Steve and Candice Watters have championed marriage for many years, encouraging Christians to pray for it, prepare for it, and look forward to it. Back in 2008, I reviewed Candice’s excellent book, Get Married, and I was thrilled to hear that she and her husband had written a follow-up. Start Your Family sounds like “start your engines,” and the book more than delivers on its promising subtitle: “Inspiration for Having Babies.”
Kurt Bruner’s foreword sets the stage for what’s to come:
Hard as it may be for our generation to believe, bearing and rearing children were once considered the joyous reward and ultimate purpose of marital intimacy. It was a universally accepted given that parenthood was the highest honor and greatest purpose in life…. Raising kids makes us, like Christ, “humble ourselves” and “take on the form of a servant.” Maybe that is the unspoken reason many in our generation de-couple marriage and parenthood.
From that launching point, Steve Watters tells us a story that illustrates what divides modern couples from their grandparents. Early in their marriage, Candice told Steve she wanted to have a baby. Relates Steve, “I thought, in this particular instance, that Candice meant a hypothetical baby set somewhere in the future. So I agreed that it was a good idea. Then she clarified that she wanted a baby now.” Immediately, Steve began trying to “talk her back from the ledge,” believing that having a child was just too much of a leap so early in their marriage. After talking logically through all the reasons against having a child–the expense, the disruption to their schedule, etc.–Steve felt he had successfully “hit the snooze button” on Candice’s biological clock. But then the Watterses took a walk with an older couple who had mentored them when they were dating:
The Morkens weren’t just casually interested in when Candice and I thought we might have kids–they wanted to know why we weren’t having kids right now. It was one against three. I felt like a superhero outnumbered by his foes. I had to use my superhuman strength. So I pulled out my rationality, offering numbers and facts to make the case that we weren’t ready to have a baby. The Morkens came back strong. “Budget for everything except kids,” they said. “Kids aren’t just another expense; they’re wealth.”… [T]he Morkens were on to me. They recognized that my caution wasn’t so much evidence of my patience and prudence as it was my fear and trepidation–mostly tied to my desire to hold on to freedom and youth as long as possible.
Such refreshing honesty and transparency is what makes this book such a page-turner. Even if you’re already committed to having children, you will find yourself reflected in its pages, as Steve and Candice dissect this generation’s unwillingness to let God govern the womb. We’re all human, and the same fears haunt all of us from time to time. But, as the Watterses ably demonstrate, most of what holds couples back from starting their families isn’t real fear at all. Steve and Candice boil it all down to a single term that neatly captures what hinders us from embracing the blessing of children: the quest for “par.”
Every week it seems we got a new catalog from Pottery Barn, Crate and Barrel, Restoration Hardware, or Williams-Sonoma. Their pages were packed with must-have stuff for our home, temptingly arranged, with not a single distraction from people, let alone families. They seemed to imply that the ideal home is a lot like a showroom–something that works best when it’s perfectly ordered and undisturbed. Under the influence of that vision, it was easy for our neighbors and us to fantasize about what we could do, where we could go, and what we could have if we put children off a little longer.
Open just about any home decorating magazine, and this is exactly what you see. In our materialistic culture, happiness is held out as a zen-like state of people-free (particularly child-free) order and uncluttered perfection. Unfortunately, American Christians have bought into it with everyone else. But we should know better, as the Watterses engagingly demonstrate. Beginning with God’s desire for a godly seed in Malachi 2:15, they launch into a diagnosis of the modern Christian marriage, noting that “the great majority of Americans believe marriage is primarily intended for ‘mutual happiness.'” Because of this, there is a “tension between the unions we design for ourselves and the design God established in the beginning.” Couples today are encouraged from every side to mold marriage into their own image instead of mirroring God’s glorious image, which includes fruitfulness. With quotes from Scripture and a wealth of other sources, Candice and Steve demonstrate beyond the shadow of a doubt that child-bearing and child-rearing is kingdom-building work designed by God.
Next, they fill a chapter with evidence that children are both a blessing from God and a means He uses to pour out His grace upon us. I found myself nodding through paragraphs about how the Lord often calls us loudest through the very dependency of our children. Children serve as constant reminders of our own need. Bringing up godly children is a lot of work–work that is often unrewarded in the short term–and the Watterses do not deny this. In fact, this work is really a crucible in which God refines us. “How does God use the family to shape us? He uses the family to reveal who we really are, to work the selfishness out of us, and to condition us to serve others.”
But how can you want to bring children into this crazy world? many ask. Chapter 4, titled “Hope,” gives a clear call for courage in the face of a sinful, fallen world:
While fear and anxiety are a natural emotion for would-be parents, the choice to be fruitful is an enduring and courageous encounter with hope. In the face of all types of anxieties, children are the antidote. They are the hope. In a paradoxical way, they are the solution for many of the problems we worry they’ll face. Far above the concerns of our world, a sovereign God who sees everything from beginning to end designed new life as one of the primary means of hope…. “Let this be written for a future generation,” says Psalm 102:18, “that a people not yet created may praise the Lord.” The hope God brings through children requires a long view.
This illustrates what I appreciate so much about Candice and Steve Watters: their commitment to push Christians to think long-term and multi-generationally. Life isn’t just about us. Ultimately, it’s about the glory of God. Candice and Steve handle this so capably in Start Your Family by dealing with questions that naturally arise when Christians are confronted with God’s command to be fruitful and multiply:
- How can we afford it (especially with student loan debt)?
- Don’t we need a few years to get our marriage established first?
- What about buying a house?
- Will we have to trade in the car for a mini-van?
- Does this mean putting off that trip to Europe?
Turning always to Scripture, the Watterses declare, “Biblical principles provide high-level direction. And they’re better than tips and techniques, because they work for all people in all places.” God has a plan for us when it comes to finances, timing, and even the fear of the unknown. Ultimately, God’s plan leads us all to embrace sacrifice–a duty our grandparents understood better than we do:
Previous generations had to make sacrifices.Our grandparents’ generation sacrificed their personal dreams, ambitions, and material goods to care for their spouse and children. Many of our parents’ baby boomer peers did the opposite. The yuppies of the 1980s looked for ways to combine the two pursuits. They didn’t want to choose between their personal ambitions and the opportunity for family. They looked for ways to have it all. By the end of the century, however, books and articles started trickling out from those who had tried in vain to maximize work and family. Their concession: “You can’t have it all; at least not all at once.”
But the Watterses tried to do it anyway, as they candidly admit. They thought perhaps new technology would provide a way to have it all, as Candice telecommuted to her job as an editor. As she wrote about “fitting kids into life,” she received feedback from other moms who wanted to do the same thing, hoping “to achieve some personal goals and dreams” without cheating their children out of a real childhood. But it didn’t work:
[F]or all our juggling, use of improved technology, and our creative efforts to make up the difference, our “kind of having it all” strategy grew more tenuous as time passed…. Instead of having it all, we felt like we were carrying it all–all the work, all the headaches, and all the pressure…. Ultimately, what was driving our “kind of have it all” mentality was what drives so many other couples starting a family–the desire to add kids to a life that remains, as much as possible, like it was before the kids arrived…. The approaches we tried–and those we so often see recommended to young couples–are attempts to create hybrids between the adult-only and child-rearing worlds. The sticking point with such hybrids is sacrifice. In the adult-only world, it’s an unwelcome nuisance. In the child-rearing world, you can’t make it without it.
Steve pushes this point home with a painful anecdote from early in their marriage, when he and Candice purchased a home they could only afford with two incomes. Writes Steve, “I didn’t realize it at the time, but Candice was suffering both the curse related to the pain of childbearing as well as the thorns and thistles intended for men.” Sadly, this curse is all too common in Christian marriages today, where the double-income lifestyle is seen as a blessing but ends up being a burden and a hindrance to having children. The Watterses provide a way out with excellent advice and time-honored principles learned from other couples–all of which involve sacrifice but mean blessing in the end.
I found the final two chapters on community and mission absolutely vital to understanding the “how” of fulfilling our call to bear and bring up godly children. Young couples simply aren’t meant to go it alone! Steve and Candice provide a thoroughly biblical view of intergenerational connections, covering everything from the damaging effects of the age-segregated church to the incredible importance of a woman’s support network of family, friends, and older women. The Watterses urge reconnection with parents and grandparents even if it means overcoming bitter past disagreements in the family. As Candice mentioned in Get Married, we need the network. It is just as vital to child-rearing as it is to meeting a godly spouse.
Finally, the Watterses give us a solid call to visionary living:
What many marriages lack is a mission that’s bigger than each spouse, and even bigger than who they are as a couple. Consequently, husbands and wives resist starting a family because popular culture has convinced them that anything good that will happen in life will happen before they have kids…. From the marriage of Adam and Eve in Genesis, to the marriage of Christ and the church in Revelation, the marital union has been intended to model a selfless exchange of love for those who participate in it as well as for a watching world. How might God use the decision about children in your marriage to demonstrate oneness to you and those around you?
I could go on and on, but I want you to read this book! In fact, I hope you will purchase several copies and give them away to all the engaged couples and newlyweds you know. The message of Start Your Family is so clear, so biblical, and so winsomely given that I consider this book a must-have for every Christian’s personal library. It is hard to believe how much Steve and Candice crammed into 161 pages, but this book overflows with a wealth of biblical counsel, seasoned with a hearty dose of humility and real-life honesty (and, yes, childless couples are included, too). I look forward to seeing what else the Lord leads the Watterses to write, but, most of all, I look forward to seeing how powerfully God uses their family to live the gospel through the day-to-day work of parenting, discipleship, and love. Their example inspires me to put my own shoulder to the wheel with fresh vision. Thank you, Steve and Candice!