Wednesday, August 26, 2009


In response to the prior post about my rapidly emptying nest, a friend sent me a link to this article Michael Coren: Battling the barren concerning the decision to have or not to have children, and its consequences for the would-be parent in terms of life experience.

Coren's article reminded me of something I'd written years ago along similar lines. Here it is in edited form:

"The recent discussion about the West's segregation of generations from each other prompts me to make a similar observation regarding those who are, as they describe themselves, "childfree": a willfully childless person is selfishly segregating parts of himself from the rest of himself, with similarly poisonous results.

A married couple that decides to not have kids is simply opting for a stunted existence both as individuals and as a couple. In my own life as a father to 5 children, I have likened the transformation of myself from husband to husband/father to that of a larva becoming a butterfly. In other words, the transition from single man to husband was not transformational, having that first child was. And the change was too great to have imagined it before the change was made.

I had felt God as a modest presence in my life prior to parenthood, especially when He gave me my wife, whom I am fabulously undeserving of. In fact marrying my wife was such evidence of divine intervention that she and I from the get-go felt that the marriage involved three people: her, me, and God. But while I was grateful to God for this, I wasn't very much changed by it. That image of a threesome left little question, though, that we'd have children as they came. Having our mutual love continue God's creation by bringing children into the world brought about a complete (but imperfect) change in me. I could not have imagined before parenthood what effect it would have, any more than a larva can imagine life as a butterfly, even if there are plenty of butterflies to observe. How could a butterfly explain to a larva why it should metamorphose, when it's perfectly content to be a larva?

So I tend to see the problem of willful childlessness in terms of what people can imagine. Our image of marriage included God as an active participant, and that let us imagine ourselves as agents of His creation. This was enough to proceed to have kids, whose presence in our lives wrought such profound changes in my concept of self. In other words, my image of parenthood before we had actual kids turns out in retrospect to have been very puny, but it was the best I could do. However, it was big enough to get me to the next step, the step that these childless couples refuse to take. Because they don't imagine marriage as something other than a kind of cozy, shared selfishness, they remain larva.

For all the objections to raising children, such as:
I don't like children;
I can't afford children;
I don't want to give up my career/ interests/ freedom/ options;
I don't want to take a chance that the baby'll be deformed;
I don't think I'm cut out to be a parent;
I offer some responses based on my experience of having children:
Raising children will transform you for the better;
Raising children will turn you into a parent;
Raising children will set you free;
Raising children will elevate your worldview;
Raising children makes you more alive.
Raising children makes you more human.

Unfortunately, Western culture pushes a stunted image of life: simply a chance to consume as much as possible for as long as possible. As Viv Savage said in Spinal Tap, "Have a good time...all the time. That's my philosophy..." And if that is your image of life, then it crabs your image of yourself as a spouse, your image of yourself as a parent, and your image of yourself as a chunk of God.

But I'm optimistic (of course I am, I have kids). My wife and I make it clear to our kids why children are such blessings to parents, and I do the same in 6th grade Sunday School. The kids are curious and interested to learn about God, marriage, love, children and life. They want to hear that stuff has its uses, but is not important. They are ready to imagine that life can be much more the modern world says it is.

But first they have to hear it, explicitly.