From being childfree to child-needful

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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By “Matt Lewis & The News” guest blogger Timothy S. Goeglein

There is an odd asymmetry of childlessness across the globe that is puzzling in its seeming contradictions.

In affluent, educated America and the West, large and increasing numbers of married couples aspire to a ‘childfree’ life, allowing themselves to pursue material well-being absent babies. The family line is extinguished. TIME magazine did a cover story on this.

In China, large and increasing numbers of married couples aspire to an opposite way of life, one that is freed of the oppressive ‘one-child’ policies imposed by communist leaders there. These couples seek a life full of babies beyond a single son or daughter, and defined by larger, multigenerational families.

Those who are free choose negation; those who are oppressed choose reproduction. This is an issue beyond contraception. It is about a broadened view of the spiritual nature of men and women, I think, and what countries, cultures, and civilization aspire to beyond their own eras.

The Washington Post, in one of the most important stories it has done this year, brilliantly and evocatively explores the sad reality of what the one-child policy actually means for parents in China.

“For more than three decades, debate has raged over China’s one-child policy, imposed in 1979 to rein in runaway population growth,” says The Post. “It has reshaped Chinese society – with birthrates plunging 4.77 children per woman in the early 1970s to 1.64 in 2011, according to estimates by the United Nations – and contributed to the world’s most unbalanced sex ratio at birth, with baby boys far outnumbering girls.”

A man called Xu Min is one of the central figures of The Post’s story. He and his wife had only one child because of the anti-child governmental diktat. That son was tragically killed in a car accident at the age of 23. Xu and his wife had followed the government’s mandate, even though they wanted more children. Now that their son is gone, they dread facing old age in unwanted loneliness and isolation.

The Post says, “Human rights groups have exposed forced abortions, infanticide and involuntary sterilizations, practices banned in theory by the government.” The Chinese government says it is deciding whether “to relax the one-child policy in coming years …”

The Post reports that up to one million Chinese parents have lost their only child, and that there are as many as 400 million fewer children in China because of the anti-natal mandate.

What about children in America who have been given the gift of life but not the gift of a family? What kind of picture emerges in our own country, in this still-young new century, compared to the rest of the world? The numbers are sobering.

There are approximately 400,000 American kids who have no family situation that is stable or permanent. They are part of the foster care system. Of that number, just over 100,000 of them are awaiting adoption, yet just under half are spending long periods of their young lives waiting more than three years to be connected with a family.

There are no orphanages in the United States now. Officials determined many years ago that family care for young people is better than institutional care. Children should optimally be raised in a family setting, increasing their chances for better mental and spiritual development. Raising kids is better in families than in group settings.

More than 27,000 kids ‘age out’ of foster care annually, meaning that no family has been identified for them. The lack of both emotional and financial wherewithal can be devastating.

UNICEF says about 153 million kids are orphans globally, but only a relative handful of those kids are adopted by Americans — about 9,000 of them in 2011, most of whom come to our country from Ethiopia, Russia, South Korea, Ukraine, and China. The State Department says Americans “adopted the highest number of children from China.”

Would it were that some of those American couples who previously thought they wanted a “childfree” marriage — and who are reconsidering the importance of babies and kids as central to family life — might step forward and decide to adopt or become a foster family.

What a selfless act of grace that would be not only for themselves but also for a child who yearns for a home, and for a mother and father who loves him or her. Choosing adoption is choosing life.

Timothy Goeglein is the Vice President for External Relations at Focus on the Family.

Matt K. Lewis