“Having Children in an Age of Affluence,”by Read and Rachel Schuchardt
(Human Life Review, Fall 1998; originally published in re:generation, Vol. 4, No. 1)
Read and Rachel Schuchardt write: “[A] culture of ambivalence … has grown up in the United States around the conception and care of children. On the one hand, Americans spare no effort to conceive and consume for wanted children; on the other hand, they leave the care of all too many of those children to nannies, illegal immigrants, and daycare workers. More ominously, Americans leave unwanted children to trash cans, abortion clinics, and contraceptive devices.
“Our ambivalence to children is rooted in the thoroughgoing worldliness of American life and in the premium Americans place on raising our children with access to the best schools, toys, and neighborhoods. … Not many men are marrying their high–school sweethearts or secretaries anymore. Instead, they are marrying their colleagues, professional acquaintances, and grad school classmates, which means older and more financially independent women.
“The shift towards older first births leaves many parents with more cash to spend on their children. … But while some of this commercial feeding frenzy is the natural result of a market growing to meet the needs of the increasing boomlets, … [t]he darker underbelly to this devotion is the objectification of the ‘wanted’ child. Many parents come to see wanted children as both a commodity and an opportunity for expiation of past sins. Babies are not only the object of consumer spending; they have themselves become the ultimate consumer item. …
“It wasn' t always like this. There was a time when, for the most part, marriage, sex, and children followed naturally from one another. Men and women married at the peak of their fertility and there was little question about the outcome of their consummated love. But babies today have been removed from the realm of the ordinary and placed on a peculiar pedestal in the minds of many parents. … Ask a couple today when they will conceive and they will say the same thing: ‘Oh, we' re planning to have children in about two years when we can afford it, when we have saved enough for a down–payment, when the car is paid off, when I'm done with grad school, when I'm at the point of my career when I feel comfortable taking a break.’
“The presumption that biological destiny can be avoided or delayed is made possible by the advent of increasingly reliable birth control technology. … But … medical research for the last thirty years has consistently shown that almost all forms of birth control post independent risk factors to subsequent pregnancies. … Even abortion, once touted as being safer than giving birth, carries with it a host of complications that are rarely mentioned in the mass media or ob/gyn offices.
“[A]s pills are popped and years pass, fertility, often an unpredictable sprite, often flees back into the land of dear dreams. … The child becomes the holy grail, sought after through endless rounds of fertility treatments. The money pours out, often to the tune of $70,000. … But in the process, the child has grown out of all proportion in the mind of the parent; exaggerated desire brings exaggerated expectations. This is a heavy burden for any child to bear.
“Parents who leave their children in the care of others for 40–plus hours a week struggle with some degree of guilt. … A guilt–ridden parent is usually ineffective as an authority figure in the life of a child. … Why spoil quality time with a time–out, much less a spanking? So the baton of authority is quietly laid aside by the parent, and the displaced child is more than happy to pick it up.
“Spurred by guilt and the advice of countless parenting experts, the new style of parenting maxes out on permissive quality time even as it minimizes quantity time and consistent discipline. Take a stroll through any shopping mall in America and you will see the results: unruly children and sullen teenagers who have little admiration or respect for their parents, not to mention any filial piety. … And nobody, not even a parent, enjoys the company of bratty children. Thus, the golden child loses his sheen and the imperial baby comes home to find that his power over both of his subjects has evaporated.
“Publicly, we profess our unconditional love for children. But … [t]he cult of the baby defeats itself because parents who treat children as the ultimate consumer item often end up not loving, but secretly resenting and even hating their children.”
Ellen Wilson Fielding writes from Davidsonville, Maryland.
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