On Debt and Openness to Life

Jenny Uebbing

I was chatting with a friend recently who made a comment about how freeing their family's experience of being debt free has been, and I had a kind of "aha" moment as her words sunk in.

"I wonder how much that experience of freedom translates into other areas of her family's life?"

I also got really, really excited about the future, and about being able to experience that kind of freedom firsthand.

Now, the friend in question has more than a handful of kids. And my mind immediately jumped to the conclusion that financial freedom was probably immensely liberating in the procreative realm, as evidenced by her burgeoning brood, now rapidly outpacing the seating capacity of a minivan.

Does that seem far fetched?

I pondered it long after the conversation ended, considering the connection between our deeply-indebted modern culture and a general aversion to children, past the perfunctory one or two. (And I'm speaking here to couples who are intentionally avoiding additions to their family, not to those struggling with the immense heartache of infertility.)

I thought about our neighbors across the street, eager to hand me bags and bags full of darling little girl's clothes, and equally happy to tell us on more than one occasion how very "done" they were because they simply "couldn't afford" any more children. That their youngest daughter, though very much loved, was very much a surprise.

They're a sweet family and they work hard to provide for their kids, who lack for nothing. Their girls have the best toys and clothes, and they throw fantastical themed birthday parties every year and plan wonderful family vacations. And there's nothing wrong with that.

Unless, of course, those luxury amenities - the vacations and clothes and birthday parties - become confused for the actual material needs of children.

I have to wonder whether what they - and so many of us - consider to be necessary trappings to the ideal childhood are really just that: trappings.

I know that kids care about having cool stuff, but I think they can be coached into caring, can be educated into a certain lifestyle and level of expectation, just like any of us can.

On the other hand, I think that parents who are drowning in consumer debt, choked by student loans and car payments and ridiculous mortgages, are probably honest-to-God afraid of having more kids under such circumstances.

And I'm just wondering where the intersection between wants and needs lies, in terms of what it really costs to bring up a kid or two in this day and age.

Because at some point it does become a matter of lifestyle, of choosing certain "necessities" not because they are truly necessary to life as we know it, but because they're familiar and found in every house up and down our block.

And then finally, this: I wonder how many American couples are avoiding having any/more children because of debt.

I wonder how much of the Very Real Struggle of NFP is tied up in financial insecurity.

I wonder if there's a tangible connection between generously and prudently managing one's money and generously and prudently managing one's fertility.

I am speaking to a stereotype here, but as is often the case with stereotypes, they issue forth from little grains of truth.

Is it pricey to raise and launch a kid into the world we live in here in the U.S.?

Yes, yes it is.

But we all make choices, whether in our careers or in our decisions at the grocery store (or on Amazon). We all decide how and where we're going to spend the money we've been entrusted with, and whether or not we're going to make debt a part of our lifestyle.

Some families have fewer options, whether due to underemployment, chronic poverty, or disability and restricted income potential, but I'm speaking here to the typical suburban American family, the one driving multiple car payments and buying brand new clothing and eating out in restaurants every month.

I wonder how much of our collective inability to manage money (and I'm looking into the mirror here) translates into our collective terror at the specter of Too Many Mouths To Feed (though that is hardly the real issue for 95% of us, let's be honest.)

I think that being freed from the crushing burden of thousands of dollars of debt flowing out the door every month could go a long way to alleviate some of the fear of the unknown in terms of how many kids we might eventually be blessed with, creating some space for daring and generosity in hearts that are cramped and burdened by chronic stress and fear.

Not that the fear or the stress will be eliminated by a bank account that balances, mind you, but there's something to be said for minimizing your risk of exposure, to the extent that we're able to. Good stewardship and all that, and, yes, perhaps more than anything else, learning when to say no to oneself in the moment in order to say yes to something much greater in the long run.

Topics: Family , Generosity

Jenny Uebbing is the content director of our marriage and family life channel, where her blog Mama Needs Coffee will be permanently hosted. She lives in Denver, CO with her family, where she writes and speaks on Church teachings on marriage, contraception, NFP and bioethics.


View all articles by Jenny Uebbing

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