Having children is an act of faith.
Soon after Christine and I started dating, we discussed how many children we might want, if and when we got married. I, from a home with three kids, said that three was a good number. Christine, who was from a smaller family, said one.
“One?” I said, genuinely surprised. “He’ll get lonely.”
Without missing a beat, Christine replied, “Then we’ll get him a dog.”
Well, after we tied the knot, we never did get the dog, but we did get those three kids, by God’s grace.
But it took a while.
While we wanted to be fruitful and multiply, it never seemed to be the right time, mostly because of finances. We were both in the paid workforce, but neither of us made a lot of money. Believing it would be best for our children if Christine stayed home while I earned the income, we didn’t know how we would make ends meet just on my salary and some freelancing. The money never really added up.
Finally, as Christine was entering her thirties, we decided to do something radical—take the plunge and trust God. Even then, we faced a brief but excruciating delay, as pregnancy eluded my wife for nearly a year, even as we heard the biological clock inexorably ticking. While, eventually, God granted our desires, in that moment we got a very small taste of the agony of those whose ardent wish to have children is delayed or denied.
Then, like clockwork, our children began entering the world. The first was born in May, then the second, then the third, and God responded to our faith by graciously giving us the resources we needed. In the first few years, we thought we had everything under control, but life had other ideas. We have been blessed—and stretched—in ways we never envisioned. Child-rearing is the most consequential job to which either of us has been called; it is also the hardest. And, we have discovered, it never really ends.
Despite the many joys we have experienced (and the inevitable heartaches), little has gone according to plan. Yet, we rest in the hope of God’s good plans for us, and for each of our children. We trust that He who lovingly laid His hands of blessing on the little children will keep His hands of love and guidance on ours.
If you think parenting will be easy, think again. If you believe that following a formula—even a good one—will keep your children in the fold and free from all harm, I have some uncomfortable news for you. Even if you do everything “right,” there are no guarantees. God doesn’t always give us what we want. Yes, He is sovereign, but His purposes often remain mysterious, especially when it comes to our children.
But by all means, have children if you can. They are blessings, even if sometimes difficult ones. Having children is simultaneously a counter-cultural example of faith in God’s provision, hope in His plan, and love for His creation, particularly those made in His image.
Child-rearing can help remove our natural fixation with self while providing the watching world with a living model of God’s patient, self-giving love. It is an inestimable privilege (and responsibility) to help mold the souls of little ones who are going to live forever. As Paul might say, who is equal to such a task? Certainly not yours truly.
And, it seems, certainly not increasing numbers of Americans. Even as the economy booms and the abortion rate declines, fewer and fewer are choosing to bring babies into the world. Last year, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of births in the United States fell for the fourth consecutive year, to its lowest level since 1986. Other than women in their late thirties to early forties, every racial and age group participated in the decline.
Among the factors cited in a report by National Public Radio are a lack of childcare, high insurance costs, and the expense and inconvenience of raising children, not to mention good, old-fashioned fear related to political turmoil and concerns about the nation’s future.
“The birthrate is a barometer of despair,” Dowell Myers, a demographer at the University of Southern California, told NPR. “Not a whole lot of things are going [well], and that’s haunting young people in particular.”
The anti-birth trends are particularly acute in America’s economically vibrant cities. The wealthiest 25 metro areas account for about half of the country’s economy and have an outsized share of its tech jobs. Yet kids there are becoming as scarce as floppy disks. In an article entitled “The Future of the City Is Childless,” Derek Thompson, a writer for The Atlantic, notes, “Cities have effectively traded away their children, swapping capital for kids.”
The fastest-growing demographic in cities such as San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington, D.C., is rich, college-educated whites without children. Families with children older than six, meanwhile, are shrinking. In New York City, the number of babies born has plunged by 9 percent in the 5 boroughs since 2009, and by 15 percent in Manhattan. As Thompson says, “Raising a family in the city is just too hard. And the same could be said of pretty much every other dense and expensive urban area in the country.”
Indeed. “The counties that make up Los Angeles, Chicago, New York City, and Philadelphia shed a combined 2 million domestic residents from 2010 to 2018,” Thompson notes. “For many years, these cities’ main source of population growth hasn’t been babies or even college graduates; it’s been immigrants.”
Other factors in the birth dearth include the demographic trends of delayed marriage and child-rearing, and what is being called a “sex recession.” Apparently, our culture’s obsession with sex is more talk than walk—not necessarily a bad thing when unhitched from marriage and family.
Tragically, our culture’s ongoing flight from God and His life-giving standards for human sexuality has also separated us from some of His greatest blessings, including marriage and children.
There are many ways that Christians can take a courageous and faithful stand against godlessness. Certainly, one of them ought to be, for those of us who are able, to lovingly have children. This commitment will be at points challenging, at others thrilling. But whatever happens, don’t fret. The Lord will provide.
Stan Guthrie is a life coach and a licensed minister, as well as an editor at large for the Colson Center for Christian Worldview. Stan is the author of the forthcoming book Victorious: Corrie ten Boom and The Hiding Place.