Dear Mentor: Deciding to Have Children

Dear Mentor,

As I near completion of my PhD, my husband and I are contemplating whether to have children.  I know you have addressed if is it ever acceptable for a Christian couple to consider not having children, but what do your mentors say about having children?  It seems that in an age where the Biblical mandate to be fruitful and multiply seems to have been fulfilled, we may need to be deliberate about choosing to have children.  What reasons, besides our own desire and the pleasure we would have in them, would there be for bearing children in today's world?  I would love to hear from couples who have wrestled with this question and have decided to have children.  Why?  What compelled you to go forward? 


From Leslie Walker

This "decision" is a relatively new one for couples, and I would point out that unless you plan a celibate marriage or both of you are already known to be biologically infertile, that it's not always a decision. God's plans are higher than ours, and I know both couples who "decided" to have children only to struggle with infertility, and couples who "decided" not to have children but found themselves unexpectedly pregnant. So my first caution in this situation is to always remain open to God's plans when attempting to make decisions about family or career planning!

You mention our own desire to have children and take pleasure in them, and I agree that those are the benefits for many (but not all) families. There's a great new book by Andrew Solomon called Far From the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity that points out that children may be very different from their parents, whether biological or adopted, and that this adds significant stress to the relationships, as well as increasing the already high burden of parenting. I think in this setting that Christian parents have a great deal to offer the world in modeling sacrificial love and the surprising moments of joy that can occur in the context of the struggle of parenting. It's a very high burden, though, if your children have special needs, or markedly different personality traits than your own, or have mental or physical illnesses that require you to develop skills that you've never had before in order to care for or advocate for them. 

Taking the risk of making love means taking the risk of becoming parents, and Christian couples can do this in an "openness to life" (read Pope John Paul II) that is emblematic of our faith. When we are open to having children, we are essentially trusting God to provide us with the resources we need should he bless us with children. And my faith has been stretched and challenged in ways that I don't think it would have been if I had not had children. 

I'm not sure that I ever felt "compelled" to have children, but I think that another reason that I hoped to have children was because I expected to pass on the legacy that I received from my parents and grandparents. This included a legacy of faith, and also a legacy of service, with a sense of being called to contribute to the wider world and the people in it. Each of my children has a unique set of gifts and challenges, and each of them is already making an impact in their own circle of influence. My husband and I expected to be able to provide a loving and stable home to foster the development of loving and helpful kids. Even with the challenges of modern parenting like social media, sex in the media and everywhere else, and materialism, I think that this remains a good goal for Christian families. The Biblical mandate to "be fruitful and multiply" does not have to imply producing biological children, but there is no better arrangement in which to foster healthy spiritual, emotional, and intellectual growth of children, whether they are yours biologically or from adoption, than belonging in a family. The Bible frequently reminds us that we have been placed in the family of God, or reminds us we are children of God, that we have been adopted into his lineage, and now are his heirs.

So I think you could consider with your husband whether you are called to create a family that reflects the family of God. And then whether you are blessed with biological children, whether you adopt children, and whether your children are healthy or have special needs, your love and care for them will both challenge and develop your faith, and may have an impact on the watching world around you.


From guest mentor Jennifer Jao

My husband and I have wrestled with the question of whether to have children since our dating years. Early on in our dating, we both spoke openly about the possibility of NOT having children and wanted to make sure that both of us were open to both having or not having children before we continued in our dating relationship. 
Though we were both in our mid-thirties when we married, we did not dive into having children right away, and for the first three years of our marriage, we continued to focus on God’s vocational calling for our lives first rather than our calling to be parents or not. The question of whether to have children or not finally had to be answered as we (mostly I, being the female with a biological clock ticking away) neared an age where conception would begin to be successively difficult. In the end, much of what we wrestled with on an abstract level was whether part of God’s vocational calling for us also included a calling to be parents. How might children (biological or adopted) actually enhance and enrich our vocational calling in our respective professional and ministry lives? In some ways, this one question was the “meat” of our entire decision tree, because in effect, why would we bother introducing another complicated variable into our lives unless we could see that it would in some way augment our lives and make us stronger in our walk both as a married couple and individually? How might God want to shape us if we were to become parents? 
On a practical level, we also wrestled with the usual questions of how we would manage logistically with childcare issues, a good deal of travel on both my husband’s part and mine, minimal parental support close by at the time, etc. One can never really ignore all these practical questions, but we tried our best to answer the conceptual questions above first. 
As an aside, we also sought the help of a marriage counselor as we wrestled through these questions together. For many couples it may seem that the immediate question — “Should we have children or not?” — is the pressing concern, but in reality, the deeper questions to tackle may be, “What deeper conflicts do my spouse and I need to resolve in our marriage to find a safe place for us to truly dialogue about any issue?” or “How healthy is our marriage now and how can we work on it so that when we finally come to a decision about the issue of having children, we will be stronger as a couple to face it?” This may be true especially if one spouse is more convinced of having or not having children than the other. Can the two find ways to corporately engage in the dialogue while also giving the other party a safe forum in which to process his/her thoughts authentically?
In the end we did decide to have children, and I would say that in many ways our approach to the question of whether to have children mirrored somewhat our approach to the question of whether to be married. I am not convinced that one way (having children or not, being married or not) is necessarily “better” than the other. I do some work in Africa with HIV-infected pregnant women and their children. In a culture like this where women lose a great deal of status when they are childless, I have actually found that having two children myself has augmented my ability to relate with the people with whom I work there. Being in academia, I also am in a position to mentor other young women who are struggling with issues of work/life/family balance. Having children has put me in a position to provide a safe place to discuss these issues in the professional environment. In these ways, being a parent has enhanced my vocational calling. Being a mother has also profoundly transformed me in ways I could not have imagined, but I am quick to say that I am sure God would have found ways to work in me if he had called me to be childless as well. 
The key here, I believe, is to be open to what God wants of you no matter what. Take your time in making your decision and trust that he will equip you with the wisdom to make that decision. In the end, the fact that we even have the opportunity to wrestle with this question of whether to have children is a luxury and blessing that much of the rest of the world does not have. And for that, I am extremely grateful. 
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