Thursday, June 18, 2009

In Defense of the Childbearing

There's been a lot of talk on the blog this week about kids. Some points were valid. Some were made in satirical jest. Others were definitely arguable. I write this response not to contest the thoughts of any fellow Gentlemen or of our readers, but to simply provide an alternative point of view from someone who weighed the merits of marriage and children at age 18.

But first, a story about my friend Katie:

Katie is the second-oldest in her family. She has an older brother, and 10 younger brothers and sisters. When she was only the second of 10 children, her family lived in a trailer, because that's what they could afford. After high school Katie went to the Ecumenical Institute in North Carolina, where she met Andrew. Andrew and Katie entered into a courtship, and when we were both 20, I sang at Katie's wedding.

I know a number of Katies, because I had an experience in high school that I've discovered was somewhat unusual. I've mentioned in previous posts that when I was younger I worked as a swim instructor at Beachmont Christian Camp. Not only did I work there for three summers, though, but for the four summers prior, I volunteered as a Junior Counselor. I was a camper for nine years before that. By the time I was 15, Beachmont was my summer, and the friends I had made there were the people I hung out with all year long.

The majority of my friends from Beachmont were fundamentalist Christians with Calvinistic leanings. And most of them were from big families who were home-schooled. That was the norm. It was its own peculiar, insular society, and I was a part of it. 

As a result, I have a lot of friends who are married. Because it was also the norm for those kids to start looking to settle down in their late teens. (I have my suspicions about the role of strict abstinence until marriage in this decision-making process, but it doesn't really pertain to my point.) It's not unusual for two 18-year-olds to find love and decide to get married. Beyond that, these unions are both expected and supported by the community, so they tend to thrive in a way that teenaged couples might not otherwise. Sometimes, two people just know that they're meant for each other (and in the Beachmont case, feel that their joining has been ordained/blessed/decided by God), and choose not to wait.

And they have babies. Not all of them, and not always right away, but I have friends (and a cousin) who were parents at 19 or 20. And they're great parents who have wonderful, sweet children. They have their lives put together and support happy little families. Granted, it's not the typical situation involving young parents, but I've seen so many examples of how well it can work that I can't for one second judge all instances of teen pregnancy outright.

And now, another story, this time about Bev:

Bev married Dave when she was 18. She gave birth to Julia when she was 19. By the time she was 30, Bev had 8 children (all singles, no twins or trips) and a 12-passenger van. It was rumored that her brother, Russ, once asked their mother how many kids Bev and Dave wanted to have, and her response was that they would take as many kids as God sent them, but that, "14 sounded like a good number."

Many of my friends do not agree with the use of birth control. They often rely on family planning, but otherwise they truly believe that God will bless them with as many children as they are supposed to have and can handle. They're not creating as many children as they can so that their lives and views will live on and spread - they're just going with the flow. And it works for them. They're not reality show poster children, they're families. They're families that may be different from yours, but they're just families. They're not a drain on the economy or the environment and they're not angling for attention or handouts. They were just raised in a culture that has different values regarding family size.

I know that this might seem like a generalization made based on a small slice of American society, but my point is primarily that as I read about alternative decisions regarding families, I can think of a dozen real-life examples of families that have made it work, and not because they were stupid and got stuck in a bad situation, but because they chose that life for themselves. Had a certain set of events turned out differently, I might have joined them. (The mindset that led me to that decision feels like a lifetime ago, and I am extremely grateful that I chose a different route.) While mindless fundamentalism (or whatever might adjust a person's family values) is detrimental to both the individual and society (and I also have dozens of examples of that), I have no problem with seemingly unusual cultural standards.

They may not be for me or for you, but I can't deny how happy I've seen them make my friends.


David Pratt said...


ali d said...

Thank you for that articulate response, Mr. Pratt.

B.Graham said...

this was well-thought out and a great read. thanks for sharing your perspective; I am not privy to that piece of the world so it was interesting to learn about. it is a strain on the environment, though.

Scotty said...

Let each family have the freedom to determine their own procreative destiny, but Quiverfull creeps me the fuck out.