Why the Directive to Not Postpone Families?

by Caroline

Baby A, two days old

Baby A, two days old

Six days ago, I gave birth to my second child. A girl this time. Though a bit sleep deprived and stressed out about how to care for both her and my 3 year old son, I’m absolutely thrilled to have her, as is my husband. Getting her involved several unpleasant trips to the fertility clinic, so we feel terribly lucky that it all worked out so well.     

Having this baby has made me ponder Church leaders’ directives to not postpone having children.  This advice (command?) never made much of an impact on me as a young married woman. I waited six years after my marriage to begin our family. I was 28, and I was always glad I waited, though my husband would have been happy to begin our family sooner. By the time I had my son, I really wanted a baby. I was ready. I would have struggled and had a much harder time with motherhood and marriage if I had had him a year or two into our marriage.

While my experience with postponing my family has definitely been an overall good one, I now appreciate, more than ever before, the idea of not waiting too long to begin. I had problems getting pregnant at 30. If I had waited until I was 36, it could have been that much harder, I imagine. Having experienced some infertility, I now ironically find myself advising my friends who are in their early 30’s and getting married to not wait too long before trying to get pregnant.

While my appreciation for this directive to not postpone families has grown because of my own experience with infertility, I am left wondering just why there continues to be an emphasis on having children young. Julie Beck’s 2007 Mothers Who Know talk reinforces the idea. She states:  

“President Ezra Taft Benson taught that young couples should not postpone having children and that “in the eternal perspective, children—not possessions, not position, not prestige—are our greatest jewels.”

I don’t know if she meant the second half of her sentence to explain the first half – i.e. that couples should not postpone children because children are our greatest jewels. But if she did, one can easily argue that children can still be our greatest jewels (I’m uncomfortable with that metaphor, but I’ll go with it), whether one gives birth to them in one’s thirties or one’s twenties.

The Kimball talk Beck references, “To the Mothers In Zion” gives additional hints as to why he implored young people to not put off having children. He seems to associate having children young with having many children, since he spends a bit of time talking about the joys of large families.

With the decrease in emphasis on having large families, however, I am left wondering if there are other, often unspoken reasons for the continuing emphasis on having children early into the marriage. Here are a few possible reasons I’ve come up with.

1) having children young might keep fragile young marriages together, as couples are given additional incentives to try to work through their problems.

2.) encouraging women to not postpone children often prevents them from establishing themselves in the workforce, thus making the gender role division that Church leaders advocate more likely.   

3) since Church leaders see having children as such a huge factor in character and personal development, they think that the earlier one starts, the better a person he or she can become.

-What do you think of my possible reasons for the directive?

-Can you think of other reasons why Church leaders would continue to advocate having children young?

-What has been your experience with either postponing, or not postponing, your family?

Caroline

Caroline is a PhD student in Women's Studies in Religion and mother of three.

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56 Responses

  1. Margaret says:

    Congratulations on your new baby! She’s adorable. Any post that starts out “Six days ago, I gave birth to my second child…” is impressive.

    I’ll have to think more about why Church leader encourage having kids young, but I really hope that it’s not for Reason #1 that you gave. While kids may make healthy marriages more complex and strong, the burden of a baby on an already weak marriage is a heavy one. It appears to me that those who have a baby “to save the marriage” often end up with a very sad situation.

  2. javelin says:

    It doesn’t make sense to have children early if you do not plan on having one child per year until reaching the age of 40. This comes from the fear of the femenist movement. It also comes from the ill advised comments of staying away from birth contol.

    It is very healthy to communicate with your partner and plan a family together. Today, our economy is much harder to raise a large family on one income. This was true even before October of last year.

  3. Shelley says:

    I always assumed it was so a woman could have more children (start early and have a lot before you aren’t able to anymore). Perhaps it’s more complex than that.

  4. James says:

    I can think of some reasons that I have observed for myself, personally, as a relatively new father (we also did not have kids immediately following marriage). The biggest one, I think, is that having kids has hammered home the concept that it’s “not about you” quicker and harder than just about anything I can imagine. If there’s anything that will force learning about the principles of sacrifice and consecration, it’s having kids. I’ve always considered myself a relatively unselfish person (at least in some ways), but having kids puts that into perspective a little bit better.

    I’ve also often considered the counsels to 1) start a family early, 2) avoid debt, and 3) get all the education you can. There’s some interesting tension there, which has definitely factored into our family planning.

  5. Janna says:

    What ultimately frustrates me about all of these edicts is that they take no account for a person’s unique path or mission in this life. Perhaps it’s best for me that I not have children until I’m 40. Perhaps my future child’s life mission must come to fruition later, rather than sooner. Perhaps God has a perspective or prerogative outside of these “rules.”

    Oops. I forgot. What “they” say is from God. Shame on me.

  6. bonz says:

    Congratulations on your new, beautiful baby! I really like this post and need to keep thinking about it. I think James is right on with his “unselfishness” comment. It’s difficult to think of a more effective way for a couple to learn to ‘get over themselves’ than to reproduce and realize that your family is about more than you and your wants. I have never felt more love for and from God and for and from my husband and just all-around warm fuzzies than when I stared at our newborn for the first time. Maybe church leaders give this directive because they want to invite people to feel that, because families give us a glimpse of what it’s all about.

    Also, spouse and I were both in graduate programs at the time and a lot of people thought we were nuts to have a kid, so frankly, I appreciate the “we believe in having children” reminders from the pulpit to remind me we’re not crazy.

  7. wendy says:

    Caroline, I find your connection with this counsel from prophets to infertility a compelling one. And I’m surprised I never saw this before, given that I also had stuggles conceiving after a 4 year wait to start having children. When we struggled with infertility, all of a sudden infertility seemed everywhere and I was astonished at how many people (both within and without the Church face this). There are a number of experts who are at a loss to explain the increasing rates of infertility.
    We are now blessed to have two children and will likely have at least one more, if we can. I would rather interpret the advice to have chilren early in the way that you have suggested. I had always viewed it in a more negative and even patriarchal light– a command to reinforce a woman’s role in the home and to have a large brood. Your suggestion that this counsel may have been a warning to families that the window to have a family is smaller than many realize is affirming of the divine role of the prophets. It makes me feel at peace to think that this “edict” was given from God, through Church leaders, with the intention to prevent me (and others) from postponing children until it was too late. The sorrow that would accompany the realization that you are unable to have children because you have fertility issues that only compound with age would be difficult for anyone to face. The idea of a Heavenly Father wanting to spare as many from this earthly sorrow resonates as being true more than the idea that women must be coerced into having large families quickly. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this. Be sure to enjoy your beautiful daughter.

  8. cms says:

    The cynical side of me expects to hear fewer missives about delaying children and more about women becoming educated because two incomes means more tithing.

    ….

  9. Kelly Ann says:

    Caroline, you amaze me! Such a wonderful post so soon after …

    I think fertility is a major concern. I also think having energy for kids is a concern. As I grow older, with this in mind, I wonder if I even really want kids at this point when and if I get married.

  10. jks says:

    My husband wanted to wait longer than I wanted to wait. While I never feel like we wasted that time, I do not feel like we needed it. I’m glad my husband finally saw that there wasn’t going to be some sort of magic time that he would suddenly feel old enough and mature enough to have a baby.
    I consider the reasons behind the “don’t postpone” to include things like:
    Having children are a priority according to the LDS teachings. You don’t wait until your priority is convenient…you should make other parts of your life fit around what is most important.
    Most people will never feel completely ready financially, physically, emotionally, etc. for parenting.
    Half of all children who are born are “accidents.” It is extremely difficult to make the decision to have a child (the first, or the second, or the third) and without society or the gospel encouraging us the birthrate plummets. God’s work involves his children being born into mortality.
    There is a window of time especially for a woman. If you want to have one, and when you are ready another one and maybe a third and the option to have a fourth if it feels right….you have to have some years for it. Our society is being sold the idea that you can have it all and a quick trip to the infertility clinic can get you a baby if your body isn’t cooperating, but that is not the case.

    I think James points out a key issue. We are encouaged to get an education, don’t wait to marry, stay out of debt, don’t wait to long to start a family, don’t place work over family or even be a SAHM. Unless we happen to be the lucky one percent who meets the right person the last day of college after husband landing that perfect job that supports the family and wife landing that perfect job that easily transitions to part-time from home…..the rest of us have to prayerfully consider the best course of action for our marriage and family.
    I do however think it is important for couples to be encouraged to not wait too long, to prayerfully consider, and to feel some pressure to have kids…..kind of like you encourage high school students to go on to college. WIthout that encouragement, they might not realize how important it is and what a wonderful opportunity it is.

  11. m&m says:

    Congrats on your baby. She is gorgeous!

    You asked about personal experiences. We didn’t plan to have children quite as fast as we did (first one yes, but the other two came quickly — three in three years) it this way, but had we not had our children as fast as we did, we wouldn’t have them (health problems for emerged shortly thereafter and I’m still sick and still unable to have more. Sniff.) I could never have imagined that I would essentially have only four good years of fertility. To have had three children come, even though at first I was thinking, “Why didn’t we get to do wisdom and order here?” 🙂

    I should note, though, that answers don’t always come the way you think they will on the flip side, either. Anyone who has experienced infertility and ached for children can attest to that. I can, too…except that we have had to choose to not have more children, and that has been heartrending. The general counsel has not changed in my mind, but I have found that God can and does guide us w/ our individual circumstances.

    Personal experience aside, I think the main reason we have this counsel is because marriage and family are central to God’s plan. I could think of practical reasons (it’s easier to go w/o sleep when you are younger, infertility is a real possibility and can come unexpectedly, etc.) but I imagine there are likely many reasons on the practical side to wait, too, so I’d go with the doctrinal foundation of it as the main reason.

    Frankly, too, I think we hear the counsel because the cultural trends are going a different direction (marriage and family are delayed, if not avoided, with a lot more frequency) and also because parenthood is just plain hard, and can be scary in a world that is full of stress and unknowns and conflicting voices. I appreciate the reminders about the standards.

    I will say again, though, that we are reminded to go to God to figure out what those standards should look like in application in our lives. The counsel does not absolve us from or take away our agency. It is a guidepost for exercising it, for knowing what the standards are in the first place. Elder Holland’s WW leadership talk on general patterns and specific lives is relevant, imo. I loved how he was so clear about why standards are taught, while acknowledging that we have to figure out the specifics in our lives.

  12. Azucar says:

    We were married for six years before we had our first child. Three of those years were by choice, three years we faced infertility.

    I am extremely grateful for the years we waited, for the years we struggled, and the two children (so far) that have come to us.

    However, as much as I think those years benefited us, I have to say, having a child kicked my husband’s ass in gear. Part of me wonders if having a child earlier would have given him the motivation he needed to make something of himself.

    In my case it was clear as a bell when we were told to start trying to have children. Thank goodness I listened, because it took a while.

  13. Margaret says:

    I went to high school in Utah and my husband grew up on the east coast. We just had our first baby two months ago. He’s five years older than me (I’m 25) and yet I’m one of the last of my h.s. friends to have a baby and he is the first of his. I have one friend who is pregnant with her fourth and all his friends are pretty overwhelmed with the idea of parenthood, although some are beginning to talk about it.

    I think that the church asks young adults to grow up quickly in general. They don’t encourage the low-responsibility, adventurous 20-something life that most of my husband’s friends chose. One General Conference speaker even mentioned that it’s not okay to live in your parents’ basement when you’re grown. They want serious-minded adults with a plan, an education, a wedding ring, and a baby.

    This is more how things used to be before the birth of the ‘teenager’ during the 1950s. Our culture then created this idea of a stage between childhood and full adulthood which previously didn’t exist. In the decades since then, the in-between stage has stretched longer and longer. Perhaps the church leaders want to return to the old way.

  14. Janna says:

    I apologize for being a huge wet blanket on this discussion, but again, what concerns me is the complete and utter lack of understanding for one’s personal spiritual path when giving an edict (which is what this is.) While general authorities, people in the church, and those of us on the forum often say, “of course, do everything prayerfully,” in the face of any general authority counsel – I often wonder if we don’t give credence to spiritual promptings that steer us from the “path” because the cultural precedence is so powerful.

    I believe that church leaders encourage people to have children young to ensure the growing membership of the church. I also believe that, yes, children teach us greater love. I also believe that, yes, you will have fewer fertility issues (and therefore, less heartache) if you have children young. But, overall, I believe that the reason they give this counsel is to ensure we have a stable, increasing membership in the church.

  15. Yet Another John says:

    Come on guys, you’re missing the point entirely here. The real reason to have kids early is so you can take the grandkids to disneyland before you’re in a wheelchair!

  16. Davis says:

    These days with people occasionally having children late, everyone thinks it will work for them.

    According to almost every study done, 35 is the age women really slope into infertility.

    At 35 their fertility is 50% of what is was when they were 25. At 40 it is 15%. At 44 it is 1%.

    If you have kids after 35 without help – you are on the lucky side of life

  17. Alisa says:

    Congratulations on your beautiful baby girl, Caroline!

    I’m excited to say that after eight years of marriage, I am expecting our first child. I am so thrilled. DH and I have some large financial concerns (even after going through all our graduate education, he can’t find a job), but I am still at peace. The other day I was out on a jog, and I almost had to stop because I was overcome with a feeling of love for my growing baby that took my breath away.

    I am so glad I did not have a child before now. I don’t think I’d have the same perspective that facing all of this opposition brought me. The last eight years have been difficult in the Church as a childless couple – at times we weren’t sure if we would ever have kids – and has led to a feeling of ostricism. I have faced judgment for working, and that was incredibly hard. The tears I’ve shed over the judgment of others in the Church, from its leadership to friends and family are uncountable. But you know, in the end it was my choice to make. I was not going to make a choice to bring another life into the world unless I knew it was right and I could give everything I had to that child. And I wasn’t going to make the choice out of fear – fear of infertility, fear of not fulfilling the commandments, fear of being branded as selfish for hording my genetic material. Fear seems the opposite of love and faith, and I needed to wait for those qualities. And they eventually came.

    I’ve made the right choice to wait this long. Others will have to make the choices that are right for them. I will probably work after the baby comes, but I fear the judgments of others less as I grow older. They don’t know my circumstances, but God does. And the God I believe in is there to help me in such a difficult situation, not punish me for my imperfections or the imperfections of the economy.

    If I view the Church as a spiritual entity, I see the imperitive as driven by tradition and pre-defined gender roles. If I view the Church as a business, I see it as a way to keep people in the fold (there’s much more incentive to place awkward truths or spiritual doubts on the back burner when your decisions affect your eternal family). Fortunately, I’ll go with the spiritual entity view, and add to it an element of personal revelation, and not running faster than there is strength. I admire young families, but it wasn’t meant to be for me. That’s OK.

  18. LucySophia says:

    My response will be different than the others. I grew up in an older generation and our formative married years were at BYU. We had 6 children in7 years and people thought we were so righteous and perfect. After moving away from Happy Valley, I finally went to a women’s clinic, got a diaphragm, and sang the Hallelujah Chorus all the way home. DH did NOT like this at all, It gave me control over my body. I had 2 more planned children after that and life was better, especially with older kids to help.

    Then I had two miscarriages in one year. Very emotional for me as our marriage was failing and my hormones were wacky. THEN – drum roll please – I found out I was pregnant with #9. I was 43, 1st child married the month before and 1st missionary was coming home, and two more marriages were coming up. I thought HF made a HUGE mistake! DH strutted like a rooster and treated me like chicken s—t.

    Older kids thought it was so cute. Made me watch “Father of the Bride.” I cried the whole way thru. My biggest fear was that I would throw up in the temple during the weddings or at the receptions. Thank goodness friends stepped in to help – bless them. After #9 was born, DH was so puffed up it was ridiculous, but the topper came when he told me I should have more kids. NO – NO – NO. That was the straw that broke my camel’s back in our marriage. He read to me from the CHI about birth control (he was in the Bishopric) and insisted I quit using it. He wanted me to stay barefoot and pregnant at 43!

    To make a long story short, we divorced. The perfect couple with the perfect family. The seed of our divorce was his desire to have LOTS of children no matter what it took. I endured years of verbal, emotional, and sexual assault. Now I am happily married to a NM, who was never married before nor had children. He loves being a papa to my 12 year old. I am at peace with having children.

    Having said all of the above, I am happy to be a mother, although it was the most supremely difficult thing I’ve ever accomplished in my life. Mothering taught me to be utterly unselfish, extremely creative and childlike, and changed me into a better being. Would I do it that way again? Hard question. Remember, I was in the generation on LDS women who heard the talks from Kimball and Benson, whose husbands decided it was the law and we had to follow, damn what I felt in my heart.

    So… why do I think we are told to have children when we’re young? Simply because we are young and foolish and idealistic. We think we are choosing the right, that our marriages will last, and that our kids will be angels.

  19. adamf says:

    I think I agree with #3. For #1 I think it’s the opposite.

    I always interpreted it to be “don’t be selfish and save up for better cars and boats” instead of having children.

    My wife and I waited about 2 and a half years for the first. We both thought it was a good time. I think for many that first child takes a huge leap of faith (not necessarily religious faith) to get into. You really can’t know what it’s like until you have a baby of your own, so I can see the point behind the caution to not put it off too long.

  20. AdamF says:

    I agree about the analogy as well– it seems a little strange to put children in the category of possessions or jewels.

    I am also wondering what “postpone” even means… I don’t understand how that could be anything other than a relative term.

  21. Janna says:

    adamf, are you saying that people who don’t have children are less emotionally/spiritually developed than those those do?

    Or, are you saying that having children provides the opportunity for development – but it’s up to the person to decide whether they will use the opportunity to help them grow?

  22. mb says:

    Certainly there have been people who have used general authority admonitions in unrighteous, controlling ways as some have sadly chronicled here. And there have been people who have blindly followed those admonitions without having the knowledge to seek and the maturity to follow personal revelation that might have directed them differently. (Both of which failings we all stumble into at one point or another in our lives.) As to your question of why, reading through the statements made by general authorities in their context it seems that it is meant to be a caution against selfishness or against the avoidance of the taking on of adult responsibilities; two temptations that are more common in our era than in previous ones.

    “One of Satan’s most intriguing traps among many of God’s children today seems to be a trend to postpone taking on mature personal responsibilities.” Marvin Ashton, October 1990

    “Some have abdicated parental responsibilities for pursuit of material things, unwilling to postpone personal gratification in the interest of their children’s welfare.” Ezra T. Benson, October 1992

    That doesn’t mean that there are not good reasons to postpone children. It just means that it would be good to take stock and find out if your reasons are wise or foolish.

  23. Ziff says:

    Congratulations, Caroline!

    I like the possible reasons you suggested for the “don’t postpone having children” counsel. Here’s another one: President Benson’s talk was given in 1987. My impression is that by the 1980s, the general leadership of the Church had given up on the “birth control is of the devil–you should never use it” line–too many members were using it anyway. I wonder if “don’t postpone children” isn’t simply a retreat from the previous “don’t exercise any control at all over when you have children” counsel implied by the “don’t use birth control” counsel. So I wonder if President Benson wasn’t in effect saying “Okay, we know you’re going to use birth control. Please just use it judiciously, because it might get easy to think you’ll have children later and then you never get around to it.” Which I guess is pretty much what some other commenters have already said.

  24. madhousewife says:

    I have to echo James’s comment about kids hammering home the “it’s not about you” concept. I’ve said this elsewhere (and probably here, too–said it a lot), but my husband and I had our first baby much sooner than we’d originally planned to. (She was unplanned.) Our marriage was not strong at the time. I sometimes wonder what would have happened if we had waited, just as we’d planned to. Would our relationship have improved? Would it have gotten worse? Would we have ended up having kids at all? I would certainly not recommend to a struggling couple that they start having kids to save the marriage–quite the opposite, in fact–but in our case, I believe it really did save our marriage, for exactly the reason James pointed out. (And probably others–haven’t read all the comments.)

    I think people shouldn’t have children until they want them–I don’t believe in waiting until you’re “ready,” because I don’t know what that means–but the sad fact is that having children earlier (and often) does have health benefits for women, in addition to being at lower risk for fertility problems. (But who wants to say, “Reduce your risk of cancer–be a teen mother!” No one.) I don’t believe the health aspect has much to do with the church’s counsel. I think it’s more about getting people into the family game as soon as possible. Having children does mature you. Obviously, it’s not the only thing that matures you, but it accomplishes it like nothing else. It also tends to make you wiser and more compassionate than you were before. Though not necessarily more cheerful. 😉

  25. madhousewife says:

    P.S. Congratulations!

  26. Janna says:

    Madhousewife, what do you mean by, “but it [having children] accomplishes it [maturity] like nothing else.”?

    Are you saying that parenthood matures you faster, better…?

  27. Caroline says:

    I’ve been reading all your comments with great interest. When I get a free moment, I’ll try to respond to some of you.

  28. anon for now says:

    Interesting topic.

    Children don’t create incentives for anything. If they did, there would be less miserable children in the world.

    Reason #2 misses the mark, trying to use a spiritual thing to achieve a material objective.

    As for me, I remember the words “joy and rejoicing in your posterity”. There are definite blessings associated with being a parent. That cannot be denied. My reason for the counsel of “don’t put off families” is that GAs recognize that putting off families is putting off blessings. Some people have experiences about “we know we need to have a baby”. I have never had those. Responses for me have always been something to the effect of “It’s always the right time if you want the blessings associated with having children”.

  29. Tiffany says:

    I personally think it is a choice we as women need to make with thoughtful prayer. I have always wanted a large family, my whole life, even before I was a member of the church (joined at 18). I was 25 when I got married. My husband had finished grad school and was able to support us without me having to finish school. We decided not to wait to have children. My family was very much against this. They thought that we should get used to being married for a while and get to know each other better. Ok, we dated for 18 months and were engaged for 3 I think we knew each other fine or else I don’t think I would have married him. But, My Patriotically Blessing clearly states, “you will have children in Zion, you must strive to make this happen.” To me that meant it was going to be difficult so trying as soon as we were married shouldn’t be a problem. Within 4 months I knew that I was going to have to do everything I possibly could to have children. I have PCOS and had a uterine septum. Two known miscarriages and a surgery later I was given the ok to try again. It took three years to have my first child. I then wanted to have another right away. (Both my husband and I are only children and I did not want that for my child) When she was 7 months we started treatments again and 3 months later we were pregnant. They are 20 months apart and yes at 30 it was difficult but I survived and so did they. I also got pregnant on my own shortly after my son, but I lost that pregnancy early on. I tried for about 2 years after that to conceive again and with out any luck. I still want a large family and if the time is right we may start treatments again.

    I really think that there are more and more women who are having a harder time conceiving. I think that the leaders have been prompted to advocate for having children when there is a more reasonable chance that womens bodies can handle healthy pregnancies.

  30. Caroline says:

    A free moment!

    Margaret, good point about the dangers of bringing a baby into a troubled marriage.

    javelin, yes, large families don’t seem nearly as feasible as they were a generation ago. Just the idea of paying for college for one child is frightening.

    Shelley, I think that the large family ideal has got to be a huge factor in Church leaders’ thinking about this topic.

    James, I agree that having kids does provide a great opportunity for learning selflessness. I am, however, uncomfortable with the idea that it’s the best or only way to really learn the concept. (Not that you were saying that.) My discomfort stems from my belief that childless people can progress and learn charity just as much as parents can. (Janna, this is the point I think you are raising, and I’m glad you are doing so.) To assume that parenthood is the only way to develop a mature and selfless outlook seems to me to be unfair to childless people. Good point, James, about the tensions in GA’s advice to young people.

    Janna, I LOVE your point. Thank you, thank you for articulating that.

    Bonz, I too feel a huge surge of love when I look at my newborn. It is a uniquely wonderful feeling.

    Wendy, I’m glad my infertility reason resonated with you. I too know of so many couples who have problems getting pregnant.

    ok, running out of time and steam. I’ll just respond selectively to a few other comments:

    m&m: Holy cow, 3 kids in 3 years! That must have been a challenge, but I’m glad for you that it worked out so well, considering your later health problems. I like what you said here: “we are reminded to go to God to figure out what those standards should look like in application in our lives.”

    Margaret, interesting points about leaders trying to get young adults to grow up more quickly. I hadn’t really thought of that aspect.

    Janna, I think your point about leaders wanting a growing Church membership is very valid. And Mormon (folk) doctrine, with its ideas about all these spirit babies waiting and waiting to be given a body, gives leaders a doctrinal justification for counseling people to start young and have large families.

    Alisa, Congratulations!! I’m so glad you did what was right for you and waited until you were ready. I do hope there won’t be too much judgement towards you for being a working mom. I’ve been lucky to never have really sensed that in my ward. I figured it was a marker of how times have changed, but perhaps it’s just location – I happen to live in an area where there are a good number of professional women.

    Lucysophia, Thank you so much for sharing your story. Your first marriage sounds like an absolute nightmare. It is a poignant example of the pressure so many Mormon women experienced a generation ago to have large families. I’m so glad you left the marriage and found a man who treated you with more respect.

    Ziff, good point about the ‘postpone’ language possibly being something of a retreat from anti-birth control rhetoric. I like that idea.

  31. chelseaw says:

    Congratulations on your beautiful new baby! And thank you for writing this post, even though you must be incredibly tired.

    I agree that the counsel not to postpone having children comes from the belief that couples who wait are doing so out of selfishness. I also think that fear is fairly unfounded (say that three times fast!) If marriage and parenthood are our most important roles in life, shouldn’t we do all we can to prepare and really be ready for them? In my opinion, taking marriage seriously in part means waiting until you are mature enough to choose a spouse wisely (for some people that may be in their early 20s, for others/most it won’t be until much later.) By the same token, if having children is important, it’s worth waiting a few years to be able to provide for them financially and emotionally.

    I also don’t buy the idea that having kids magically makes you unselfish. I know many, many selfish parents! And the act of having a child in and of itself can be a selfish act.

    My own experience: we got married when we were 24. We started trying to get pregnant a few months before I was going to graduate from college, just a few months after we got married. We both felt ready. It ended up taking us over 2 years to get pregnant because of infertility (male factor). The process of getting diagnosed and going through IVF was no fun, but I do feel that we grew a lot as a couple by getting those 2 years to spend together just the two of us. I’m grateful for that.

    Our son is 4 now and we get comments from people all the time about “when are you going to have another one?” – even from those who know what we have to go through to get pregnant (which is most people actually, we are very open about our struggles.) The pressure not to delay is still high.

  32. LucySophia says:

    Another coment on infertility. My oldest daughter, mid -thirties, has infertility problems. They were able to adopt four babies in four years, later5 divorced over DH porn addiction (another story). As she and I discussed the infertility and she connected with others with the same problems, we womdered if perhaps the general pollution/chemical environment that we live in might contribute to the explosion in infertility. I honestly don’t remember infertility as a big issue among my peers when I was younger. What has happened to bring about this change? Just a thought.

  33. chelseaw says:

    LucySophia, I think there are several reasons. Pollution is likely one of them. Some studies cite an increase in STDs which can impact fertility. Also couples are getting married later, which means decreased fertility (for men as well as women, although you don’t hear about that as much.) And I think couples are much more likely to be open about their fertility woes, where in the past it was kept quiet and was a source of embarrassment.

  34. madhousewife says:

    Are you saying that parenthood matures you faster, better…?

    No, I’m saying it’s a unique experience. I wouldn’t know about faster or better because I don’t have (nor will I ever have) the experience of living my entire life without ever having children. Obviously there are people who have children and remain immature, but most people, even if they aren’t fantastic parents, will be forced into maturing by virtue of the fact that they are responsible for their children’s lives and they want their children to live. If you want a quick and dirty (and frequently painful) path to maturity and self-knowledge, become a parent.

  35. madhousewife says:

    Also, I would never say that parenthood automatically makes you unselfish. It automatically obligates you to be unselfish, which is different.

  36. chelseaw says:

    madhousewife, That is true if you’re trying to be a good parent. Many don’t.

    I would argue that it’s far better (for parents and children) if a lot of that maturing happens prior to having children. But I might be in the minority with that view.

  37. chelseaw says:

    Sorry, I posted my last comment too quickly and it was unclear. I meant that having children can help you overcome selfishness if you try to be a good parent, but a lot of people don’t try or aren’t really concerned about it. This is rare within the church IME but it does happen.

    Aspects of being a parent are selfish for nearly everyone; wanting your children to succeed to make you look good, wanting your children to be like you, wanting to show others how righteous/smart/pretty/talented you are because of your children, etc.

  38. MJK says:

    The problem is you just can’t judge this choice for anyone else.

    I guess this directive never bothered me a whole lot because I read it as “don’t put it off for selfish reasons.” I *wanted* a baby a lot sooner than we actually started trying to get pregnant – however at the time I was pining for a little one to hold we were essentially forced into homelessness by three companies that my husband worked for in a row going out of business. we moved in with his mom in a different state, and just in the last few years have gotten back on our feet. I have a job with insurance, he has a job with a steady company at last etc. Last spring I just knew it was time to start trying and said little one is now fussing loudly on my lap because his tummy hurts. I still feel like the odd one out in the ward sometimes for having my first at 27, but there was never any doubt in my mind that intentionally getting pregnant earlier would have been an unwise decision. And I was always firmly of the opinion that if Heavenly Father really wanted us to have a baby sooner we would have one, birth control or not. It’s not 100% effective and I know I slipped up plenty of times over 5.5 years.

    Perhaps my views were colored by having a mother who did not get married and have babies until her mid-30’s

  39. chelseaw says:

    MJK, I was 27 when we had our son and I also felt like the odd one out. Even more so now that I’m 31 and he is still an only child.

    I also interpret the counsel given now as “don’t put children off for selfish reasons.” However, I think it’s different than the counsel that was given in the past. Those of our parents’ generation were much more likely to hear “don’t put children off for ANY reason, and if you do you’re being selfish.” Education and finances were often named specifically as not being valid reasons to delay. I’m glad the rhetoric has softened somewhat.

  40. Mindy says:

    I’ve seen this directive do a ton of damage when taken too literally. It can clearly be the source of financial, marital, and spiritual fallout.

    That being said, I think there are tremendous blessings that come with the challenges of parenthood. There are plenty of practical reasons not to put off parenthood, such as infertility. I’ve been there. That doesn’t mean you won’t have infertility problems if you start at 19, though.

    There are lots of practical reasons to not have kids. I think we need to look for the deeper spiritual reasons for why we would receive this counsel. I’m really not sure what those reasons are and how much the counsel has been influenced by cultural aspects of large families in the church.

    One of the most profound spiritual blessings I have found with parenthood is that I have a better understanding of my relationship with Heavenly Father. I feel this most poignantly when I’m striving to be the best mom I can be and really love my children for who they are. I better understand how Heavenly Father loves me and wants me to grow, suffers when I suffer, and doesn’t judge me as much as I think he does. I don’t think having children earlier or later in life would affect this lesson, but it has been a priceless blessing in my own spiritual development.

  41. James says:

    chelesaew, I would also agree that the act of becoming a parent doesn’t magically make anyone automatically unselfish. Certainly not any more becoming a missionary makes someone any more “righteous” of “faithful” than an average person. Exceptions aren’t hard to find.

    However, in both cases, for those who are within an appropriate range of preparedness for these experiences, growth comes in ways and at a speed that is difficult to match in many other situations, in my opinion.

  42. Steve M says:

    My wife and I have been married for over four years, and we don’t have any children. We don’t plan on having any children for at least another 1.5 to 2 years, or perhaps longer.

    We got married at a very young age–my wife and I were 20 and 22, respectively. We were each only halfway through our undergraduate education, and both knew that I would be doing graduate work (unlike my wife, I chose a major that wouldn’t leave me with much in the way of job prospects upon graduation).

    So we chose to wait. We both graduated from BYU just before our two-year anniversary, and then moved East so that I could attend law school. My wife quickly found a job in her field.

    When I began law school, I was all but guaranteed a high-paying job at a prestigious firm. It wouldn’t have been irrational to start having kids then, even though we would have had to provide for them by taking out additional student loans; the promise of a high salary in the near future made it all seem reasonable. Indeed, virtually all of my LDS peers had a child immediately prior to or during our first year of law school.

    But then the economy took a turn for the worse. Thousands of attorneys have been laid off in recent months, and career prospects are substantially worse for current law students. Pricey J.D.s from “elite” universities aren’t as valuable as they once were.

    I’m definitely worried about my career, but not as worried as I would be if I had little mouths to feed. My wife and I are each able-bodied, well-educated adults; we’ll find a way to provide for ourselves. We’re pretty sure we can provide for our chihuahuas too.

    Well-meaning church members have occasionally opined on our perceived deficiencies in multiplying and replenishing. My wife has sometimes felt guilty for “putting off” reproducing, and her expectations about life have changed somewhat (growing up, she never anticipated that she would have a career). But when all is said and done, we’re glad we’ve waited, and we’re willing to wait until we’re ready–financially, emotionally, and otherwise. We’ve enjoyed getting to know each other and growing together over the past four years, and wouldn’t trade that time for anything.

  43. Emily U says:

    Congratulations, Caroline! All the best to you in your happy chaos of new-babyhood.

    You ask a really good question. I have two thoughts on it, one hopeful, one cynical.

    The hopeful one is that the advice not to postpone children is truly of divine origin, and that God wants people to have children ASAP because He knows it will be somehow good for us. Possible benefits are that we have more energy for little ones when we’re young, our fertility is not at risk, we have opportunities for personal development, and we are more likely to be able to enjoy our grandchildren. Another is that we get to be in a cohort of same-age, same-stage parents and are drawn into the Church community more thoroughly. This is benefit can be a challenge for the single and childless, obviously.

    My cynical thought is that God isn’t really concerned about when we have children, and the advice to not postpone is basically what Ziff said, a remnant of the “no birth control” days. It wasn’t God’s will that people abstain from birth control in the 1980s, it isn’t now, and the church leadership is just stuck in old-time thinking. Some people suffer because of the advice, and it’s an example of how church leaders are products of their culture & not perfect.

    I got married at 21 and had my son when I was nearly 28 (no fertility problems so far). “Postpone” is a relative term, as AdamF said. We waited 7 years to get pregnant, but it was still a financial risk to have a baby. But I’m so glad we took it.

  44. Pat says:

    The more that the church traps women in the home while they are young the more that those women will withdraw from larger society because of fear or self-ostracization. And the more “faithful” they become…

    I see it in my friends who are young mothers. They feel like the world judges them or is trying to get them to sin.

    I haven’t withdrawn from the world and I know the world to be curious and accepting. My non-Mormon friends who had kids while young are MUCH happier than my Mormon friends who had kids while young.

    I think the church should mind its own business and let women develop as whole complete people not just babymakers.

    The church makes many women miserable.

  45. AS says:

    Those are interesting reasons you state for the church’s position. I honestly don’t think any of them are what was in mind. Personally I have also heard the directive most recently as it is between a husband and a wife and the Lord on how many and when to have children.
    I do believe the directives of not postponing having children was most likely made because our society is leaning towards later or no marriage as well as children. Many of us could scare ourselves out of having children, or get so comfortable in a lifestyle without children that it would be harder and harder to fit the children in.
    I hear much defensiveness in some of the comments here and perhaps justifiably so. Maybe you have been judged. That should not be. But, you have no reason to be defensive if the Lord was a part of your decision. Who cares what everyone else thinks? Just because they misunderstand directives or assume that their understanding supercedes yours does not mean they are right.
    I truly believe the Lord loves each and every one of us. I am not sure why certain changes have been made in the church throughout the years, such as how the church accepts birth control much more readily now. I see that as added responsiblity. The Lord has given us the tool of birth control and expects us to have more responsibility in planning our families.
    I do NOT think the church advocates having children to keep marriages together.
    I do NOT think the churcn is trying to make women submissive.
    I do NOT think the church thinks the only way to grow and develop spiritually in this life is to have children.
    I DO think he has a plan for each and every one of us and that we should take into account the directives along with fasting and prayer and I believe peace will come to our hearts as we make the correct decisions for us and we won’t have to worry so much about everyone else.

  46. Shasta says:

    For one thing, the older you are when you have
    children the longer it takes to recover physically. I also think the longer you put it off the more likely you are to develop complications that prevent pregnancy, i.e., endometriosis, cysts.
    Also, I think the longer a young woman puts off having children, the easier it becomes for her to rationalize not doing so. My husband and I are enjoying each other, we’re traveling and we have a nice house… To me, it becomes a lot about centering around just the couple and refusing to move on.

  47. Starfoxy says:

    I’ve been thinking about accidental pregnancies (not me, yet) and my train of thought seemed pertinent to this post.
    Accidental pregnancies seem like a bum deal all around. First pregnancy and parenthood are hard in all sorts of ways, and if one is thrust into it by force there is bound to be resentment towards everyone involved. Second in a search for an explanation it can increase distrust between spouses, (Did she forget her pill on purpose? Did he try to make the condom break? etc) And third if or when the kid finds out that they weren’t planned for it could be quite a blow to their sense of place in the family.
    I would think that a surprise pregnancy would be easier if it were a middle child (you’ve had one and you still want more). Less easy for a last child (you weren’t planning on any more kids), and really really hard for a first child.
    The counsel to not postpone child bearing I think would decrease the chance of a surprise first child. It wouldn’t change the chances of surprise middle or last child. However with a last child you can go ahead and take more secure precautions that you can’t take when you’re still in the planning phase, and when it’s a middle child you were going to have one anyways just not quite yet.

  48. E says:

    OK, I’m really late to comment and I haven’t seen the other comments. I don’t know what the reasons are that the church advises people to not “postpone families”, whatever that means. I think it’s important to be somewhat prepared before having children, but I think many people are extremely naive about how short the window really is, even for healthy women with no fertility issues, to have children.

    I usually suggest to my patients, that although I understand there are many factors to consider in addition to medical issues, they should consider planning their first child by age 30 and their last by age 35. The reason is, if there are fertility issues, there is time for medical intervention and there is a better chance of being successful. After age 35, not only do chances of complication rise rapidly, but fertility decreases rapidly. At age 35 most healthy women can conceive, but at age 40, most cannot. So if you only want one or two children, postponing them until age 30 is not too risky. But if you want more, I think the chance of success is much better if the couple starts earlier.

    Many LDS people want several children and do not seem to understand that they may not be able have them if they wait several years. I think many people in their 20’s just do not really “get” that they will not be young forever.

  49. E says:

    Now I’ve read through many of the comments, and in response to some of the bafflement about why fertility problems are more common than they used to be, the two major factors in this are later childbearing and obesity; environmental problems do not seem to be a major contributor.

  50. chelseaw says:

    E, That is right in line with counsel we’ve received from our fertility specialists. When we asked if we should go ahead and do IVF or wait a while, the response was “It depends on how many kids you want to have.” So maybe the church’s stance of not delaying is based in numbers.

    Are obesity and age to blame for the rise in male factor fertility as well? That is what my husband and I deal with, and I am frequently frustrated at the lack of knowledge that currently seems to exist about it right now. We have never received an explanation for his issues, and all the solutions treat me as much as him. LOL

  51. E says:

    Chelseaw, I’m sorry, I don’t know if there has been an increase in male factor infertility or not, or what the main causes of male factor infertility are.

  52. Stephanie says:

    With the decrease in emphasis on having large families.

    By decrease in emphasis, do you mean that they just don’t talk about it as much anymore? Because I can’t remember any counsel that would reverse the counsel. It has changed from “have as many kids as you can” to “have as many kids as you can physically, emotionally care for”, but I don’t think that necessarily means a shift to smaller families coming from church leadership. I think it is more like what one commenter referenced: members of the church are going to do what they are going to do.

    I personally think that the counsel to not postpone has to do with keeping all of your options open for childbearing so you can have a large family if you want to. All 5 of my children have been planned. I’ve been very aware of the possibility of infertility, so with each one, we decided to go off birth control at the point that I thought I wouldn’t lose it to find out I was pregnant. Each time, I thought, “Well, if it takes a year or two to get pregnant, that is fine with me”, and each time I was pregnant within a month or two. It’s a blessing and a challenge. But, having my 5th baby at 32 (9 years later than the first was born) is a much different experience on my body. My body is pretty much thrashed. Both my husband and I agree it is.

    LucySophia, your first marriage sound horrendous. I am so glad you are out of it and onto a good one.

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  53. CuteMormonChick says:

    First I would like to say I haven’t read all the comments, but I did read about half of them.

    Someone suggested that having children early is merely for church membership numbers. Seriously?!

    Someone, who is not a member of the church, said to me when I was pregnant with my daughter that I didn’t REALLY know what true love was yet, but I would as soon as she was born. I argued that yes I did, I loved my parents and my husband, I knew true love. She shook her head and told me I wouldn’t understand how my parents loved me until I loved a baby of my own. She couldn’t have been more spot on. Having a child has made me realize just a FRACTION of the love our Father in Heaven feels for us. Having a child has made me more understanding, charitable, patient, loving, forgiving, spiritual, the list goes on forever. Having a child has made me realize more deeply the sacrifice that our Heavenly Father made when he sent his son to suffer for US. It strengthened my testimony and brought my husband and I closer together.

    I was married at 24 and within a month of our marriage the old ladies at church were asking us if we had any “good news” to share. I can remember my SIL telling me how much that annoyed her. It was the equivalent of someone saying, “so when do you two plan on having unprotected sex?” We were the only couple in our ward without a baby or two, and not the most recently married. Church socials were awkward if nothing else.

    I got pregnant, “by accident”, at 26. I was in a terrible place in my marriage when it happened. I was living in another country, my family was 3500 miles away, and only a week before I found out I was pregnant I had been contemplating divorce. I was convinced my husband was a lost cause, until our daughter was born. It was like something clicked for him. While he had been a good provider for the most part prior to me getting pregnant, once he held her for the first time his priorities shifted. Career advancement became much more important to him. Becoming temple worthy again so we could be sealed as a family became a tangible goal (we were married in a civil ceremony by a bishop). I am happy to say we will be getting sealed next week, something I thought would never happen for a long time.

    While I thought my life was over when I peed on that stick, I realized later that HF knew EXACTLY what he was doing. A big part of me wishes we had a baby sooner.

    We are counseled not to wait because families are central to our Heavenly Father’s plan. Period. Our mission here on Earth is to meet an eternal partner, bare children, raise those children in righteousness, and return as a family to live with him for eternity. We are not sent here to see who can have the flashiest car, the biggest house, the nicest clothes and purses, or the big corner office. Not that any of those things are bad in and of themselves, but they certainly shouldn’t be your focus in life.

    My parents were married right after high school and had my brother at 19. My dad lost his job two weeks before my brother was born. They struggled for several months before my dad joined the military. He made a lot of sacrifices to ensure that they wouldn’t go without the necessities of life, but there was very little left over for “fluff” after the bills were paid. in the next 6 years they had three more kids. Was money tight? Absolutely, but we didn’t really know any different as kids. My mom did what she could from home to bring in extra income. She made wedding and birthday cakes, altered wedding dresses (she is a master seamstress), substitute taught at our schools, did custom sewing for other people etc. But the biggest benefit to our family was the fact that she took pride in her family. We always knew she loved us, and that we were her number one priority.

    Is it hard? Absolutely. But I can tell you the blessings in my life since my daughter was born 2 years ago are overwhelming. It doesn’t mean it hasn’t been hard and we are perfectly happy 24/7. The trials you are given in this life are given to you because there is a lesson to be learned.

  54. Diane says:

    I’m really disappointed with Kimball only speaking in passing on women who can’t bear children at all as being exempt. And then blames career women for failure in marriages and in the increase of divorce rate. Can we say GUILT TRIP!

  1. July 31, 2009

    […] only things they have in common are a bunch of children and a hefty mortgage. (Likewise, referencing Caroline’s excellent post, I think the imperative to not put off childbearing is an intentional step to lock couples into a […]

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