My fellow Kentuckian, President Al Mohler of Southern Baptist Seminary, has created a stir by criticizing deliberate childlessness among fertile married couples. This is no more an organized movement than is the kind of natalism David Brooks talked about (see my post of yesterday). Still, not having children makes sense to a small but strategic group.
Some people think we are still faced with a population explosion. The industrialized countries have solved that problem in a big way. Some people don’t like kids. This is fair enough in a free country, though hard for me as a doting dad to empathize with.
I am concerned with another group, who think that they are not mature enough to have children. Probably more men feel this way than women. Children of divorce, as Judith Wallerstein has show, are especially likely to fear that they themselves may never be mature enough to have kids. This is sad. Worse, it means that a significant number of people are writing themselves off too soon.
Really, almost no one is ready to raise children when their first child is born. Marriage, and the willingness to do whatever it takes for your kids, transforms unprepared men and women into parents. This is also more true of men than women.
Why should centrists care about this as a policy matter? Why should I care if other people don’t think they should have children? A groundless fear that deprives one couple of the blessing of children is sad. A groundless fear that deprives the country of millions of fellow citizens, workers, taxpayers, and community makers creates an avoidable social weakness.
SO, reassuring those who are ambivalent about having children is a social benefit.
What does this have to do with Mohler’s “deliberately childless?” His criticism is drawn with a broad brush. He doesn’t distinguish between those who are afraid to have children, and those who are the real target of Mohler’s criticism: couples who are too selfish and materialistic to have kids. Yet most of them, I think, are ambivalent, too. You would have to be a cyborg libertarian to make the cold, Gary Becker-like calculation that kids are just an unattractive investment. Most of the deliberately childless have really slipped in to the “creeping non-choice” of waiting too long to decide to have children. The creeping non-choice will have to be the subject of another post (in the meantime, see Sylvia Ann Hewlett’s Creating a Life).