Could 2009 be the Year to Start a Family?
- Steve & Candice Watters Director of Family Formation at Focus on the Family
- 2009 1 Jan
Compared to getting in shape, getting out of debt or other similar resolutions, one of the biggest goals a married couple can set in a new year is starting their family. Even though current financial challenges and uncertainties might make this seem like a bad time for such a goal, there are still surprising reasons for couples to make this the year to get started.
Babies are wealth
Babies require a great investment from parents -- the expense of their care as well as the costs resulting from lost income can be daunting even for marriages in a strong financial position. Those costs can seem more overwhelming for couples struggling through an economic downturn. Starting a family requires couples to show good economic stewardship, but having a baby need not be out of reach even in tight times. Unlike so many of the depreciating assets people take on, babies are a source of wealth -- delivering returns on investment that are beyond measure.
One of the most challenging times to have children in the United States was during the Great Depression between 1929 and 1939. With investments wiped out and jobs scarce, many couples worried they couldn't take on the expense of babies. But other couples braved it out and found their children to be assets. Among the millions of children born during those challenging days were: the first female Supreme Court Justice (Sandra Day O'Connor), a pioneering black comedian (Bill Cosby), a homerun hero (Hank Aaron), the first man to walk on the moon (Neil Armstrong), the king of Rock n' Roll (Elvis Presley), the first black Secretary of State (Colin Powell), a Christian psychologist who has reached millions around the world (Dr. James Dobson), and many other people of influence.
Couples who take on the costs of having a baby are often surprised to discover ways to creatively re-prioritize their money to make room for something so priceless. Friends and family members are often willing to help them stretch their resources. New parents also may find that many of the estimated costs for raising children can be lowered by living simply and not trying to follow all the expensive trends in baby chic.
Babies add meaning and goodness
One of the welcome side effects of the recent economic crunch is that people have been forced to look beyond their wallets in order to experience the truly good things in life. After getting the message for so long that babies stand in the way of exotic vacations and a catalog house filled with cool gadgets, many couples are finding that it's those (often disappointing) pursuits that stand in the way of experiencing the joys of children. While the Biblical passages saying that children are a blessing might seem at odds with the headaches our culture insists children bring, new life continues to offer the wonder and goodness that eludes us.
Babies shape our souls
Babies require great care -- especially as they emerge into toddlers, kids and then teenagers. The parenting enterprise is not for the faint of heart. It is grueling at many levels. This can be intimidating for many couples who don't feel very mature yet. But it's in committing to the needs of a new life that couples are stretched into greater maturity. Children shape our souls like few other things in life, conditioning us to be more other-centered and to take a longer view of life. The demands of children that frighten so many would-be parents provide the crucible that is most likely to bring out the person God designed them to be.
Babies are a continuous source of hope
Many couples reading today's headlines are convinced that this world is too crazy to bring children into it. And you can't blame them. Trying to raise a child in our current culture can feel like trying to raise a flower in the crack of a New York City sidewalk. But while fear and anxiety are a natural emotion for would-be parents, the choice to be fruitful is an enduring and courageous encounter with hope.
In his book The Mystery of Children, Mike Mason describes babies as "renewers, groundbreakers and world-shakers, bearers of new seed, heralds of a new age." Instead of letting the problems around us frighten us from having children, we should recognize God's pattern of using new life to fix those problems, to bring renewal and fresh hope.
The timing of babies matters
Extended life spans and fertility technology give couples the sense they can put off starting a family. Surveys, however, reveal a growing gap between desire and reality when it comes to having children. While only 2 percent of couples say they don't want children, 20% of couples end up childless. And while 3 percent of couples say one child would be enough for them, 16% find themselves limited to one. Even though couples marry later today and need more time to finish their education and kick off their careers, their window of natural fertility remains fixed. Women today are often surprised to find that their fertility begins its decline when they're in their late twenties, accelerates its drop when they're in their mid -thirties and plummets when they're in their forties.
A couple's age also affects their ability to keep up with children. While couples that wait later to get started might have more money in their bank account, they're more likely to find themselves exhausted by parenting much quicker than younger parents are. This is also true for grandparents. Children need grandparents who can get down on the floor to play with them ... and still be able to get back up.
Babies can be good for marriage, really
Marriage therapists today often seek to correct the myth that having a baby will make a couple happier. They point out correctly that babies add tremendous new stress to a marriage and aren't a good prescription for turning a bad marriage into a good one. What couples don't hear enough, however, is that letting their love spill over into a new life can give them a fresh sense of purpose within their marriage. Parenting will require couples to adjust expectations about their sex life, their sleep patterns and their ability to take off on last minute dates, but the parenting mission can mature and sweeten a marriage over the years when a couple commits to do it "as unto the Lord."
You can trust the giver of life
Looking at your personal circumstances, you might see challenges that would make the next year a tough time to start a family. Psalms 139 reminds us, however, that God ordains the days for each person before any of them come to be. If God has ordained this year as the time for a new baby to be born in your family, you can believe that He is also able to "meet all your needs according to His riches in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:19). Whatever your circumstances, you can trust the creator of life to help you start a family.
Maybe 2009 will be your year.
Published February 2, 2009.
Steve Watters is the director of Family Formation at Focus on the Family. He and his wife, Candice, are the authors of the new book Start Your Family: Inspiration for Having Babies (Moody Publishers).