“Diamonds make babies,” croons 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 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 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.” It has made the news of falling birth rates 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 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, 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.