(I wrote this about a year and half ago and though long, some needed food for thought, I think. Enjoy!)
The following comment on the post, “Divine Appointment: Babies are a Part of the Gospel Picture” is a common concern and one I thought deserved its own post to accurately handle the different aspects of the issue (a little longer than usual, but needful to cover each point):
“I agree with you that the church should grow both biologically and not-biologically. I also believe that large families are beautiful, but I have a concern here.
I have realized that in very large families like Duggarts or Wissmans, the ones who de facto are taking care of the little ones are not the parents but the older siblings, including the schooling part. The parents are too busy because of having such a large family.
So, what is the point of having so many children if you cannot take care of them personally and have to put them in the hands of others -even if they are the siblings?…”
The Right Starting Point
I want to first address what I believe is our “starting point error”. Notice the question: “What is the point in having so many children”? which presumes that couples who give their fertility to the Lord have a motive other than just believing it is His domain and should be left to His sovereignty. The “point” isn’t ours to figure out; God does with His creation what He wills and that is enough. The only point is what these couples feel is obedience to God. (By the way, very few families will have as many children as the Duggars, so we’re really talking about a hypothetical to use them as an example.)
Which brings me to the next point: are we basing our decisions regarding life on pragmatism rather than principle or wisdom?
Conviction vs. Pragmatism
A couple who believes that God is the author of life and therefore the sovereign authority over when/how many/how often life is to come, doesn’t need to think about how that will play out practically. It isn’t irresponsible to obey what one feels is a directive from Scripture without thought of the outcome. (George Mueller comes to mind–a man who took thousands of orphans in, never turning one away, when often there was no food for the next meal.)
For example, if I have a conviction/belief that I am to honor my marriage vows, “for better or for worse”, I don’t take a pragmatic approach, drawing up a contract that allows me to recant in the case that financial hardship gets “too hard”. I honor my vows with zero thought to whether or not we would be better off financially if we were divorced.
So, even asking the question, “but what if having too many children causes hardship” sounds odd to the ears of those who have committed to receiving their children.
And that brings me to the point of the question, “what if the older children have too much responsibility?”
God’s Design is Made to Work
Truly, we are a fallen people and there are parents who have asked too much of their children, or failed to love them as parents should, or failed to nurture them in the Lord. This has always been the case, large or small families. The problem is not the number of children, the problem is sin and/or lack of wisdom.
But there are also factors playing into our 21st century mentality that cause us to view the balance of family and work inconsistently. When we embrace ALL of what His word teaches us, the pieces of the puzzle fit together better. But often wrong thinking from places other than that Word muddles our perception.
We’ve all bought into it. We are such a prosperous, free, recreational and entertainment-driven culture that we’ve cultivated a pervading attitude of entitlement, especially among our young people. Anything more than a smidgen of responsibility is held in suspicion. The “normal” workload of families and children from centuries past would threaten to kill an adolescent of our day, and his parents would most certainly be questioned.
Older children helping younger children is a normal state of family. Or should be. But because families are so segregated, teens given so much free time and entertainment, the idea of it is abnormal to us.
Is there a balance between an older child “helping and raising”? Of course there is. But it may not look quite like we think it should. The comment, for example, mentioned “older children helping with school”. I think it’s not only acceptable, but preferable. No exercise facilitates learning as well as teaching someone else.The best thing we could do for our older children is to require them to help the younger ones learn. I wish I incorporated this more into our schooling.
Raising Servants in a “Crown Me” Society
I’ve spoken at length about the counter-culture responsibility we have to raise servants of Christ in a world that screams the opposite. Families are the training ground for servant-hood. It is very easy in this day to raise children who carry a victim mentality, but it is crippling to allow it. Again, balance must be present, but we teach our children that it is a command (and privilege) to serve each other (and Mom and Dad must demonstrate that serving); anything else is disobedience to the Word of God.
You want truly happy children? Get this one thing through to them: We are here to serve, not to be served.
Will They Want Children?
The single most important factor I see in how older siblings view the prospect of their own children is the attitude of the home and the attitude toward children. Children who grow up in a happy home, balanced with work, love, play and affection have little reason to dread their own home full of that joy. The quickest way to rob my oldest daughters of their joy is to separate them from their younger siblings. They delight in them, despite that a busy home does require us all to work.
Furthermore, the analogy would seem ridiculous in another comparison:
Suppose the family grows its own vegetables. Each year, the Lord blesses their garden and it becomes more and more prolific. We all know that a blessed garden requires hard work. Some of it is fun, some is drudgery. But the fruit of the harvest makes it all worth it. If a family is working together, praising God for His blessing, balancing work and rest, and enjoying the fruit, then the children grow up with a healthy sense of “how life is supposed to be”.
I submit it is the same if the Lord chooses to bless with a large family (which He doesn’t always do.) The fact is that if we *couldn’t* choose, these discussions would not exist. We would simply do what the Lord gives us to do, to the best of our ability and thank Him for life. Children wouldn’t be considered a burden, but a reality.
Our very ability to choose has clouded our reasoning and caused us to question what should be a natural occurrence.
Once upon a time children came and people figured it out. Simple.
What are We Training Them For?
A pastor (I can’t remember which one!) said, “If someone asks you ‘What do you do’, you answer, ‘I’m a husband and a father or a wife and a mother‘. It is a tragedy that we no longer view these roles as roles at all. They are so secondary on our life’s to-do list. And yet, they are actually foundational, making all else we do secondary.
Given that fact, what should we be MOST concerned with in the upbringing of our children? Preparing them to be husbands and fathers, wives and mothers! If I were training for a profession, my professors would likely want me immersed in the field. Why then do we fear immersion in the care of precious siblings? Whether our children marry or not, the most important thing they do in life will involve relationships with other people. Preparing them in a life of loving and serving others should be something we seek, not avoid!
Principles Hinge on Principles
Lastly, I would submit that a family who commits to doing the best they can with all the principles from Scripture, will find that things take care of themselves.
If a couple believes God should open and close the womb as He sees fit but ignores the principles of training up their children in obedience and love for the Lord, they bring hardship into the family and that will burden the older children. It’s not loving to my oldest children to receive children from the Lord, then ignore my parental responsibility and expect them to have to deal with the consequences of that. That IS a burden.
It’s taking the whole counsel of Scripture and putting it into practice in our homes. God hasn’t created us for a purpose and left us clueless as to how to carry it out.
Balance. Work, rest, love, joy, service, humility, laughter–a proper sense of what God has created us for will instill in our children what they need to carry the torch with their own families.