The Case for Kids
In fact, it no longer makes economic sense to have a child at all. Books, articles, and internet calculators coolly estimate the financial liability of raising a child to adulthood and arrive at staggering figures, ranging from $700,000 to $1.5 million per child. By these calculations, Americans should stop having children altogether.
Yet even though our birth rate is historically low, the U.S. still has the highest birth rate of all industrialized countries. "In short, there is no explanation for why Americans still want children," say the authors of "Why Do Americans Want Children?" (Population Council). The authors of the study conclude that "while the economic value of children to their families has disappeared, their value as a social resource has persisted. Having children is an important way in which people create social capital for themselves." Social capital is described as establishing new relationships between family members.
Few parents are likely to describe their children as "social capital," the term again revealing a sense of investment and expenditure. The ancients did not describe their children so. The Psalmist proclaimed, "Happy is the man whose quiver is full [of children]," and "Children are a gift from the Lord." The early Egyptians valued children and considered them a blessing. They were called "the staff of old age," and families commonly had four to six children, even as many as six to ten. Hispanic culture has traditionally placed utmost value on children. Hispanic writer and poet Rebecca M. Cuevas De Caissie, who is also a mother of five, writes, "Children are not looked upon as a burden that needs thinking and sacrifice to have. They are looked upon as a blessing and as something to be sought after and cherished."
The questionWhat are children for?may be best answered personally, as it is lived out in my own family, not anyone else's. I must begin with an essential piece of information: Most families are larger than intended. The National Institutes of Health says that 60 percent of pregnancies in the U.S. are "mistimed, unplanned, or unwanted altogether." It was not my plan to have six childrenit was God's. Though the last pregnancies were difficult, life was the only possible choice. What else could I say but, like Mary, Yes, I am your servant.
What happens in larger families? Children are more tolerant. They learn that they are one part of a whole much larger than themselves and that the common good usually takes precedence over their particular desires. They also discover the principle of scarcity; they learn to conserve. Their clothes are on loan and passed on to others when they are done. They have to share their toys. They cannot take more food than they can eat, or someone else will not have enough. They can't take long, hot showers, or someone else gets a cold shower. They learn that their singular behavior affects multiple people. They are not the center of the universe.
Children with multiple siblings are also more accepting. They practice living with a variety of temperaments, quirks, and ages. Older children cannot stay safely within their own peer group. They learn to hold babies, sing lullabies, and change diapers. A teenager cannot retreat, morose, into his bedroom every afternoon to listen to his musichis 3-year-old brother will jump on his back and demand a gallop around the room. A 16-year-old girl will trudge through the door from school, worry on her face, to be greeted by a flying 18-month-old jumping into her arms.