Editorial: Is child-free carefree?

A Time magazine article this summer glamorized “The Childfree Life” — a scenario in which bronzed and toned adults sat sipping champagne on white, sandy beaches while their parent-contemporaries broke a sweat lugging toys, buckets, chairs and, yes, children back to home base. It depicted a new kind of normal, one where child-free equates with carefree. But as we get ever deeper into the age of abortion and contraception, and the numbers of children being born in the United States sinks, our society finds itself facing the same kind of demographic winter that is now threatening Japan and Western Europe.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American birthrate is at an all-time low, with 2012 marking the fifth consecutive year of fertility decline. About a quarter of 18- to 34-year-olds surveyed in December 2011 by the Pew Research Center said that the condition of the economy had made them delay having children. Others chose to focus on careers and have children later in life. And some just don’t have the desire to raise a family at all. Despite these statistics, however, a recent poll conducted by Gallup also noted that it was still the goal of most American adults to have children. In 2013, 74 percent of American adults said they had children, another 16 percent said they don’t, but they want to, and 3 percent said they don’t, but they “would like to have done so.” Only 5 percent of respondents said they didn’t want children at all.

It’s a fact, too, that many Catholics who would like to have children simply are unable. For them, the “child-free life” is not an appealing choice but a painful cross. In this week’s issue, we feature the second part of a two-part series on the challenges of growing a family. Last week’s article focused on infertility; this week’s (Pages 6-7) is on adoption. Emerging from the series are three important points of emphasis.

The first is that Catholics unable to conceive a child face additional challenges. Because some options for conceiving — such as in vitro fertilization and surrogacy — are clearly taught by the Church to be immoral, the faithful who desperately want children but are striving to follow the Church’s teachings might be having additional struggles. These couples are faithful witnesses to the Church and should be supported and encouraged by the whole Catholic community.

Many Catholics who would like to have children are simply unable. For them the 'child-free life' is not an appealing choice but a painful cross.

Second, adoption is not a second-place option for couples who are unable to have children of their own, but rather is a unique call. According to the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute, adopted children make up 2 percent of the total child population. The need is there for both adults and children, and the pro-life community, in particular, is one of the strongest advocates for adoption. Unfortunately, these efforts are being hampered by the shuttering of Catholic Charities adoption agencies around the country because state laws are requiring them to violate their consciences by placing children with same-sex couples.

Third, the children who are born as a result of non-traditional conception methods must be treated with the same dignity as any other child. We must love them without hesitation and question, open the sacraments to them, and do our best to welcome them into the family of faith.

In a world where more people are unable or unwilling to have children, the Church’s message of children as a blessing and responsibility is needed now more than ever.

Editorial Board: Greg Erlandson, publisher; Msgr. Owen F. Campion, associate publisher; Beth McNamara, editorial director; Gretchen R. Crowe, editor; Sarah Hayes, executive editor