Government financial incentives for having children are becoming more common as fertility rates continue to decline across developed countries. Italy joins a growing list of other countries in trying to increase their birth rate by offering an incentive for having more kids. Italians who have a third child between 2019-2021 will now receive a parcel of agricultural land for their use for twenty years.
Those having the most children are least able to pay for their upbringing. American women became mothers last year at rates that were inversely proportional to family income. The birth rate was almost 50 percent higher for those with less than $10,000 in family income than for those with family incomes of $200,000 or more.
This summer when The New York Times asked young Americans why they were having fewer babies than they wanted, financial concerns were named as five of the top ten reasons. But when they asked childless adults why they weren’t having any, financial concerns were only three of the top ten reasons. American adults are thinking about their finances, but it also appears like they aren’t having children because they don’t want them.
When I talk with married millennials who are delaying trying to have a baby, I hear a lot of fear. They are scared they’ll lose themselves, that it will be too hard, that they’ll never get back the life they are enjoying. I tell them all of that is true.
Parenting is hard; probably the hardest thing I’ve undertaken. I wasn’t a mom for long before I began to learn that motherhood would require me to lay aside my own desires and needs for the good of my child. When my oldest was two weeks old, I sat on my bed sobbing because I didn’t think I could make it through another day of sleep-deprived nursing around the clock.
Slowly, motherhood has revealed and chipped away at my sins and weaknesses — my selfishness, pride, and laziness. Children don’t wait for a convenient time to have needs, and they certainly don’t respect off hours. They trust you to take care of everything they need, and you give it to them because you love them.
Jerry Bridges wrote, “The kind of love that gives freely of itself at great cost to itself can only be learned when we are confronted with situations that call forth sacrificial love.” Caring for my newborns has always taught me about every human’s value as an image bearer of their creator.
Even when my children were utterly helpless, they were so precious and valuable. As each baby grew and personality began to show through — and I began to get more sleep — I started to think I could do it again. Each subsequent child was not as hard on me during the newborn stage simply because I knew the ropes, having been through it before.
I cannot deny that parenting has come at a cost. My husband and I have worked hard and sacrificed to make ends meet. We drive old cars, have home projects we won’t get to any time soon, and do without some luxuries other people consider necessities. We have less free time than a childless couple. With six people living in our house, we also have a lot of messes.
For our family, that’s okay. We’re too busy laughing and learning and loving to feel like we’re missing out. When I look at all the best things in my life, every single one has come at a high cost. I didn’t know how expensive children are, what toll pregnancy would take on my body, or how tired I’d be. I couldn’t look into the future to see what types of challenges and heartaches we’ll face.
I’m glad I didn’t, because I might have chosen to miss out on four of the best blessings I’ve ever had. The price we pay for children is small compared to what we receive in return.
Parenting reminds us of our limits, of our dependency on God. Every time I’m trying to stay calm during a child’s tantrum or bad attitude, I have to rely on grace that I don’t carry on my own.
Also, the risks are great. I have no promises that my children will continue to be healthy and will grow up to make good choices. I have friends who have suffered through terrible times as parents. But while my friends wouldn’t have chosen to walk through their hardships, they also wouldn’t trade them to have been childless.
Children can change you. They ask you to be better for them and for yourself. My son makes me want to be a more honest person. His nature helps me to see when I am cutting corners or even trying to get away with a white lie. My oldest daughter makes me want to be more generous. She gives everything of herself because she wants the people she loves to be happy.
My second-oldest daughter makes me want to be more loyal. She is fiercely dedicated to the things that matter to her. My preschooler makes me want to laugh more. She is full of joy and wonder, and enjoys everything.
Children also have the capacity to expand us and broaden our interests, if we’ll let them. Even though I’m a college graduate, the best years of my education have been because of the delight in learning my children have given me. I am a bird-watcher, a runner, a writer, a deep reader, and more because of the riches I’ve discovered through my children. I’ve memorized countless poems, passages of scripture, and famous speeches alongside my children, something I would have never done on my own.
For two years I’ve been learning Latin with my oldest children and hope to be able to translate original Latin texts. I have found a wonder for this life because of the delight my children have in what seems to be the most ordinary of things.
Not once have my husband and I ever felt like we gave up a life better than the one we now have. Things were easy and fun when it was just the two of us, but we’ve always felt like we were blessed beyond measure.
I can’t personally offer anyone a financial incentive to have children. But every time I welcome a young adult into my life, I’m hoping they’ll get a glimpse of an imperfect family who loves deeply. People who don’t want children shouldn’t have them, but boy are they missing out.