While reading the response to a question on Quora a while back, another user’s question caught my eye. What makes having kids worth it?, the questioner asked.
My first inclination was to think, what kind of question is that?! But as I thought deeper, it became clear that this question is quite revealing about the current state of our culture.
In our world, kids are treated as though they are an inconvenience. They are an “add-on” that some parents find nice to have, and others would rather not.
Some Christian parents have children merely because of cultural compulsion, but treat them and discipline them according to their own convenience. Dr. Tedd Trip explains:
Some parents have no noble goal at all; they simply want to control their children. These parents want their children to mind, to behave, to be good, to be nice. They remind their children of how things were when they were youngsters. Frequently they employ the “tried and true” methods of discipline—whatever their parents did that seemed to work. They want children who are manageable. They want them to do the right thing (whatever that is at the moment). The bottom line is to control their kids. But the control is not directed toward specific character development objectives. The concern is personal convenience and public appearance. (Tripp, Shepherding a Child’s Heart)
The kids are okay to keep around, as long as they do their part to make the family look good and don’t cause too much trouble.
Sadly, if we’re honest, we all fall into this trap at one time or another. None of us are perfect parents.
The Purpose of Having Children
So, what is the core of the problem? I think it’s a failure to understand why we have children. This idea was captured beautifully in a
The number one reason Christian couples do not want children (or want very few children) is because they do not understand the purpose of children according to the Bible.
Our culture tells us children are for self-actualization. They’re what you have when you’re settled, financially secure, and need something to care for in order to give you purpose and also increase your social status or to make you feel good about yourself. But if children are for self-actualization, then you wouldn’t want to have one when it might be difficult or get in the way of other types of self-actualization like having money for vacations or a big house or having freedom to travel or having time to yourself now and then. You certainly wouldn’t need very many of them. A single child or maybe two is plenty and having more than that would result in diminishing returns or even negative returns as the workload and expense from multiple children mounts and people start to look at you funny due to your excessive procreation.
Because of this view of children, they are often seen as burdens when they cause us stress or expense or limit our freedom, but also as commodities to be obtained when we want one. People obtain children by surrogacy or sperm donation or IVF because they feel entitled to have one as part of their pursuit of self-actualization. Their life feels incomplete without a child, so they deserve to have one by any means necessary. So even when children are wanted, it is often for selfish reasons of the parents, not because they understand the purpose of children. And when children show up when they aren’t wanted, they are seen as invaders or parasites and discarded through abortion or neglected. It’s all part of the same false view of children as a means to the end of parental happiness
Even in Christian circles, we repeat the mantra that children are a blessing, but we don’t always understand what that means. We adopt the culture’s attitude, but Christianize it. So we’re still thinking that children being a blessing means a blessing to us. When you’ve got a crying baby at 2:00am or you’re sitting in the emergency room with your child after they took a flying leap and broke a bone or you’re dealing with a difficult teenager or you’re doing your 4th load of laundry for the day and your toddler wets their pants yet again, there are a lot of things on your mind, but “This is such a blessing” is probably not one of them. Children are a lot of work and a lot of expense and even a lot of heartache at times.
So what does the Bible mean when it says children are a blessing? Yes, they are certainly a blessing to their parents in many ways, but it’s much more than that. Children are meant to be a blessing to the whole world. Even from an earthly perspective, a child is a future worker, innovator, consumer, and contributor to society in many ways. We need children to keep the economy and our culture thriving and to pass it on to the next generation. Having a child is an investment in the future, not just for ourselves, but for the world. More importantly, a child raised in the nurture and admonition of the Lord is a light in a dark world, to lead others to Jesus and influence their culture for Christ. A child is a legacy to pass down a heritage of serving Christ to future generations. And perhaps most importantly, a child is an immortal soul who will live forever and is meant to praise and worship God and bring glory to our Creator.
The purpose for children is not self-actualization of their parents. Children don’t exist to make their parents feel good about themselves (which is good, because they don’t always do that). Children exist to know and serve God and to be used by Him to change the world, or at least their corner of it. Having children and raising them, for a Christian, is a way of helping to bring the world into subjection to Christ and bringing more people to heaven. It’s not about the parents and what makes them happy. It’s about fulfilling God’s plan.
Every Christian, whether they know it or not, is on a mission to serve God. Having children is an important way of doing that because they’re a way to multiply the impact and take that impact down through the years. Even for those who can’t have biological children of their own, children are still important and we are all called to foster the growth of the children around us in whatever ways we can. If you can have children, have them because they’re part of your mission for God to impact the world around you for many years to come. If you can’t, encourage those around you who are having children and help children who need your influence in order to know and love God.
Children are worth the pain and the work and the expense many times over, but not because they make the lives of their parents so wonderful. Sometimes they do, and that’s great. But let’s not overlook the bigger picture. It’s not about the parents. It’s about implementing God’s plan here on earth and populating heaven with more people to glorify God.
Thus, children are “worth it” because they are worth something to God. They are to be a blessing to the world and bring glory to God.
As long as we go along with the cultural lie that our children exist to bring us happiness, status, or be little humans to otherwise control for our purposes, we will see increasing acceptance for unbiblical parenting ideas in the church.
This goes for gruesome “parenting” ideas like abortion as well. Abortion is merely a consistent deduction from this unbiblical perspective. As long as children are a commodity, this will persist.
Christian Parents: Your Mission
As a parent who follows Christ, you, therefore, have a responsibility.
That responsibility is threefold, minimally:
To raise children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. The Bible has much to say about parenting children. Children are to be disciplined, taught to understand their role within the family, the government, and the Church, and taught about who God is and what it means to know and follow him.
To teach your children how to be an imager of God. To be human is to be an “imager” of God. By divine decree, human beings share in the responsibility to care for God’s creation. This not only means we help care for the world we live in, but we help care for the people God has entrusted us with. This means caring for their physical and spiritual well-being.
To lead your children into an eternal relationship with God. There is nothing more important for a person than understanding who they are in God’s economy. How a child (then teenager, then adult, etc.) relates to God is the ultimate question. They must be taught that they live in sin, and that Jesus has provided the only way of escape.
The danger in having children is that we tend toward unbiblical ideas. We can easily be legalistic by demanding that our kids conform to some extra-biblical standard, and then disowning them when they violate that construct.
In contrast, we can easily be liberalistic by conforming to our culture’s idea of letting them “be who they want to” and discover God “on their own.”
Both of the above ideas are a misappropriation of God’s attitude toward children. And make no mistake, God has placed us in his position of authority in our children’s lives. We are to be agents of God in our children’s lives.
Children are “worth it” because they are worth something to God. And as such, they should be worth something to us.