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Babies Are No Longer Considered A Blessing

A funny thing happened to me the other day when my wife and I had, thank God, another baby (a boy). Many of my friends didn’t seem all that happy for me. Sure, they went through the motions of smiles and congratulations. But it was evident that many thought me insane. Why would a young man and his wife ruin their lives with eight children? Who could afford the day-school bills? Didn’t we want to live life a little, and not just be burdened with kids?

It got downright surreal when a European film company pressed me, while my wife was in labor, to finish shooting a segment that had an urgent deadline (I obviously told them they were insane). The next day I was mildly criticized by a Jewish organization I was scheduled to address – because I had to cancel my appearance when I realized the lecture would clash with the baby’s bris.

I don’t mind that the world doesn’t really love babies. I do mind that it pretends to. It’s time we got honest about our priorities. Most people get a new car every two or three years, but one or two babies through the life of a marriage is plenty. You can get drunk on an airplane, laugh hysterically with your mates, and still not really anger people. But if you dare bring a crying baby on board you will be given malicious looks, as if the little thing is a package that ticks.

If you walk your dog along the street, people will stop you to tell you how cute he is. But walking down the street with a baby? You might run into a cooing woman or two, but for the most part you’ll be utterly ignored.

Indeed, the contempt shown to parents who have many children is the last acceptable prejudice in our society. As a father of a large family, I find myself apologizing wherever I go, as if I’ve committed a crime. The frequent and loaded stares from scornful onlookers imply that the famine in Africa was caused by my selfish insistence on overpopulating the earth. Long ago my wife and I discovered that few hotels were prepared to accommodate so many children, even if we took three of four rooms – which is why we bought an RV for travel.

How strange to live in a world where loving children casts one in infamy. Having a family with many children implies a backwardness and primitivism that is deemed unbecoming in the developed countries of the West. Large families, it is thought, exist only among religious weirdoes or the teeming hovels of the Third World. Rich countries, by contrast, prefer to increase their standard of living rather than the number of the living.

Looking at Western birth rates for the year 2001, the United States averaged only 14.2 births for every thousand Americans, and the birthrate among white Americans is so low that the United States will soon lose its white majority. Indeed, one can go for days in Manhattan without encountering a single pregnant woman.

Hence the high birth rates of extremely poor African nations like Uganda, at 47.52 births per 1,000, or Niger with 50.68 births per 1,000, are deemed to be prime causes and indicators of their penury. The abundant fertility of these countries confirms the unspoken Western view of these country’s inhabitants as being just one step above savages. Contraception becomes a synonym for civilization.

A Christian mother of six once wrote to me: “I find it troubling to worry about getting pregnant again… because I don’t want to face the criticism of friends and family. Why do people not see children as a blessing?” A fair question that deserves a fair response.

Why is it that even many synagogues today are not children-friendly? Why are people impressed that Jay Leno owns twenty motorcycles but disgusted that some religious families choose to have ten children?

Let’s not finesse the response. We all know why. A world that has lost its innocence has trouble appreciating beings that are innocent. A world that has become selfish has soured to the idea of leading a life of selflessness. A world that has become grossly materialistic is turned off to the idea of more dependents who consume resources. And a world that mistakenly believes that freedom means a lack of responsibility is opposed to the idea of needy creatures who “tie you down.”

The world can go fly a kite.

By just looking at my children I become more innocent. By loving them I become more noble. By spending more money on them than I spend on myself I find transcendence. And by being a father and liberating all of the love in my heart, my spirit soars free. I work hard to support a large family and I give up no pleasures in doing so because my children are my foremost pleasure.

I am often asked by women how they can tell whether the men they are dating are marriage material. I tell them, “See if he enjoys children.” A man who loves children is playful. He will spend his life joking with his wife because he loves to see her laugh, and will flirt with her because he loves to see her smile.

There was a time when husbands and wives worked hard to ensure that they could afford the blessings of a large family. Today, the higher your earning bracket the fewer children you have. But then we always knew that many people turn money from a blessing into a curse.

Before he died, the Lubavitcher Rebbe launched a campaign asking parents to have one more child than they originally planned. It is a campaign that a dwindling Jewish community should revive as it continues to disappear.

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is the host of TLC’s upcoming family dynamics show “Shalom in the Home” and author of the forthcoming book “Ten Conversations You Need to Have With Your Children.” His website is www.shmuley.com.

About the Author: Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, “America’s Rabbi” whom the Washington Post calls “the most famous Rabbi in America,” is the international best-selling author of 29 books, including The Fed-up Man of Faith: Challenging God in the Face of Tragedy and Suffering. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.


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