By ‘Matt Lewis & The News’ guest blogger Timothy S. Goeglein
The cover of TIME features a young couple lying on a beach, relaxing in the sun, with dark glasses affixed. Hovering above them are headlines celebrating “The Childfree Life: When having it all means not having children.”
Calm, serene, not a care in the world: This couple seems so young, so happy, so in the prime of their lives, so certain of their certainties, so without children. One can almost feel the cool breezes blowing about them confirming their lack of baby fetters. Not a care in the world; unattached; they are the center of their universe. The photographer and graphic designer have perfectly captured the narrative of the cover story.
We meet Laura Scott. She is now 50, but at the age of 14, while washing dishes, she decided not to have children. She is content with her decision 36 years hence. Scott says “she’s fulfilled.”
TIME says the Laura Scotts of our era have a lot of company: “The birthrate in the U.S. is the lowest in recorded American history. From 2007 to 2011, the most recent year for which there’s data, the fertility rate declined 9 percent. A 2010 Pew Research report showed that childlessness has risen across all racial and ethnic groups, adding up to about 1 in 5 American women who end their childbearing years maternity-free, compared with 1 in 10 in the 1970s.”
The story goes on to celebrate a life decoupled from kids and attached to the material things that convey affluence and achievement. TIME and its brethren magazines have been doing similar stories like this for years; more of their kind will surely flow in the months and years ahead, whether on line or in print. Such stories provoke great discussions about the priorities and meaning of a life well-lived.
One of the great benefits of such stories is they help us discern and distill what it means to be happy (short-term) versus what it means to be content (long-term).
Stories like these are not elementally inaccurate. They do in fact represent a growing demographic reality in America. The people featured in this and similar stories believe material things in life cohere over time into happiness and fulfillment, absent children. Are marriages somehow incomplete without children, a circle not closed?
Of course only a life of purpose and meaning gives contentment over time. While children are not always the bedrock of contentment and purpose in all marriages, they mostly are, and they have been since the dawn of time. It is how we are constituted as human beings. The philosopher Edmund Burke evoked this as the living, the dead, and the yet unborn — the mysterious and deeply satisfying chain of human life.
Strong marriages, strong families, and successful parenting convey deep purpose and contentment. The TIME cover photo of the prone, childless couple on the beach seems incomplete. Perhaps they are meant to be lying on a beach of their imagination, isolated.
I love beach photos featuring husbands and wives with their kids. Or the ones where members of an extended family are grouped together, perhaps with grandparents who have joined the vacation. That kind of photo probably would have come closer to a definition conveying “having it all,” even if it doesn’t comport with the shimmering of our current, cultural premise about what constitutes fulfillment.
Perhaps TIME will do that story next summer. It could be a cover story celebrating three generations of one family; a family which loves each other through and across the years, despite differences that invariably emerge; a family which has plenty of gray hair to complement the darker hair; a family where babies and senior citizens bookend the spectrum of the glory of human life; a family which believes joy comes through purpose and not things.
What a joy that story would be.
Timothy Goeglein is the Vice President for External Relations at Focus on the Family.