The whole issue of choosing whether or not to have children, when to have children, and how many children to have is extremely multi-faceted. It is an issue that has preoccupied recent generations far more than the generations preceding us simply due to the sponsorship of its patron saint: birth controls.* I know you know that. But have you thought about how, because of the widened availability of birth controls, we have immensely more freedom now than any civilization had before us? Most of us take that freedom for granted. Some of us, occasionally, are terrified by it.
I have lots of friends in lots of different relationships with birth controls. Today, I’ll just discuss the heterosexually married ones. Several have been married for awhile, but are still unsure about if and when they want to start a family. Several have 1.2 kids and are wondering if they could survive another. And several have made the decision to “be done,” saying that they just “felt like they were done.”
It’s gotten me thinking and talking with a lot of people about all of these life-changing decisions. And so far, it’s led me to one conclusion. (Many more, I hope, are forthcoming.)
Therefore, I have a proposal. It is just a proposal; I’m still working it out in my head and heart. But I’d like to start the conversation. So I’ll just hit you with the proposal and then make my arguments from there.
When it comes to the decision about how many children to have, I propose that husbands give their wives 51% of the vote.
Hear me out.
I’ve listened to many, many women whose hearts are brimming over with heartache because they and their husbands disagree on how many children they want. The overwhelming majority of these women long to have more children – many would be delighted with just one more. Conversely, a few of these women are faced with husbands who are nearly demanding more children while their wives are already at their wit’s end with the few they have.
The thing that mostly concerns me is that, when I see couples who can’t agree on this decision, usually the motive of each gender differs dramatically. For a woman, this decision often involves lifetime-longings, deep-seated desires, spiritual connectedness, and biological instinct. Her vote usually has roots in self-sacrifice, personal fulfillment, altruism, and a desire to grow and bring and give life. For a man, however, this decision is often reduced to a shallow, immediately-gratifying desire for convenience (wishing it were quieter while he watches the ball game) or for a sense of security (prompted by unrealistic, unpredictable expectations about what it means to provide for your family).
I promise I’m not a man-hater. I realize that I’m mostly only hearing the perspectives of the wives, since they’re usually my friends and their husbands are not. Perhaps her husband’s concerns are more important than she thinks. But, in my observation, most couples don’t even get that far in the conversation. She doesn’t feel heard. She may not really be hearing him.
Husbands: I wish you could see how being willing to go there — letting your wife’s heart-longings in this decision trump your petty desires for comfort would demonstrate true love to her. (Ephesians 5:25-33) If your wife is willing to sacrifice her career and her financial lifestyle and her orderly, clean home to stay home at least most-time with your children, especially let her have the vote! And, just because she seems like she’s going crazy being a mother doesn’t mean she doesn’t want more kids. The craziness and the number of kids are mostly – or at least will be eventually – unrelated topics.
At worst, husbands, if you “put your foot down” on this decision and don’t even listen to your wife, you put on her the burden of trusting Jesus to help her not resent you for the rest of your life. She will have to repeatedly surrender you in her mind and heart, forgiving you for denying her her heart’s longings.
Now, here’s what I’m not saying:
I’m not saying that the decision should be 100% the woman’s. I’m simply asking for a two-way dialogue where both parties feel heard, understood, and known.
I’m also not saying that the wife should take 51% of the vote. If you are a woman whose husband is absolutely “putting his foot down,” I believe your only option if you’re trying to follow Jesus and respect your spouse is prayer and patiently asking for the beforementioned dialogue. “Accidentally” skipping your birth control pills does not honor you or your husband or your marriage or your family; it only gets you what you want at the cost of what you really can’t afford: marital trust erosion.
And, I’m not saying that regarding this important decision, the woman ought to be alleviated of her God-given role of building up her husband by finding and celebrating what is respectable in him. (Ephesians 5:21-24)
As an aside, I’ve also talked to lots of middle-aged couples about this issue. I’ve never met someone who regretted having that third – or fourth – or fifth child. But, I must tell you that several couples have openly admitted to me, albeit in a whisper, that they “should have had more [kids],” far more couples than have expressed regret about having their last child, even if that child was an “accident.”
Ok, so if you care to know about how I’d approach these decisions, here are a few little suggestions:
If you are one of the many couples who came to a decision easily about how many children to have: Congratulations! Count yourself blessed. Go make out over it.
If you’re a wife in disagreement: Ask your husband if together you can wait to make the final decision. Ask God to help you find the respectable things about your husband, and for understanding toward him. He has a lot on his plate — more than you know. Then open the dialogue. Pray together and trust God to lead him to lead you.
If you’re a husband in disagreement: Ask God for the patience, strength, sensitivity, and humility to listen to your wife. At least consider giving her 51% of the vote. Then open the dialogue. Pray together (“God, help us!” is a perfectly good prayer.) and trust God to lead you.
If you’re a couple who is still deciding: Try to distance yourself from the [constant, loud, frenetic] demands of your toddlers. Go to a different place in time than the place you are now – go to the place where your baby no longer wakes up three times nightly, your four-year-old completely toilets himself, and your six-year-old hasn’t thrown a tantrum in a year. Soon it will be over. Sooner than you can imagine, even though it feels SO long in the middle of it. After that, we’ll all just have new and different challenges. 🙂 (But at least we’ll be able to find some headspace to think about these challenges while we toilet ourselves all by ourselves, right?) Then, ask yourselves: Will we regret not having more children? How many children do we prayerfully think we could we parent excellently?
Then tell me what you decide!!
*By “birth controls,” I suppose I mostly mean the combination hormone pill. But, I’d also include condoms, IUDs, abortion, etc. – anything that allows for unlimited sexual intercourse while allowing for a nil birthrate.