Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The ChildFREE Life

There was a time when the term was childless -- an acknowledgement that whether chosen or imposed, the lack of a child meant something was missing.  It implied that children were not only implied but essential to the definition of marriage, family, and, dare I say it, life itself.  But not anymore.  We have changed a suffix, merely four letters, but that change has brought with it a sea change in the way we think of life, marriage, family, etc...

TIME Magazine's August 12 cover story was called The Childfree Life - When having it all means not having children.  The story has generated a good no shortage of conversation, controversy, and commentary. The cover photo says it all.  You see a good looking, young, couple laying comfortably upon a beach, gazing up at the world with a satisfied look that says "we have it all."  But what is conspicuously missing  are a wedding ring and children. 

The point of the cover and the article is not only that this is an option but that is more and more the preferred option among young people and that it is a completely morally acceptable choice.  There was a time when having it all meant having it all, literally, with a spouse, children, career, and personal life.  This was the initial focus of the feminist movement with its judgement that women had been deprived of having it all and therefore a revolution in society was necessary to make it possible for women to have what men presumably already had.  Now the mature movement has gone well beyond the limitations of the past and marriage has been replaced by friends with benefits or hook up relationships designed to satisfy the need for affection and sex without real intimacy and children have become more an impediment to personal pleasure and achievement than an ingredient in the mix.

There is no denial that marriage is increasingly optional or, at best, a delayed choice in America.  Statistics tell us the birth rate in America is the lowest it has ever been (not as low as in many European countries but certainly following the European trend).  In addition the reasons for NOT having children have expanded.  The traditional reasons of career, economics (high cost of child rearing), and fear of the responsibility have been supplemented with more subjective reasons of dislike of children, belief that it is not smart to bring children into the world in which we live, and the idea that they would not make good parents.  Interestingly, the more highly educated you are, the less likely you are to have a child!

In the past children were not merely integral to marriage and family, they were integral to society, culture, and community.  We lived around good schools, in homes designed for family needs, in a neighborhood with other children, and our lives connected through our children's activities (from school to sports to music to scouts to hobbies, etc...).  Now, schools are often viewed as expensive burdens resented by those without children.  Our experiences at restaurants, movie theaters, and shopping are better off when children are not present.  We live more in more densely populated areas in which access to adult recreational choices are more significant than anything else in the choice of where to live.  Now, the choice to have or not to have a child has less to do with a choice to marry or not to marry and everything to do with the freedom desired by the individual to pursue individual desire unimpeded and unencumbered by the excess baggage of a child.

In the past marriage and children were the marks of adulthood but today we live in a world in which adulthood, marriage, and children are not the highest of goals for a generation that worships youth, freedom, and a lack of strings attached to life.  In short, who wants to grow up if growing up means accepting responsibility for more than yourself, carrying the burden for others, and sacrificing personal desires for the sake of another?  This is, perhaps, only one more evolution of the "me" generation -- a generation far removed from what many have called the "greatest generation".

So what should the Church do?  There are many who believe that it is too late to do anything.  There are many who have taken a sort of refuge mentality in which the Church is sanctuary for those who have retreated from what is happening in our culture.  There are many who insist that we cannot change the push for gay marriage nor can we undo what has been done to the ideas of marriage, family, and children.  I think that there is something we can do.  But in order for us to do it, we will have to abandon the constraint of culture and act and speak as distinctly as we are in Christ.

A personal example.  Not long ago a family in our parish with two little ones announced that they were expecting a third and some, many in fact, sighed the knowing sign of disapproval.  You already have your hands full and children are costly and your resources are already spread thin and you have no family locally to help you out... and so on...  In other words, in the very church where this choice should be celebrated, a young couple often finds folks whose views have been so shaped by the world around them that they also think enough is enough.  A child.  Maybe two.  But why anymore?  We have for too long allowed the world to shape not only our values about life and success but about marriage and family.  What we can do is to begin talking again about children as gifts and blessings, about the nature of love which delights in sacrifice, and of the noble vocation of being a father and mother.  What we can do is change the minds of those within the congregation and then, just maybe, we can begin to challenge the false images of a full and happy life outside the church.


Unknown said...

Here's part of the problem and I know you won't see it the same way. I posted on this sometime earlier about the service liturgy for weddings in a Lutheran church. If Lutherans keep on making childbirth as something that is only God's will, how many people do you think are going to say "we don't have children because it's God's will." They're going to use it as an excuse. No children=God's will, even though the couple is practicing birth control and has no intention on having kids. As long as Lutherans and other Christians keep insisting that children is not a requirement (poor choice of words, I know; I'm really not trying to be legalistic about this), but something "nice" a mere "add on" to marriage, can you really be surprised by this? I'm not.

The problem is that Lutherans have routinely dropped the ball over the years, condoning birth control and paying more attention to marriage as happiness rather than fulfilling God's first command to Adam and Eve.

Anonymous said...

The same thread running through your "Islamic Dollar" post is present here. Either you are being catechized by the culture or the Church, and when the Church does not speak clearly about what the whole counsel of God teaches regarding stewardship, procreation, materialism, self-sacrificing service, etc. etc. there will be problems. It is not legalistic to instruct Christians about how to walk as children of light and to try and learn what is pleasing to the Lord - it is Biblical. This is closely related to the LCMS muddle about the third use of the law.

Anonymous said...

I really think you are mistaken. I know of no one who has heard the words from the liturgy and used them to justify their refusal to allow for the potential of children (meaning birth control). What this refers to is that there are many couples (1 in 6 by some estimates) who are infertile and therefore, unable to conceive apart from God's will and miraculous intervention. That does not mean they have not sought out adoption but this is not easy anymore (abortion has taken care of children who might have been adopted).

BillS said...

The Author is simply making the same 'mistake' that he is accusing the childfree...

The author is idolising something that isn't God. Let me show you why:

"In the past marriage and children were the marks of adulthood but today we live in a world in which adulthood, marriage, and children are not the highest of goals for a generation that worships youth, freedom, and a lack of strings attached to life."

There is no mention of God in this. Instead, we have idolising 'youth and freedom' over 'marriage and children' as the cause of the 'problem'.

What should the church do? "change the minds of those within the congregation"

Where is God in any of this discussion?

The couple expecting their third child may well have had issues with coping with their first child? - having a third? - finanical concerns are quite valid. If they do not have enough money to raise another child.... And as they didn't have any local family, then who is going to help them?? Is the author going to take days off work to look after a sick child, change nappies, etc ?

Sounds like the congregation had some very sound and valid concerns that should have been picked up by the church elders.

Children are a blessing - not a curse... If a child is going to be curse, then where is God's plan in that?

Not everything is better with a child...
Restaurants are far nicer without screaming children, as are cinemas and any other Adult orientated activity (even going to church is often better without the hindrance of a screaming child!)

I can glorify God much, much better without being encumbered by the baggage of a child...

Anonymous said...

I need to comment no further than to quote what you have written:

"I can glorify God much, much better without being encumbered by the baggage of a child..."

As long as children are baggage and an impediment to your faith, we are in big trouble in the church and in the world...

BillS said...

I'm not sure what you mean by that Anonymous.

My faith in God is certainly not dependent on having children - and there is certainly no Biblical or Theological reason at all to suggest that having children enhances one's faith.

If anything, children are a distraction from your own faith, as time and effort is removed from God to look after the children.

If you are suggesting that the only way in which we can glorify God is by having children, then yes, the church is in trouble. And quite rightly so, for that is heretical teaching...