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Two fears that keep people from having large families

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A baby sleeping peacefully

Mar Dorrio - published on 09/27/22

Together let's help create a society that is excited about each new life instead of generating fear.

Having 12 children means that from time to time a TV talk show wants to interview us. It happened again in August. A national television station here in Spain invited us to give our opinion on the new birth rate data, after the timid alarm caused by the records of the first half of the year: the lowest fertility in Spain in the last eight decades, already below 1.3 children per woman. (The latest statistics, for 2021, show the average fertility rate is slightly higher in the USA, at about 1.66 births per woman — still well below the 2.1 needed to maintain the population.)

What did I say during my moments on the air? First, I gave a little slap on the wrist to the sensationalist press that likes to handle outrageous figures, such as that the back-to-school cost for a single child is around the average of $800 in this country. Of course, it can cost $800 and much more, but not necessarily.

Children can cost you as much as you want: you can enroll them in Harvard or in another expensive university, you can buy them shoes that cost $40 or $140, you can invite the whole class to an amusement park for their birthday or invite their six best friends to have a snack at home. But we do a disservice to the people and the country by always talking about the most expensive scenario possible.

Together, we should help create a society that is excited about each new life, and not generate fear by sowing uncertainty about the economic viability of having a child. Sensationalism does not help anything or anyone.

What is the hidden fear?

However, what seems to me more relevant for explaining these birth rate data, much more than the economy, is the current fragility of marriages.

If you’re going on a long trip and you think your car might break down during the journey, if you think it might leave you stranded halfway, you’ll choose to pack light: a backpack or a suitcase, something you can carry on your own. If, on the other hand, you firmly believe that the car can make it to the destination, to the finish line, you’ll fill it with suitcases containing everything you need and more “just in case” – because you know that all that weight will not fall on you.

The same thing happens with children. If marriage is not for life, if you live under the sword of Damocles knowing that your relationship can break up at any moment, if everything can fall apart because one of us no longer feels butterflies in our stomach, then I’ll only have the children that I’m capable of raising alone. I certainly wouldn’t have had 12 children under those conditions. In fact, I don’t know if I would have had any. I think that the birth crisis is a direct consequence of the marriage crisis.

They asked me what luxuries a large family like ours has in these difficult times. I answered that our favorite hobby is a very popular one: picnics. Besides, we’re lucky to live in an area, Galicia, where it’s easy to find wonderful places to stretch out a blanket on the ground. Homemade food, nature, and a ball to play with are usually our must-haves. But we also enjoy some other treats from time to time: for example, this summer we took advantage of a discount day to go together to see a Spanish movie about a numerous family at Christmas (“Padre no hay más que uno 3”), part of a series we love because it deals with the theme of the large family in such a cheerful and positive way.

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Mar Dorrio with her husband and children in a recent photo.

How can we encourage families to have more children? If you ask me, I would recommend that the media stop scaring us, that they don’t poison us with the fear of having children. I think they’re only trying to get our attention, and the bait they use to do so is to disseminate outrageous numbers. More importantly, I would encourage them to promote lifelong marriage, to promote the family, and to promote more movies that give a positive, joyful view of the family. Why not?

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