It's not often that a company asks you to "go make babies," but Chicago's National Public Radio Station, WBEZ, is imploring listeners to "Do it. For Chicago." Their surprising marketing campaign, called the 2032 membership drive, also prompts their audience, saying "Hey Interesting People, get a room already. And then put a crib in it."
But NPR may have failed to do their math. In her New York Times essay, "Opting out of Parenthood with Finances in Mind," Nadia Taha estimates the cost of raising a child at a whopping $1.7 million. At that amount, if WBEZ listeners follow the station's advice, they wouldn't have much left for philanthropic contributions.
Recognizing the potential economic disadvantages of starting a family, Taha and her husband decided "that the single decision that can best help us achieve [our financial goals] is one that many newly married, affluent young adults don't usually consider: Don't have children."
Money talks. Money decides. Although we may not follow Taha's extreme advice, we too can be tempted to let finances decide the size of our families. However, as Christians, we need to challenge the uncontested assertion that money should act as the primary factor for making such decisions (acknowledging, of course, that our ability to conceive isn't really up to us).
I grant there are economic considerations to having children. Days after I discovered that my surprise pregnancy was a twin pregnancy -- we already had three children at the time-- my actuarial husband worked to reconfigure our college savings spreadsheet. It didn't look good. If we hoped to send our children to the private Christian college we'd both attended, we'd need to start saving more money than we earned.
I can sympathize with families who ask, "Can we afford more kids?" and "Where would we live if we did?" We aren't the Duggars, but as a family of seven, we struggled to secure a place to live when we recently moved to a large city (Toronto). Buying a house is expensive, and renting isn't so straightforward. "Too many children," one landlord insisted.
We can't add up the costs of a big family without acknowledging the advantages, though. Having more kids, which necessarily divides a parent's attention, forces children earlier into roles of responsibility.
In her essay for The New Yorker, "Spoiled Rotten," Elizabeth Kolbert writes that Americans are raising "a generation of kids who can't, or at least won't tie their own shoes." Her essay is a haunting look into the way American parents baby their children, and a quick panorama of some new parenting book titles-- The Price of Privilege, The Narcissism Epidemic, Means Moms Rule, A Nation of Wimps-- suggests we have a new crisis on our hands: parents expecting less of their children at home, and kids mastering fewer and fewer life skills.
Not in my house. "Conscientious" is a word my husband and I consistently hear applied to our children, though we wouldn't credit ourselves for this. Our children simply have to remember their lunch boxes, field trip money, and gym shoes because it's unlikely we will. Moreover, their contribution to the household in the form of consistent chores is necessary and needed.
Sally Koslow, author of Slouching Toward Adulthood, suggests, "The best way for a lot of us to show our love would be to learn to un-mother and un-father." Maybe it's regrettable that my husband and I can't do more for our children... but maybe our "un-mothering" and "un-fathering" allows them just the room they need to grow into responsibilities of their own.
Regardless if yours is a small family or a big one, we need to ask ourselves: Do we continue to allow culture to shape our vision of the good life? Does the state of our bank account take priority over all things?
Marilynne Robinson, in The Death of Adam, laments the way economics imperiously rule in our culture today. "Suddenly we act as if the reality of economics were the reality itself, the one Truth to which everything must refer."
Unfortunately, I can't say that my husband and I believed in the benefits of a large family before it became our reality. Even today, as I sit in our basement playroom to type this article, I realize what the mathematical factor of five does to a life. (It's a mess.)
If the good life is measured by financial security, economic flexibility, even Pinterest-perfect homes, having more kids may indeed jeopardize these goals. But if we take our cues from Scripture, we can't help but admit that children aren't liabilities. They are assets (Ps. 127:5).
It will simply require faith to suspend our disbelief.
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