Fear Factor: Large Families
By Reed Benson
The way some people act, you would think that attempting to raise a family comprised of many children is something akin to eating live beetles, reclining amongst slithering serpents, or walking a swaying tightrope between New York skyscrapers. It is evident that fear is a large factor in the minds of many when they choose not to have more children. This is revealed in much of the popular culture found in magazines and television programming. Even scholarly articles appearing in esteemed publications portray a family of many children as something risky, fraught with overwhelming challenges and burdens. As the father of seven children, ranging in ages from sixteen to one, and intimately familiar with the inner workings of other similar sized families, I sometimes wonder why are so many otherwise normal people so frightened of children?
I hope to alleviate such fears. And ironically, I will show why you should fear the results that naturally flow from having few or no children. Rather then being afraid of having many children, more people should be afraid of all they will miss if they have a very small family. Without further ado, consider the following fearsome myths associated with many children and the contrasting true facts.
Fearsome Myth #1: "Children are very expensive. If I have many children, we will all live in poverty." If you believe what professional (but probably childless) "experts" declare then you may indeed be scared out of your socks at the prospect of paying for a houseful of children. One professional estimate stated that it will cost $250,000 to raise a child born in 2000 to age 17! Another expert believes that a child born in 2006 will cost $381,000 to reach age 17! Where do they get these numbers? That is hard to say—but in my opinion these writers are clueless. Of course children cost something and my family of seven children does cost more than if I had only two. But really, it does not cost three and one-half times as much, probably not even twice as much. All of the things children need—clothing, food, furniture, transportation, books—get progressively less expensive the more you have. They really are cheaper by the dozen. Large families with modest incomes can still wear high quality clothing, accumulate a houseful of nice things, enjoy a moderate vacation on occasion, and generally live a somewhat comfortable life. Yes, they must budget carefully. Yes, they must economize and bypass many luxuries. Yes, they must purchase some items used, rather than brand new. But, a large family does not mean that your home must be lined with stained peeling wallpaper and threadbare carpet, or that you will drive nothing but embarrassing jalopies, or that your children look like they just escaped from a Dickens novel.
If you are looking for families that have high expenses, don’t look at the ones with lots of children. Look at those that have suffered divorce, alcoholism, drug-abuse, and serious lapses into immorality. Run those numbers and you will discover that that high costs in family life do not come from many children, but from sin.
Fearsome Myth #2: "I will be unable to provide adequate love and attention to so many children." It may be that this fear is well intended. It is nonetheless based on faulty assumptions. Setting wise priorities will allow busy parents to spend time with their children. Many tasks in the house and yard can be done with your child—indeed they should be done together to teach a work ethic. One of the ironic facts about parenting in modern America is that those who have few children spend less time with them than those with many. Why? They are busy with their own recreation at the country club, romantic weekend get-aways, or nights out with other couples. These are two income families that spend their extra money recreating while their children are home with a sitter watching a video. Parents that want to spend time with their children can generally devise ways to do so. As far as making sure the littlest ones have loving hands to help them learn to tie their shoes and so forth, big brothers and sisters are God’s built-in parents-in-training. Their assistance creates many criss-crossing bonds of love in the family unit.
Fearsome Myth #3: "A large number of children will be an unruly mob that drive me and other folks bananas!" This is true if the world’s methods of child training are employed. In fact, if that is your approach, you will not need a large number of children to drive you batty. One or two spoiled brats will suffice. This is why those who follow the super-educated but biblically illiterate child psychologist’s advice will never consider having five or six children because the one or two they have are already pushing them over the thin edge of mental sanity. However, if biblical chastisement using the rod of correction is utilized in a loving but firm manner, the snot-nosed brats will be transformed into respectful and helpful members of the household. Rather than strangers shrinking in horror at your mob when you enter a public place, those same strangers will marvel at your children’s self-control and relative maturity.
Fearsome Myth #4: "I cannot provide a home large enough in which I can comfortably fit all of them." Housing is expensive in our time and I do not want to minimize this challenge. It is true that a family of seven children, such as my own, needs a larger home then if we only had two. But it is also true that a monstrously huge house is absolutely unnecessary. Children do not need their own rooms. In fact, siblings that share a room will be better for the experience for they will be forced to learned the give-and-take of sharing space and things rather then retreat to their own private domain every time a squabble erupts. I have witnessed the effective use of rooms no larger then 12 feet by 14 feet that comfortably house three children through the means of bunks and other creative ideas. It is quite reasonable that a three-bedroom home can accommodate six children: parents in one room, boys in another, and girls in the third. Another reality is that a family of six will probably have the children spaced in such manner that there are only a modest number of years with all six at home. By the time of the arrival of the sixth, the first will not be far from adulthood. The crowded years will be relatively few.
Fearsome Myth #5: "The health of the mother of all of these children will be seriously damaged in the carrying and birthing of them." This sounds like it must be true, for there certainly is considerable physical aggravation both with pregnancy and the actual delivery. Mothers should maintain an excellent diet, including nutritional supplements, during their child-bearing and breast-feeding years. Yet, ironically, God has designed certain mechanisms in the woman’s physical body that not only allows her to handle the extra physical strain, but actually is better for the experience of it. Breast cancer, one of the leading causes of death among women is lowest among women who have birthed and nursed many children and highest among those who have avoided children. Recent studies involving longevity of women indicate that those who have the most children live the longest. Anecdotal evidence in our own family supports this idea. My grandmother, who had eleven children, lived to age ninety-three. My wife’s grandmother, who also had eleven, lived to a few weeks short of ninety. If having children is so unhealthful for mothers, why did these ladies live so long? It appears that there are hormonal changes that occur during pregnancy and breast-feeding that boost a woman’s immune system that are still little understood. Ladies, do not fear what children will do to your health!
Fearsome Myth #6: "A lady will not feel fulfilled in life until she develops her career." This is selfish silliness that even if it were true, is not logical. Biology dictates that if a woman wants a "fulfilling" career and a family, she needs to have children first and think about the career later. With life expectancy for women hovering around eighty, a lady has time to birth and raise a large batch of children and still have plenty of time for a "fulfilling" career. A case in point is Phyllis Schlafly. She raised a family of six children, then she went to law school, and became a fierce contender for conservative values. Had she reversed her priorities, not only would she not have had a large family with many grandchildren, but her credibility as an advocate for godliness would have been limited. Furthermore, since when is the purpose of a career for "self-fulfillment?" Godly men do not enter a career for such selfish frivolous purposes. We work and labor in a career to provide for our families and further God’s work in the earth. There are many men who are "trapped" in an occupation that is difficult and unpleasant. But they remain right where they are because they know they have an obligation to provide the necessities for their families and switching careers in mid-life is not feasible. They do not whine about "self-fulfillment." They simply labor on, seeking to obey God’s commands and demonstrate responsibility. Ladies need to forget about this self-absorbed business of a "fulfilling career" and get on with life’s real responsibilities. In truth, it is the mature shouldering of God’s commanded duties that bring a sense of lasting fulfillment, not chasing feminist castles in the sky.
Fearsome Myth #7: "The tribulation associated with the Times of Jacob’s Trouble will be upon us right away and Jesus indicated that it would be better not to have children under such circumstances." Although Jesus did say in Luke 23:28-29 "Blessed are the barren and the wombs that never bare," this prophecy was specific to the coming destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD and should not be taken as a general exhortation for Christians to avoid having children every time the enemies of God seem to be getting the upper hand in society. There have been far more severe persecutions amongst our European forefathers than anything that is on our present radar screen. Where would we be today if they had folded their tents and stopped raising families? The answer is plain. We would be much worse in such a case; perhaps you or I would never have been born! Cessation of birthing and raising families is exactly what Satan wants us to do!
Is there nothing you should be afraid of regarding children? Well, in truth, you should fear not having very many of them. You will be missing out on a lot! The central concept regarding children is that they are an investment in your own future, just as surely as your 401K, IRA, or securities portfolio. While those who have many children will be enjoying abundant fruit from their investment when their investment matures, you will be missing out! But that is not all. You do not have to wait until your golden years to reap the benefits of a large family! You are going to be missing out on plenty of fantastic blessing from the very get-go. So if you choose to have few or no children, then brace yourself for the following unpleasant realities that any sensible person would hope to avoid.
Fearsome Reality #1: You will miss thousands of laughs that spontaneously erupt when a large batch of children creates jolly commotion. If you like to laugh, have lots of children. Oh yes, I readily concede that not every spontaneous uproar in the household is amusing. But, let me tell you that a lot of them are! And there is nothing like children to pull you away from the worries at work and the adult world. In our house we wrestle, romp, dance, and cavort on the living room floor. Not infrequently everybody is involved in our dog pile of bodies except the infant who is carefully perched in a safe corner watching haplessly, yet plainly longing to participate also. Our evening meal creates a special connection as everyone uses this platform to tell the rest of the family what they really think about such-and-such. Supper is not quiet at our house, but what with tales of the day, corrections to those tales by another person, juicy additions to those tales by yet another, we generally have a delightful time. In short, nearly every day is like an informal party when many children are present! What sensible person would not like to enjoin in such a life?
Fearsome Reality #2: Few children mean there may be no one near to call upon in times of need and crisis. Large families soften every tragic blow and spread the pain. Many children create a fiercely loyal network of comrades when you need a favor. Such needs may be moderate, such as having someone come to rescue you when your car breaks down on the highway. Or they may be more serious, such as when someone breaks a leg and a free babysitter is need NOW. Who knows what troubles life will bring? But rest assured that there will be troubles, and once your children round the corner into their teenage years, they can be a huge asset when a problem sudden rears its ugly head. As your children approach adulthood, they can be even more useful, providing a network of second incomes for financial crises and sources of advice regarding sensitive matters.
Fearsome Reality #3: You will not have the inexpensive labor force you will need when you are having trouble covering all of life’s responsibilities. Your time becomes too valuable, for example, to cut the grass, yet someone must do it. Who? Hire it out at a high price to strangers or work out an inexpensive arrangement with your own growing children that will please both parties? As we age, our bodies cannot always perform as well and some tasks around the house, yard, or farm are simply too physically demanding for us. Without growing children, you have little choice but to hire out the job or leave it undone. But as your children become teens, their strong youthful bodies can do much. From time to time I collect my four eldest, aged sixteen, fourteen, twelve, and ten, and we go to work. Let me say this: with me giving the orders and leading the way, they can lick some tough tasks pretty quick! For lifting, pulling, toting, and packing things around, they are hard to beat at an affordable price!
Fearsome Reality #4: Ladies who never bear children will be faced with the "empty arms syndrome." God will not be mocked. Ladies who put off having children in their twenties and thirties frequently become desperate for them in their forties and fifties. There is an innate longing placed within women to bear and nurture children. Suppressing this is exceedingly unwise. Those ladies who desire children when they are young, but through circumstances beyond their control are unable to enjoy this blessing, will receive unique grace from God. His favor will be upon them, and all things will be made just, either in this world or the next. But those ladies who can have children when they are young, and willfully choose not to, will face God’s displeasure.
Fearsome Reality #5: You will miss seeing the providence of God in meeting needs for your many children. You cannot read the words of Jesus without coming away with the sense that God has a soft spot for children: "Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 19:14). "But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depths of the sea" (Matthew 18:6). Of all the things to worry about, parents should not worry about the basic needs of life of their children failing to be met if we will but do our part. Work as God commands, love your spouse, avoid immorality, and God will not fail to see that what your children need, they will receive. Your faith in God will be strengthened as you see needs arise in the lives of your children and then see them judiciously attended to in marvelous and unexpected ways. Do you want to miss witnessing the remarkable providence of God from a front row seat? If you truncate your family, you just might.
Fearsome Reality #6: You are facing a lonely old age. Who will visit you in your declining years and are too decrepit to leave your cubicle? Will you be relying on other ancient faces with broken bodies and failing minds to cheer your day? Such is the sad and all too frequent nursing home experience. Or will you have created an extensive network of loving grandchildren and great-grandchildren who will brighten your day with childish grins and untroubled eyes? Will the prison-like walls of your bedchamber be blanketed with inexpert but beloved homemade cards and artwork of your descendants? Or will they blankly stare back at you, reminding you of your empty family tree?
Fearsome Reality #7: Who will "meet the enemies at the gate?" (Psalm 127:5). The illegal mass migration of Mexicans and other aliens into our land will press upon us in ways most of us cannot imagine. The day will come in my lifetime when swarthy aggressive aliens, speaking an unknown tongue, will be squatting in our fruitful fields and manicured front yards while law enforcement officials do nothing to prevent such desecrations against our private property and safety. Do not scoff. That is exactly what happened in what used to be safe and prosperous Rhodesia; it has become the corruption-ridden disaster of a nation called Zimbabwe. That is exactly what is happening right now in South Africa where the standard of living is plunging and the basest forms of tribal barbarity and superstition are surging. It is already occurring is certain areas of the southwest United States where illegal Mexicans swarm. Of course, mainstream media outlets rarely report such outrages.
When that happens to you, perhaps twenty-five years from now, and you still have the spirit to resist the roving bands of alien vandals, but you and your wife are alone and you no longer have the physical strength to oppose them, what will you do? You will cower in fear and suffer harm, perhaps even death. But if you have many children and grandchildren who live nearby, you will call devoted young people who have the physical strength and confidence of youth to rescue you and scatter the aliens who seek to prey upon the weak. They will "meet the enemies at the gate" and crush them.
Do You Trust God?
Remember, the Bible presents children as an investment that yield an abundant return in future years. In an agrarian society where there was an endless amount of work to be done it was clear that children were extremely useful. That really has not changed; it is simply less obvious. The failure to have children in an agrarian society before the advent of the nanny state was a disaster that might be life threatening. Now our physical lives may not be in such dramatic danger, but certainly without children our inner man languishes. We do not suffer as much a poverty of the body for lack of children, but we surely suffer a poverty in spirit.
Do not fear burdens or limitations of life that come with a houseful of children. The joys and blessings of children far outweigh such concerns. Rather, fear a life of emptiness; an emptiness that only sons and daughters can fill. Can you think of an older married couple that had many children who wished they had fewer? That is hard to do. Can you think of an older couple that had few children who wished they had more? That is easy. What more need be said?