Today’s breaking news line on the CNN homepage grabbed my attention: “A child born last year will cost a middle-income couple an estimated $241,080 to raise for 18 years.” There are three main reasons I couldn’t help but read the article: 1) my 3-year-old daughter, 2) my 1-year-old son, and 3) the baby Christa and I will have this October. Even if Christa and I end up having only three children, that comes out to $40,180 per year over the next eighteen years. In my book, that’s way more than an arm and a leg.
As a Christian, of course, I must evaluate that report and its implications through the lens of Scripture. First, the report may assume a standard of living that is not absolutely necessary. Many comforts and possessions that we Americans have assumed to be essential are actually in excess of what we need. In his letter to Timothy, the Apostle Paul boiled down the essential possessions to food and clothing (1 Tim. 6:8). And the author of Hebrews tells us that the promise of God’s presence is sufficient cause for contentment–despite what we have or don’t have.
Second, a Christian perspective realizes the need to work hard in the face of the rising cost of living. True, this report may exaggerate the actual costs for raising a child to adulthood. But that doesn’t mean we should dismiss the information entirely (Proverbs 22:3). Wise Christian parents will apply a biblical work ethic and common-sense principles of stewardship and saving for the future (2 Corinthians 12:14, “Children are not obligated to save up for their parents, but parents for their children”). For the Christian, the concept of work should be a privilege and joy. Work was part of God’s original plan for humans, and, although it has been marred by the fall (Genesis 3:19), everyone knows the intrinsic satisfaction of a job well done. The prospect of children costing more money, and therefore requiring more work, is a cause for despair only for those who view work as part of the curse.
Finally, a Christian perspective perceives the question that underlies the article: “Is it really worth it to have kids, then?” Although the article ends with encouragement for people who want to raise children, that encouragement seems to wilt underneath the tenor of the whole thing. The article itself ends with a quotation from financial planner who teaches a money management class for new parents. He says, “I have to reassure everybody there are other people who successfully have children,” he said. “I personally have three. People figure out ways to make this work.” It should strike us as odd that raising children–which has happened for all of human history–is something that people scratch their heads at and wonder whether they can “make this work.” With the prolonging of adolescence and delay of marriage, parenting has fallen on hard times in America. But for the Christian couple who is able to have children, the question of whether to have children is more than just a matter of financial calculation. It is a matter of joyful obedience to God. A Christian family is a God-appointed setting for fulfilling the Great Commission–making and maturing followers of Jesus. For the Christian, that’s what makes raising children worth it, regardless of the price tag.