No, this isn’t the beginning of a joke. It is a key insight into the life we’re living as expats in the multinational area surrounding The Hague.
At dinner this week, the Arab gentleman to my left discovered his Chinese colleague across the table has only one child, a son, as does the Dutch couple across from me. The Arab has five daughters. All were variously surprised by the fact that my husband and I have four sons.
“Such a large family for America!”
“Isn’t one or two more the case?”
I commented that larger families were not uncommon in the military.
“Why is that?”
Although I’m not really sure, I speculated for them that the job security, housing, and health care probably played into it. Later, though, I realized my error.
Certainly these benefits have a role in the decision to have more children, but I think a deeper more fundamental aspect of the human condition is at play. My eldest Ethiopian son has at least 8 brothers and sisters somewhere, and families with 8-12 siblings were not uncommon in his country of birth. If you’ve ever toured the great home of a common family from a by gone century (especially in the US), you were probably amazed when told the number of children the woman of the house gave birth to; somewhere I remember being shocked by a number as high as 21.
How many of those babies lived to become adults?
Of the adults, how many died before the age of 40?
Our proximity to death, the frequency with which we experience it both first hand and through our neighbors, the fact of mortality which cannot be ignored day-to-day drives family growth, I think. Perhaps I am in error again. Perhaps too many variables are at play in these life decisions to consider in a simple blog post.
The other day my husband was wondering about friends nearing retirement who choose career and lifestyle over having children. “Do you think they regret it now?” he mused. We’ve known several couples with no children of their own who nonetheless take on vital roles in the lives of children through service organizations, churches, and nieces and nephews as well. Engaging the next generation in these ways can be very fulfilling and part of our nonprofit work in Africa.
Still, an old proverb says “Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, So are the children of one’s youth. How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them.” Quivers of the time reportedly held five arrows as a rule, yet we only have four. Hmm. Yes, only God knows what all influences our decisions.
Kristin King is an author and nonprofit co-founder currently living in Holland. She is currently promoting her first crowdfunded project. Please stop by Congo VBS 2016 and join the crowd.