Jordan says:

    Good point, Claytonian. I agree with that sentiment in theory and in my heart.

  14. Matt Evans says:

    One of the great ironies of modern life is that those who accept evolution and natural selection are less ‘biologically fit’ than those who reject them!

    My reaction to the explanations of why these couples won’t have children reminds me of conversations I’ve had with political extremists who don’t vote. I feel bad for the person for their false notions of meaning, goodness and happiness, but can’t believe it’s bad for society that wackos aren’t effecting the electoral process or that selfish people are removing their genes from the pool.

    So I guess I’m saying (as one who understands natural selection *and* believes children are an heritage of the Lord) that one secular rationale for childrearing is seeing that childrearing is voting by other means, and it’s hard to argue that it’s a bad thing that fifty years from now sixty to eighty times more people will have Stephen and Sandra Covey’s genes than Bill and Hillary Clinton’s. (Thank heaven for birth control!)

  15. Anon says:

    Some of us grew up in toxic families, and don’t want to recreate that hell.

    Some do that by hunkering down and making sure they don’t repeat their parents’ mistakes. But they also have to become the right person, not just do the right things. Others avoid the hell by avoiding marriage or parenthood altogether.

    At some point in my 30′s, and still single, I realized that I had pretty much turned into my father.

    But what really scared me off was realizing that the women to whom I was attracted and those who were attracted to me (not usually the same set) had too much in common with my mother.

    Those women who attracted me at some level were also the very ones who repulsed me when I found out they had some of the toxic qualities of my mother.

    The concept of God wanting everyone to marry and have children is akin to God wanting every young man to go on a mission. There are some obvious, and some not-so-obvious exceptions.

    He wants us to be not only worthy, but prepared for it. That doesn’t mean one has to be perfect. But if one is the kind of person who is going to abuse their spouse or children, they shouldn’t get married.

    If you’re not prepared or capable, then I don’t think God wants you to do it.

    Sometimes God guides us by giving us desires for something, or by removing those desires. I’ve never had the desire to procreate or raise children. My desire for a marriage partner only existed in me for a short while, and then went away.

    I hope my opinion changes, but “living singly and separately” for eternity sounds attractive to me at this point.

  16. Jordan F. says:

    Anon:

    “living singly and separately” for eternity sounds attractive to me at this point.

    Believe it or not, that has also sounded attractive to me at times since I have been married and started a family. It’s at times like that when I have to have great faith in God’s promises regarding joy and rejoicing in posterity. Note that “living singly and separately” for eternity is different than marrying and deciding as a couple to never bring a child into the world.

    One thing I have realized in my own personal life is that when your upbringing has been less than ideal (even downright hellish) that counseling can help overcome the obstacles placed in a person’s life by such an upbringing.

  17. Jordan F. says:

    and it’s hard to argue that it’s a bad thing that fifty years from now sixty to eighty times more people will have Stephen and Sandra Covey’s genes than Bill and Hillary Clinton’s. (Thank heaven for birth control!)

    But Matt, we need both types of people in this world, that there might be “opposition in all things”! ;p

    Seriously though, I think that all people, even the ones who “selfishly” (not my choice of words, but it is perhaps an apt description) choose not to enrich their lives with children, stand to lose much in their decision to not bear posterity. It seems there will be a void in their lives of which they are not even aware (again, “if the tree falls and nobody is there…”) until it is painfully too late to correct it. I wonder if these voluntarily childless individuals will regret the decision on their deathbeds when they are all alone in the world with nobody to cherish their memories or pass on their good names to future inhabitants of this vast planet.

  18. Anon says:

    Jordan, in regards to having future inhabitants cherish your good name or memory, that can happen with or without posterity. On my father’s side of the family, it’s more like a legacy of passing along the emotional poison.

    I remember my father saying something about his father only two times, and he repeated the same insult both times.

    I am too old to marry someone of childbearing years, and women that much younger than me don’t appeal to me. It is medically advised that I not beget children anyway, but I see that it is possible that I could marry someone who already has children, either minors or grown.

    I agree that the optimum end-life scenario is to look upon one’s righteous posterity from one’s death bed.

    But if the choice is between seeing how you’ve created another hate-filled screwed-up toxic generation, or being childless, I’d choose childless.

    I agree that counseling can help, but I wonder how deep it can go. To use a computer analogy, I don’t need just new application or operating system software, I need a new BIOS. I think it was Elder Monson who mentioned at the April or October 2005 conference, that the programming laid down or imprinted when a child is young, prior to 6 years old, is extremely difficult to change, and usually doesn’t.

    What people often seem to forget, is that the “everyone should get married and have children” injunction has exceptions just like the “every young man should go on a mission” dictum. Some exceptions are obvious, and some are not so obvious.

    When fundamentalist-thinking people take those things as absolutes, they tend to ignore the obvious exceptions, and enter into those endeavors unprepared or unqualified.

    One of the grand blessings of my life is that I had an epiphany of self-realization and seeing my shortcomings, and many of the reasons for my single status. It was a grand movment of “Aha! I get it now!” My father, uncle, and brother have never had that.

    Now when I see the same toxic condition in some of my age peers, I can have a degree of compassion for the poor jerks. And at the same time I realize there’s nothing I can do to help them, and that they won’t have that “Aha!” self-realization moment until they are ready.

  19. Jordan F. says:

    Anon:

    Again, you are single, whatever your reasons, so you are not one of these “voluntarily childless” couples described in this article.

    I agree that people have to carefully consider decisions such as marriage and having children. However, I also think that when someone enters into a marriage relationship, and is of child-bearing age and capacity, that such a person/couple really ought to consider the Lord’s promises to parents and have faith that he can fulfill them, even if both of them come from less than ideal (or even hellish) backgrounds themselves.

    And if the couple does not believe in God, then I am not sure what other reasons they might consider if they had such a hellish upbringing. That’s what I’m trying to figure out- if there are other compelling reasons to say that couples ought to have at least one child to experience happiness as it cannot be experienced otherwise. (note that said couple will also experience pain that it could not experience otherwise. Opposition in all things…)

    The point is that this post is NOT an “everyone should get married and have children” injunction. It IS a call to consider reasons, in opposition to the reasons promulgated by the couples in the article, why every married couple might want to have children whether they believe in God or not.

    Thanks for sharing your experiences here, anon. I really am sorry that you have had such a difficult life so far, and that you did not experience from your family what every child is entitled to experience.

  20. Matt Evans says:

    Jordan,

    I agree that for *their sakes* everyone should vote, and have children, as these are things (participating in society, serving helpless children) that bring genuine happiness. But even though I recognize that they will be sadder, I can’t get too upset that crazy people choose not to shape our government, and that selfish people choose to remove their genes from the pool.

  21. Adam Greenwood says:

    Thanks for these thoughts, Jordan F. I spend a lot of time trying to keep secular childlessness from creeping into the church. I really like your re-orientation of thinking how we can take the church’s view on childbearing to an impoverished secular world.

  22. Adrianne says:

    I actually had a talk with my bishop about this once because I was so upset over the fact that I was expected to have kids.

    A littel background info–I’m probably the most UNmaternal woman in the world. I am also severely outside of the gender role of a woman. I have never wanted kids. Never dreamed about having kids when I “grew up.” Hared dolls and baby toys and was pissed when my boy cousins got Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and all I got was another stupid baby doll and her stupid bassinet to match. I always wanted a career and a position in which I could help other people (hence currently being in law school and planning on someday becomming a politician).

    So, I remember feeling like someone had socked the wind right out of me when it dawned on me that women in the church are expected to be mothers in the same way that men are expected to go on missions. No one is going to break your arm or call you a sinner, but it’s just sort of assumed that you’re less worthy if you choose not to embark in these endeavors.

    After some research, I found out that according to many a prophet, women are not only expected to be mothers, but are apparently breaking commandments when they choose to remain childless and God only wants women to be mothers, in the ideal. Anything else that a woman could possibly do in this life would not even compare to what she could have done had she had children.

    So as I was struggling with this crisis of my faith, wondering why God would make me smart enough to be able to go to law school, love politics enough to want to pursue it as a career, why would He not give me maternal instincts, why would He not chnage my feelings about this no matter how hard I prayed about it, my bishop asked to see me. He was urging me to do something in the church, which I can’t remember, and I said that right at that point, I was delaing with something so huge that I couldn’t possibly think about what he was asking me to do.

    I went over my feelings with him. Mother Teresa? Was her life wasted? Is God looking at her works and thinking, “Well, that’s nice and good and yeah, you did well, but you SHOULD have had kids.” Susan B Anthony? Sally Ride? Etc? All the same thing? Are there accomplishments, as great as they are, only second best to what they should have done? Why would God make women with the feelings and emotions and drive to do things other than be mothers if being a mother was the most righteous path for a woman? Why could I not cultivate these longings for children no matter what I did?

    I spilled my guts out on the table for him, crying becuase I was sure I was a bad person for wanting a career. My motives for this were not then and are not now selfish–it’s not for money and power, it’s because there are so many things that I want to try to help with and fix, even on a small scale. My brothers will never be able to go to college with my parents’ help alone. If I make good money, then I can give that to them and help them out of poverty (my family is very low-income…welfare, WIC etc at times). I want to set up a fund through my school to help intelligent low-income students have college funding as well, because it’s so hard for me to find financial aid and my school has zero need-based funding. Etc, etc. I wanted to help people. So, I couldn’t understand why I would be wrong in pursuing these things because I didn’t want to have children.

    My bishop gave me a sort of silly response but it makes sense if you follow it through.

    He said to me that when he heard I was going into law school, he couldn’t think of anything better for me to do. He knew that I would make a wonderful lawyer, according to what he says, and that he couldn’t imagine a career that would fit me better. He then told me that he was once a soccer coach and a kid kicked the ball in a different direction than what the bishop would have said to do. He yelled out, “No! That’s not the right way!” But he realized after yelling that, that the ball was still going where it was supposed to be, towards the goal, just not the route that the bishop thought to be best. He said to me, “My way was maybe 80% correct. The kid’s way was probably 80% correct, too. And there was probably a better route that neither one of us could see right then.”

    He then told me that for some women, the better route is children and motherhood. For other women, that’s not the best choice. Not that being a mother is bad, or that choosing to be a mother is wrong or wouldn’t be a good choice, even for someone lifke me. But that for me, and people like me, there are other choices that are perhaps more correct and then there are choices that no one can see just yet because we are not in a position to see them.

    My opinion has become that some women are meant to be mothers. Some women are kick-butt moms and they rule. But other women have different roles in this life. Other women have different things that God needs them to do. Maybe kids will come later, maybe not. But I think that there are things we can’t see right now, we don’t know the outcome of our actions.

    Perhaps in the future I become a lawyer. I set up my fund for low-income students. The student I fund becomes a doctor who cures cancer, who otherwise may not have had any route into college. Perhaps my brothers have money to go on a mission where they otherwise may have had more trouble finding it. Perhaps they can go on to college and marry and have kids of their own who become something great.

    God has a purpose and a role for each and every person. I fail to see why the purpose of every single woman that walks to planet from the beginning of time till the end of time is to be a mother. I think that this is a noble and wonderful role in life, but I don’t think that it is everyone’s.

    Just my two cents.

  23. john f. says:

    I think that Jordan’s post was focusing on couples who choose not to have children. Thus, it was not focused on women who feel career-driven.

    But it sounds like you had a great bishop.

  24. Jordan says:

    Adrianne:

    Note that I was talking about how we might entice voluntarily childless COUPLES to consider having children. You do not fit into that category, and I don’t think I ever said anything even resembling some idea that the “church” or the “Lord” expects every woman to have children. However, I do think that there are very compelling reasons why every married COUPLE ought to REALLY CONSIDER having children.

    So I appreciate your comments, but they seem a bit superfluous since the situation I was addressing is nearly 100% different from yours.

    And John is right- you did have a great Bishop.

    Now, I have to run because my daughter just DREW ALL OVER WHO KNOWS WHAT IN PERMANENT INK!!!! Gotta have faith… gotta have faith…

  25. john f. says:

    ha ha! our girls drew all over the walls downstairs in markers last week, but Allison was able to get it off using that magic eraser thingy. . . .

    Wait, all of this undermines your attempt to convince childless couples to jump into the game!

  26. Anon says:

    Ok, I’ll try to get back on topic.

    Perhaps one way of encouraging secular voluntarily-childless couples to consider having children is if they are in the “contributor class.” That is if they are tax-paying contributors and uplifters to society, people who go to work and make a difference, in whatever way, whether it be to the Gross National Product, or to making society a better place.

    One problem with the US demographics now is that those who are a burden to society, those who don’t pay taxes, those who fill up the jails, those who are on welfare, those who smoke, are obese and are a drain on Medicaid, are reproducing at a much faster rate than the “contributors” are.

    The takers or drainers becoming a larger percentage of our society, and those who support them (those who made this country great) are becoming a smaller percentage of our society.

    It was back in the 1980′s when Paul Harvey said that the number of people who receive money from the gov’t first outnumbered the number of people who contribute money to the gov’t. So the contributing members of society have been in a minority for over 20 years now, and the trend is continuing.

    It’s not universal, but it is true in general that the children of producers/contributors become producers/contributors and the children of takers/drainers become takers/drainers.

    There are 3 possible solutions:

    1. Alter society somehow so that the children of takers/drainers have better chances of being producers/contributors.

    2. Get the takers/drainers to reproduce less.

    3. Get the producers/contributors to reproduce more.

  27. Adrianne says:

    Well I’m currently single right now, but I don’t intend to stay that way forever. So eventually, I would be one of those voluntarily childless couples and my reasons will be the same for not wanting to have kids. I don’t think my comments were necessarily superfluous unless we are going under the assumption that I will never be married. However, putting that aside, I have the future potential to become one half of a childless couple. And, more than likely, I still won’t want kids.

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