I’m the oldest of ten kids. I spent my teen years (1979–1986) living across the street in Bountiful, Utah, from a family with eleven kids. Two of my aunts and uncles have nine and ten kids, respectively.
Even after living through it myself, I still can’t imagine how this was done! How could these super-parents keep going through all those pregnancies and babies and all those expenses, not to mention the drain on their personal time and energy? You just don’t see families that big anymore, even in Mormonism. For my Generation X and perhaps many younger Baby Boomers too, a gigantic family is six or seven kids as opposed to ten or eleven, while most of us just have three or four kids, maybe slightly more than the secular average but not by much.
I’m trying to think of reasons for this decline, and I’d love to hear your rebuttals and/or expansions. Here are mine in no particular order, some obvious but others stretching:
• Today’s car-seat and booster-seat regulations are so draconian, as opposed to my childhood when toddlers and older just rattled around loose in the back of the Ford Country Squire.
• Schoolteachers today generally assign more homework and expect more parent involvement, so you can’t keep up with as many kids academically any more. Same with extracurricular activities.
• Because of today’s safety concerns (whether real or media-hyped), we keep much closer track of our kids, which makes it less practical to have so many.
• Maybe we’re generally more selfish, hedonistic, and materialistic than earlier generations, perhaps even in ways we’re not fully aware of. Of course, this means less resources sacrified for having kids and more moms working outside the home. (I don’t buy the idea that wages have lagged behind inflation so badly that we can’t have as many kids; I think it’s our inflated expectations that wages haven’t kept up with).
• Birth control is less frowned upon within Mormonism nowadays. I’m amazed by how many rather orthodox, conservative Mormon men of my generation have gotten vasectomies. (I got one too at age 39, and I quite love being free of fertility baggage.)
• While Saturday’s Warrior affirmed the ethics of our parents’ generation, perhaps it worked some powerful reverse-psychology mojo on us kids who were young then and are procreating now.
• I think today’s overwhelming media choices, electronic gadgetry, and other worldly distractions are stretching our attention spans so thin that our plates feel fuller without as many children as our parents’ generation could accommodate. For them, perhaps life was simpler and they didn’t feel pulled in as many different directions, thus leaving more time and energy for offspring.
• Perhaps the spirits who are coming to us these days are generally more challenging, difficult personalities, full of unusual energy and potential that takes more parental energy to shape and channel. Or maybe kids are just harder to handle these days because they’re overpampered and overstimulated and/or because deep down they crave more attention because they can sense that their parents are too preoccupied with other things.
Additionally, I find myself asking sometimes-contradictory questions about the implications of our lowered birth rates, including some questions in Mormon magical thinking mode:
• In the afterlife, will we become reacquainted with souls who would have been in our family if we had not stopped having kids?
• Are we doing a better job of parenting with fewer kids, helping them become stronger to withstand the sure-to-increase stresses and temptations of the latter days?
• Will our civilization reach a point where families with large numbers of children couldn’t survive under future privations, so our Mormon culture is being inspired to start cutting back now in preparation for coming hard times?
• Will divine blessings and protections be reduced for those of us who choose to sacrifice less in the area of having kids and perhaps even for our culture as a whole because so many of us are making that choice?
• Will we somehow delay the Second Coming because of the backlog of spirits who are supposed to be born before the Millennium starts?
So, does any of this trigger some response or ideas? Will the pendulum ever swing back the other way to having more kids, or will we continue sticking close to worldly trends? And why did my three-year-old color in all his fingernails with a permanent black Sharpie tonight?