Acton Institute Powerblog

Against Transactional Parenting: Children Aren’t Toasters or Minivans

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Having already shrugged my shoulders at our society’s peculiar paranoia over whether having kids is “too expensive,” I was delighted to see Rich Cromwell take up the question at The Federalist, pointing out what is only recently the not-so-obvious.

“Children are people, not toasters or cars,” he writes, “and deserve to be more than the product of a strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats analysis.”

Alas, as we continue to accelerate in our compartmentalization and transactionalization of every area of life, we appear increasingly bent on abusing the gifts of “choice” and “empowerment” to control and micromanage that which ought to be driven by divine deference.

As Cromwell concludes, constructing elaborate cost-benefit analyses based on our own humanistic and materialistic priorities will only serve to distort and diminish the beauty and mystery of procreation:

There is more to life than budgets. Children are much more than budget line items.  They are infuriating, destructive, annoyingly inquisitive bundles of energetic, enthusiastic joy. They challenge you, they test the outer limits of your patience. But they also offer you the opportunity to see the wonder and satisfaction of learning to shimmy up a door frame by pressing feet and hands to opposite sides, of scoring the first goals in soccer, of feeding the dogs for the first time. It’s magnificent. As a wise friend told Blair and me when we were expecting Greer, “You will never regret having kids, but you may one day regret not having kids.”

Give it up. Stop trying to make it part of your life script. Stop thinking of kids in the terms you would think of a new toaster or minivan. Those are purchases you may regret. That’s why they come with receipts and warranties. Kids definitely do not. Kids do, though, offer you the chance to experience the exquisite pleasure of riding a go-kart on a Friday afternoon with a thrilled four-year-old, smile stretching from ear to ear. It is so choice. I recommend you have one or three and experience that exquisite joy for yourself. Trust me, you have the means.

And what of the divine?

Herman Bavinck captures it well in The Christian Family, observing the marvelous mystery and blessing of “God’s artistic work” in procreation and noting the redemptive, transformative, and transcendent power of the family:

The lofty moral significance of procreation also comes to expression in the fact that it bestows existence upon a human being. An ecstasy of desire is joined with the most sublime solemnity. For if one ponders that a moment of passion bestows existence to a person, who from the moment of his or her conception is subject to sin and death, with the birth a life emerges into the world filled with trouble and sorrow, and continues to exist endlessly, then every joke dies on our lips and our heart is filled with profound respect for this mystery of life. For it is and remains a mystery, despite all scientific research. What the poet sang regarding the miraculous way in which he was made in secret and was designed with artistic craftsmanship in the lowest parts of the earth, that is still the culmination of all wisdom…

…But through this creating power God’s artistic work comes into existence bearing the name of home and family. By itself this is immediately of predominant importance, namely, that every person, before leaving his father and mother and cleaving to his wife at a point later in life, has lived for years in the family and was born from that community. From your earliest existence, from the moment of your conception, you are the fruit of communion and exist only in and through such community. That community did not come into existence through your will, but existed already long before you, gave you life, nurtured and sustained you. It is a community of members, of parents and children, of brothers and sisters, who belong together and live together by divine will, and in which we are members and participants apart from any consent on our part,  by virtue of the same divine will. We do not choose them, nor do they choose us.

Or so it should be.

The level of otherworldly obedience that’s required here fundamentally resists and subverts so many of our modernistic impulses. But amid these prevailing attitudes, the church has a duty to hold up the light in the dark places, reminding society of the divine nature and transcendent arc of the family itself. It is not our own, and it never was.

Such obedience requires plenty of prudence, wisdom, and discernment, to be sure. But when our preferred metrics of comfortability, convenience, material success, and happiness are so routinely cited before and beyond all else, we’d be wise to consider that our inputs may be amiss.

Joseph Sunde is an associate editor and writer for the Acton Institute. His work has appeared in venues such as The Federalist, First Things, The City, The Christian Post, The Stream, Charisma News, Juicy Ecumenism, Ethika Politika, Made to Flourish, and the Center for Faith and Work. Joseph resides in Minneapolis, Minnesota with his wife and four children.