Family & Education

Our Children Are Our Treasures

They enrich our lives here and now, but our society will also need them in the future
TIMEJanuary 11, 2022

That headline has two meanings.

Most parents regard their children as treasures. They love them, care for them, and try to prepare them for adulthood. When the kids are small, Mom and Dad change thousands of diapers, teach them how to walk, and tell them a hundred times, “Don’t talk with food in your mouth.”

Later, they help their adolescents with their schoolwork, play catch in the backyard, and counsel them on their educational and employment options as high school graduation approaches. Even after Mom and Dad send their young people into the world, the health and welfare of their grown children remain of paramount concern. The children leave home, but they never leave a parent’s heart.

But children are also treasure boxes for the rest of us.

When they come of age and enter the workforce, they’re the ones whose wages help support society. Part of those earnings goes toward Social Security, assisting the elderly, the infirm, and retirees. A solid chunk of their income, taken in taxes, supports everything from the military to welfare for the indigent, from schools to police departments and fire brigades.

In addition, their financial investments in their homes, stocks and bonds, and all sorts of other endeavors keep the bloom on society. Their contributions to volunteer organizations help people of all races, creeds, and ages. Their creativity produces inventions and ideas that can benefit millions of people.

These contributions are clearly real and vital to a stable society. For years now, however, that treasure trove of children has dwindled away.

Birth Dearth

The replacement fertility rate for a population is 2.1 births per woman, barring immigration.

The online site Statista reports that many countries are far below this grid mark. In Taiwan, for example, which has the lowest fertility rate in the world, the number is 1.07. In nations such as Japan, Italy, Spain, and Hungary, the number of births has for years fallen far below replacement levels.

In 2019, China had a birth rate of 1.70 per woman, despite the government’s attempts to increase the size of families. The Chinese Communist Party, which once strictly limited births, now fears the eventual collapse of their system because so few women want children.

In the United States, the number of births is less than 1.70, a rate that in 2020 fell by 4 percent to the lowest on record.

Cute,Little,Baby,Boy,Making,His,First,Steps,At,Home
Being a parent demands the skills of a counselor, banker, drill sergeant, and teacher. (Olesia Bilkei/Shutterstock)

Explanations

Greater professional and educational opportunities for women account in part for these falling birth rates, both in the United States and abroad. The demands of earning a degree and pursuing a career have led many women to postpone childbirth, which means having fewer children.

Still others, women and men, cite the high cost of raising children as their reason to postpone or avoid altogether bringing children into the world. In some countries—the United States is one of them—women and some men also take an ideological stance against childbirth, referencing concerns about population growth and the earth’s limited resources. Other women—and I’ve known some of them—wanted children in their 30s, but either couldn’t find the right man or waited too long to attempt pregnancy. Finally, there are those who simply don’t want the responsibility involved in childrearing, preferring instead to enjoy the freedom to travel, spend time with friends, and do as they please without the interference of kids.

Certain of these arguments against having children carry some weight.

Raising children costs money, though not nearly as much as some claim. Children also eat up lots of time and energy. Meeting up on a whim with friends for a drink, exercising every evening at the gym, devoting yourself solely to your profession, or even getting a good night’s sleep: Forget about it if you have a baby in the house. Your life is no longer your own. And once they become teenagers, you’ll find yourself lying awake at midnight waiting for them to come home.

So Why Have Children at All?

Recently, I caught a mother of seven off-guard with that very question: “So why have children?”

“Are you joking?” she said with a laugh. When I shook my head, her eyes widened. “Oh, wait, so this is a trick question, right?”

For her, the question was incomprehensible. Later, having thought about it, she told me, “Because having children is natural.”

Had someone asked me that question 35 years ago, when my wife and I were expecting our first child, I doubt whether I could have answered that question either—at least, not right off the bat.

But now, as the father of four and the grandfather of 21, plus three in heaven, I can think of a myriad of ways children have enriched my life.

Life Under the Big Top

Beginning in 1960, Bil Keane created “The Family Circus,” a cartoon strip that his son Jeff has continued.

That title alone explains the chief joys of having children.

Whether you’re the parent of one child or seven, your life becomes a spectacle Barnum & Bailey once billed as “The Greatest Show on Earth.” You’ll have all the drama, comedy, and commotion you could possibly imagine just raising and watching over your children, even after they’ve flown the coop. Kids will add more furrows to your brow than found in a cornfield, but will also install laugh lines around your eyes and mouth.

And yes, those boys and girls will cost you a bundle of money, days and nights wracked by worry and apprehension, and arguments galore. Parents spend huge swatches of time wondering whether they’re raising the kids right, always second-guessing themselves.

But the connections! Whether those kids are natural offspring or adoptees—and believe me, I know—is irrelevant. Have children, and you are in the depths of a relationship unlike any other. As they grow, you grow. Their triumphs are your victories, their losses your sadness. Your vocation demands you be a banker, a counselor, a teacher, a drill sergeant, and a buddy.

If you want to join a circus, have a baby.

A Game of Chance

No matter how hard you try, however, no matter that you try to do everything right, raising children is a risky business. That son you took to church every Sunday returns home from his first semester of college a disciple of Nietzsche. That daughter on whom you spent a small fortune of time and money for ballet lessons becomes addicted to opioids. The children reared as conservatives, or as liberals, switch their political allegiance and now scarcely speak to you.

Just as there are no guarantees in the stock market, there are none in raising children.

Let’s Applaud the Parents

In my younger days, I frequently heard that “children are our greatest resource.”

I believed that then, and I believe it now.

Whatever we may think about having our own children, the world needs good kids, bright, strong, and morally grounded. All of us can help make that a reality. When we see a mom struggling with three little ones in the checkout line of the grocery store, we might give them a smile and remember they are the ambassadors for our future. When we meet some well-behaved adolescents helping Dad pick out a birthday gift for their mother, we might pause and offer a compliment.

Parents need these signs and words of encouragement. They’re doing a tough job, not just for themselves and their children, but for the rest of us as well.

Jeff Minick
Jeff Minick has four children and a growing platoon of grandchildren. For 20 years, he taught history, literature, and Latin to seminars of homeschooling students in Asheville, N.C. He is the author of two novels, “Amanda Bell” and “Dust on Their Wings,” and two works of non-fiction, “Learning as I Go” and “Movies Make the Man.” Today, he lives and writes in Front Royal, Va. See JeffMinick.com to follow his blog.