When our fourth child was a toddler, my wife looked at me and said, “I think we should have one more child.” I thought, “Really? We’re exhausted and maxed out with four children. And you want one more?”
How do parents decide when to finish having children? As a pastor and father of five children, I’ve been asked this question often. What would you say?
Consider 15 wisdom principles and questions on deciding when to stop having children…
- It is clear from Scripture that children are loved and cherished by God; and so also, they should be loved and cared for by Christians. The Bible describes kids as a “heritage” and a “reward” (Psalm 127:3). Blessed are those who have many children (Psalm 127:5). One of the many purposes of marriage is to have godly offspring (Malachi 2:15). Jesus welcomed the little children (Mark 10:13-16). He held up children as an example of how to enter the kingdom of God (Mark 10:15). God consistently demonstrates His care for the young, the weak, and vulnerable in society (1 Kings 17:9-24; Isaiah 1:17; Jeremiah 7:5-7; James 1:17). Is there any doubt that Christians, especially Christian parents, should cherish God’s good gift of children? A godly attitude about children—that they are a blessing—is an important precursor to making the decision to one day stop having kids.
- In Genesis 1:28, God says to Adam and Eve: “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.” God commands us to have children. And He does so because it is a good thing. There are many wonderful parts to marriage, one of which is raising kids.
But there are some Christians who take Genesis 1:28 as an absolute or supreme command—they use this verse to override other guiding principles from Scripture. A flat reading of Genesis 1:28 makes some think, “To be obedient, I need to keep having kids.” Regardless of income, or the wife’s health, or space restrictions, or ability to provide for the future, a husband and wife keep having children. This is a poor reading of this text—the verse does not tell us that we need to have children in perpetuity. It doesn’t preclude reasonable limits on our families. And also, this can lead to a very unbiblical notion that somehow a larger family is a mark of godliness, when in fact, for some families, having fewer children might be a wiser thing.
Someone might say to me: “You just don’t have enough faith. Just do what God commands and He’ll take care of you.” I would say in response: “This is not a matter for having enough faith. We need to be careful to know what God has promised, and what He hasn’t.”
God has promised that if we repent and trust in Him, we will find mercy (Proverbs 28:13) peace, love, joy (Romans 8:31-38; Galatians 5:22), and forgiveness (1 John 1:9). He promises that His Son will come back one day (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18), that we won’t succumb to the second death (Revelation 2:11; Romans 8:1), and that He will finish off what He began within us (Philippians 1:6).
Based on our limitations spiritually, emotionally, financially, or physically, it might actually be irresponsible for me to have more children. So I can’t presume on God. He does not promise a never-ending supply of food to feed your family or money to pay the bills.
- The Bible never encourages deliberate childlessness within marriage. That means a couple should not get married unless they are open to having children. God places a high value on children. None of the principles in this article should ever be used as an excuse to avoid having children.
- Every family has to make its own decision about what is right for them. What is good for one family (two kids) will be different from another (four kids) and yet still another (six kids). We should be very careful to not conform all families to one mold, or to make others think what is good for us must also be good for them. There is freedom in Christ to make this decision (Romans 14:5), and we need to resist the pressure that comes from watching other families (Exodus 20:17) or feeling judged by others (Matthew 7:1-5).
A few questions to consider as you try to decide whether or not to have more children…
- Can you adequately provide? (Ephesians 4:28; Proverbs 14:23; 21:25; 22:29; 28:19) Maybe you can’t adequately provide for the wife and kids you already have, so why add more? Consider your basic income as a family. If you are struggling to put food on the table, maintain a roof over your head, can’t consistently pay your bills, or can’t pay for the basic costs of raising a child, you should not add more financial burden to your life. One father confessed to me that he wasn’t able to pay all of his bills, “robbing one hand to pay the other,” as he said. Yet he and his wife continue to have children.
- Can your wife continue to have children? A husband has a fundamental responsibility to steward the good gift of his wife, and a part of his leadership is deciding when having more children might be too much for her (and for the family as a whole). The easy way to see this is in issues of life and death—if having another biological child will jeopardize the wife’s life then a husband and wife have no choice but to stop having children. Less clear, but also important: has your wife’s health deteriorated such that having more children would be unwisely hard on her? For example, maybe more children would compound her already difficult back problems, and make it harder for her to care for the children you already have.
- What is your logistical, emotional, and spiritual capacity as parents? Some parents might have two kids and feel maxed out. Others might have four kids and feel like they are at their limit. Every set of parents has a different capacity for having children. Logistics that my wife and I could get done with two children (cleaning, cooking, finances, etc.) are now much harder to get done with five children. The reality is: bills need to still be paid on time, young kids need to be helped in the morning to get ready, children need to be picked up and dropped off at school or extracurricular activities, your emails need to be answered, and the house needs to be cleaned. Emotionally, having two or three children with temper tantrums might be hard enough. If you can’t handle two or three, it doesn’t seem wise for you to add more emotional freight to your family’s life. Or what about spiritually—if you are not having personal time in God’s Word, or not consistently making it to church, or unable to focus on spiritual things because of your sheer exhaustion of raising children, maybe you should stop so you can get your spiritual life in order? With each child, your capacity to handle the rest of life becomes more difficult, so at some point you need to stop having children so you can stay responsible with everything else in life.
- Do you have practical limitations? I’ve known several families who like to do a lot of travel, often because of the husband’s job. Traveling with six kids is much more difficult compared to two or three. Or what about the size of your house? Maybe you can ideally fit two or three kids into bedrooms, but four, five, seven, or nine, would be hard to do. There are often practical limitations that put realistic limits on the size of your family.
- Are you being responsible to serve and disciple your spouse and children? In regards to your spouse, are you being responsible to love, serve, and care for him or her (Ephesians 21-33; 1 Peter 3:1-7)? Or is having more children going to inhibit you from investing in your first priority—your marriage? Maybe the Lord has already entrusted you with several children. Are you discipling and investing in them (Deuteronomy 6:4-8)? Maybe you feel you’ve got lots of ways you need to grow as a parent. We all do. But, even with your parenting deficiencies, are you being a good steward of the children the Lord has already given you? Much more than feeding and clothing them—do you disciple your kids? Do you invest in their character? Are you helping them by teaching them Scripture or teaching them about life? Are you doing what you need to survive, or are you doing everything you can to help them thrive? Rather than having more children, maybe you need to invest more in the ones you already have. Be responsible with them first before you add more.
Consider also some things that parents commonly face—maybe a strong-willed or particularly rebellious child, or one who has some special needs or learning disabilities. Maybe you need to have fewer kids in order to faithfully care for your more needy children?
- Are you stopping for selfish motives? What I don’t want to do is provide you safe reasons for you to decide to stop having children, only to find out the real reasons you stopped are more selfish (James 3:16)—like you want a really nice vacation, or you want to buy nice things for yourself, or you want to put your career ahead of your family, or you’re afraid that children will hinder your goals and dreams. If your reasons to stop are fundamentally selfish, that’s not a good excuse to stop having children. Your motives matter, so examine them to be sure you are not stopping for selfish reasons.
- Are you stopping because you want to do more for the children you already have? Maybe you want to send your two kids to a great school, but won’t be able to afford it if you have five kids? You want to buy or do certain things with your kids, but you won’t be able to do what you want if you have too large of a family? You want to stop now because you have dreams and hopes for the kids you already have. Providing a certain kind of lifestyle for your current kids matters more than having additional children. Be warned though—this eleventh principle (the desire to provide well for the children you already have) can be misapplied. Maybe your desire as parents is for your kids to be at the high-end private school or to wear certain kinds of clothes or to participate in certain activities—none of which is essential. As parents, distinguish between what your kids need and what you want, so this doesn’t become an excuse for you to have a fancy lifestyle.
- Are you being conformed to the world? Are you scared to stand out? It is easy to be conformed to patterns of the world (Romans 12:2). Yet, Christians should not be scared to be distinct (Proverbs 29:25) because what God cherishes is different from the world.
Consider the plight of being a large family in a culture where families are usually small. My wife often gets the comment, “Are these children all yours?” We’re not as big as the Brady bunch, but we do have five kids. Some people are dumbfounded that we would choose to have more than two. The world doesn’t make it easy to have more children—minivans max out at a family of six. A typical restaurant seats mostly tables of four.
Maybe you are in a setting where you are surrounded by large families, and the wise choice for you is to have a smaller family. You should ask yourself, “Am I scared to look different from others?” If so, you are probably being conformed to the pressures of your culture rather than thinking what is wisest for your own family.
- Are you willing to stretch yourself? Did you make the decision to stop having kids because your family size will be easier to manage? Or because it would be convenient for you? Or because comfort and convenience matter more than having more children? Or are you willing to stretch yourself to have more?
- Is your default position to stop or to have more children? I think our default position should be to have another child. Why?
Because the Bible is enthusiastic about children. God loves, cherishes, protects and honors children. He values children much more than the world.
Because most of us have a natural bias to not having more kids. God has already given you kids, and frankly, you’re overwhelmed many days, or at the very least, exhausted. This applies especially to parents of preschoolers, who day-in-and-day-out are in the midst of constant mental, physical and emotional toil. (The preschool years are clearly the most physically demanding stage, which adds to the mental and emotional toil.) If you can’t get your kid to obey you, or you are constantly dealing with squabbling children or you feel like a chauffeur racing your kids around to their many activities or you feel like you are barely holding things together—why add more? When you have young children, your natural bias is to say “no, I can’t do this anymore.” Maybe you shouldn’t for many of the reasons listed in this article. Or maybe you should despite how hard things are already. Don’t let the difficulties of juggling your current kids make you automatically biased to saying “no” to any more.
I have friends who had two children early in marriage, and when they hit their mid-forties, they found themselves becoming empty nesters. The dad said to me, “I wish we had more. We still have time and energy to parent.” He was in good health, at the peek of his career, and he’d grown in wisdom and godliness. But when their kids were young, it was a lot of work, and they assumed they should stop. Their natural bias was to say “we’re done,” but now he wished they hadn’t. Could that be you twenty years from now?
- Are you making this decision in isolation? One of the things that has surprised me the most about being a pastor is how often believers make major life decisions in isolation. The Bible does not ever encourage us to live the Christian life on our own. Individual Christianity is an oxymoron (Proverbs 18:1). There is no such thing. People are more accustomed to making major decisions on their own rather than asking for help. Maybe it is our pride that makes us do this. Maybe it is our sense of personal privacy, i.e., this isn’t anyone’s business apart from my own.
The most important thing you can do as a Christian is be a part of a local church where you can walk side-by-side with other Christians who will help you figure out what it means to follow Christ (Hebrews 10:25; 13:13). And in this context, they can help you sort through important life decisions, so you never have to do this alone.
Deciding when to stop having children is an important decision for every family. Godly wisdom is needed to make this crucial decision. Pray and ask the Lord to give you wisdom, for He very kindly grants wisdom to those who ask (James 1:5-8).