I remember noticing her frantically walking through our yard looking for something—or someone. Opening the front door, I went to her, eager to help. “Did you lose someone?” I asked. She looked about my age, and I was worried maybe she was missing her child.
“Yes! Have you seen her? Normally she’s not gone this long. I’ve called and called, but still no response. She’s white all over, with a black spot on her tail.”
“Oh.” I said, relieved. “From the look on your face, I thought you were missing your child.”
“She is like my child!” she said, intensely, earnestly. “Please let me know if you see her.”
After she left, I prayed with our kids that she would find her cat. And then we had a conversation about what would cause someone to treat a pet like a child. It’s obedient stewardship of God’s creation to love and care for pets. But, it seems increasingly common for couples to forego children, only to treat their dogs and cats like they would their own offspring. In fact, in some towns, pet boutiques are far more common than shops for children; parks are for pets only; and the pressure’s on to keep things quiet and child-free.
Enter Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed, a collection of 16 essays by “literary luminaries” who are defensively child-free. The book promo says it “makes a thoughtful and passionate case for why parenthood is not the only path in life, taking our parent-centric, kid-fixated, baby-bump-patrolling culture to task in the process.” Given our increasing obsession with pets in America, our fixation on autonomy, or desire to sever every connection between sex and procreation, it’s almost nonsensical that a group of elite writers would feel the need to defend their decision to forgo babies. And yet, they do.
Where, I wonder, is this parent-centric, kid-fixated world these writers feel so pressured by? Los Angeles? Brooklyn? New York City? Venice Beach? It’s hard to imagine the neighborhoods these award-winning writers occupy being overrun by the “overwhelming cultural pressure of parenthood” their book claims to counter.
Even in our Bible-belty town, I’ve felt out-of-place entering a restaurant, market, or boutique with our four children. And elsewhere, especially while awkwardly guiding our four kids through first-class on our way to coach seats on a crowded airplane, I’ve wished they had t-shirts that reminded people simply, “You were this age once.” I know I’m not alone.
As far back as 2008, the National Marriage Project’s report, “Life Without Children,” warned that America was shifting away from supporting parents in the hard and essential work of raising the next generation. David Popenoe and Barbara Dafoe Whitehead wrote,
“We are in the midst of a profound change in American life. Demographically, socially and culturally, the nation is shifting from a society of child-rearing families to a society of child-free adults. The repercussions of this change are apparent in nearly every domain of American life.”
Last week a story in The Atlantic added more evidence. In “The Childless Millennial,” Olga Khazan summarized findings from the Urban Institute that "today's twenty-something women have been slower to have children than any previous generation.” Far from calling millennials to get with the program and absent any “pressure to parent,” this story said the significant downturn is nothing to worry about.
Having a child and giving yourself to parenting requires a level of self-sacrifice rarely endorsed, let alone imposed, in our day. According to Popenoe and Whitehead,
Indeed, child-rearing values—sacrifice, stability, dependability, maturity—seem stale and musty by comparison to the “child-free” values. Nor does the bone-wearying and time-consuming commitments of the child-rearing years comport with a culture of fun and freedom. Indeed, what it takes to raise children is almost the opposite of what popularly defines a satisfying adult life.
Yet for all this change away from children and toward an adult-focused culture, especially in the entertainment arena, the authors of Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed are defensive against something—or someone. On some level, it seems as if they feel the need to justify their decision not to have children.
Someone once sacrificed for you
I think their angst points to the metaphysical musing: Why am I here? What am I supposed to do with my life? The practical answer is that you’re here because your parents, in a moment of passion, conceived you. Someone carried you, bore you, nursed you, clothed you, taught you, and hopefully, loved you. No one can completely forget that someone once sacrificed so we could be here. Every person owes their life to someone else. Someone once given life, who refuses the miracle to another, must, at some level, feel the weight of their decision.
This is one of those truths we can’t unlearn. We can deny them, but they persist. They’re the things written on our hearts, not with random evolutionary etchings, but by the One who formed and fashioned us with the ability and the obligation to be fruitful and multiply (Gen. 1:28). We cannot escape our witness-bearing conscience that accuses or excuses our every decision (Rom. 2:15).
Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed is a piercing example of people trying to quiet their consciences. I’m not saying that everyone who doesn’t have children has consciously made the decision not to. Many childless men and women long to have children but face circumstances beyond their control. But regardless of our circumstances, we must continue to be a voice for children; for having them and for training them in the fear of the Lord.
We should also pray for the authors of this book, and those who will read it looking for encouragement to stay the self-seeking path. May they come to know the One who said, “Whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it” (Luke 9:24).
We need children because we’re selfish
I’ve seen plenty of selfish, shallow, and self-absorbed parents, including the one who stares back at me in the mirror every morning. The childless don’t have a monopoly on those adjectives. People generally don’t have babies because they’re altruistic. A big reason God gives us children is to grow us up. Scripture says children are a blessing. What it doesn’t say is that children will always make you happy or fulfilled. We need children precisely because we are selfish.
The incredible challenges that come with parenting can completely undo you, but as Allan Carlson writes in The Natural Family, it “opens the portals to the good life, to true happiness, even to bliss. . . . Kindness begets kindness, shaping an economy of love. Kindred share all they have, without expecting any return, only to receive more than they could ever have imagined.”
There’s joy you can only know on the other side of selfless sacrifice. Getting people to affirm being selfish, shallow and self-absorbed will never compare.
Editor's Note: ERLC and Focus on the Family are hosting the first ever Evangelicals for Life event next year in Washington DC on January 21-22nd, featuring Russell Moore, Roland Warren, David Platt, Eric Metaxes, Kelly Rosati, Ron Sider and others.