If you are a parent or if you work with parents you are well aware that there’s a lot of idolatry of children going on. In this four-part series I plan on exploring this phenomenon, it’s origins, and its impact on our society and the American family.
How did we get here?
People are waiting longer, much longer, to have their first child. The average age of marriage for a woman has crept past 25. (27+ for males) And it’s not uncommon for people to wait until their mid-30s to begin having children. And when those parents finally pop out a kid– a coronation takes place as the child is crowned king of the parents universe.
It is logical that an older set of parents has had longer to dream about being a parent, more impact of cultural ideals, [movies, television, books, magazines] and more mature in the workforce to have higher wages, more time off, and more flexibility.
This is a purely cultural phenomenon. The only reason men and women don’t have children in their late-teen to early-20s is because our society requires it. It’s taboo to marry or have kids young now. (Trust me, I’ve got plenty of friends who married in their early 20s and had kids under 25… they bear the wrath of middle-class culture scorn!)
Biologically, this causes problems. Like it or not, the human body is “ready” in the mid-teen years. In human history this is when women started having children. Interestingly, cultural influence have caused females to enter puberty earlier and earlier. But it’s become increasingly taboo to have sex or conceive children in the teen years. Sexual activity is normative for minors yet culturally we frown on teen moms. Biologically speaking– the body is strongest, the reproductive system is the most ready, on and on. There’s no biological reason for waiting to have a first child until late-20s or the early 30s. In fact, human history is built on young mothers of 14-22. Common sense tells us that when you tell your body “no” to reproduction for 15 years or more, your body just might not want to say “yes” when you are culturally ready. Thus, we’ve seen an increase in physical problems with older mothers.
Culturally, this also causes problems. Middle-class American culture tells a woman she needs to go to college and start a career before “settling down” to be a parent. So men and women marry later and acquire more stuff before marriage. (and debt) By their mid-30s, affluence leads them into the baby worship we see today. The American Dream coaxes parents to believe that each generation has to be exponentially more affluent and educated than the previous generation. The problem is that macro-economics doesn’t work that way. Middle-class parents simply can’t raise children to become more wealthy than they are… there is a statistical glass ceiling to what the economy can bear. Economically speaking, we blame Wall Street for the recent collapse of the housing market when, in fact, the Middle-class bought the American Dream on credit. (Interesting article from Time Magazine, “Older Parents: Good for Kids?“ Written in 1988)
We scornfully look down on young parents. We track the teen pregnancy rate in pitiful, arrogant, ignorance of the fact that in most places on the planet a 16-17 year old mother is normative– and our own grandparents would now be scorned in today’s late-marriage status quo. We’ve put so much pressure on ourselves that our kids will have it better than ourselves that from the time children are in the womb we want to educate them and put them ahead of their peer group. Our culture has created this truism. Young mothers are bad or naughty, older mothers are more prepared and nurturing. But is there evidence that this is true? Doubtful.
The Allure of the American Dream
In my opinion, the root of the baby-god-myth was born in the pursuit of the American dream among Middle-class parents. If little Rex is going to be better than well-off mommy and daddy, we’re going to have to push and shape harder than our parents did.
Sadly, the church joins in
This is a chicken/egg phenomenon as each side would argue the other started it. But any church growth expert knows that if you want to attract parents these days you need an amazing kids program. The hope is that if you can attract Rex and keep him happy, a parent will get hooked into participating in the greater church. This is, indeed, born out of an earnest desire to attract and reach lost people. But the churches desire to reach out to the little Rex’s of the community in hopes of hooking parents has lead to attracting parents and staff who buy into a format of church that idealizes the American dream. A thriving kids program is polished, safe, fun, and good for Rex. It’s bigger and better every year. Even if it isn’t, we strive for that in all we do.
And today’s kids ministry ideals are largely devoid of Deuteronomy 6:4-9
Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.
The church often gives lip service to this truth. But systematically, we are quick to bail on parental responsibility and claim it as our own since Rex’s parents are too busy shuttling him to soccer practice and it’d be too embarrassing to tie anything scripturual as symbols on their hands. Sadly, church is often merely seen as “the holistic part” of Rex’s college resume to parents who are involved “because it’s good for the kids.” And little Rex picks up on this, in full knowledge that his parents gods are him and the stuff they are acquiring. We wonder why kids check out of church? Maybe it’s just the way we’ve raised them?
It would be controversial for the church to stand up to parents and tell them the truth. “You are worshipping your children. You are to put God first, your marriage second, and your children third. Children are subservient to their parents!” No– this is heresy in our culture. We all know, intrinsically, that if we were to proclaim that kind of truth the parents and their money which pays for our nice building and staffs would quickly disappear.
Alas, the church is often sad peddler of the baby-god-myth.