“Cheerfully childless in Chicago” wrote to syndicated columnist Amy Dickinson to complain about siblings whose young children are a focal point of family get-togethers. The childless couple has chosen not to have children because they are quite happy with just themselves and their pets; they are busy professionals and they have health and financial reasons. The couple tells Amy that their siblings “also don’t seem to understand and respect that, for us, we love our pets as if they were our biological children ….”
Chicago isn’t in the Diocese of Davenport, but the trend here and around the nation is fewer marriages and smaller families. Our diocese reported 314 marriages in 2018 compared with 494 marriages a decade ago in 2008, a decrease of 36 percent. Infant baptism rates also fell during the past decade. The diocese reported 819 infant baptisms (up to age 1) in 2018 compared with 1,082 infant baptisms in 2008, a 25 percent drop. The overall population has decreased, but not by such high percentages.
A Pew Research Center study released in February of this year states that “Half of Americans ages 18 and older were married in 2017, a share that has remained relatively stable in recent years but is down 8 percentage points since 1990.”
The New York Times reported on May 17 that “The United States’ birthrate fell for a fourth consecutive year in 2018, bringing the number of people born in this country to its lowest level in 32 years.” The statement was based on provisional figures published by the National Center for Health Statistics. Factors contributing to the downward trend include fewer teenage pregnancies and the lingering effects of the Great Recession. These days, it’s harder for young adults in their 20s and 30s to reach milestones that often precede starting a family, such as getting married, establishing a career or buying a home, according to the Times report.
Married couples need resources to provide for their families, but at what point do they have enough? The culture we live in today promotes affluence in subtle ways. Everyone “needs” the latest mobile devices, high tech equipment at home and at work, prepared meals delivered from the supermarket or restaurant, personalized streaming video and bucket-list vacations. We “need” to pay for the best schools in the best neighborhoods and save up for top-tier colleges. Who wants the hassle of children? Or the pressure?
As younger adults continue to opt out of faith communities, marriage as a vocation becomes irrelevant. The focus becomes the happiness of two people, period. Couples choose pets over children because, well, pets are much easier to control and require far less time and expense to care for. A culture of complacency sets in.
Ten years ago, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a pastoral letter titled “Marriage: Love and Life in the Divine Plan.” Read at least the abridged, three-page letter and share it with your children, grandchildren or other family members (https://tinyurl.com/y6ow2jf3). Then check out the USCCB’s website on marriage: foryourmarriage.org.
We are reminded in the bishops’ letter that “Marriage is not merely a private institution. It is the foundation of the family, where children learn values and virtues that make them good Christians as well as good citizens. Marriage is important for the upbringing of the next generation, and therefore it is important for society.”
We need to celebrate and support marriage, within our own marriages, in our parishes and through efforts such as Covenant of Love Marriage Mentors. Read more about marriage care on the Diocese of Davenport’s Faith Formation website: https://www.davenportdiocese.org/marriage-care
Married love is life-giving for the couple, for the children born of that marriage and for society as a whole. Granted, no family is exempt from trials and tribulations. We learn to give of ourselves within the family and our willingness to do so leads to a stronger, healthier community and world.
Some couples are not cheerfully childless and long for or have lost children. We need to reach out to them in love and support. “Cheerfully Childless in Chicago” can keep their pets, but let’s set an example of marriage and family life that encourages them to be open to welcoming children with the grace of God, and for the good of the world.
A culture of complacency won’t sustain us.
Barb Arland-Fye, Editor