During our wedding, Steve’s dad Jim encouraged us to be open to having babies. As the pastor who performed our ceremony, he was also a grandpa who knew the joys of being in the lives of his grandchildren. “Children need grandparents who can get down on the floor to play with them,” he said, “and still be able to get back up!”
But his prompting wasn’t enough. There are a hundred plus reasons to delay having babies, several of which Steve and I used to rationalize our decision to postpone starting a family, even though we both turned 27 a month after our wedding. We thought we could hit snooze on my biological clock without consequence.
A recent article in Time magazine, “The Grandparent Deficit,” reveals we weren’t the only ones thinking that way. Columnist Susanna Schrobsdorff says of herself and her sister,
Somehow, while we were worrying about our biological clocks and our careers, it didn’t occur to us that another biological clock was ticking down: that of our parents’ health. And while medical science keeps coming up with new ways to prolong fertility, thwarting the frailties of old age is harder.
Writing from the vantage point of visiting her ailing father, Schrobsdorff describes the scene before her,
A few months ago I was sitting in the vast dining room of an assisted-living home in Washington, D.C., watching my 5-year-old niece bounce like a pinball between tables of seniors. It was a startling sight – that small, smooth blond blur amid a hundred crinkly faces. Her audience, mostly women in their 80s and 90s, grinned as she navigated all the parked walkers, canes and wheelchairs as if it were a playground.
Couples will often do the math for how old they’ll be when their children hit certain milestones; how old they’ll be when their kids graduate from high-school, for example. But they should also do the math for the grandparents. Given the growing trend toward later childbearing, many would-be grandparents will be too frail and aged to do much of anything active when their children’s children finally arrive, if they’re even still around to meet them.
Schrobsdorff says her niece and two daughters “are among a growing number of kids who will see their grandparents primarily as people in need of care rather than as caretakers.” It’s not just free babysitting that’s on the line, however. Ailing grandparents who are too feeble to play with their grandchildren, or too beset with dementia to recognize them, is a tragic loss physically. But what about the spiritual cost? How many little ones will never hear grandpa and grandma tell the stories of God’s faithfulness over the course of their long lives?
In our culture, most young couples need more than a subtle nudge from a magazine article to start having babies. In our case, it took the bold questions of an older married couple, Hu and Mary Morken, who weren’t just casually interested in when we thought we’d have kids. They wanted to know why we were weren’t having babies right now. Mary was pointed: “What makes you think you’ll be fertile when you’re finally ready?” she asked. “You can’t assume you’re in control of when you can have kids.”
The Morkens were bullish on family. So was my father-in-law. But he was also dying from the effects of lifelong diabetes. He knew his ailing heart would likely cut his life short, and he didn’t have the luxury of waiting a long time to meet the next generation. He lived with an awareness of his mortality that those who are healthy pretend away. And so he spoke up.
His declining health gave him an urgency uncommon among other parents his age. If he were to meet his grandchildren, they’d have to be born soon. His prophetic bent proved true: He died at age 56 of congestive heart failure. Jim and Hu and Mary went boldly where few in our individualistic culture dare. And I’ll be forever glad they did.
Hu urged us to, “Budget for everything except kids. Kids aren’t just another expense, they’re wealth.” His conviction was called for. His theology sound. Psalm 127:3 says, “Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward.” The blessings don’t just flow forward to the parents of babies. They also flow back to grandparents. Proverbs 17:6 says, “Grandchildren are the crown of the aged…”
Most parents want the crown of grandchildren. But many also believe it's not their place to advocate for them early in their children's' marriages beyond an occasional joke or subtle jibe. I’m glad Steve’s Dad wasn’t one of them. God used him, along with the Morkens, to challenge our timeline that saw career-building, house-buying and school-loan-eliminating as most important. Their engaging questions and conversation were the beginning of us saying yes to babies.