Why family?

New parents need all the help they can get.  Not long ago, new parents could lean on older relatives for help and for guidance.  But one thing I’ve noticed—even vicariously—is that in recent years there’s been a tendency to look for the latest “expert” advice.  Previous generations didn’t have access to our state-of-the-art forms of “prescription parenting,” so if you’re a new mom or a new dad chances are you’re just as likely to ask Google as you are to ask Granddad.  But even a casual internet search reveals the various ways that parenting advice can often seem contradictory.  Fed up with the baffling array of conflicting advice, one parent took to the internet in a post that quickly went viral.  Here’s her advice on raising a newborn:

“You shouldn’t sleep train at all, before a year, before 6 months, or before 4 months, but if you wait too late, your baby will never be able to sleep without you…. Naps should only be taken in the bed, never in a swing, carseat, stroller, or when worn. Letting them sleep in the carseat or swing will damage their skulls. If your baby has trouble falling asleep in the bed, put them in a swing, carseat, stroller, or wear them.

Put the baby in a nursery, bed in your room, in your bed. Cosleeping is the best way to get sleep, except that it can kill your baby, so never, ever do it. If your baby doesn’t die, you will need to bedshare until college….Don’t let your baby sleep too long, except when they’ve been napping too much, then you should wake them. Never wake a sleeping baby….Sleep when the baby sleeps. Clean when the baby cleans. Don’t worry. Stress causes your baby stress and a stressed baby won’t sleep.”[1]

“It takes a village,” right?  Well, sure; a generation or so ago we were able to draw from the collected wisdom of family and close experts.  But now we’ve cast our nets so widely that the village can’t even agree on when or how or where your baby should do something as basic as sleep—can you imagine the confusion over questions of moral development?  What does it mean to raise young men and young women these days?  Sadly, the “village” can no longer speak with a unified voice on these or other issues.  Like everything else, “family” has come to be defined by the eye of the beholder, rather than the design of God.

THE NECESSITY OF FAMILY

Yet for all our insistence on personal liberty, family remains the primary—and essential—means of social functioning.  It is through family that the human race presses on; we need families to fill the roles of social institutions and form the basic infrastructure for human societies.  This is why God told man and woman to “be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:28).  While this can be accomplished through using our creative gifts and transferring our knowledge and experience to others, the primary way we can understand this command is in the context of procreation.  In fact, when procreation ceases to happen regularly, society suffers.

This isn’t just religious hysteria; this has a measurable impact on social stability.  In 2012, The Economist published an article that described the decline in American fertility rates.  Those who analyze this data speak of a “replacement rate” at which human populations remain stable over time.  The article notes that “for years, American was unusual” for having a “relatively high” rate of 2.1.

“So it comes as something of a shock to discover that in 2011 America’s fertility rate was below replacement level and below that of some large European countries. The American rate is now 1.9 and falling. France’s is 2.0 and stable. The rate in England is 2.0 and rising slightly.

American fertility reached its recent peak in 2007; its fall has coincided with the economic crisis that began at the end of that year.”[2]

Do you understand why this matters?  This means that at present rates, Americans are not having enough children to sustain the population long-term.  Now, these rates rise and fall and—if we understand the above data correctly—seem to correspond with economic conditions.  But other countries have seen the consequences of declining birth rates. Lee Kuan Yew—former prime minister of Singapore—writes an article for Forbes magazine in 2012 detailing the challenges that had been raised by declining birth rates in his own context:

“To have babies is, of course, a personal decision, but for a nation’s population that decision carries considerable consequences. The education of our women and their ability to be high-income earners have altered social behavior and led to marriages later in life. But when women put off having children until their mid-30s, they have fewer children.” [3]

This had a measurable impact on their economy.  Yew writes:

“In the future we will have to depend on immigrants to make up our numbers, for without them Singapore will face the prospect of a shrinking workforce and a stagnant economy. Fewer young ­people means fewer new cars, stereos, computers, iPhones, iPads and clothes will be sold, not to mention that there will be fewer customers to partake in fine dining—and all the ancillary businesses.”[4]

The Singapore government has addressed this problem by offering financial incentives and entitlement programs to encourage the development of families.

GOD’S PLAN: THE FAMILY

Yew says it best: family planning is a personal decision, but we cannot make the mistake of assuming that our plans have no social impact.  God’s plans for marriage and family begin with two people—but their loving commitment radiates outward to weave into the rest of society.  This is why we must never say that “what goes on between two consenting adults is no one’s business but their own.”  Because their personal decisions are never merely personal; our sex lives have profound influence on the rest of society.  So why family?  Because we literally cannot survive without it.

 

[1] Ava Neyer, quoted by Rebecca Dube, “Exhausted new mom’s hilarious take on ‘expert’ sleep advice goes viral,” Today.com, April 23, 2013. http://www.today.com/parents/exhausted-new-moms-hilarious-take-expert-sleep-advice-goes-viral-6C9559908

[2] “Virility Symbols: American Fertility Now Lower than that of France,” The Economist, August 11, 2012. http://www.economist.com/node/21560266?fsrc=scn/tw_ec/virility_symbols

[3] Lee Kuan Yew, “Warning Bell for Developed Countries: Declining Birth Rates,” Forbes, October 16, 2012, http://www.forbes.com/sites/currentevents/2012/10/16/warning-bell-for-developed-countries-declining-birth-rates/

[4] Ibid.

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