This article opens an interesting discussion. Having a pet is becoming more popular as having children is becoming less popular. Pets, after all, exist in our lives on our terms. If we want their affection, if we want to play, if we want to take a walk with company, they’re readily available. On the other hand, if we’re not in the mood for affection, or to play, and we don’t feel like taking a walk, if we simply want to be left alone, we can tell the pet to go to its bed or cage or knock it off the couch, or what-have-you without the least pang of guilt.
Of course, this is true even for the extreme of our pet becoming very ill or very old to the point where we cannot afford or be burdened with their care. At that point, we can put them down, again, without the least pang of guilt.
No so with children. Children have a way of putting demands on us when we least want them. I’m reading a book, or watching Netflix, or working on my blog, and one of my daughters will call or come up to me wanting to talk. “Not now,” I say to myself. “I don’t feel like talking. I want to watch the news.” But, I do talk. Why? Because my child does not exist in my life on my terms solely. She exists as a human being, in fact, a human being that I was largely responsible for bringing into this world. As a human being, and as my child, she has certain rights over me: a right to my time, a right to my attention, a right to my love, a right to my resources, that few others do. My pet certainly doesn’t have rights over me. Yes, I have obligations to take care of whatever pet I bring into my life. But, that is not the same as saying my dog and cat have rights over me. But, my child does.
To put it bluntly, pets are easier than children. And, given that our society has been waging a near relentless campaign against the dignity of children (contraception, abortion, child sexual abuse and child pornography, child labor abuse, inadequate commitment to community schools and opposition to school choice, workplaces that have little patience for employees who are divided in their loyalties and commitments, etc…), it’s no wonder people are beginning to prefer pets over children. Children are not valued. Children represent a lifelong commitment that is sometimes burdensome on our time, our money, and our emotions. Pets, not so much. When pets do become too burdensome, we can simply put them down or give them up. We might be upset about it, but we have no moral qualms about it. I recall meeting a young woman who was moving across the country for a job. She couldn’t take her dog with her, for a variety of reasons. She was broken up about it, but she did what she had to do and turned the dog over to the local humane society in hopes they could find him a good home (not likely, considering the age and breed of the dog). Now, what if she had been a single mother? She would be arrested for trying to give up her child!
This might make us think that we value children, but I’m not convinced. The fact that we can’t rid ourselves of our born children as easily as we can our dog isn’t exactly a boost to the notion that children are widely respected and desired. In point of fact, we can rid ourselves of our unborn children, and many parents have left their children for others to raise while they pursue the life they want to live. Surely, all reading this are aware of the increase in numbers of grandparents who’ve assumed primary care of their grandchildren. This isn’t because their own children have died, in most cases. No, it’s because their own children have made choices that make it difficult or impossible to give their time and other resources, often spent on themselves, in raising their children. Call me unkind and cynical, but considering how their own kids turned out, I’ve often wondered how successful the grands will be in raising their grandchildren.
In the mid-1940s, almost 50% of Americans said that the ideal number of children for a family was four or more, while just over 20% thought the ideal number was two. Those numbers have switched, so that now 48% of Americans believe that two is the ideal number of children for a family and only 13% say four or more. The number of children families are having reflects this switch. The switch happened, as you might guess, in the late sixties, when women were entering the workforce in much larger numbers and when hormonal contraceptives were becoming easily available, not only making it possible for families to have fewer children, but breaking the connection between sex and reproduction. Sex became more about pleasure than about kids. Another result of this changing attitude toward sex was the number of people choosing to marry. Since there are no longer any societal mores against sex outside of marriage, and since contraception means sex has nothing to do with having children, marriage has lost much of its attraction and much of its positive control over irresponsible sexual activity. What am I saying? That sex outside of marriage is irresponsible activity? What kind of prude am I? The kind that is concerned about the fact that the spread and variety of sexually transmitted diseases has exploded in recent decades, as has the number of children born out of wedlock. But, our culture has an easy answer for these matters: we either ignore them, or we convince ourselves that it isn’t a problem at all. The kids, we tell ourselves, will be alright.
The fact is, in many cases, contraception and abortion are simply child sacrifice to our contemporary gods: the god of career, the god of lifestyle, the god of fear, the god of personal freedom. This isn’t to say that every woman or couple who choose contraception and abortion do so for selfish reasons. When it comes to abortion, especially, many women are simply convinced that they have no other option. But, why do they believe that? I think, at least partly, it’s because we as a society have told them that her children don’t matter to us, and that they shouldn’t matter too terribly to her, either.
Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.