Friday, November 20, 2009

How many is too many?

Parents who choose to have large families are under attack as the population is set to soar

Sometimes when I’m faced with a “parenting” challenge (ie. child refuses to eat meal, child refuses to brush teeth, you get the idea), I say to myself “It could be worse, I could be a Duggar”.
I have long held a fascination for the Duggar family. They live in Arkansas, in the US, and are conservative evangelical Christians who endorse the Quiverfull movement.
Quiverfull families believe that children are blessings from God, so they do not use any form of birth control, not even natural family planning or sterilisation.
The movement comes from Psalm 127:3-5, where many children are metaphorically referred to as a quiver full of arrows.
And so, the Duggars have reproduced, not once or twice, but 19 times.
Michelle and Jim Bob Duggar have 18 children aged from 21 down to a one-year-old, and another one due in March, 2010.
Their fecundity is so astonishing that they have their own cable TV show, website and fan base.
I would imagine that the time the Duggars spend with each child diminishes as every new child comes along. And time is precious.
Michelle Duggar states on the family website: “We try to have regular talks with each one individually on a weekly basis.”
A weekly basis? That’s hardly enough.
I imagine that Michelle, in the past 21 years has been either (a) pregnant, (b) caring for a newborn, (c) changing nappies or (d) doing the laundry.
Each task in itself is tiring, so how can she possibly keep up with the development of her other children, or have time with her husband (sorry, scratch that... clearly the latter is not so much of a problem).
The children seem to be perfectly happy and well-adjusted, but they do participate in a roster of chores from a young age, and as they get older must care for their younger siblings.
The Duggars don’t have a television, and the children are home schooled (another time consuming task for Michelle to add to her super-mum status), so they would certainly learn the art of imaginative play, and siblings become best friends.
Religion is a huge part of their life - even 13-year-old Josiah and 18-year-old Jill say their future goal is to become missionaries - and their house has a purpose built prayer room.
And to top off this most unusual family, the Duggars are now grandparents with eldest son Josh and his wife Anna welcoming their first child in October.
But one cannot help but wonder, how many children is too many?
It’s a fact that our population is growing, and many experts believe it is one of the biggest economic challenges facing the nation.
A record 293,600 babies were born last year, 11,400 more than the year before.
The number of young people and people of working age is expected to increase by 45 per cent over the next 40 years, but the number of people over 65 is set to double.
Recently, Labor backbencher Kelvin Thompson, launched a 14-point plan to contain what he called Australia's “runaway population”.
Among the measures was reducing the annual immigration program from more than 200,000 to 70,000, abolishing the baby bonus, and restricting family benefits for third and subsequent children.
But he backed an increase in the nation’s refugee intake from the current 13,750 to 20,000.
Mr Thomson said his measures would stop Australia wrecking the environment and force governments to focus on education and training.
“The two most promising ways of achieving population stability around the world are educating girls and women, and the provision of better health services, particularly reproductive health services,” he said.
Sorry Kelvin, but I disagree.
Governments tweak population growth estimates however they please depending on immigration levels, not birth rates.
There seems to be far more emphasis these days on encouraging immigration, regardless of the demographic of these immigrants, than on improving natural fertility.
If we are to control our population growth, there needs to be a balance between the two
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with big families, except in circumstances where the parents are unable to provide their children with love, shelter, food and clothing.
I have experienced infertility, and can honestly say that a big family with a lot of children is a pipe dream, and completely out of my control.
There are also the practicalities of larger families: bigger house, bigger car, bigger grocery bill and so on, that convince most couples to stop after they have their pigeon pair.
I recently read a column from Sarah Kanowski, a producer and broadcaster with ABC Radio National, herself the youngest of seven children.
She said her experience of growing up in a big family was “wonderful”.
“A village within four walls, the sheer numbers meant that amidst the shifting alliances of siblings there was always someone on side and someone available,” she said.
“Large families also produce a different kind of parent. While the logistics of caring for a small army demanded certain simplicities and severities, there was also a freedom unimaginable to many children today.
“Vastly outnumbered, there was no chance for adults to practice the kind of helicopter parenting common to my own generation, where we hover over our one or two, soothing and solving.
“The shift to a society of 'Little Emperors' (as the phenomenon is termed in China) has far-reaching consequences.
“Although scientists warn the planet cannot sustain the booming global population, there is environmental sense in many people sharing one home and its resources, rather than a mass of little families each with its own car, clothes-dryer and fridge.”
I couldn’t agree more.


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