Monday, June 27, 2005

The Value of Children Part 2

In this first part of this little discussion, I argued that children are undervalued in this culture. I do not think that we actively realize this, but I find it to be true nonetheless. That is, many would agree that it is atrocious to abort babies. However, those same people often opt for two children at the most, and spend most of their married lives avoiding conception through artificial means. That just seems odd to me.

So, a legitimate question must then arise, "Okay Brad, then how many children are enough?" If children are truly worth more than gold, then shouldn't we try to have as many as possible, even if that means 15 or 20? Well, I actually do not believe that that sort of number would normally be generated in the course of a marriage. Most of our forefathers and foremothers did not have access to any sort of fertility drug, that got married at around 17, and still averaged only around six to eight children. The reason that we assume a contraceptive-free married will result in legions of children demonstrates two things:
1. We really do not understand reproduction very well.
2. It betrays our underlying paranoia about having a bunch of children in the first place.
Think about it like this, if we were really convinced that children were worth more than gold, then I think that we would find the opposite sort of mentality. That is, we would enter marriage afraid that we wouldn't be able to have enough children, and that a good number to shoot for would be around five. Any more than that would be lagniappe (that's South Louisiana speak for "a little something extra").

Now, let me make this much clear. This is a blog where I voice my opinions...mostly to myself. I view this undertaking as an excercise in thought. Mainly, I am trying to argue as persuasively as I can one point of view in order to explore certain Biblical and reasonable outcomes. So, let me be honest with myself. The ramifications of this argument frighten me half to death, and if my wife gets wind of this blog, she may throttle me. So, if this sounds like I'm doing this theological process from some ivory tower, I can guarantee you that I'm not. I have one son right now, and my wife's opinion is something like, "Two more and that's about it, pal." I sympathize with her. After all, she's the one who has to carry these children and birth them. I just sort of stand around and worry.

So, if my own blog meanderings frighten me, what sort of affect will this line of reasoning have on my wife? Or your wife? (If anyone actually reads this.) Most importantly though, what does the Bible say about children? How about this quote:

"Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one's youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them! He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate" (Psalm 127:3-5).

From these verses, I see that children are a heritage from the LORD and a reward. They are given to us for protection. What else does a warrior use arrows for? And why does he not need to be ashamed to speak to his enemies? His children make him strong.

I am not certain what a "quiver full" means, but I am certain of this, it does not mean "one or two". I use my bow to hunt with, and I have never gone into the woods to hunt harmless deer with only one or two arrows. I can't imagine sticking two arrows in a quiver if I were going off to war. Of course, if I were going to war I'd jam about 50 arrows into my quiver, so that really does not help either. Basically what I know now is that a quiver full means more than two, but I don't think it requires 50. A half-dozen seems like a good number. I'll have to think on this for a bit longer.

9 comments:

KathyJo said...

Just a few thougts...

I'm against abortion because I believe life begins at conception. I'm not against birth control because there is NO LIFE before conception.

I do agree that children are undervalued in our society. However, I would like to point out that undervaluing children is NOT necessarily the reason for birth control for many of us. I have 3 sons, and we haven't decided yet whether we plan to have more. And yes, part of this decision is about how many children we can afford--NOT monetarily, but in time and attention. My love can continue to grow for every child added, but my time is finite. And sadly, many people honestly can't afford more children monetarily, not because they don't want to lower their style of living, but because their style of living can't go any lower.

And finally, my father-in-law was one of 15 children. On my father's side of the family, mostly Catholic (although I'm not), there have been numerous families with 10+ children. So 6-8 isn't necessarily the norm for all people. I know of one "quiver full" mom who's oldest child was 16 or 17 when she was pregnant with baby #10 just a couple of years ago.

Anyway, as I said, these are just a few thoughts I've had since I read part 1. :~) If God sends us a surprise package, we'll love that child and feel extremely blessed. And if we only have our 3 children, we'll continue to love these chidren and feel extremely blessed. But neither scenario really says anything about how we value children.

Sojourner said...

kathyjo,

I am ridiculously grateful that you actually came here, read the articles, and took the time to write such a cogent response. Thank you for helping me think through this.

In my post, I was not trying to equate contraceptive use with abortion. My point was to point out the fact that I see a logical inconsistency between we who claim to love and cherish children so much, and yet do everything in our power at times to keep them from happening.

I want to think with you on some objections that you raised to my line of reasoning. Trust me, your objections resonate with me. I have thought, and still think about most of what you say here. Like I mentioned, this is my attempt to work through this extremely important issue. I am sort of playing the 'devil's advocate' with myself here.

You say that the reason you opt for birth control is because you worry that too many children will mean that you will not have sufficient time for each and that some will wind up neglected. It is a legitimate concern, but I wonder if it is true.

How do we decide how much time an individual child requires. (It is variable, I would say, with each.) Further, by having fewer children, do you think that we risk the opposite problem? That is, do we overindulge our children until they are spoiled? I see that problem as often as I see neglect. And I must say that when I have seen neglect, it had nothing to do with the number of children a person had.

Secondly, you state that many people cannot afford children. I really struggle with this objection. First of all, I do not believe it. Yes, there may be some. But to say that there are 'many' in this situation, at least in the USA, is an exaggeration. I noted the 'poverty' of my great-grandparent and grandparents who had multiple children. (9 and 6, respectively). Yet, they survived. Further, I was a missionary to a very poor part of Brazil for several month. Some actually lived in homes with dirt floors. And again they survived with multiple children.

You said that your father-in-law was one of 15 children? How did they survive? Do you think that was a blessing or not? Biblically, that would be a blessing. People in ancient times would have rejoiced at such a number of children. The problem I see is that we view such numbers as weird. As for the woman who had child #10 with a 16 or 17 year old child, I know a woman who is having number 12 with two in college already! (They are Protestant, also.) And, they live on a pastor's salary.

The thing that has really stirred me about this is the 'time and attention' thought. I may write a post about that to explore it further.

weorwe said...

You're getting at something I've thought about too, and been equally scared by. Once I got engaged and then married, I found the idea of birth control increasingly alien. I'm terrified of having children, mainly because I know how selfish I am, and also because even the best-intentioned parents will do things that hurt their kids. The idea of me and my husband "deciding" or "planning" to have children (or not or when) increases my anxiety and sense of responsibility -- the obligation to decide or plan wisely. On the other hand, not using birth control means children happen or not according to biology and God's will; it's no longer my burden to plan or decide for them, but to accept them (or accept not having any) by grace. Am I merely fleeing a necessary responsibility, or am I freeing myself from an unnecessary one? It's an interesting question.

KathyJo said...

I understood that you weren't trying to equate birth control with abortion. I was just pointing out why, for me, it's not a "logical inconsistency" to believe that one is okay and the other is not. :~)

You asked how my FIL's family with 15 children survived. The answer is, they were dirt poor and the children went on to their own lives with the conviction that children should be limited in number. They don't see 15 children as a blessing, they see 15 children as a problem.

I think I have a different perspective on the monetary issues than you. I grew up very poor. I'm not talking poor as in we didn't have a big screen TV; I'm talking poor as in Mom barely had the money to feed us, and sometimes feeding us meant not having enough to pay utility bills. Poor as in there was a period of time when she hitchhiked 30 miles back and forth from work everyday because she needed the job and we couldn't afford ANY kind of car. Poor as in there were times when we lived with relatives because we had no place to live. Things were better as I got older, but that's how things were for many years. It does happen here, and probably more often than you think. And sometimes I think it's worse for people living in this country to live in poverty, to be surrounded by so much and to be despised for your lack. It leads so often to feelings of hopelessness and helplessness and bitterness. And there but for the grace of God...

I don't really see neglect or overindulgence as problems that arise strictly from the number of children, but rather how parents handle the number of children they have. When I speak of time and attention, it's as a homeschooler who's trying to balance the needs of my baby, my toddler, and my 3rd grader. I know that there are those out there who have more children than we do, and who homeschool them all. My hat's off to them for doing a terrific job because I can't even imagine attempting to homeschool 9 or 10 children.

Basically, I guess it comes down to this for me: I think this is a subject that every couple must work through. My disagreement was NOT from your thoughts on the best way for YOU and YOUR family to deal with these issues, but rather the implication that there's only one correct way for Christians to deal with this issue. If you think it's a sin, then for you it's a sin. But, that doesn't make it a sin for me.

Biblically, I'd have to point out that Paul was content to remain unmarried and celibate, and felt it was the best way to go on, which certainly produces no children. Was he wrong, then, to deny himself the blessing of children? Or is it okay to not have children only if we're also not having sex? :~D

Anyway, I hope you meant it that you welcome the discussion. I think it's important to drag out our beliefs from time to time and re-examine them, and it's just not possible to do that with people with whom we agree completely. Plus, I just love a good civil argument. ;~)

KathyJo said...

Oh, and I forgot to mention...

Natural childbirth, 3 times. When they say that women forget about the pain, they LIE. The very idea of going through that six more times makes me want to curl up in the fetal position under my desk and refuse to leave. ;~)

Sojourner said...

Marcy: I understand the anxiety. That's why I began these posts. I am trying to understand what God would have me do, and what would be most honoring to Him. That's the goal that we are shooting for here.

I also find birth control (BC) to be unnatural. That's because, well, it IS unnatural! In fact, when you do a little research and find out who began pushing for women's BC, you may be shocked at the motivation behind it. Just to further make myself look like an ancient throwback, I will confess that I have serious problems with modern day conception methods. (I.E. Additional fertilized eggs that are just "out there," frozen, never to be used. I am uneasy with these things.) Thank you for you comments and for reading!

Kathyjo:
You and I have a huge amount of agreement on this issue that shouldn't be overlooked. First, we both love our children and believe that they are precious beyond words. Secondly, we both believe in the sanctity of life, and that a 'fetus' is a sacred human being. Third, we both adore a civil argument.;)

Having said that, I want to pick up on something that you said about being poor as a child. I do understand that poverty exists in this nation, as you have so well illustrated. However, what I would ask is this: Do you think that your mother would be better off if you had never been born? Certainly, she would have had more disposable income if you weren't around, and she would have had one less mouth to feed. But, in the end, do you think that she would trade you in if she could do it all over for a little easier life?

And for your father-in-law, which one of those 15 kids regret that their mother had THEM. I agree that it was hard and painful, and I cannot say that if I had to choose that's the road I would take. This is actually what makes me uncomfortable with myself. Am I choosing an easier path because I do not believe additional children are worth the struggle.

I believe, and you can tell me if you believe that I am wrong, that the average non-Catholic stops at two children because they enjoy the financial freedom that having less children brings. I.E. Two new cars, 2,000+ square foot homes, etc.

It is only after we have children that we understand their value as individuals. Sure, I loved children before I had one. However, my son is unique, and I see special things in him that go beyond his essential value as a "human". I am certain that you would argue the same for your children.

I am not trying to form a sort of legalistic ideal for number of children. I just wish that more Christians would consider their motivations for limiting themselves of what the Bible clearly outlines as a blessing. If provision is the worry, then doesn't that give us the opportunity to trust God to provide for what He has given?

KathyJo said...

I have never met a woman who regretted the children she had. But by the same token, it's extremely rare that I've met a woman who regretted not having more children once she stopped. At this point, more children are just a possibility in my mind. I don't look around the house and miss the little faces that might be here in the future.

We do have large areas of agreement, I don't deny it at all, and I hope I didn't imply it. :) Neither will I deny that many people DO limit children purely for the sake of maintaining a standard of living. The same argument applies to couples who choose to both work, leaving no parent at home for the children. (And off topic, the two income people never bother to calculate just how many of their expenses are BECAUSE of the second job.) And I absolutely despise some of the attitudes people have towards children these days. When I was pregnant with my third son, I had a number of people, perfect strangers, say to me, "I guess you're trying for your girl," as if there could be no other reason for a woman to have a third child. We've had people refuse to sit near us in restaurants once they saw our 3 children, even though the children were behaving better than many adults do out in public.

And like you, I hate it that people have eggs fertilized but then deny life to those children, because they ARE children in my mind. However much I sympathize with people who have trouble conceiving, I can't approve of that. And I hate it that many people who would never have an abortion see it as okay to take a birth control pill that does NOT prevent conception, it only prevents the fertilized egg from implanting. But those are black and white issues for me, where limiting the number of children conceived is decidedly gray. :)

I look forward to seeing what you do with your blog. When Waterfall announced you, I hopped over because I've read some of your writing on ThirstySoul.org. And I agreed with most of it. ;)

spIDER said...

First of all, I'd like to make the comment that this is a great discussion that gets into personal opinions and Biblical truths. One is an absolute, the other is not. I appreciate the way in which this blog is handled maturely. A few ideas that I would like to throw out. Being in the medical profession, I have mixed opinions on the "birth control" issue. When you mention "birth control" you cover an enormous amount of methods from condoms to injections to abortion. Basic "birth control pills" have 2 functions in our society. 1-They prevent a woman from becoming pregnant. 2-They regulate menstrual cycles and reduce menstrual pain and discomfort. I believe God gave us a brain and the ability to advance our learning. In doing so, we have discovered a way to prevent many women from experiencing a large amount of their life in a sick, nauseated, and unpredictable "womanhood". For this reason, I see no Biblical reason to not support "birth control pills". Unfortunately, "birth control pills" have also become a tool for our society to regulate childbirth and allow for uncontrolled sexual conduct. For the record, I have 1 child (27 months) and my wife and I had a miscarriage 6 months ago @ 6-8weeks conception. My wife does take birth control pills. We feel it is our responsibility to communicate (by praying and reading the Bible) with God and he will tell us when we should have children. That is why we have no issues with her taking birth control pills. Our God knows how many children he wants us to have and only he can truly decide how many we will have.

In my profession, I see many adults and children that are having children of their own. It personally breaks my heart to see a loving family who struggles with conception. We have no idea why this happens, but it does, and it is very, very common. My brother and his wife are incapable of having children and have recently adopted a child from Russia. They will one day tell her that her mother and father in Russia did not give her up for adoption, but that God placed her with her REAL earthly mother and father. I believe God has a different plan for every person and that also includes how many children a man and wife have. I believe he has in mind for some couples to have 1 child and some couples to have 10 children or more. On the other hand, I see some women who are having multiple chldren from multiple fathers out of wedlock. I have found myself falling into the temptation of saying, "Some people need to be neutered". It seems that this becomes a vicious cycle from generation to generation. But, if we truly believe that God values each and every life and that God himself is perfect, than when a woman has a 6th child from a 6th father and has no income to support herself, should we rejoice at his creation? It's so hard to rejoice at such a desperate and seemingly hopeless situation. But this is His creation! A creation that is a life and a soul and why shouldn't we rejoice? This is such an incredible struggle.

I hope something I have said has been an addition to this discussion. Forgive me if my thoughts are random, for it is late, and I often type as I would talk. God Bless you all and all of your Children!

Deb said...

We have four arrows in our quiver, but I guess I'm one of those extremely rare cases (mentioned in a previous comment) of a woman who wishes our quiver were fuller.

We don't use birth control, and our youngest is 18. In all these years God saw fit in His wisdom not to bless us with more than the 4 we have. But we let Him decide that, not us.

I agree with ThirstySoul and think the Bible does tell us that children are a reward. Why wouldn't we want as many blessings as He would give us?

Who knows but child #7 would be a great evangelist? Or child #5 would be the Christian doctor who brings the Good News to many on the mission field? Only God knows what He has in mind and how that next child will shape our lives and our attitudes that need changing to bring us closer to Him.