The Problem with the Childfree Life
Time magazine has stirred up the social pot again, with its recent cover picturing a couple clearly reveling in "The Childfree Life." In her cover article Lauren Sandler offers a vivid glimpse into the fast-growing world of women "having it all without having children." She not only lets us see the statistics; she also lets us hear the voices of the women they document. The statistics themselves are dramatic: for example, about one in five American women now bear no children, compared to one in ten in the 1970s. We're talking about remarkably quick demographic change.
But the voices are even more dramatic. They express little of the struggle or regret often associated with not having children. In fact, that's a big part of the point: women are making the decision to be childfree and feeling quite happy about it, thank you very much, in spite of a culture they perceive to be obsessed with babies and judgmental toward those who choose not to have one. Most of the comments celebrate the freedom such women enjoy. Laura Scott, for example, says bluntly, "My main motive not to have kids was that I loved my life the way it was."
Looking for the Problem
So what exactly is the problem with these voices and these choices? The basic problem is not that these women deny how wonderful children are and how satisfying it is to bear and raise them—as many others have already protested. "My children mean the world to me," people say. "You're missing out on so much joy without them." Children do bring joy. But childfree people are claiming to find joy elsewhere. In fact, we all probably know many joyful people who do not have children.
Nor is the basic problem that these childfree voices are fundamentally narcissistic—although they certainly appear to be. There is no trace of the view that marriage and childbearing together involve a worthwhile giving, even a sacrificing for the good of another or for anything beyond ourselves. In fact these voices actually regard such giving as foolish or even harmful. One woman who co-habits with a man and his teen daughter expresses appreciation for the way this man "protects her choices"; after all, she comments, "having a daughter in the house 'shouldn't be a reason for you to be held back from things that matter to you.'" Another "happily partnered" source comments, "My plans . . . are free from all the contingencies that come with children."
Such radical self-focus is not the basic problem, nor is the fact that it could result in the downfall of a civilization if widely applied. Sandler does not seem to like author Jonathan Last (mentioned in her section on those who scold childless women). But she does present his argument, from the book What to Expect When No One's Expecting, that Americans' growing childlessness threatens the stability of our whole economic system. Although Sandler points out that we have not yet reached the level of Italy, "where nearly one-quarter of women never give birth," we can't help but see in America's future the decline of Europe's population and economy.
Root of the Problem
The most basic problem is that the childfree life does not take God into account—God the Creator and giver of all gifts, including the gift of life. The Time article is all about children as a human choice; the Bible speaks about children as gifts of God (Ps. 127:3). Even we believers struggle to think straight about this distinction, amid a world full of talk about choosing to have children and when and what kind and how many. It's a complicated subject, but for a Christian it starts with God the Creator and giver of life. Only this God-grounded perspective lets us begin to see the worth of a child as a gift to be rightly and thankfully received. And, interestingly, only this perspective lets us see the worth of a woman to whom God grants or does not grant children. Trusting in our Creator God, we have no need to clamor for other than what he gives, or to seek to please any but him.
Nor does the childfree life take into account God the Redeemer—the merciful God who sent his Son our Savior, born of a woman. Every one of us sinful, self-absorbed human beings needs the mercy of this God who saves his people generation after generation, as babies are born and the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ is passed on and on. It has worked this way since God created the first husband and wife and told them to multiply and fill the earth. (Ah—the Bible reminds us that men, especially potential fathers, need to be heard! This is not just a woman's issue.) Children are God's merciful means of growing his redeemed people, generation after generation, in all the nations of the world. They are infinitely worthy of labor and care—not only of the women who bear them but of all God's people, not one of whom lives childfree. All men and women of God are called in various and distinct ways to pass on the good news to the next generation of believers.
Finally, the childfree life does not take into account the Lord God who is coming again, to judge all and to live with his people forever. In the new heaven and earth, there will be no marriage—and no having babies. This part of human life is temporary, until the whole family of God's people is perfect and complete and shining with the glory of Jesus our Redeemer. Until then, we're in labor! With every birth we're aiming for new birth. Every new child is a gift from our Creator God, another one who needs to hear the good news of Jesus who died and who lives and who is coming again—and another one who by God's grace will declare that same good news in the next generation, as Psalm 22:31 says, "to a people yet unborn."