My wife, Amanda, wrote on the important issue of the temptations, pressures and expectations of having children and how many. It was published by CBMW this morning. Here is the full article.
In the beginning God said, “Be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth…” (Gen. 1: 28). The blessing of children was given in the context of Eden where God walked with Adam and Eve in uncorrupted communion. Everything was good and purposeful; nothing was tainted by sin.
These words have recently given me pause for thought as my husband and I consider adopting. You see, the research and red tape that has delayed the process, and the departure of our two children to university, seems only to have increased my desire to adopt.
I look around our church; I love what I see—large families, children being raised in the fear and instruction of the Lord. This too, serves to intensify my desire, and I wonder if as a mother with only two children, I have missed the mark to multiply—I mean really multiply!
So just how many children should a woman have?
Here are a few things to consider:
Know Your Motivation
After the blessing came the fall, and the subsequent corruption of creation includes our desires for God’s gifts. The prophet Jeremiah warned that the heart is deceitful above all things (Jer. 17:9), so I question my motivation even in something good like adoption: Why do I want to adopt?
Heart corruption is deep. Sin is multi-faceted, and locating the motivating, underlying thoughts and actions is like peeling the layers of an onion—and the more you peel the more you want to cry. Here are some questions to think through:
What’s your motivation for having children? Is it gospel-centered? Or, is it personal preference? Do you feel pressure to have more children? By what standard are you measuring yourself? Is it the ever-expanding evangelical family sub-culture, where even reproduction has become a competition of sorts? Or is it in God’s provision of children as a blessing?
Understanding your motivation for having children is a key component to deciding when to have children and how many you choose to have.
Know Your Identity
God’s mandate to multiply is the same now as then, children are an assumed blessing. But God’s promise to Abraham, to make him the father of many nations, is fulfilled in Christ, expanding the blessing beyond mere physical procreation (John 1:13)
Therefore a woman is not diminished by her lack of children because procreation is no longer the means of producing worshippers of God. It comes through regeneration, producing spiritual children for the family of God. Whether you are married or single, God gives all women ability to mother spiritual children. This identity is crucial to understand because this will keep us from the temptation towards greed and comparison, the fruit of a covetous heart. Knowing our identity as wives and mothers helps in understanding our limitations. We are all identified as mothers, capable and equipped to produce spiritual children by proclaiming Christ’s finished work to those in darkness and discipling them in the faith.
Know Your Limitations
So, how many children is enough? Originally my husband and I thought we’d have four children, and then we had the first two. They were lively individuals, and that, coupled with the fact that I am one of those women who is physically tired a lot of the time, were the reasons we stopped at two.
Things took a turn for the worse when, after our second was born, I began to experience insomnia. It lasted 15 years. I knew pretty early on that I couldn’t be the wife God called me to be and have lots of children. This was just one of my particular limitations.
We all have limitations. They might be physical, mental, or financial. But they remind us that we are creatures, not the Creator. We are sinners living in a fallen world. Eden is long gone and in its absence husbands struggle to love sacrificially, wives struggle to respect joyfully, children rebel, and parents struggle to shepherd their children’s hearts with the gospel. Scripture is replete with human limitations—it’s humbling.
God sets limitations so that we might remain dependent upon him. But covetous hearts lead to discontentment and the temptation to exceed those limitations. We covet when we seek satisfaction in something created rather than in Christ. A covetous heart would have me believe I can only truly be satisfied when I have another child. That’s greed.
Know Your Primary Function
Also, know your primary function as a wife. Being a helper to your husband should dictate what other roles you assume and to what extent you assume them. This is my consideration as we pray about adoption, because the number of children a woman has will impact her relationship with God and her husband. Wives can forget that their primary ministry is their husband, especially when children arrive. The most important thing children will learn is gospel love through their father’s sacrificial headship and their mother’s glad submission.
In a fallen world some women have the ability to function as excellent wives, care for four children, and keep a household running like a well-oiled machine, while others find this prospect overwhelming. The important thing is to understand your primary function as a wife to your husband and evaluate your ability in light of that relationship.
Know God’s Sovereignty
Finally children are not our right. They belong to God and are a gift from him. And they are not ultimate, Christ is. Being conformed to his image is God’s purpose for all women. Resting in his sovereign love will drive out anxiety, increase gratitude, and protect against covetousness.
We would have loved more children, but as I reflect on our 25-year marriage I thank God that we made the right decision for us at the time. Maybe the Lord will see fit to give us another child through adoption, but if not I trust he has something even better in mind.
Some women struggle with infertility and post-partum depression, while others fall pregnant instantly, sailing through pregnancy and motherhood. Some women can have multiple children and not be overwhelmed by it all. We are all different. And our families are different. Wise womanhood involves knowing our motivations, our identity, our limitations, our primary function as a wife, and most importantly, that our God is sovereign over the good blessing of children.