Why God gives us kids

Why God gives us kids July 2, 2010
Why God Gives us Kids
Photo by Megan Miller

A publisher and a rabbi walk into a kosher restaurant. . . .

That’s not the setup to a joke. A few years ago I had lunch with Rabbi Daniel Lapin at the wonderful Grins Vegetarian Café in Nashville (then and maybe now the only kosher joint around). We talked about several different things, among them our families.

“You know why God gives us children, don’t you?” he asked me.


“So that we’ll stop being children.”

I’ve thought about that ever since and think it’s basically right. I have two children, a boy and a girl, and can attest that raising kids occasions more sacrifice than you ever imagine going into it. In my experience it brings a mysterious sort of satisfaction and joy marbled with weariness and pain. I consider the latter growing pains—the fear of failing, the frustration of doing badly, the regret of missing a chance to do something better. These are the stuff that maturity is made of, doing good for another and being sharply aware that you need to improve and do better.

On the flipside, while it’s far from a scientific observation, I know many childless adults who are remarkably self-indulgent and basically unaware of the fact (at least I hope they are). They are functionally the children that Rabbi Lapin suggested.

An article in the Atlantic recently waded into these choppy waters, suggesting that parents’ happiness should not be a concern in raising kids. For starters, most parents report less happiness in their lives than nonparents. We shouldn’t be surprised. Raising kids is hard work. So perhaps a focus on happiness misses the point. Doing violence to the nuanced way in which the writer presented his case, let me just grab a couple of snips:

It’s fine to go through life happy . . . but I suspect we also want to go through life without becoming big fat self-absorbed jackasses. Children really help in that regard. . . . Instead of asking parents and non-parents whether they are happy right now, we might ask whether they are becoming more like the people they want to be. And then we might see children not as factors that may or may not be contributing to our happiness, but as opportunities to practice what most of us—perhaps me most of all—need to do more often, which is to put someone else before ourselves.

This is not to suggest that having kids is the only way to grow up (the comments on the Atlantic piece would suggest that people get prickly about this), but it is clearly one very good way to do it. The reason is simply enough: teaching us self-sacrifice instead of self-indulgence.

Put the right lens on that and a useful perspective emerges. Call it growing up, call it maturing, call it whatever, but one reason God gives us kids is to sanctify us, to become more like Christ, whose very identity is wrapped up in self-emptying and sacrificial love.

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Joel,

    I love this piece. I think that you and the rabbi are onto something. Having children pushes us to become the adults we are supposed to be — and if we’re lucky, becoming the best people we can be.

    I also think that your very last paragraph comes close to another reason God gives us children: So that we can understand how He loves us. I never really understood how God loves us until I realized that one of Christ’s most radical lessons to his Jewish contemporaries was to call God “Father”. The Jews of that era were so reverential, they almost never pronounced any of God’s accepted names. Jesus went so far beyond anything of his era by suggesting God has a parental love for us, by saying that God was in a familial relationship with us.

    Christ loved, and was loved by, his father. I know what it’s like to love my dad and my son. And I have a vague sense of how intensely and fantastically we are loved by God, our father.

  • Rachel Wojnarowski

    Fantastic post, full of truth. I’ve said for years that God sent my children to teach me, not for me to teach them. I understand the point of the Atlantic article, but nothing makes me more joyful than to ” know that my children walk in truth.” So maybe I’m the rare extremely HAPPY parent. 😉

  • As I saw this scroll by in twitter, I was very curious as a single person. Very thought-provoking and true. I think life in general is “marbled with weariness and pain” (excellent description). And I think God uses a great many things in our lives to mold us into a likeness of His Son. Sadly, it’s not always the case that parents become less self-centered, or mature, and why one hears stories of “my terrible childhood.” I think one has to be open to what God is doing, whether you are single, married, or a parent. Thankfully, it’s all Grace, no matter your life circumstance.

  • Geoff: Thanks for that great perspective. Knowing about God’s love for us is one thing. Experiencing it is another. The gift of children is one of the ways we can both know and experience more of God’s love.

    Heidi: Alas, you’re right about parents missing the lesson. I think the Atlantic article referred to selfish parents as “nimrods,” which made me smile (and very self-aware at that moment). Looking for the places God is leading you, no matter what your status, is crucial to our walk.

  • Great post Joel. I never thought of children as being a means to make us grow up, but I believe you are right. It was not until after my son was born that I began really pushing myself to practice what preached more every day.

    I also agree with the comments. Never before have I known God’s love quite the way I have since my first child was born. Thank you for opening our eyes to new perspectives and reminding us of others.