The Prestige of Parenting and Childlessness

May 18, 2006 | 75 comments

Glenn Reynolds has written us an essay on childlessness in the USA.

He has two explanations, both related to the prestige of parenting. Parenting does not have the prestige it once did, he says. And parenting now costs too much time and money, partly because not taking meticulous care of your child is a good way to earn a lot of negative prestige, and partly because parents have to do more training and coddling and teaching and preparing to get the prestige of being a parent.

Over at the Star they’ve had a little discussion on reducing the money costs of parenting. People have suggested consciously accepting a lower material standard for one’s kids (fewer toys, fewer vacations, lower status clothes). I would also think about reducing education costs. Paying your kids way through a great college costs lots of money, as does preparing them to go there. (Credentialism is anti-family in more ways than one). My parents were able to afford 9 kids because when I went to school my dad covered the cost of the gasoline to drive me there, gave me $50, and told me good luck. BYU wasn’t where I planned to go, but that’s where I could afford. Reducing education costs can also include buying a home in a less expensive neighborhood. Almost all of the young couples in my ward live in trailer homes, because thats what they could afford getting married young and having kids. But the schools in our area are only passable, as you would expect with an area that has lots of trailer homes. We can supplement or even replace the schools with efforts at home, or course, but these efforts take time and are also *costs* in the sense used here. Expecting people to homeschool is *probably* another disincentive to parenting (it may be that by making stay-at-home-mothering seem professional and useful in modern terms, it restores prestige and actually acts as an incentive).

None of these fix the problem, however–society still burdens parenting by expecting too much out of each parent and by making intensive parenting a status issue. So do we LDS (have you ever got together with other young LDS couples and started talking about your kids. Its all about either how many milestones your child has recieved and all the great programs and techniques your using). But there’s probably nothing to be done. Status is ubiquitous wherever humans are. Instead of proposing fixes I’m just remembering that sometimes Saints have to bear the shame of the world, which includes accepting less prestige and status for oneselves and one’s children, if that’s what it takes to have more children to love.

Put all that aside, though, and let me return to Gary Reynold’s essay. His good, libertarian conclusion is that if the increased burden of parenthood is largely a matter of social expectations and social status, there’s nothing we can do about it politically. I think he’s wrong for two reasons. First, even if politics and laws can’t change the social expectations that increase the costs of parenting, they can subsidize those costs (whether that’s a good idea or not is another question). Second, politics and laws probably can influence social expectations in some ways, and certainly can give parenting higher prestige, by showing that its a social good that we want to promote.

I’m not suggesting any specific programs just now, but I think that even if Reynolds is right about the causes of the declines in (1) having larger families and (2) having families at all, it is still true that “responsible citizens and officers of government everywhere [should] promote those measures designed to maintain and strengthen the family as the fundamental unit of society.”


75 Responses to The Prestige of Parenting and Childlessness

  1. smb on May 18, 2006 at 4:40 am

    His essay and your comments on it were quite engaging. As a parent I still remember the awkward moment when I reprimanded my mother (raised 7 of us alone) for wiping up instead of down when she was changing my daughter’s diaper. She smiled in her bemused way and remarked that every generation has its own way of doing things. She reminded me of the controversy about sleep position: the way we realized that supine was the probably correct position for children was a campaign I think in Holland that emphasized prone positioning and then saw an increase in SIDS. Dogmata flip and they flop, though the intensity with which we hold them doesn’t seem to change much.

    I would hope that this issue could be a place for conservatives and liberals to agree about a problem and at least a part of its solution, but even in the essay and Adam’s post, there are indications that this problem can be exploited in partisan ways, with veiled indictments of respect for women, references to the campaign for the traditional family, dissatisfaction with the liberal moral-legislators who stand behind the governmental departments of social services. There are times that 9-year-olds are dangerously abandoned in ways that ought to involve government protection, just as there are times that 9-year-olds should be free to play about the house.

    I think that polarizing this issue–we are becoming neurotic about parenting and losing pleasure in parenting–will not help us change the situation. Whether you like him or not, I think Lakoff has aptly summarized differential paradigms in American politics, and within his interpretive framework, the “conservative” view of the world as a hostile and dangerous place has played into the current state of things at least as much as the “liberal” view that the defenseless ought to be protected whether they want to be or not.

  2. John Mansfield on May 18, 2006 at 8:15 am

    The concepts in your fourth paragraph have been on my mind, too. It’s nice for all involved when the desires of the larger society match to some degree those of the saints, but that can’t be an expected or relied upon state. We had most of the 20th Century to fit in with our fellow Americans. Maybe we don’t get the 21st.

    Giving up worldly status by having less prestigious education will reduce our wealth and standing, but that matters only to the degree we value such things above the great blessings of discipleship and posterity.

  3. Seth R. on May 18, 2006 at 8:38 am

    I think half the problem is that parents today think they can actually do a better job of rearing their child if only they were to TRY HARDER.

    If I could just attend a good parenting seminar …
    If I can find the right magazine article …
    If I can just follow the program set forth in this homeschooling manual …
    If I enroll my children in the right extracurriculars …
    If I just spend more time with my children …
    If only I hugged junior more …
    If only I read to the kids more …
    If only I made more creative displays for FHE …
    If only …
    If only …

    Good freakin grief! Do you wash your hands 7 times a day too?

    Just shut up and parent already!

    Half this stuff is instinctive. The other half is due to deeply ingrained issues of personal character (which you aren’t going to change until you change yourself, or God changes you).

    Well … there might be a 1% allowance in their for actual effort. But that’s about as far as I’m going.

  4. DKL on May 18, 2006 at 9:12 am

    Relating to the social costs: I’ve noted a difference in Mormon socials. When I was a kid, the socials were for adults. Although the Christmas party had some high priest playing old St. Nick (a Catholic Saint at a Mormon event–oh, my!), there weren’t any “activities” at ward socials for kids. We had our own activities, and at ward socials we were just expected to behave ourselves.

    Now, it seems like we can’t have a ward social without having “something for the kids to do.” Some activity committees take this too far, and the “ward social” becomes a parent-child playtime (something I’d just as soon do at home). Is this just true in my area? or have other people noticed this trend?

    Also, many baby sitters nowadays (especially over 16) expect to be paid per child. So it’s not (say) $x per hour, but $x per hour per child. Am I a Dickensonian child slaver if I think this is sheer insanity?

  5. Mark B. on May 18, 2006 at 9:48 am

    People have fewer children for the same reason that Bill Clinton had sex with Monica–because they can. So long as there is universal access to cheap contraceptives, people will choose to have fewer children–because they can.

    Do we really think that our great-grandmothers wanted to have 8 or 10 children? Or that they continued having children (despite the substantial risks of dying in childbirth) because additional children were more workers for the family farm? Nonsense. They had children because they had sex, and until relatively recently having sex meant having children.

    And a few bandaids (whether Putin’s increased maternity leaves or the US Child Tax Credit) won’t make a difference.

  6. Seth R. on May 18, 2006 at 9:57 am

    Actually Mark B.,


    Some of them actually did. A few of them are in my own family tree.

  7. Kristine Haglund Harris on May 18, 2006 at 10:32 am

    I think Mark B. brings up the most important point which is left out of both Reynolds’ and Greenwood’s treatment of the questions. It’s impossible to consider these issues without reference to the gendered division of the parenting burden–once you allow women to consider fulfilling desires other than having children, you have to accept that women have differing priorities. Some will want to devote their entire lives to mothering; many won’t.

    Even within the church, we’ve moved away from the position that mothering is the *only* acceptable way for a woman to spend her time, although we still encourage women to assign high priority to childrearing. Still, once you tell girls to “get all the education [they] can,” the genie is out of the bottle–study after study after study shows that maternal education correlates with decreased fertility.

    Adam (and others) may not like the current prophet’s position, but it’s pretty clearly not the same as that of JFS, whose pronouncements on family size seem to be favorites among “quiverfull-thinking” Mormons.

  8. bbell on May 18, 2006 at 10:51 am

    Post #1. My personal perspective is the traditional LDS one. I have 4 kids and I am in my early 30′s and my wife is talking about a 5th. And as I told a guy in a restuarant a couple of weeks ago this is what we wanted and I do know where babies come from.

    There is not as far as I can tell in the US a consensus between liberals and conservatives over the idea that childlessness or small families is an issue. On average Conservatives have larger families and support the idea of traditional families as the ideal more than liberals do. When I talk to my liberal friends they often have judgemental attitudes about “breeders”. They usually think its a good idea not to have kids. Its bettter for the environment, cheaper, more vacations etc

    This attitude is present amongst conservatives as well. Its just not as prevalent

  9. Julie M. Smith on May 18, 2006 at 11:05 am

    Re #3: Seth, on the one hand I agree with you and wish parenting magazines were illegal, but on the other hand . . . if I can at most affect 1% of what happens to my children, why exactly is it that I am home with them? If they turn out the same regardless of my efforts, why don’t I just send them to daycare? I thought I was here to affect their lives . . . Do you see the conundrum? Hyperparenting finds a niche among the LDS because at-home mothering is _supposed_ to make a difference.

    DKL: I agree with you. Why must there always be messy crafts? Then again, I hate packs of 8yos running through the halls . . .

    KHH writes, “study after study after study shows that maternal education correlates with decreased fertility.”

    Except I don’t think this is true for LDS. Anyone know?

  10. bbell on May 18, 2006 at 11:06 am

    Response to number 7.

    read this recent talk by President Packer.

    Elder Nelson and Elder Oaks have given recent similar talks.

  11. Julie M. Smith on May 18, 2006 at 11:12 am

    One more thought: I don’t want ‘I should be homeschooling’ added to the pile of mother-guilt, but a homeschooling mother of a large brood almost always does less housework than the public-schooling mother of a small brood, as a natural result of school taking 4-5 hours per day instead of 8-9. This is not meant to be an encouragement to homeschool as much as it is meant to counter Adam’s thought that homeschooling can be a disincentive to parenting. In my case, as someone who doesn’t particularly enjoy taking care of small children or houses, homeschooling has been a powerfully strong incentive to have more children than I would have wanted otherwise.

  12. Melissa Proctor on May 18, 2006 at 11:50 am

    “Even within the church, we’ve moved away from the position that mothering is the *only* acceptable way for a woman to spend her time, although we still encourage women to assign high priority to childrearing.”

    Kris, there’s neither sufficient evidence on the official pronouncement side nor on the congregational cultural side to back this claim.

    Encouraging women to get as much education as they can may seem to us like it lets the genie out of the bottle inasmuch as serious and extensive education-getting often inspires, enables and sometimes finaciallly demands full-time professional careers, but I think there are good reasons to believe that our leaders do not mean to imply assent to such an arrangement when they encouarage female education (one talk referencing a nurse’s work notwithstanding).

    And certainly on the ground—for women in their local wards and stakes—-I think the evidence speaks loudly against the idea that it has become acceptable for a woman to do something other than have children. Married women who are not having children by choice tend to face loads of pressure and married women with children who work full-time struggle to find acceptance for their choices as well. If you meant that it is now considered reasonable for a woman to do something *in addition* to raising her family, that’s probably increasingly the case as long as it’s just “on the side” or “part-time” and doesn’t interfere with her “most important calling.” But even on this scenario there are, of course, always a ward full of women ready to let you know how well you’re mothering and whether your other endeavors are interfering or not.

  13. Mike on May 18, 2006 at 12:19 pm

    Before the industrial revolution, both father and mother worked at home. Today the mother is being pulled out of the home. Both are needed there as much as is possible. Father’s most important work is at home. I think in the future, technology might allow that we encourage more fathers to return home and work there. Some women are not going to like that, if their husbands act like another big kid. The idea that a woman at home does not work is a modern myth. Lazy men and women are found both in the work place and in the home.

    If you don’t want to have children, don’t have them. They are a mess to deal with at first but like a big pot of gold at the end of the rainbow and if you don’t want this gift from God then why is that anyone else’s business? We wouldn’t get upset if someone refused to come forward after they won the lottery.

    I agree that we Mormons have our own share of difficulty in this area.

  14. Wacky Hermit on May 18, 2006 at 12:27 pm

    I too wish there was more societal respect for parenting, and I absolutely hate parenting magazines. They do to parents what glamour magazines do to teenage girls and bride magazines do to brides– make you feel totally inadequate and out of step. I also think the attitude they foster– that good parents will keep their kids totally under control at all times through talking and timeouts and only abusive parents will use other methods– causes many parents to keep parenting stories to themselves. When parents feel they can’t share their parenting experiences for fear someone will report them, they don’t get the validation and support that all people need, nor do they get parenting ideas from other parents; they’re stuck with the entire burden of thinking up good discipline practices, which in turn makes them turn to parenting magazines for advice.

    For example, say you got really fed up with your kids fighting and you duct-taped them to each other at the wrist and ankle for half an hour, at the end of which time they had learned to get along. Maybe you folded over the duct tape so that it wasn’t sticking directly to their skin, so that they wouldn’t be hurt. But if you tell somebody how you duct-taped your kids together, you might get a “wow, that was a really creative and good idea, and I’m glad it worked!”… or you might get a knock on your door from DCFS. If somebody told you such a story, it might inspire you to find a way to help your own kids work together. But nobody will tell you this kind of story, because they’re afraid you’re going to narc on them or think they’re bad parents.

  15. John Mansfield on May 18, 2006 at 12:27 pm

    [I]f you don’t want this gift from God then why is that anyone else’s business?

    Because the choices of members of a community form the community. The form of the community is of interest to the members of the community.

  16. Julie M. Smith on May 18, 2006 at 12:50 pm

    Re #12: My experience is contra virtually every assertion made in this comment–which isn’t to delegitimate your assertions, but just to suggest that either geography or perspective or emphasis or natural variation or something else is creating a broader array of LDS experience than this comment suggests.

    I’ll be out in the garage hunting for duct tape now. . .

  17. Rosalynde Welch on May 18, 2006 at 1:37 pm

    I see Kris has anticipated my response, and one hates to see everything devolve into gender skirmishes, but maybe it can’t be helped.

    To sell your strategy, Adam—that is, to persuade couples to have more children and invest fewer resources in each—you would have to supplement with a powerful and totalizing campaign to re-persuade women that their value as human beings is generated in the bearing of children and quantified by the number they bear. You would have to do this to overcome women’s instinctive resistance to the quantity-over-quality strategy, an instinct that is, it pains me to say, probably biologically based. The costs of bearing and raising children are so high for women that it is far more rational, if reproductive success is the goal, for women to bear fewer children and invest more resources in each to ensure their survival and eventual reproduction. On the other hand, the cost of engendering children is far, far lower for men—even for monogamous men, though monogamy tempers the difference—and thus it makes more sense to engender as many children as possible, invest fewer resources in each, and play the odds. This is why study after study shows that the best way to deliver resources to children is to provision mothers directly, who are far more reliable than fathers in transmitting resources to offspring (thus the failure of child-support programs, etc).

  18. manaen on May 18, 2006 at 1:40 pm

    “My wife and I had five children. The reason that we had five is that we didn’t want six.”
    - Bill Cosby

    RE: Even within the church, we’ve moved away from the position that mothering is the *only* acceptable way for a woman to spend her time, although we still encourage women to assign high priority to childrearing. Still, once you tell girls to “get all the education [they] can,� the genie is out of the bottle–study after study after study shows that maternal education correlates with decreased fertility.

    Brigham Young was way outside the box on that: he taught that if we had to chose between educating the men or the women, we should educate the women — because they rear the next generation. Education *and* childrearing as combined priority.

  19. manaen on May 18, 2006 at 1:47 pm

    the best way to deliver resources to children is to provision mothers directly, who are far more reliable than fathers in transmitting resources to offspring (thus the failure of child-support programs, etc).

    Sometimes. My ex accepted support for a child she’d thrown out and cut off, but she didn’t notify me. When my daughter contacted me, I started supporting her directly and negotiated reduced payments to my ex.

  20. Julie M. Smith on May 18, 2006 at 1:58 pm

    Roslaynde, what you say about biology makes sense in a state of nature (or near-nature), but I don’t think there are any middle-class American women who think that one extra bedtime story will improve their child’s chances of reproductive success or survivial, so I don’t think the biological arguments work in our culture of hyperparenting. Which is not to deny that (1) hyperparenting exists and that it (2) causes women to want fewer children, just that the mechanism is social and (for us) theological, not biological.

    I do wonder what we could do to diminish the culture of hyperparenting among the Saints.

  21. John Mansfield on May 18, 2006 at 2:17 pm

    The pressure to set up children with costly and impressive education credentials is a twist to an old problem. In Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism Bushman wrote that the Smith family was laboring not only to secure the wellbeing of the Joseph Sr. and Lucy Mack Smith family, but also to acquire capital so that Alvin Smith could set up his own farm and be able to marry. The Amish today face the same issue still in establishing their children in capital-intensive farming livelihoods.

  22. DKL on May 18, 2006 at 3:18 pm

    It seems to me that the problem is that Democrats and liberals aren’t having enough children (and are having too many abortions). Conservatives and Republicans seem to be having plenty. Of course, political affiliation of parents is among the strongest correlates to political persuasion of children. In other words, I don’t see a problem here at all.

  23. Mark B. on May 18, 2006 at 3:38 pm


    It’s not clear which of my questions you were answering “yes” to–the “we want 10″ or the “we need farm labor” part. In either case, I’m not certain how much weight to put on either pre-marriage or post-grandchildren declarations of desire for children. I’ve heard many newlyweds say they want a quiverful–I think my sister may have said 12–but those numbers tend to drop when the reality of childbearing and childrearing sets in.

    Similarly, I know how much better the second generation is–all the joy, none of the struggles. Who wouldn’t want to have 1,000 grandchildren?

  24. Starfoxy on May 18, 2006 at 3:39 pm

    “I do wonder what we could do to diminish the culture of hyperparenting among the Saints.”

    Maybe part of it is “the father primarily responsible for providing for the family” mentality. With the strict idea that (good dad)= (good provider) then men start gaguing their righteousness as parents in their ability to provide luxuries to their families. How many men subconciously feel that if their kids are wearing hand-me-down clothes and sharing an old crappy car that they have failed as ‘providers’ and therefore aren’t good fathers?

    However, you could say that hyper-parenting is mostly in the domain of the stay-at-home mom. However, I’m willing to say that having a “righteous husband” is the single largest status symbol for an LDS woman. So for the average LDS woman the more it looks like her husband is providing well (read righteous) then the higher her status is among her peers. The more stay-at-home-mom a woman is the better her husband is providing, therefore uberparenting is indicative of a good provider.

    I don’t think anyone goes through this sort of thought process consciously, but I do think that all this hyper-parenting is very closely tied to the percieved righteousness of the parents, and most specifically the father. And when the father’s main function is providing material goods then this seems an obvious result.

  25. Nate Oman on May 18, 2006 at 3:44 pm

    ” You would have to do this to overcome women’s instinctive resistance to the quantity-over-quality strategy, an instinct that is, it pains me to say, probably biologically based. ”

    Biologically based!! RW I am just appalled by this comment. Appalled…

  26. TrailerTrash on May 18, 2006 at 3:51 pm

    Why is that having lots of children is an especially desired result? Families have ALWAYS had children for economic reasons. I don’t mean to reduce all social motivations for having children to economic, only that it isn’t so suprising. People had larger families for economic reasons before. Now they have smaller families for economic reasons.

    I guess that I am just not compelled that living in a trailer park, sending my kids to sub-standard schools, sub-standard colleges (if they get that far given the neighborhood you’ve suggested that I raise them in), and forcing them to live a lower standard of life can really be called “good parenting,” especially when one can live otherwise by active family planning.

  27. Sideshow on May 18, 2006 at 3:52 pm


    In modern society, if reproductive success is the goal, then women should rationally choose to have more children: most women survive childbirth to be able to raise their kids and most kids will survive to adulthood to be able to reproduce. Therefore, more kids -> more descendants. That’s probably why the parents who have fewer kids don’t boast better reproductive success and the parents who have more kids do.

    For most men, if engendering kids incurs any cost at all, it will encourage them to have fewer kids to keep the total cost down since offspring survival isn’t much of an issue. This is probably why monogamous relationships temper the “male incentive to have more kids and play the odds” — they increase the cost even more.

    In a society that by default attaches kids to the mother if the parents split, how can provisioning the father possibly be more effective in getting resources to the kids? I’m trying to point out that cultural (and changeable) factors figure into the result of study after study more than nature, especially now that gender roles are much more muted. It may indeed be better in general to provision the mothers to get resources to kids, but probably not so overwhelmingly that it should be done indiscriminately, as manaen points out (I’m so sorry to hear about that, manaen. You and your daughter have my sympathy for the emotional cost of that kind of thing).

  28. Veritas on May 18, 2006 at 3:52 pm

    The traditional advice/teaching has always been get married young, have kids right away. Don’t put it off no matter what. Right? Well, the church also teaches to be prepared in all things, that no man is required to run faster than his strength, not to get into debt, for women to not short-change their education, and to be self-reliant. If I’m not supposed to quit school or use government welfare or acquire debt, and I’m supposed to be stay at home, how on earth am I supposed to at 21 and newly married with no health insurance and in school full time, have kids without welfare/medicaid, student loans and other consumer debt, and while still going to school? Now, I realize in certain situations if you have some other resource (like parents or free housing or school health insurance that covers maternity/children) this could work. But most people don’t have those resources.

    It seems to me all the counsel regarding such things is totally contradictory. Am I supposed to not get into debt or am I supposed to stay at home? Because how do I not get into debt if neither parent has a job? I see friends struggling to do this right now, and the dad is having to work full time and go to school part time, delaying his finishing and being able to better provide. The economy, unfortunatly, doesn’t operate the same way it once did. Housing is more expensive, education is more expensive, health care is hard to come by – I think these are the real reasons why (mormon) people are waiting to have kids. They cannot hope to provide for their children in the way they would like (with a stay at home parent) until much later in life. They aren’t waiting until they can afford organic baby food or heated wipes, they are waiting until they can afford health care and can afford for one parent to quit their job.

  29. Kristine Haglund Harris on May 18, 2006 at 4:02 pm

    Melissa, sorry I didn’t elaborate my point adequately. What I meant was that we now find it acceptable for women to have different “seasons” in their lives–they are allowed to want a career either before or after the childbearing years. I agree that pressure to parent full-time while children are young is still intense, both officially and culturally. So, given that women feel duty-bound to postpone career aspirations until their children are grown (or at least school-aged), it seems likely to me that they might want to limit the number of children they have so that the youngest starts school before they turn 50.

  30. John Mansfield on May 18, 2006 at 4:14 pm

    Interesting point from Noah Millman:

    “But . . . fertility is falling everywhere.

    “Japan, China and South Korea; Thailand, Vietnam and Sri Lanka; Brazil, Trinidad and Cuba; Russia, Ukraine and Poland; Italy, Spain and Greece; Iran, Turkey and Algeria. Care to guess what these countries have in common? A total fertility rate below replacement.”

    “Longman thinks that the cost of kids has risen primarily because of the expense of education. That’s a persuasive argument for the developed world – but for Algeria? Vietnam? Brazil? Reynolds thinks one culprit is that raising kids is more work and less fun. Again: reasonable for America, but I don’t even think this does much to explain Italy or Russia, much less Iran and Sri Lanka.”

  31. bbell on May 18, 2006 at 4:14 pm


    You are making good points. Its really not fair the way society is set up in this regard. I once had a bishop tell me that when you are in your twenties you are best able physically to have kids but society is not set up to make early childbearing easy But….. Many many LDS members still have kids young despite the obvious obstacles while in their 20′s. I am betting that many of the posters here have in fact done so.

    I bet that if you and your DH had a kid accidentally (this happens I had twins this way when my wife was 27) you would figure it out and make a go at it.

    #29. It depends on how important a career is to the individual woman. My wife, mom and 3 sister in laws could care less about it. They tell me they would rather not be met at the day of judgment by a child they should have had. Career or an extra kid or 2????? You cannot take a career with you when you are dead. But you can hopefully take a kid.

  32. DKL on May 18, 2006 at 4:56 pm

    Mark B: the second generation is–all the joy, none of the struggles. Who wouldn’t want to have 1,000 grandchildren?

    This is true for the small stuff like poopy diapers, curfews, and drawing on the wall. But it’s not true for big ticket items like rape, affairs with babysitters, or drug usage–just look at the Kennedy clan.

  33. rd on May 18, 2006 at 6:13 pm


    I think that there are other factors at play for those who have had children. My 3 1/2 children, while still in my twenties, have been largely acts of faith or purely accidents. But each of them has been accompanied with a spiritual manifestation that things will work out. I have a good job, but we are strapped a bit with student loans from graduate school. I doubt we are different from many.

    But I am cognizant of your list of considerations, barriers to having a family, etc. and am sure that each of them are very real. I also think that they are acceptable considerations when deciding whether to have a family. Indeed, it is much easier for me to have children where I currently live than it would be if I lived in downtown San Francisco or Manhattan, cost wise. But we all make choices–or are brought down particular paths–and I think we and God [can] know what’s best.

  34. mullingandmusing (m&m) on May 18, 2006 at 6:38 pm

    Maybe part of it is “the father primarily responsible for providing for the family� mentality. With the strict idea that (good dad)= (good provider) then men start gaguing their righteousness as parents in their ability to provide luxuries to their families.

    If this is where men think the rubber hits the road, (or if their wives think that) then they are clearly not understanding what is being taught by the prophets. We have to look at what the prophets say as a unified whole, not bit by bit. They NEVER say you should focus on luxuries, in fact they say the opposite. They emphasize that what matters the most is not the money, but the family relationships. Whenever we play the game of keeping up with the Joneses and competing with each other based on _______ (fill in the criterion of choice) then we are CLEARLY missing the point of the gospel. Becoming, not doing. Relationships, not things.

  35. Seth R. on May 18, 2006 at 6:42 pm

    I just watched a documentary on the building of the Hoover Damn during the Depression a couple months ago.

    Just so you know girls … It used to suck being a breadwinner too.

    In fact, life used to just stink generally. So it’s not like dad was out playing while mom was slaving at home.

    Modern society has changed that dynamic in several ways of course.

    Mark B.

    I was responding to the desire for a high quantity of children, not the desire for farm labor. And no, these women were not just dreamers who “wised up” after first experiencing labor. They actually had plenty of kids and don’t generally seem to mind the fact that they had a lot of kids. But they’re also tougher than most women I know (emotionally and physically).

    I’m not demeaning single-child homes or even deliberatly childless homes as some form of sub-humans. But I found something very admirable in the large families I know. It’s not always apparent to outsiders.

  36. Starfoxy on May 18, 2006 at 7:00 pm

    M&M #34 The thing is, though, Hyperparenting is all doing and no becoming. The fact that lots of LDS parents are guilty of hyper-parenting is perhaps indicative of the fact that they are failing to understand what is important. Perhaps we could take this as a warning sign and move away from the prominent teachings of “fathers are primarily responsible to provide.” I know that our leaders don’t mean for us to focus on these teachings, and spend a great deal more time teaching that building relationships is important, but what they say and what we focus on are often very different.

  37. Eowyn on May 18, 2006 at 7:39 pm

    To be honest, I’m afraid of having children. The way we often talk about mothering in the church makes me feel like my life will end when my children are born. It’d be nice if they could emphasize the joy and fun that mothers have in addition to all the self-sacrifice.

  38. mullingandmusing (m&m) on May 18, 2006 at 7:57 pm

    It seems to me all the counsel regarding such things is totally contradictory. Am I supposed to not get into debt or am I supposed to stay at home? Because how do I not get into debt if neither parent has a job?

    They have said that debt for education is one of those things that is acceptable. They also have never told a young woman to not quit school. They say, “Get all the education you can.” There are many ways to do this — it doesn’t always have to be before children are born. I have a good friend who completed her degree one or two classes at a time, while she had her first four children in six years.

    I think part of what they expect us to do is study things out in our minds and figure out what the Lord wants us to do. Each couple can go directly to the Lord and find out how to approach their particular situation, trying to take all the counsel into account, but recognizing that there are no exact specifics given on these types of issues.

  39. mullingandmusing (m&m) on May 18, 2006 at 8:15 pm

    I know that our leaders don’t mean for us to focus on these teachings, and spend a great deal more time teaching that building relationships is important, but what they say and what we focus on are often very different.

    You are right, and I think that may be part of our test — to learn to really listen and study the prophets’ words with a more “big picture” point of view — to see the whole of what they teach and not just the parts. It’s easy to get myopic and focus on one thing. I think that means we are mortal. However, just because we focus wrongly doesn’t make the counsel wrong, ya know? It’s not the counsel’s fault that we focus on things we shouldn’t. I think it’s important for our leaders to cover the bases…gotta have a balance in all that is life. I can imagine if the focus was only on relationships, for example, then some people would think other things (like being temporally self-reliant) wouldn’t matter. No matter what the leaders say, they will be misunderstood. But that is much more a reflection of our misunderstanding than anything else.

    I like this from Elder Maxwell:
    Our individually imperfect attempts at applying these powerful truths are lamentable, but this is not an indictment of the truths involved; man’s early attempts at flight produced many failures, but not because the laws of aerodynamics were unreliable.

    Our perspective does affect our behavior and our view of our fellowmen. In fact, when men and women look at life through the lens of the gospel they will see not only more clearly, but more broadly, the realities, obligations, and opportunities around them, as the illustration suggests.

    A few thoughts on hperparenting….. I think it may be a reflection of 1) self-doubt and insecurity (so we do more to feel better about ourselves); 2) looking to the side (to other parents, for example) instead of (or at least without) looking to God for guidance and standards of parenting, and 3) not understanding the Atonement. If the Atonement is for anyone, it’s for parents, because we make mistakes every day. But, when I understand the Atonement better, I realize that mistakes are part of the plan, and God cares a lot more about my heart and what I’m striving to become and how I’m working to improve than about what I can get done in a day, or even how perfect I am yet. I think one of the greatest challenges in life is to learn to think and see in more spiritual ways. That is extremely difficult when we are bombarded by mortal schema that are anti-spiritual. But THAT is why we are here…to learn to overcome all that is the natural man and learn to lean more on and become more like God. Sounds so nice “on paper” …but is a lifetime process in reality.

  40. rk on May 18, 2006 at 9:52 pm


    I remember feeling the same way, but after I had my two little boys (4 and 18m)I remember thinking “No one warned my how much fun they can be!” Sure it isn’t all chuckles, it involves work. There are frustrating times like anything else worthwhile, but the good times by far out weigh the bad.

    My life has not ended since having children. I can’t do everything I used to do without children, but I’ve been able to keep up and improve some hobbies. This may not be true for everyone, but I have had the time to develope talents I would otherwise not of had time for if I worked outside the home. There is a time and season for everything.

    I don’t care much for most parenting magizines, but I have found some books very helpful. I will say though that some parenting books are written by people who don’t understand children so you have to be careful and ignore bad advice.

  41. DMS on May 19, 2006 at 12:05 am

    People are having fewer children not so much because the cost of raising children has risen, but because the utility of children has decreased. Now that the government offers social security, children are not helpful in providing for parents in their old age.

  42. Adam Greenwood on May 19, 2006 at 10:31 pm

    I explicitly was not making a political point. I will soon, though, so save that angst. One thought: in a society where not everyone agrees on a problem, one political grouping will come to be associated with those who see the problem and want solutions to it. Bemoaning it’s no use.

    John Mansfield, Seth R., DKL, Wacky Hermit, Julie Smith, Starfoxy, Mullings and Musings, Manaen, RD, RK, whoever else I missed —
    thanks for making more of my point than I could. Hyperparenting, what a great phrase.

    Seth R., #3
    “I think half the problem is that parents today think they can actually do a better job of rearing their child if only they were to TRY HARDER.”
    I think your argument is healthy–we need to remember that we sow the seeds but we don’t make the plants grow–but not really true. Julie Smith’s right that we can do better if we try harder. I’m trying to face up to the fact that we’re in a fallen world where having more children can have costs, and reminding people that its still worth doing anyway.

  43. Seth R. on May 20, 2006 at 12:47 pm

    Something people need to watch out for:

    The less children you have, the greater the temptation to obsess over that one kid to an unhealthy degree. It’s not a given, but it is a risk.

    So maybe having multiple kids is sorta like diversifying your spiritual stock portfolio. And you don’t want all your spiritual/familial eggs in one basket.

    Yes, I am a horrible mean-ol man.

  44. mullingandmusing (m&m) on May 20, 2006 at 5:16 pm

    Pres. Packer recently talked about the issue of declining birthrates in the Church and the cost it has for the Kingdom. You can read it here.

  45. Eowyn on May 20, 2006 at 6:21 pm

    Re: 44

    I only briefly read the article posted by m&m. According to Pres. Packer, the cost of declining birthrates in the church is fewer missionaries.

    Also, this address was given at Women’s Conference. Women’s Conference is optional. You pay to go to Women’s Conference… (

  46. mullingandmusing (m&m) on May 20, 2006 at 10:11 pm

    Um, Eowyn, what is your point? Just because it was Women’s Conference doesn’t mean that it wasn’t worth reading. If you read the beginning of his talk, he made it pretty clear he was speaking in his prophetic role.

    That said, I probably should have just brought out his point that was relevant to the discussion. I just found the whole talk rather interesting, so I included a link to the whole thing. Sorry if that was overkill for this thread, however.

  47. mullingandmusing (m&m) on May 20, 2006 at 10:11 pm

    p.s. He also mentioned Heavenly Mother, which I found interesting as well.

  48. Eowyn on May 20, 2006 at 11:40 pm

    Sorry… I’m not sure I had a point with that comment… Probably should have collected my thoughts a bit more before I posted.

    I don’t mean the article isn’t worth reading, but it isn’t required in the same way a conference talk by Pres. Packer would be.

    I just overreacted to his comment about a smaller missionary pool. I had a religion teacher at BYU who focused on this problem as well, in terms of baby boys. Fewer baby boys blessed, fewer missionaries. Didn’t mention girl babies. Just rubbed me the wrong way, as if all I can do in the church is make babies who serve missions. People are more than just missionaries.

    I know this isn’t what he meant, but this is what came to mind.

  49. mullingandmusing (m&m) on May 21, 2006 at 12:29 am

    Ah, gotcha. I understand why you might feel that way. I guess it hit me differently — that raising children in the Church is also about building the kingdom, not just having a family for my own little world. And that affect on the kingdom comes in different ways, including raising missionaries (which would include both boys and girls). It just made me realize that everything I’m about should be focused building God’s kingdom — it’s all for His glory. When I think about it that way, it makes everything look a little different, ya know?

  50. Heather Bigley on May 21, 2006 at 7:13 pm

    Reading all this made me think of a lot of the big mormon families I knew as a teenager and young adult and how sorry I felt for those kids. Not that I had a swell childhood, but life looked just as crappy for all those 10-kid families with two parents as it did for me and my two siblings and our often divorcing mother. They didn’t seem to know their parents any better than I knew mine. They seemed all to be raised by each other, like us. They seemed just as disconnected from society and as poorly mannered as we were.

    The major difference between them and us was that they never seemed to take very many baths.

    Anyway, this “declining birth-rate” phobia has always appeared incredibly racist to me. Lots of brown people have tons of babies, but instead of celebrating that, white middle class society talks about irresponsibility, rampant sexuality, invasion of immigrants, etc.

  51. Adam Greenwood on May 21, 2006 at 10:34 pm

    “Anyway, this “declining birth-rateâ€? phobia has always appeared incredibly racist to me. Lots of brown people have tons of babies,”

    Birth rates are declining all over the world. People like me and Mulling and Musings are primarily concerned with the declining birth rates among Mormons and Americans, true, but that’s because we’re Mormons and Americans. Calling that racism is to denature the term.

    “Not that I had a swell childhood, but life looked just as crappy for all those 10-kid families with two parents as it did for me and my two siblings and our often divorcing mother. ”

    Even if you’re right, the specific point of the post is that people are valuable in themselves, which means that children are valuable in themselves, which means that it might be better to have more kids even if it means not being able to give the kids constant attention and fussing, or having kids down the street make fun of their hygiene. Just as, I hope you’d agree, the universal possibility of getting divorced and doing damage to your kids shouldn’t be a reason to avoid marriage and children. Anyway, I suspect that you are wrong about kids from large families being the equivalent of kids from divorced homes. If you look at the studies of the differences between kids from divorced homes and kids from married homes, I’m betting that kids from large married homes would be more likely to resemble the kids from the other homes. I don’t have any empirical evidence of that generally, but that’s my suspicion. In the one area I’m somewhat familiar with, which is church activity and temple marriage (studies show that divorced children are more likely to go inactive, not get married in the temple, etc.) I’m pretty sure that kids from large families resemble their small family but married peers more than they do their divorced peers.

  52. Adam Greenwood on May 21, 2006 at 10:42 pm

    True, Julie Smith. Getting called a racist gets old, as does the prejudice against large families that you find even in the church (they’re dirty, they’re antisocial, etc.). But courtesy is still a duty. I’ll go back and edit for tone.

  53. Heather Bigley on May 22, 2006 at 1:29 pm

    I apologize for the offensive post—I wrote a gut-reaction, but I should have revised for tone myself before I hit SUBMIT.
    But hey, you responded to me….

    I didn’t mean that all big families were dirty, poor, and anti-social. The family that introduced me to the church had seven kids, all of them gragarious folks who invited their public school friends over for family home evening and church basketball. This lead to lots of baptisms, and most of us are still active, but none of us (all in our thirties) has had big families (so far).

    That original family had six daughters and they are an interesting study in education and birthrate. The daughter with the most education ( a master’s degree) has the least children. The daughter with the least education (never finished college) has the most children. The others fall in between somewhere.

    As for racism, plenty of brown and black Americans are called irresponsible and over-sexed for having lots of babies. In fact, some African American feminists see the pro-choice movement as merely a cover to staunch black fertility.

    I know of only one study about big families, and I need to dig it up to support my coming claim, which said that children from big families tend to do worse in school than children from smaller families. I’m not sure where they ranked in relation to kids from divorced homes. But that study was studying resources per kid and its relation to academic success.

    At any rate, my apologies again. I hope this post doesn’t reflect my own dirty, poor, anti-social upbringing as much as my last post.

  54. RK on May 22, 2006 at 1:41 pm

    Heather Bigley’s characterization of “big Mormon famlies” is very unfair and steriotypical. I feel the need to stand up for big families. I am the 5th of 8 children myself so I can speak from personal experience.

    I was also aquainted with a couple of large families whose children were often unkept and undiciplined. I think this has more to do with the habits and parenting style of the parents than it did with the number of children although number of children could have been secondary factor. We didn’t always have the best clothes, but they were good enough. I usually didn’t stand out from the rest because of my clothes. My mother couldn’t stand seeing unkept children so we were usually neat except for an bad day once and a while. Our clothes were clean. I knew a large family in the ward like the type HB mentioned. The older children would frequently get into trouble. I can tell you that if any of us would have pulled the same stunts they did my parents punishment would have been swift and dreadful.

    I also feel need to share some of the benifits of being from a large family. 1. I have a lot of support from extended family during difficult times and times of crisis. One of my sisters got a serious illness. One of the most touching things about that time was seeing my brothers and sisters and their families do all the could to help. I know that I have help if I need it. 2. Relationships to siblings–I may not of received as much individual attention from my parents as some people in smaller families received, but I had the benefit of learning from different brothers or sisters. I remember getting good advice from them and I have had my sisters tell me about times when I gave them advice that helped them. I was 8 when my youngest sister was born. When she got old enough I took her on to be my “apprentice.” I taught her to do all sorts of funny things and she liked it, but that is a different story. I also like having a lot of people who can understand where I came from. I3. Learning Independance–My parents did not micromanage my life. Occationally, I saw other children from small families who had parents pushing them too hard to succeed in certain things. I felt sorry for them. I couldn’t imagine having my parents down my throat like that. Perhaps I could have used a little more parental attention, but in the meantime I learned to do things on my own and I would teach myself how to do different things. For instance, I couldn’t find anyone to show me how to ride a bike so I figured it out on my own. I also taught myself how to play different instruments, to sew, to knit and to cook.

    I can’t speak for everone, but large families can be very wonderful. There is just something special about them that outsiders have a hard time understanding.

  55. bbell on May 22, 2006 at 2:11 pm

    I took 4 kids 6 and under to Sac meeting yesterday by myself. I was not feeling very prestigious after about 15 minutes.

    BTW I saw in the Chicago Tribune about 6 years ago a study on the impact of large families on a individual childs education. If I had a link I would post it. It seems that coming from a large family DOES on average negatively impact a childs education. Then at the end of the article was a paragraph or 2 about how the LDS are immune to this trend. The studies authors seem to think that LDS parents have a support network large enough and deep enough to make up for the impact of coming from a large family. The article referenced youth programs, Scouts, Seminary ETC and interviewed a Mom from Suburban Chicago who said that she knows that other LDS ward members love her kids and are there for them.

  56. S. P. Bailey on May 22, 2006 at 2:39 pm

    Heather (No. 50, 53):

    There are perfectly non-racist reasons to be concerned about declining population growth in the western world—and by extension among members of the church. In his essay, “It’s the Demography, Stupid,” Mark Steyn writes:

    “In his book “The Empty Cradle,” Philip Longman asks: ‘So where will the children of the future come from? Increasingly they will come from people who are at odds with the modern world. Such a trend, if sustained, could drive human culture off its current market-driven, individualistic, modernist course, gradually creating an anti-market culture dominated by fundamentalism–a new Dark Ages.’

    “Mr. Longman’s point is well taken. The refined antennae of Western liberals mean that whenever one raises the question of whether there will be any Italians living in the geographical zone marked as Italy a generation or three hence, they cry, “Racism!” To fret about what proportion of the population is “white” is grotesque and inappropriate. But it’s not about race, it’s about culture. If 100% of your population believes in liberal pluralist democracy, it doesn’t matter whether 70% of them are “white” or only 5% are. But if one part of your population believes in liberal pluralist democracy and the other doesn’t, then it becomes a matter of great importance whether the part that does is 90% of the population or only 60%, 50%, 45%.”

    Steyn is concerned about culture—a fundamentalist population seemingly at odds with liberty and democracy—overwhelming the modern world. Race is irrelevant.

    The same kind of distinction can obviously be made in the context of Mormon birthrate. No distinction has been made in Adam’s post or the ensuing comments (as far as I can tell) between white american/european mormons and non-white, non-american/european mormons. The question solely involves the intersection of culture and birthrate. There is nothing racist about wanting Mormonism to spread throughout the earth through both natural increase and missionary work.

  57. Rosalynde Welch on May 22, 2006 at 4:13 pm

    Backing up a little, I’m surprised that nobody has spoken up in favor of resource-intensive parenting, since it seems to prevail among most middle-class Saints. I myself certainly don’t love the idea of endless driving, vast quantities of floor- and face-play, expensive lessons and trips; it all sounds, frankly, dull and exhausting and depleting—from my point of view as the mother. I’d much prefer to stay home and read while the kids play in the basement. But there seems to be some good evidence that this sort of resource-intensive parenting is beneficial—or at least adaptive in the present day—for children. In particular, the research of sociologist Annete Lareau, published in her book _Unequal Childhoods_, makes a very persuasive case that intensive parenting is perhaps the most crucial way in which class (that is, middle class) is reproduced in children. Parents who choose to invest less in their children should at least be aware of the costs: their children may very well not accumulate the social capital (to recycle a prhase from the discussion over on FMH) necessary to stay in the middle class. This may not worry some parents, but it does concern me. Chances are I’ll parent my children pretty resource-intensively, the same way I was parented. (My family was pretty remarkable, though, since my parents somehow managed to invest heavily in all nine surviving children, both in time and money.)

    Or I’ll find a way to compromise, like today: I took the kids to Barnes & Noble and gave them free reign at the train table (and the breast, for the baby) while I read Julius Caesar.

  58. DKL on May 22, 2006 at 5:19 pm

    Rosalynde, one question that I have about Lareau’s conclusions is how resource intensive do you really have to be to effect good results? My guess is that you reach diminishing returns pretty quickly. Parents in the 50s, 60s, and 70s did as good a job of transferring their class as we can hope to. I’m using as a baseline the expectations that my parents answered to in the 70s, and their generation did a fine job.

    Also, certainly not all resource intensiveness benefits the child. When I went to Kindergarten at Waynewood Elementary in Alexandria, VA, I walked nearly 3/4 of a mile from the corner of Ashwood Drive and West Boulevard to get to school (and I can prove it: Mapquest says its .75 miles). My girls can’t walk back and forth to school, which is 3 blocks away, until they’re in the 4th grade. So how exactly am I transferring my class to them by dropping them off in front of the school (and leaving for work later) instead of having them walk?

  59. Heather Bigley on May 22, 2006 at 6:38 pm

    I think the culture question is important, and those quotes are insightful, SP Bailey. But hasn’t culture always been transforming, always been influenced by other tribes and peoples? To want to freeze italy or upper-state new york and keep it that way forever is to ignore culture’s innate rhythms.

    Rosalynde’s concern about transferring class is really interesting, but I’m not sure parents transfer class. It used to be that a college education transferred class, because it gave people access to a common body of knowledge, common diction, and common thinking strategies. Whether that still happens is anyone’s guess. I teach at an urban, commuter university, and people don’t seem to be walking away with the same kind of education experience that I had. (maybe that’s reflective of my teaching!).

    PS I was addressing that original race comment to statisticians and the worriers who react to them. It wasn’t meant to call people here racist.

  60. S. P. Bailey on May 22, 2006 at 7:23 pm

    Heather (No. 59):
    I certainly agree that culture can change in time and space. In a sense, my service as a missionary was an exercise in such cultural change. And of course it was all very respectful and free from compulsion.

    Adam’s post (and the larger debate, when properly framed, regarding the implications of birthrates and forecasted demographic shifts) generally looks at the possible negative changes. What if cultures that don’t believe in democracy become a majority in Europe? What if Mormon parents have fewer and fewer children because they are unwilling to go against the grain of rising social and financial costs?

    So sure, good things may also come from demographic shifts. It might be interesting to see theorists explore that side of the birthrate issue as well.

  61. John Mansfield on May 23, 2006 at 8:26 am

    “Parents who choose to invest less in their children should at least be aware of the costs: their children may very well not accumulate the social capital (to recycle a prhase from the discussion over on FMH) necessary to stay in the middle class.”–Rosalynde Welch

    This concern of Sister Welch’s was one of Brother Greenwood’s points, and one I commented on also. For disciples, it really to needs to be looked at from the other side though. Parents who accumulate the social capital necessary to stay in the middle class may be cutting their families off from full fellowship with God and the saints. Jesus may have really meant it with that God/Mammon, love the one/hate the other teaching.

  62. Adam Greenwood on May 23, 2006 at 10:23 am

    “As for racism, plenty of brown and black Americans are called irresponsible and over-sexed for having lots of babies. In fact, some African American feminists see the pro-choice movement as merely a cover to staunch black fertility.”

    I know the kinds of criticism you’re talking about. There probably is a racist element to some of them, but I think you’re missing two elements: (1) the degree to which the criticisms are directed to having babies out of wedlock and (2) the degree to which the same folks who would criticize brown and black Americans as irresponsible and oversexed would say the same thing about white Americans who had large families. In fact, you suggest an interesting thought: maybe part of the reason having large families is considered icky and dirty today is because at some point family size came to be considered in racial terms? Having lots of kids was a ‘black’ thing to do and therefore distasteful? Obviously I’m not saying that people who are opposed to having lots of kids are racist, though in fact you hardly meet anyone who has any principled objections to it; it’s almost always just a reflex or a knee-jerk reaction. And obviously I’m not saying that people who have the reflex or the knee-jerk reaction are racist either. I’m just speculating on the origins of the phenomenon.

    Note: Heather Bigley had to be inflammatory to get my attention. I apologize. Several interesting points have been made, by Julie Smith, Katherine HH, and Rosalynde Welch, among others, and I intend to respond to them.

  63. Heather Bigley on May 23, 2006 at 2:48 pm

    On the commute this morning I heard Engines of our Ingenuity, which tangentially mentioned automobiles’ effects on the way we build cities, build houses, and plan families.

    Which got me to thinking about the affect of social movements like suburbia and physical restraints like urban development on family size; which got me about how at the beginning of May Mormon friends of mine sent their 15 year old daughter to visit me in my Houston one-bedroom apartment for 10 days. Hello. Houston’s a great town for singles like me in their 30s with an income and an ID card, but for kids? All I could think was—this would be ok if I lived on a farm. She would have stuff to do on her own without my constant supervision, neither of us would feel like we had no privacy because she was sleeping in the middle of my living room, at the least I would make her go out and collect chicken eggs every morning and the day would have some sort of structure.

    But I don’t live on a farm. No one lives on a farm [or at least large segments of the population]. No one in Europe lives in a farm, anymore. Why not? Because we diversified the economy and made it possible for a bunch of people to do something other than farm. And those people all have to live somewhere, so we made city centers, and then those city centers became over-crowded… Maybe population is falling because of recent population booms. Maybe there’s an ebb and flow to population that we’re not noticing. And maybe as soon as the baby boomer generation dies, we’ll have more space and feel the need to have more babies.

    I’m speaking about people in a sweeping pseudo-biological way, but it was just an idea…

  64. Adam Greenwood on May 23, 2006 at 3:04 pm

    Cities were traditionally population sinks. People grew up outside, where there was space, and then immigrated to the cities for work and culture and so on. Where they died of disease.

    Cities are still population sinks, but for different reasons, thankfully.

  65. bbell on May 23, 2006 at 3:10 pm


    There is definitly a knee jerk reaction to my large Mormon family in Public. Its either positive or negative dependent on the person. You would be surprised that its about 50-50 positive to negative. This probably serves as a negative towards people wanting larger families. As for the racial element it does exist. I have had 2-3 business associates ask me why a white guy like me has so many kids. Implying that White people are too smart to have large families. I have had other older whites here in TX thank me for “having white babies”

    RW is correct. We SHOULD do the best we can by our kids even if that means using up most of our resources. Many catholic families spend large sums sending their kids to Catholic schools for religious reasons for example

  66. John Taber on May 23, 2006 at 4:08 pm

    “There is definitly a knee jerk reaction to my large Mormon family in Public.”

    Meanwhile my wife (29) and I (33) feel somewhat ostracized in our ward – there’s only one other couple about our age who isn’t at least expecting. (We’ve been married now for a year and nine months, ourselves.) I felt plenty of pressure in the Church when I was single to get married (not that I didn’t want to) but now that I am it seems everyone looks at us strange.

    There’s a family in our ward – the father is ward mission leader, the mother Relief Society president – with ten kids. (They started at 22, and finished at 42.) One is on a mission, and one or two others are off at college for eight months of the year. The younger kids are among the worst-behaved in the ward, and my wife (who has baby-sat for them) says they’re that way at home too. This family to me makes the case that quantity parenting isn’t necessarily quality parenting.

  67. rd on May 23, 2006 at 4:13 pm


    I sympathize with your feeling ostracized. And judgment of those with or without children is all of concern. But your post is quite knee jerk in and of itself, somehow suggesting that negative reactions to “large Mormon families” in public is justified. Well, it’s not justified. And it’s sad. The large disconnect between your feeling “somewhat ostracized in your ward” and your subsequent marginalization of a large family is telling.

  68. bbell on May 23, 2006 at 4:18 pm


    It all depends on the individual family. I would hesitate to draw a sweeping conclusion on this topic from one family.

    The largest family in our ward 8 kids is also a well behaved competent bunch of kids. But the next largest 6 kids is a mess.

    It really just depends. Also if you are not used to noise and activity it seems like large families are out of control just because there are so many people involved.

  69. John Taber on May 23, 2006 at 4:27 pm

    That family stands out in my mind because they are by far the largest in my ward, and the mother wishes the older daughters (ages 18 and 20) would find a husband already, etc. I’m oldest of six myself, and I can certainly vouch that (until one of us got really sick, and that was the priority for my parents) each of us was individually loved and appreciated. There are several empty-nest (or almost empty-nest) families in my ward that had around five or six children, where that seems to be the case as well. It’s that one in particular I’m concerned about. I’m not saying, don’t have ten, I’m saying, don’t assume you’ve done your job once you’ve had your quiver.

    And don’t assume that the sooner your children marry, the better. The website where I met my wife, there were a substantial number of women close to my age (and older, and even younger) who were divorced. Almost all the divorced women – regardless of how long the marriage lasted – married at 18 or 19.

  70. Adam Greenwood on May 23, 2006 at 4:32 pm

    “It really just depends. Also if you are not used to noise and activity it seems like large families are out of control just because there are so many people involved. ”


  71. bbell on May 23, 2006 at 4:51 pm

    One of the funniest comments we ALWAYS get while eating out is……. Imagine the scene 2 year old twins, 3 year old and a 5 year old all contently eating food at say Chilli’s

    How did you get your kids to sit still for so long and just eat? They are so well behaved!!! I could launch into a talk about how my wife has them all scheduled out and they get regular naps but no…….

    I then have two standard answers.

    1. We never feed them so they are just happy to have something to eat
    2. I beat them

    #2 always get them laughing hystericaly.

  72. Allison on May 23, 2006 at 5:14 pm

    “BTW I saw in the Chicago Tribune about 6 years ago a study on the impact of large families on a individual childs education. If I had a link I would post it. It seems that coming from a large family DOES on average negatively impact a childs education. Then at the end of the article was a paragraph or 2 about how the LDS are immune to this trend.”

    I read an article about a similar (the same?) study done by Ohio State University researchers:


    The researchers’ explanations for high school achievement in large Mormon families were:

    1) “It may be that Mormon parents spend less time and money doing things for themselves, such as exercising, reading or watching TV, as they have more children,� he said. “They simply allot a greater portion of their total resources to their children than do other parents.�

    2) “Mormons are well-known for being pro-family, so parents with many children may receive substantial support from outside of their family,�

  73. DavidH on May 23, 2006 at 5:46 pm

    Looks like our LDS co-religionists and our catholic brothers and sisters are having an influence on the birthrate and demographics near our nation’s capital.

    “After decades of decline, birthrates in the United States, unlike those of most industrialized nations, have in recent years begun to tick up slightly, driven largely by immigration and to a lesser degree by people, including immigrants, who have followed the building boom into such counties as Loudoun and have produced, it seems, a mini baby boom of their own.

    “They are for the most part middle-class professionals and stay-at-home moms, people including Catholics and Mormons who might have had large families wherever they wound up living, and others who had one or two, moved out to Loudoun and then decided to have another one, or two, or three.”

  74. Mike on May 26, 2006 at 2:51 pm

    You should be grateful that God gave you the choice to decide how many children you can have.

    We were unsuccessful having any children the first five years of marriage. We made the best of it. My wife had a great job with NASA and we traveled around and went to the beach and had a good time. We had a bunch of church callings and it was fun doing them all. Many people in the ward thought we were just being worldly and selfish and we got quite a few little lectures. My wife did not want anyone to know the details of personal health problems so we never disabused the ward public opinion that not all young healthy couples without children are purposely delaying their births. We had one other couple in the ward who couldn’t have children as our best friends and support system.

    At one point this self-righteous church leader scheduled a visit to our house. He demanded that the visit be at 6:00 pm. I told him due to her long commute my wife would not be home until 7:00 pm. If he wanted to talk to both of us he bettter come by later. He told me that if I was exercising my Priesthood properly in the home, I would force my wife to be there when the Priesthood called, even if she had to miss a day of work. It was most inconvenient for him to come any later.

    Anyway, the Lord’s annointed came at 6:00 pm and after a long opening prayer by his counselor, proceeded to tell me that he had received a revelation and that he was compelled by the Spirit to come over to my house and call us to repentance. He told me to stop curtailing the birth of my children and to start working on having a real family. Funny thing, my wife was pregnant right then about 2 months along for the first time. We didn’t want to tell anyone that early since it would be easier not to have to deal with all the curious questions if it didn’t work out.

    I just laughed at him and told him he was so far out of line in so many ways. I laughed so hard that I actually fell out of my chair. He must have thought I was the worst. I told him to keep praying and thinking about the topic of repentance, it was our best collective hope. And to carefully record that exact day he came over to my house in his journal, it might come in useful to him some day.

    He was leaving as my wife came home. She wanted to hear his message and he was inclinded to deliver it again. At that point I physically put him in his car which was parked under a rather large spreading live oak and I told him if he didn’t get off the property immediately he was going to be dangling from the end of a rope. And he being the literal minded type, actually believed me.

    I knew my wife was rather more emotional than usual and she would have very likely flown into a rage at him and kicked him out of the house and called her relatives in Salt lake and maybe tried to get them to tell the GA’s they know or are distantly related to and in some way got herself so worked up that it could have jeopardized her pregnancy. We had grown so sick and tired of the insensitive way many Mormons treat infertile couples. When I later told her what his message was, she was glad I had not told her, although she thought the part about the rope was a bit extreme.

    Everything worked out for us. My wife almost died having that child. She put her life on the line again for the second. Now that was a difficult question. How big of a risk do you take to have the second child? With the first we didn’t know the risk, but it was high. We just wanted a family like everyone else and you start with one child. With the second, because of the understanding modern medicine gained during the birth of the first, we did know the risks and they were high. Our doctors advised us not to do it.

    The risk also included developing chronic health problems that would change the equation from mother as care giver to mother requiring intense care. I’m glad we did, we got lucky. And I like to think of my son as the kind of guy who might grow up to change the course of history. But I would never ever fault anyone if they chose to only have one child in our situation. Sometimes I think we should have had more faith and tried our luck again; put the gun to the head of my wife’s health and pulled the trigger the third time. She was willing at times. But then I come to my senses and realize we should be grateful for what we have.

    It is great to talk about general principles on this blog. But if you see specific people in your ward, do not judge them. A couple who is happy and wealthy and maybe even a little sassy on the outside, with only one spoiled brat may have things going on you would never guess. I think telling people what you did and why is more useful. They can form their own private judgements about how it relates to their individual circumstances.

  75. RK on May 27, 2006 at 10:15 pm

    If young couple at chuch doesn’t have kids, I make it a point not to assume it is because of worldliness. I do, however get annoyed at couples who are very vocal about how they want to limit the number children they have. I’ve heard stuff like, “One of us is getting fixed about #4,” I meet couples like this all the time. I think it is better to keep an open mind about how many children we will have. The Lord may may want to bless us with fewer or more than we would otherwise expect.

    I agree with you that it is very important to seriously consider the health of the mother when deciding whether or not to have more children. I would have to have a definate confimation from the Spirit before I put my life at risk. I can’t imagine leaving my children without a mother.


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