Modernity isn’t sure whether children are a burden or a blessing. The percentage of childless couples in the U.S. has nearly doubled since 1980. The cover of Time magazine recently bragged that increasing numbers of couples are remaining childless by choice, because they subscribe to the philosophy that having it all means not having children.
Let’s face it, raising children entails a great deal of work and they frequently act ungrateful for it all. (How grateful were we to our own parents when we were young?) Children are not unalloyed blessings. But neither can they be reduced to burdens that cramp our lifestyles or our pocketbooks.
Children are people with their good points and their bad points. Their personalities are more immature and unformed than most adults’. But imagine how we adults appear in the eyes of God. How immature, whiny, panicky, and selfish do we normal struggling Christians appear as compared to the saints and the angels? Our children probably don’t test our patience more than we test God’s.
In helping our children to set their feet on the path to heaven, we are doing God’s work. We are also developing an awareness and gratitude for the unseen or even unwanted help that God gives us every day for the sake of our own spiritual progress.
Children were always considered a great sign of God’s favor in the Old Testament. The Psalms joyfully proclaim to the righteous: “Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house; your children will be like olive shoots around your table” (Ps. 128:3) and “Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the sons of one’s youth. Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them.” (Ps. 127:4-5).
Many couples struggle with decisions on how many kids to have. I’ve spoken with several men and women who would cheerfully have had more children, but their spouses didn’t want to. Sometimes the fathers worry about providing for more children. Sometimes the mothers worry that they can’t handle the physical or emotional stress. Ultimately, the decision should be a joint one between the couple and God. Husbands and wives should try to understand one another’s reasons and make peace with them.
The way we grow up has a powerful impact on our perspectives about children. My husband Manny, for example, grew up in a household with four children. His family in Spain produced untold numbers of cousins. One aunt and uncle held almost legendary status by bringing forth seven sons and no daughters at all. In complete opposition to that, my parents had two children, carefully spaced eight years apart, so that we could be raised as two only children.
Added to our different family backgrounds are Manny’s and my different personalities. My husband is cheerfully optimistic about nearly everything and I spot disaster around every corner. Needless to say, this affects how each of us approaches making big decisions about our future. So far, we’ve compromised on six children (which, in all honesty, is more than we either anticipated). Through constant communication, Manny and I have made sure that the issue of “how many kids” hasn’t caused too much friction between us.
Children can be both a blessing and a burden, but with God’s help and both parents’ cooperation, the yoke will be easy and the burden will be light.