Large Families: Blessings or Burdens?
- Monday, June 07, 2010
These days, having more than two children can unleash a tsunami of ire from family, friends and total strangers. "Breeders" has entered our vocabulary as a derisive term for those who have more than one or two kids.
"We believe that children who've been taught to serve God and work hard will grow up to benefit society, to be contributors. Twenty years from now we hope and pray that they will be the teachers, nurses, computer programmers, missionaries, mothers and fathers that our world will need at that time," says Mary Ostyn, author of A Sane Woman's Guide to Raising a Large Family and Family Feasts for $75 a Week. Ostyn lives in Nampa, Idaho with her husband and 10 children, including six adopted kids, ranging in age from 5 to 22 (six girls, four boys).
Ange Coburn, a Gilbert, Ariz., mother of 11 children ranging in age from 20 to six-month-old twins (four girls and seven boys), says she and her husband "opened our hearts to receive as many children as God would like to give us."
"Children are a gift from God—why turn down such treasures?" says Melanie Jeschke, who lives in Vienna, Va., with her husband and nine children ranging in ages from 16 to 31 (three girls and six boys).
U.S. fertility rates reveal that large families used to be the norm in this country. In 1800, the total U.S. fertility rate was 7.04 children per woman, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. By 1850, that number had dropped to 5.42, before falling even further to 3.56 in 1900. The U.S. fertility rate continued to decline throughout the first half of the 20th century before rising briefly to 3.53 in 1960. The rate bottomed out at 1.77 in 1980 and has been on a slow rise ever since. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that the total U.S. fertility rate for 2009 is 2.05—the same as it was in 2000.
While the overall fertility rate has been dropping, so has the number women having more than three children. Census data shows that in 1976, 59 percent of women between the ages of 40 and 44 had three or more kids. Three decades later, the percentage of women in that age group with three or more children had decreased to 28 percent.
Ostyn says the shift to smaller family size can be partly attributed to the move away from an agriculture society, in which lots of children were helpful for farming the land. "I think [smaller families are] also related to the recent generations' devaluing of children themselves, of seeing them as burdens instead of the blessings that God declares them to be," she says.
Cogburn contends that greed and fear contribute toward the downsizing of the American family. "We live in an age where generally people seek happiness in the worldly definition of success—make more money and buy more things. Many do not want to give of their time or give up whatever is required to have more children," she explains.
"They also do not want to bring more children into a world that is growing more evil everyday. I look at it as an privilege, for we have an opportunity to raise godly children who will make a difference in this fallen world," says Cogburn.
One of the charges levied at large families is that those units consume more than their fair share of resources. Jeschke responds that much of the developed world is actually experiencing a birth dearth, not a baby boom. "Countries like France are even subsidizing couples to have children," she says. "I also believe that Christians are one of the earth's most important resources."
"Most large families actually use resources very carefully," counters Ostyn. "Clothes and baby items get used over and over, and less money is wasted on frivolous things, because every dollar needs to stretch. My friends with large families tend towards all sorts of environmentally wise choices—cloth napkins, line-drying clothes, limiting errand-running to certain days of the week, cooking mostly at home—simply because these things also save money."
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