I’m one of three kids and my husband is one of two. When we got married ten years ago at the ages of 23 and 25, we both knew we eventually wanted to have at least three kids. Beyond that we didn’t give it too much thought. We know several people who forego all birth control so God may give them as many children as he chooses, though I didn’t learn of the quiverfull movement till I’d been married for years (and am not a participant). That children are blessings from the Lord to be gladly received – and that our practical response to this truth matters – is important and requires more reflection, I think, than many evangelical Protestants are willing to give it.
Equally important, though, is a topic about childbearing I hear discussed even less frequently. I don’t think I encountered it myself till last year. It’s this: bearing children and raising them to love God is an act through which we collaborate with God in ruling and “subduing” the earth (Gen 1:28). We Christian parents get to raise the next generation of Christ-following kids, who will work alongside us to help His kingdom come. This doesn’t necessarily mean that we should all have as many children as we can, but it does mean that the more children we have – the more opportunities we get to participate in what God’s doing on the earth, if we raise them to love and serve Him.
Shortly before I heard this sentiment articulated theologically, I remember feeling its gist at gut level when a dear friend, mother of two, mentioned that she and her husband were undecided on whether they’d try for a third child. I remember thinking to myself: ‘What a shame it would be if they didn’t have any more kids. So few kids in the world get to be parented by great, Christ-loving people like them! Such great, godly parents! The more kids they have, the better for the world.’
Most Christian Americans, at least those I know (and the way that I grew up thinking), tend to mirror secular culture in how we think about kids. We primarily consider factors like our personal preference, temperament, work situations, money, lifestyle, and standard of living. Like our culture, we think about how many children we have as a management issue – how many do we want to take on? How many can we handle? How many can we afford?
I’m not against small families (and too, I certainly realize that God does not give all families as many children as they might wish for). And of course I know that there are stewardship factors in terms of both energy and money that require consideration as families consider children. But I wonder if many of us today weight these more heavily than God might. After all, do we really need to make six figures if we want to have more than the average 2.4 kids in America? I can’t help think not. Must we be able to pay for each child’s college education, if we are to be a God-honoring parent? I don’t think so. My husband and I almost certainly won’t.
I was thinking about all this as I pondered the surprised looks I encountered among many when I mentioned that I didn’t think our new baby, number three, would be our last. The response I often get, sometimes spoken and sometimes only implied is: “What? You want more work and to spend more money?” But to me, those are the wrong questions. The right question is, “Oh, so you want to participate even more broadly in what God is doing on the earth?” And funding need never be a serious concern in any area in which God’s leading.
“I don’t believe the presence or absence of a college fund should be a reason to have or not have more children. Kids can get through school without being fully funded by their folks.
Making (having a large family) work on a moderate income comes down to clarity of purpose. What do children need most from us? They need love. They need food, clothes, shelter. They need clear expectations and responsibilities. They need time just to be kids. They need faith in a higher power than themselves. But they do not need huge allowances, rooms of their own, TVs in their rooms, and name-brand clothes…. Most budgets will cover children’s needs just fine. The trick is to make wise decisions about the wants… Kids grow fine sharing rooms, and God does fine at stretching budgets. In fact, I suspect he takes delight in surprising us with just how well he can provide.”