Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Mormon Procreative Shrinkage

The following is a rough draft of an essay I will post on Monday morning to the Mormon Matters blog. I thought I’d see if any of you could offer any challenges or suggestions before then, so I can further refine this before I post.

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! I know I personally did a lot of babysitting and housework as the oldest, and I self-managed through school without much if any parental help, which I think was good for me. What I don't get is how these super-parents could keep going through all those pregnancies and babies, all those expenses of so many kids, 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 of the 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. Not that I'm the first to do so, but 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:

• Today's car-seat and booster-seat regulations apply until kids are practically ten years old, so you can't fit more than a few kids into your vehicles, and plus it takes so much time and energy just to get kids in and out of those straps. In the olden days, kids aged toddler on up 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 have as many kids if you want to keep up with them all academically. I believe there are now also more programmed extracurricular activities that require more parental maintenance.
• Because of today's safety concerns (whether real or media-hyped), we keep much closer track of our kids. They don't roam as free and wide anymore or stay out-of-sight, out-of mind for as long. This makes a parent feel like he or she has more kids than in the days when the older ones could disappear for hours at a time.
• I think we're at the point in the prosperity cycle where we're generally more selfish, hedonistic, and materialistic than earlier generations, perhaps even in ways we're not fully aware of, due to today's marketing socialization. Not only does this mean less resources devoted to having children, but it also means more women working to afford luxuries, which means fewer kids. (Of course, just what constitutes a luxury is quite debatable…)
• Birth control is less frowned upon within Mormonism nowadays. Earlier generations heard strong warnings against it, but we hear hardly anything anymore—in fact, the official LDS Church handbook cautions leaders against interfering in this area. I'm amazed by how many rather orthodox, conservative Mormon men of my generation have gotten vasectomies, even though the handbook does still strongly discourage permanent surgical sterility. (I got one too, a choice made easier by the fact that so many other supposedly righteous dudes in my circles had done it. After five kids, I've really enjoyed being infertile—even sex itself has gotten better without the fertility baggage. And my conscience is mostly clear because it was my 40-year-old wife's request.)
• 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:

• 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 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?


Anonymous said...

I have actually thought a lot about being lighter and leaner as far as the actual number of kids, in case the need to move fast or survive with less resources becomes a necessity. I'm not saying I have been "inspired" in this matter, although there may be some component of that I may be uncomfortable to admit. Melissa and I discuss this very issue quite often probably because we are in that 3-4 kid range and think we could be closing up shop sooner than later. I think Melissa feels more of the Mormon doctrine/culture guilt about not having a big family than I do, yet maybe that is a tangible male vs. female response. Superficially, I don't feel like I need more kids to make me happy or in any way ensure my salvation but maybe I am taking to practical a stance on the matter. I am just happy that we have three happy and healthy little guys, and a part of me feels selfish to desire more. Definitely a work in progress. I enjoyed this post and your thoughts.

PhDinHistory said...

What about the following the ways of the world when it comes to having less kids? What about the economic situation of the American middle class, where wages have failed to keep pace with inflation? Having kids isn't cheap like it used to be.

Della Hill said...

I hope you don't mind unknowns commenting. This is something I have thought about.
I agree with phdinhistory.
It is more expensive to raise a family today than it was 30 years ago. Not only because of inflation, but also because the requirements of life (some might still say luxuries) have expanded to include multiple cars, computers, internet connection, multiple cell phones, etc.
Even air conditioning is a must have today, but was a luxury in my parents generation. And I can tell you, I almost needed a second job to pay my utility bill last summer.
Lets not forget that it is more important than ever to send kids to college, but also more expensive.
I grew up in a family of 7 kids. My husband was an only child till he was 17.
We decided the best way to have a "big mormon family" was to have 2 kids of our own and then have foster children,(we currently have 3).
That way we can have a big family, raise children to prepare the world for Christ, do missionary work and service, but save ourselves the expense of childrearing and college tuition, (not to mention pregnancy and childbirth).
Note: from her 7 kids, my mom is expecting her 27th grandchild. My siblings families range from 2 kids to 7.
I appreciate your thoughts.