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Babies Make Families

“Diamonds make babies,” croons [1] American country artist Dierks Bentley in his latest radio single. “And babies make mamas.” If I could take it from here, Dierks, I’ll raise you one more: babies make families. 

Babies and their effects upon families are something of a paradox. While they surely test the bonds [2] of marriage, they can also strengthen the connections between spouses. And it doesn’t stop there: in reflecting on the first year of my son’s life, I’ve realized that he not only strengthened the bond between my husband and me, but those between us and our extended family members, too.

I look at my son’s cousins and I see his features in their faces. I’m reminded of the shared blood that flows through their veins, which makes me love them with a renewed, maternal fierceness, and which makes me feel even more of a sisterly affection for their mother—my sister-in-law—because of the shared blood between our children.

Perhaps most surprisingly, my relationship with my sister—which admittedly was never very strong in our youths—has experienced an unexpected revival and flourishing, which has been a great source of joy in my life. The tenderness that my “gentle giant” of a brother exhibits towards my son has also led to a renewal of our relationship, and we communicate now more than ever before. It is not lost on me that this beautiful rekindling and strengthening of my relationships with my siblings and siblings-in-law is principally due to the existence of my son, and the love I’ve always had for them is only deeper now that I also see them as his treasured aunts and uncles.

Watching my parents and my mother- and father-in-law as grandparents has also been a great joy. The delight they take in my son, and the love and care with which they treat him, has given me a unique insight into both my and my husband’s childhood. Now that I am a parent, I appreciate even more all of the joy and sacrifice my parents and in-laws poured into raising my siblings, husband, and me over the years; this has created a new camaraderie in the bonds between us that has deepened our relationships with one another. I feel an even greater investment in their health and well-being, both for their own sakes and for the sake of them as my son’s grandparents.   

Knowing the importance of healthy, intact marriages [3] and their impacts on the upbringing, development, and future success of children, I am even more deeply invested in the health and well-being of my parents’ and siblings’ marriages and relationships with significant others. I cared about these things before my son, too, but my interest intensified after Gabriel’s birth because I want him to grow up surrounded by wonderful examples of healthy, intact relationships, and I want my nieces and nephews—for whom I feel a newfound parental affection—to reap those benefits as well.

All of this has made me realize the poignant truth behind the late, great St. Pope John Paul II’s words: “As the family goes, so goes the nation, and so goes the whole world in which we live.” [4] It has made the news of falling birth rates [5] across the Western world doubly alarming to me, precisely because I have experienced firsthand the strengthening of familial ties that comes from the birth of child. As we cease to have babies, we will also cease to cement the new social ties that naturally come as a result of growing our families.

It comes as no surprise, then, that childless couples [6] are more likely to divorce than couples with children. And while most of us probably attribute this sad fact to the relative ease of divorce when custody battles are off the table, could it not also be because family members are less invested in one another’s marriages when children are not involved? Certainly I would have been greatly saddened if my sister-in-law’s marriage had dissolved before my son, nieces, and nephew were born; after their births, however, I would have been devastated on behalf of those children, and would have done everything in my power to keep the marriage intact. I believe my sister-in-law would feel the same—and do the same—for me, precisely because our children have bound us and invested us in one another’s lives at such an intimate level.

Yes, children can strain marriages, and no parent among us would say that motherhood and fatherhood are easy tickets to marital bliss. But the commitments and relationships forged by having children can—and should—bind us to one another. As a parent, it is clearer to me now than ever before that babies bring a greater connection between individual members of the same family, and also between different families. After all, who among us parents doesn’t have people in their lives whom they never would have met if not for their children? These stronger connections are the very bedrock of a strong, thriving society [7], and our leaders would do well to encourage all of us to continue building these foundations, one baby at a time.

Grace Emily Stark holds a M.A. in bioethics and health policy from the Neiswanger Institute for Bioethics at Loyola University Chicago. Her writing has been featured in the Public Discourse, the Linacre Quarterly, The Federalist, The Daily Signal, the National Catholic Register, and Aleteia, among other venues.

30 Comments (Open | Close)

30 Comments To "Babies Make Families"

#1 Comment By RATMDC On April 17, 2018 @ 2:31 am

Note, however, that not all of us want children, and other people should respect us for it and quit giving us grief about it. Perhaps most importantly, it can be so difficult to obtain voluntary sterilization, simply due to insulting medical paternalism.

Also, there is this thing called “the environment” that we have to worry about, and the responsibility falls most heavily on those who drive the most cars and eat the most meat.

#2 Comment By Sam On April 17, 2018 @ 8:41 am

In my family it had the opposite effect. Arrival of the newborn and tending to its many needs caused much strain and longing for the time when they were childless and carefree. Ultimately the marriage broke. Not everyone looks forward to having and raising a brood.

#3 Comment By Slugger On April 17, 2018 @ 9:51 am

Further support for this thesis comes from the many heart-warming gay couple adoption stories.

#4 Comment By Mario Diana On April 17, 2018 @ 9:52 am

@RATMDC – Once upon a time, when an individual grew weary of the “grief” of having to deal with other people, that individual would retreat to an isolated cabin in the mountains and live in peace and quiet. Nowadays, he leaps to wag his finger on online forums at the mere mention of any subject that threatens to knock the chip off his shoulder.

It is the mountain man who is less anti-social.

#5 Comment By mrscracker On April 17, 2018 @ 10:19 am

Sam says:

“In my family it had the opposite effect. Arrival of the newborn and tending to its many needs caused much strain and longing for the time when they were childless and carefree. Ultimately the marriage broke. Not everyone looks forward to having and raising a brood.”
***************
That’s a great shame & I’m so sorry to hear this. God bless you.
Don’t you think it’s partly the way we view & raise children in our culture rather than the actual needs of newborns?
I’ve raised eight children & outside of the occasional newborn with colic, an infant’s needs are pretty simple.
I think we’ve over-professionalized, over-thought child rearing & some mothers have turned it into a competitive, 24/7 sport. Plus, our present culture doesn’t set boundaries for children & allows them to take over adult conversations, restaurants & public spaces & parents end up sacrificing any adult time together.
If you travel to other countries I suppose you see some of this, too, but just from my observations, children seem much better mannered, do not interrupt adults, have more freedom within firm boundaries & don’t have parents hovering over them, monitoring their every move.
I feel exhausted just watching parents chauffeur children from one activity to the other.

#6 Comment By RATMDC On April 17, 2018 @ 12:09 pm

“Once upon a time, when an individual grew weary of the “grief” of having to deal with other people, that individual would retreat to an isolated cabin in the mountains and live in peace and quiet. Nowadays, he leaps to wag his finger on online forums at the mere mention of any subject that threatens to knock the chip off his shoulder.”

You misunderstand, at least partially. I am deeply sympathetic towards my childfree peers who get far worse doses of “Bingo-ing” ( [8]) than I do; in fact, it’s infuriating just to read about the kind of treatment that they get. When I saw that this article seemed to thoughtlessly endorse any number of bingos, I had to respond, not least for the benefit of any readers.

The only alternative to constant belittling rudeness is not to isolate one’s self.

#7 Comment By Brother Andre Marie, M.I.C.M. On April 17, 2018 @ 1:36 pm

Good piece. Very good.

It’s striking that half of the commenters (so far) have used this as a platform to promote sodomitical pseudo-matrimony and its near relative, contraception. A lot of anti-family types must monitor the contents of this site.

As for children breaking marriages apart, this is of course very sad. Such a thing would most often bespeak selfishness on the part of at least one of the two in the marital partnership. While I’m not making this claim of the commenter (Sam), whom I do not know, in general, many people enter matrimony for the wrong reasons and that’s why marriages fail.

“[Then the angel Raphael said to him: Hear me, and I will shew thee who they are, over whom the devil can prevail. For they who in such manner receive matrimony, as to shut out God from themselves, and from their mind, and to give themselves to their lust, as the horse and mule, which have not understanding, over them the devil hath power.” (Tobias 6:16-17)

#8 Comment By DRK On April 17, 2018 @ 2:31 pm

Sorry, but in fact, having children decreases marital happiness. Couples with children are less likely to divorce, but they also report lower rates of marital happiness than childless couples. Given the stressors that kids cause, this is not surprising. Contrary to Brother Andre’s comment, people do stay together for the sake of the children, but often they are miserable while doing so.

[9]

That said, my own decades-long marriage has been immeasurably enriched by having kids, and now a grandchild – the ultimate payoff! But those early years were no walk-in the park buoyed up by misty ideals of family connections, they were often more like a battlefield that my trusty spouse and I sometimes barely survived. Parenthood is not for the faint of heart.

#9 Comment By pbnelson On April 17, 2018 @ 3:02 pm

Amen to all you say, Mrs. Stark. And all that I can add is the converse of what you write: having babies re-opened wounds from my own parents’ divorce. For practical reasons it’s just harder to share my new family with my parents – they’re in separate places. On top of logistical challenges there’s the friction of second-spouses thrown into unwelcome contact at major life-event celebrations. It’s a never-ending hassle, the net effect of which is a lessening of that “rebuilding family ties” effect which you so lovingly invoke, and for which I so desperately long… I sigh in envy when friends talk about spending a family day with the grandparents (plural), or even, oh what heaven!, leaving their kids with the grandparents for a weekend. It cuts me to the quick when I imagine the heartbreak of our children if our marriage ever broke and they were forced to migrate between households the way me and my brother did. I ask myself: how could they? and get angry at my parents all over again. They should have stayed together for the sake of the kids, because we weren’t resilient and we didn’t adapt, not then and not well into middle-age.

#10 Comment By Mario Diana On April 17, 2018 @ 3:15 pm

@RATMDC

The only alternative to constant belittling rudeness is not to isolate one’s self.

Okay, I’m going to walk back my comment a bit, only because of this last line of yours. I clicked on the “Bingo” site and found myself both amused and shocked. I am well into middle-age and childless, and I’ve never really experienced any of this pressure. But, after realizing that, I realized that perhaps the life I lead is somewhat more isolated (or socially superficial) than that of others.

I never really thought of it that way, but perhaps it is. I imagine that someone in a married relationship who attends dinner parties and family gatherings on a regular basis—in other words, who has a large social circle of friends who are married with children—might have a completely different experience.

I’m still not wholly sympathetic though to the responses the author of this article is getting. I don’t believe she went looking to inflame people’s raw nerves.

#11 Comment By Ken Zaretzke On April 17, 2018 @ 3:57 pm

In Sweden cohabiting couples typically get married after having a *second* child, which actually confirms what the author says. Even Swedes, at that point, realize that something serious is going on.

#12 Comment By Dennis J. Tuchler On April 17, 2018 @ 4:09 pm

You favor furtherance by government policy, of families and therefore natalism and adoption. And same-sex families? Do they receive the same concern for the wellness of family and adoption? Obviously, they can’t make babies, but they can adopt them.

#13 Comment By RATMDC On April 17, 2018 @ 4:10 pm

“I don’t believe she went looking to inflame people’s raw nerves.”

I agree. It does, however, seem like the precise sentiments that a lot of people are using when they bingo the childfree. I’m not just referring to those at dinner parties, though such people are a dominant part of it, but also co-workers (who can be relentless), people one has just met, realtors, vehicle salespeople, and one’s own doctors and other medical professionals.

There are several TedTalks about this, and here’s a recent one from a woman who talks about the great difficulty, condescension and judgment she faced in trying to get sterilized, right up until the last moment.

#14 Comment By RATMDC On April 17, 2018 @ 4:10 pm

#15 Comment By Delos Fall On April 17, 2018 @ 4:33 pm

“Sorry, but in fact, having children decreases marital happiness. Couples with children are less likely to divorce, but they also report lower rates of marital happiness than childless couples.”

I’d have to (at minimum) actually read the studies in question instead of Fortune’s write-up to be sure, but couldn’t this difference in marital happiness be driven by the increase in divorce rates for childless couples? Unhappy childless couples are more likely to just get divorced and drop out of the data, unhappy couples with children stay together.

#16 Comment By One Guy On April 17, 2018 @ 4:57 pm

My wife and I have no children, and a great marriage. The only stress in our marriage comes from her idiot (adult) child. (She also has one great child.)

#17 Comment By lancelot lamar On April 17, 2018 @ 6:30 pm

This is a beautiful essay, and so true.

I suppose this is would be the shared common sense and elemental truth of a healthy, growing, natalist culture which encouraged and supported strong marriages. But sadly that is not our culture or that of most of the formerly Christian West, so now it does have to be stated and even argued as Mrs. Stark does so beautifully here.

And yes, such norms do place demands on those who defy them. I went to the Breeder Bingo site too. The problem is, every one of those supposedly offensive statements is true. It may be that they are unkindly said to the childless, but it may be they are kindly said just because they are true.

One of the great things about the old Catholic church was that you were either expected to marry and have a large family, or you were expected to give your life to God (and to other families in the Church) by entering the religious life. If you did the latter, people shut up about your not marrying and having kids. As they should have because you were laying down your life in sacrifice and service in another, perhaps even higher, way.

People who do neither, who are childless and marriageless but who don’t give themselves to the celibate religious life (Protestants can do this too, see Lottie Moon), and just want to sleep around and sleep late, should expect that their choices will receive criticism from those who value a healthy, growing culture and world.

#18 Comment By midtown On April 17, 2018 @ 7:25 pm

Stress, like money, can amplify what was already in the heart. Raising children is exhausting, and life would certainly be easier without them. But it is also more sterile, knowing your contribution to the world ends with you. If you are able to have children and the temperament for raising them, go ahead!

#19 Comment By kijunshi On April 17, 2018 @ 10:41 pm

I’m so very glad that things worked out this way for you, Mrs. Stark, and I hope it will continue.

Though the chorus opposing your viewpoint in this commentariat is a little strident, I do believe that it speaks (sort of) as a check to this rosy view – as families are not always brought closer together by children.

For me, though I have a child and can’t imagine life without him, his existence has flayed bare family relationships which I now recognize were maintained by a large amount of effort on my part.

Fortunately this does not involve my husband – his selfless, loving care of our child has bought immeasurable goodwill from me – but after experiencing my only brother’s rude indifference to my (calm, well-behaved) infant, and my mother backing out of a childcare agreement we’d discussed for years in the most cowardly way possible–by charging our family more than we could afford–and informing me of this three weeks before the end of my maternity leave (!), I just can’t agree completely with the rosy view.

One thing I will say – babies lay the truth bare. I’ll figure out how to deal with my relatives with open eyes going forward.

#20 Comment By cka2nd On April 18, 2018 @ 3:01 am

I hate to generalize from my own experience, but the premise of this article certainly struck me as true for me, both as regards my relationships with my nieces and nephews, the love and affection I see between them and their other aunts and uncles and various cousins, and the reservoir of love, affection and good will my mother and I share with my brother’s in-laws, who welcomed us into their extended family gatherings when their kids were growing up. I also see it, I think, with the family I’m currently living with and their one-year old child.

#21 Comment By mrscracker On April 18, 2018 @ 10:19 am

midtown says:

“Raising children is exhausting, and life would certainly be easier without them. But it is also more sterile, knowing your contribution to the world ends with you. ”
************
Something else to consider is a childless old age.
I’ve read in Japan that there are so many folks dying alone with no one to check on them that a whole biohazard industry has sprung up to clean up residences where their bodies are found after an extended period following death:

A Generation in Japan Faces a Lonely Death

““4,000 lonely deaths a week,” estimated the cover of a popular weekly magazine this summer, capturing the national alarm.

To many residents in Mrs. Ito’s complex, the deaths were the natural and frightening conclusion of Japan’s journey since the 1960s. A single-minded focus on economic growth, followed by painful economic stagnation over the past generation, had frayed families and communities, leaving them trapped in a demographic crucible of increasing age and declining births. The extreme isolation of elderly Japanese is so common that an entire industry has emerged around it, specializing in cleaning out apartments where decomposing remains are found..”

[10]

#22 Comment By RATMDC On April 18, 2018 @ 11:22 am

@lancelot lamar-

Excuse me? The Bingos are true? Here we go:

“It’s different when it’s your own!”- Considering the number of children who are neglected and/or abused, it may well be worse when it’s your own. Also, you know about Nebraska’s 2008 Child Abandonment Law loophole, right?

“Your child could grow up to cure cancer!”- It’s much more likely that they could grow up to do something horrible.

“People like you SHOULD have kids!”- OK, but I don’t want to, besides, why do you think that it’s true for everyone?

“You were a baby once, too!”- And?

“What about the family name?”- Who cares?

“Who will take care of you when you’re old?”- I don’t want to live that long; it’s terribly selfish to breed your own caregiver who never asked to be born; and if my bank account can’t care for me and/or I’m too debilitated, a giant dose of Nembutal or some opiate will do the job.

“What if your parents hadn’t had kids?”- Then I wouldn’t possibly care. There’s a compelling school of thought that says that not being born is the best possible outcome, but it’s at least neutral.

“The only reason to get married is to have children!”- Huh? What?

“It’s all worth it!”- According to you.

“The biological clock is ticking!”- Not it isn’t.

“You’ll change your mind!”- This is beyond offensive and condescending. Survey after survey indicates that this is very rare.

“If everyone didn’t have kids, the human race would die out!”- And?

“But the Bible said ‘go forth and multiply'”!- That’s a blessing, not a commandment, and in any case I’m an atheist, and far too much human multiplication has already happened.

“You forget the pain of labor and birth!”- I’ll defer to the many women who disagree.

“People who don’t want kids are selfish!”- Why do people say this? Whom am I hurting by not having children?

“You aren’t a real adult until you have kids!”- This is also extremely offensive, ignorant, and false on several levels.

“Children are a woman’s greatest achievement!”- Perhaps according to you, but that sure seems ludicrous to me.

“Don’t you want to give your parents grandchildren?”- No, but in any case my brother took care of that.

“It’s the most important job in the world!”- How come?

“What’s the matter, don’t you LIKE kids?”- I can’t abide little kids, I do sometimes like older kids, but the truth is that the childfree have many answers to this question, and it’d beside the point.

“The children are our future!”- So what; also, that future does not look good considering how many of us there are.

“Don’t you want genetic immortality?”- No.

“Nothing is better than ‘new baby’ smell.”- Maybe to you. Gross.

“Aren’t you curious to see what they would look like?”- No. Also I notice some clear prejudice versus adoption here.

“One of the great things about the old Catholic church was that you were either expected to marry and have a large family, or you were expected to give your life to God (and to other families in the Church) by entering the religious life.”

That is horribly oppressive. Why put such rigid expectations on people? Why not respect them as adults making their own decisions? Also, once again, large families are having some dire consequences these days.

“People who do neither, who are childless and marriageless but who don’t give themselves to the celibate religious life (Protestants can do this too, see Lottie Moon), and just want to sleep around and sleep late, should expect that their choices will receive criticism from those who value a healthy, growing culture and world.”

Lots of childfree people are married. Lots don’t want to sleep around, but what’s your problem with those who do? Whose culture do you want to grow, exactly? That’s a little sinister. Also, most importantly, our ecosystem is unhealthy, and all this growth is making it worse.

#23 Comment By RATMDC On April 18, 2018 @ 11:28 am

mrscracker-

Such an industry exists in the US as well. Why not make it a growth industry? Besides, people like that are choosing that line of work (to the extent that they can, and aren’t compelled to do so by the lack of other options), unlike someone pressured to do so simply because they were born. Nobody asks to be born.

#24 Comment By Joan from Michigan On April 18, 2018 @ 11:59 am

Oh, @lancelot lamar. Your comment is a classic example of the “Believe this, not because it’s true, but for some other reason,” logic that C. S. Lewis denounced in the 1940s. You argue in favor of the old ways of the Church, not because God commands it, but because individuals, by following them, contribute to “a healthy, growing culture and world.” And once you’ve based your argument on secular motivations, then it is vulnerable to secular counterarguments such as the environmentalist position that “Perpetual growth is the ideology of the cancer cell” and will eventually lead to overuse of resources and thence to mass starvation. Unless you believe in a God who runs the universe by miracle, and therefore that overpopulation is nothing to worry about, then your pronatalism is nothing but an aesthetic preference generously leavened with resentment at those who choose to “sleep around and sleep late” when they could be dedicating their lives to the well-being of the sort of community you love.

#25 Comment By Youknowho On April 18, 2018 @ 12:11 pm

The fact is that the world is going through a massive paradigm shift. It goes from “have a lot of children, and hope some survive to adulthood” to “have few children and care for them so that they make it to adulthood” For a long time humanity lived under the first rule – no much choice, child mortality took care of that.

Now, we are certainly sure that any child born will become an adult, so having many children is not only not needed, but might not be advisable – it detracts from the resources to be distributed among the children. Basically we go from “have many sons to work the farm” to “have a child to send to medical school” (the old rule had a problem – when the family farm got divided among the sons, you ended up with too small parcels).

Regrettably, the Catholic Church has made a disjunctive “have a lot of children or none”, which is not conductive to the best outcome. If they incorporated family planning in their homilies about the family, they would be reacting to the world of today

(spare me the cant about “eternal verities”. Circumstances change, and so should change our response to them. And new knowledge drives out more imperfect knowledge.)

As for the childless by choice, I suspect that it is a trend that will tend to die out (sorry), as those who proclaim their childlessness grow old and get envious of those with grandchildren (I have a second cousin – unmarried – with three children from different fathers. All I can feel towards her now is envy).

By all means have children. But do NOT become a baby machine. Concentrate in the proper raising of the children you have, do not think that if this one disappoints you, the next one will be better.

As for gay couples adopting children, considering of what went on in many religious-run orphanages, I would advice religious organizations a prudent silence.

#26 Comment By mrscracker On April 18, 2018 @ 12:15 pm

I’m very sorry to read some of the comments here that suggest a lack of hope and perhaps a level of depression.
God bless you each. I hope He will show you how much you are loved & valued. And that others will reach out to you.
There’s a growing disconnection from each other in our culture that is very sad.

#27 Comment By mrscracker On April 18, 2018 @ 4:37 pm

Youknowho,

“..(the old rule had a problem – when the family farm got divided among the sons, you ended up with too small parcels).”
*************
That was certainly true in some places but I think that’s where primogeniture made sense. Estates were preserved while younger sons would seek other ways of making a living: military service, ministers, etc. Probably a few pirates, too.
🙂
It seems unfair at first glance but makes more sense in the long run.

#28 Comment By Zgler On April 18, 2018 @ 6:01 pm

Parents of disabled children are more likely to divorce that parents of non-disabled children. It’s very stressful. This is disputed by religious sources but it is supported by scientific sources.

#29 Comment By Jon On April 19, 2018 @ 2:58 pm

Brother Andre Marie, M.I.C.M. writes:
“I do not know, in general, many people enter matrimony for the wrong reasons and that’s why marriages fail.”

While I do not know if my marriage could have succeeded, having children crushed any possibility for its survival. And Brother Andre Marie is correct as far as I can see in my marriage which lasted a mere three years some thirty-seven years ago.

I married for fear of being alone. She married to be married. All of this time I had believed that I mistakenly was in love with love not realizing it was out of fear about spending a life alone. She wanted to play house for real — wedded to the idea and ideal of marriage and having a family. Neither of us truly loved each other. And missing that important foundation of love, our marriage collapsed under the added weight of children. Ah, but without offspring, our marriage would have probably collapsed anyway.

As an aside:

mrscracker,

My depression is a divine gift as well as loneliness. These are afflictions and thus ways in which the Divine takes notice. Through my loneliness I realize that He wants me near and be by His side. And yet, I struggle and suffer hoping that one day I will be relieved of both depression and loneliness. That struggling and suffering are also gifts.

#30 Comment By Youknowho On April 20, 2018 @ 10:48 am

@mrscracker

On the subject of primogeniture, the Turks had a neater solution. One son inherited the throne, and his first order of business was to kill all the other sons….