Voices
Illustration by Ali Douglass

Don't miss the joy

A large family is a gift that 'stuff' cannot replace

Issue: "Homegrown terror," Dec. 5, 2009

Everyone knows we live on an overpopulated planet. Too many people (carbon footprints) harm our environment, causing global climate change, a threat to us all. In addition, increasing population means more poverty and starvation. Responsible adults must limit their family size.

What I just wrote is nonsense, of course, but is religion to environmentalists and accepted by many if not most Americans. In spite of such bleak pronouncements, abundant space remains in and on this world for more people. The sun controls our weather more than we thought. Carbon dioxide helps plants grow. Denmark and Japan, two densely populated countries, experience remarkable prosperity in spite of (because of?) their many citizens. Dishonesty, graft, greed, and corruption seem to contribute more to poverty and starvation in developing countries than anything else.

But what does a socially responsible young adult do about family? Should a couple have children? If so, how many? Is a large family a curse on the planet or a blessing? As Psalm 127 says, "Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one's youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them!"

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I deal with this issue every day in my OB/GYN practice. It's my job to inquire about childbearing desires, an inquiry that always leads to a discussion of family size. The comments I hear are almost always the same: We have the perfect family, a boy and a girl; my husband won't let me; daycare is too expensive; we just moved into a new house and can't afford another child; one child is too much hassle, more would be worse; we want to travel and have fun; we should limit our family to not hurt the planet. Money. Time. Fun. Job. Daycare. Hassle. Husband. Environmental responsibility. Such are the reasons I hear for limiting family size.

I'll ask to share my perspective. If permitted, I do my best to counter such arguments and am occasionally persuasive.

For those with money trouble, I counter by saying there has never been a better time to afford children. Discount stores and thrift shops dot cities and towns. Frugality is not poverty. The most important things a parent can give a child-time, support, love, care, discipline, and training-cannot be bought with money. A strong social safety net protects in the event of hard times. No one starves.

To the hard-core environmentalists, I mention Denmark and Japan as examples of countries maintaining a healthy environment with dense populations and present the view that people are the solution, not the problem.

It's harder to counter the "perfect family" argument and the "we want to have fun" argument. To that I ask if her children bring her joy. And, of course, they do.

Then, if permitted, I share my Thanksgiving story.

Thanksgiving-it's a busy day at the Anderson house. Family and friends arrive from all over, some bringing food, some Thanksgiving cards, some half a gaggle of kids, and everyone their appetites. Decorations of turkeys and pilgrims delight the little ones. The smell of food fills the house. In the kitchen, a passel of women (and men) prepare food in abundance as talking fills the air. Discussions of kids, jobs, cars, church, joys, and sorrows go on between where's-this-bowl and what-shall-I-add-to-this. Toddlers run, scream, fall, laugh, and cry. Babies are admired, diapers are changed, naps go on in the quiet rooms, and comments are made about how every child is taller this year.

Eventually, everyone gathers at the table where I read a thanksgiving Psalm and pray, thanking God for His providence, praying for those in need, remembering with sorrow the close family and friends who have passed on, and blessing those who could not attend. Everyone eats as conversations continue. A few do the dishes, sometimes even joyfully, as most bundle up for the football game outside where someone is always learning the game and someone always gets hurt.

Then I tell her that when she gets to my age, material things-cars, houses, bank accounts-dim in importance. But family, this gift of God, provides abundant, often indescribable, joy. Even with the sorrow of loss, family events like that are as close to heaven as I'll ever get this side of glory. I tell her my desire for her to have children has nothing to do with my OB business, as some joke, but everything to do with her joy. Don't give up the joy! Don't settle for "stuff"-money, cars, homes, travel, big retirement nest eggs-when you can have family!

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