Getting Married, Having Children, and Growing Up

My wife and I recently watched a documentary on China’s economic rise as a superpower. The documentary identified one interesting contributing factor. Chinese individuals are delaying marriage, and after marriage couples are delaying childbirth.

This cultural shift unquestionably springs from China’s one child policy. If you knew that you could only have one child, it makes perfect sense to extend adolescence, delay marriage, and wait towards the end of your fertile years to have your one child. This happened all across China, and to the government’s alarm, the birth rate has plummeted faster than anyone anticipated.

The government has partially rescinded the policy so that virtually every Chinese couple can now have at least two children. However, while cultures can change with astonishing speed, they tend to resist manipulation. China’s current generation does not want to have more than one child and has chosen a lifestyle that makes multiple children families impracticable.

In the West, this lifestyle is hardly foreign. Without any sort of looming government mandate, individuals have waited past their twenties for marriage and well into their thirties for children. This practice offers the hope for unparalleled self-actualization but comes at the risk of never actually growing up.

One important part of adulthood is the capacity to deny one’s self. Children behave erratically in part because they constantly chase after whatever they think will bring them the most pleasure. They must learn to deny themselves so that they can do more important things. They need to grow up.

Nothing teaches self-denial quite as effectively as marriage and children. Nobody wants to yield to somebody else. Nobody wants to please somebody else at the cost of his or her own hobbies and interests. Nobody wants to get up at 2am to tend to a screaming child. Nobody wants to think about what is best for another 24/7.

Somewhere along the line, however, most spouses and parents learn that relatively few of their wants comprise the most important things in life. They become adept at foregoing their own desires and consequently become adults. Perhaps the childishness that marks self-indulgent cultures is largely a byproduct of their tendency to delay marriage and childbirth. Interestingly, the long interval between birth and parenthood is one of the few details Moses records about the culture of the world that perished. Growing up must take priority over self-fulfillment. Can anyone really experience a full life without ever truly becoming an adult? We need to aspire to more than being amused children.

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