"You decide. It's up to you. Whatever you say is what we'll do. I just can't handle the stress of making this decision myself! If you say we should have another baby, we will. And if you say we should be done, we'll be done!"
Does this sound like a conversation with a spouse? That would make the most sense.
It was in fact a conversation I had with a reader.
She read what I had written about why we aren't "Trusting God" with our family size, and I guess she figured I knew more about this issue than she did, so she determined that I was the one to make this decision for her family.
I politely declined.
But I know well the anguish of that decision and just wishing that somehow someone would tell me what to do!
It is a deeply personal issue involving so many factors both objective and subjective. But the truth is that I often hear from moms and dads who are wrestling over this very question. And, while I absolutely cannot make that decision for you, it is something I've wrestled over quite a bit in my time.
I want to share some of the factors to consider, and some of the realizations that helped me process.
What Does the Bible Say?
Whenever we need to make a decision, it's wise to consider what Biblical principles can help to shape our thinking.
In the case of this issue, a more appropriate question might be to ask what does the Bible not say about this topic, because many of us have been steeped in misapplications of Scripture.
We'll take time in a future article to go through and address some of the mishandling of Scripture more extensively, but for now, here are the three main relevant principles related to having children.
Children are a Blessing
Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward.
Yes. Children are a good thing. The church as a body should welcome and rejoice over new life. But this doesn't in any way translate into a command to have as many children as you possibly can.
In the old Covenant, God's people were commanded to "be fruitful and multiply" in a physical sense - to fill the earth and, later, to perpetuate the nation of Israel with physical children.
In the new Covenant, we are called to make disciples - spiritual new-births. Having children and raising them in the church is a way, but not the only way, to make disciples.
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Some are called to marriage, but some are called to a ministry of singleness. The mission of making disciples is one given to the church body as a whole. Just as not everyone will personally go into "all nations," not everyone will personally "fill the earth" with children.
We use wisdom and discernment to decide what we personally are called to do.
We Live in a Fallen World
Then the LORD said to the woman, "You will suffer terribly when you give birth. But you will still desire your husband, and he will rule over you."
In a perfect, sin-free world, there would be nothing stopping us from having more children.
No infertility, miscarriage, or stillbirth.
No medical complications.
No lack of material resources.
No history of sexual trauma.
No mental illness or postpartum depression.
No domestic violence or psychological torture.
No divorce or abandonment.
No unwanted children.
But this is not a perfect, sin-free world. Not only is this world living under the curse of sin, but childbearing (and everything that entails) is specifically mentioned in the curse.
Sin complicates things.
Sure, it's great to maintain a healthy diet and exercise routine and do other things to keep our bodies strong and healthy. But we can't lifestyle ourselves out from under the curse of the fall and original sin.
That's what Jesus died to do.
We Need to Steward Our Resources
But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.
We are called to provide for our families. In fact, the way we care for our families is a witness to the watching world.
Part of caring for our families is working hard to make sure they have what they need. But another part is making wise choices about the obligations we take on before we take them on.
Yes, this even applies to having more children.
This is another area that requires careful thought. Often caring for children is not as expensive as it might seem, and the cost of adding an additional child is not as significant a difference as the financial shift necessary to add the first child.
But that doesn't mean this is an irrelevant concern or not worth examining.
Is Our Family Complete?
When we were wrestling over whether or not to be done having children, I sought wisdom from lots of older moms I knew. One thing I kept hearing was that many of them had a sense of completion. "Our family just felt complete," they would say.
That sounded really lovely - to have that sense of certainty and peace about their decision. So I kept waiting for that internal signal that we were done.
But as time went on, I realized something. While a sense of completion can certainly be a help in decision making, that sense of peace may be harder to come by for someone whose conscience has been seared by the burden of the laws of men heaped on their shoulders.
In other words, it might not be your biological clock keeping you from feeling at peace about the end of this phase, it might be your wounded heart, weighed down with guilt and fear.
What if I Feel Sad About This?
Another thing that kept me from feeling at ease about being done having children was the sadness I felt over the potential end of an era.
I had spend my entire childhood looking forward to having babies, and most of my married life being pregnant or nursing. So if I wasn't going to do that anymore ... who would I be?
It was difficult to wrestle with the idea of this very special phase of my life being only a memory viewed in the rear view mirror.
But one day I had a lightbulb moment: everyone has a last baby.
It doesn't matter how many children you have, or how late in life you have them, the fact of the matter is that at some point, there will be a last one. And at that point, there may be some grieving of the end of a phase of life.
That grieving is not a sign that you are disobeying God or making a wrong decision.
I heard other moms experience similar grieving at other phases of life, such as when the last child left for college and they became empty-nesters.
This is a part of our experience of life in this fallen world. In this world, good things end. In heaven, there will be no end to the blessings we enjoy.
What if We Don't Agree?
This is a common problem in the conversation about adding another baby to the family. One spouse wants another child, and one spouse wants to be done having children.
The significant principle to keep in mind here is one of mutual love, respect, and submission.
Whether you have another child or not, it is essential that you not unnecessarily damage your relationship over this issue.
We should be very, very slow to suggest that the other person is doing something sinful or selfish, or assume motives on his or her part.
If one spouse desires more children, this desire should be acknowledged and validated, whether you decide to expand your family or not.
If one spouse expresses concerns about the family's ability to adequately care for another child given the family's physical or emotional resources, that concern should be acknowledged and validated, whether you decide to expand your family or not.
The Danger of a Unilateral Decision
A friend shared that her son told her daughter-in-law that he didn't want more children, but it was up to her if they had more children or not, because she was the one who would be carrying the child.
This sounds like deference because he is considering the physical strain she would endure with another pregnancy. But my friend had wise advice for her son and daughter-in-law.
She told them that having another child has to be a mutual decision, not just "his choice" or "her choice" because bringing new life into the world is a long-term commitment and not a responsibility that can be handled by one or the other alone.
No matter how many (or few) children you have, there will come days of exhaustion, overwhelm and wondering "What were we thinking?!?"
On those days, you want to know that you made the decision together and not risk one spouse turning to the other and saying, "This was all your idea!"
Both spouses need to be prayerfully all-in, or it's not time yet.
Uncovering Underlying Issues
It is possible that in the course of the conversation about this big, important issue, you will uncover other issues beneath the surface that need to be addressed.
Maybe one spouse has some unaddressed physical or mental health challenges limiting physical or emotional energy.
Maybe one spouse has a spending problem that is already straining the family resources.
Maybe one spouse has past trauma from childhood or a previous relationship that makes this discussion especially painful.
Maybe there have been previous relationship difficulties in the marriage that have caused tension that is showing up in this and other big conversations.
Remember that sometimes, the issue is not the issue.
If you need more help, get it.
Seek guidance from wise friends, or look for a licensed therapist who can help you take a careful look at what is under the surface.
No matter what decision you reach on this specific question, it's still important to address the issues that are uncovered as a part of your deliberation because they will continue to impact you each as individuals and your relationship as a whole.