Population decline and God's design for family |… | God's World News

45. POPULATION DECLINE AND GOD'S DESIGN FOR FAMILY (WITH CHIARA LAMBERTI AND JENNY LIND SCHMITT)

Kelsey Reed • 11/15/2023
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Kelsey Reed
Hello, welcome to Concurrently: The News Coach Podcast from WORLD Radio and God’s WORLD News. Our mission is to come alongside you, learning and laboring with you as you disciple kids and teens through culture and current events. I’m Kelsey Reed. I’m here with Jonathan Boes and a couple of our other colleagues from WORLD and voices you may be familiar with from the magazine. We’re so thankful to have this group together today for a special episode. As always, if you have questions for us that you would like for us to address in our episodes, please send them to newscoach@wng.org.

Jonathan Boes
So our topic today comes from a story in the September 23, 2023, issue of WORLD, and it’s a story that grabbed our attention because it’s such a pressing issue—not just in Italy, where the story takes place, but increasingly even here where we are in the United States, and it directly impacts the way we pursue discipleship as families, and families that are part of bigger communities. So the article is “When in Rome” by Chiara Lamberti. It examines the declining birthrates in her home country of Italy and suggests that the problem isn’t merely economics but also cultural attitudes toward family. This issue of WORLD also included a fantastic interview with Chiara by Jenny Lind Schmitt. And on the podcast today, we are honored to have both Jenny and Chiara here with us.

Kelsey
Jenny Lind Schmitt is WORLD News Group’s Global Desk Chief. She is originally from Washington State but now lives in Switzerland, the native country of her husband Manuel. They have four grown children. Bienvenue!

Jenny Lind Schmitt
Merci.

Kelsey
Chiara Lamberti is a freelance Christian journalist and graduate of the WORLD Journalism Institute Europe course. She’s from Naples but lives in Rome to serve in a church plant with her husband and their three-and-a-half-year-old daughter and one-and-a-half-year-old son. Felice di conoscerti!

Chiara Lamberti
Grazie.

Kelsey
Glad to have you with us. Before we launch, I want to track back to something that the Lord put on my heart this morning, as I was waking up fully aware of my weakness, somewhat handed to me by the fact that I am raising three daughters of my own, with my husband, and the challenges of morning time and of late evenings with a teenager. And I was waking up feeling very weak this morning. So the Lord pressed on my heart that His power is made perfect in our weakness. And Paul says, “Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” And that’s from 2 Corinthians 12:9. And then, in 1 Corinthians, he says, “For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For consider your calling, brothers. Not many of you were wise, according to worldly standards. Not many were powerful. Not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise. God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong.” And that’s 1 Corinthians 1:25-28. And I felt these were fitting to inform our posture today, because we’re engaging a concerning trend in our world that’s truly on a global scale. And as we seek to press into the Father’s heart and desire for us, His people, regarding this area of culture, I find that there are a number of places where we are, as a culture, trying to become strong together, in control, to have all of our ducks in a row, and to really sort ourselves out before we ever engage in this idea of having children, if we ever even have them. So I really want to ask: What are you observing in culture right now? And Chiara, I’d love for you to just begin by saying what motivated you to tell the story you told in-magazine? What did you observe that led you to that article?

Chiara
Thank you. Well, I became a mom for the first time in 2020. And my first daughter was born like 30 days before the lockdown. And so while I was in Rome, figuring out how to be a mom of a new baby girl, and I was [learning] firsthand how it was difficult to raise a child in Rome, in a big city as Rome. The media started to talk about how the birth rate was declining. In fact, nine months after the first lockdown, we in Italy experienced the lowest birth rate ever. And sometimes, the media talked about how we were losing births in our country, but no one was very interested in it. But now the problem is big, becoming a huge social problem. And now all the media are on topic, and even the government [is] now interested in understanding why, how to do something for encouraging birth and also the creation of families.

Kelsey
So there was a notice of this declining birth rate, but it sounds like it took some time before the government became aware of this. There was a real sense of urgency that finally caused them to pay attention, is what I’m hearing in your description.

Chiara
Yeah, and in fact, because the government took so much time to understand that was very huge problem, now we have a very difficult moment. Because we don’t have enough women to have more births than [deaths] every year. So we miss lots of women in childbearing years, because this decline started in ’70s. But no one took much attention. And now we miss women capable to have enough child, more than annual rate of deaths.

Kelsey
So you’re really going to be experiencing a declining civilization. I don’t know if that’s the way that we say it anymore. But your civilization, your nation, is in decline. And I mean, heartbreaking to think of a culture that is fading. I want to turn to you, Jenny, to add some of your observations as well into this discussion. What have you been noticing across the globe in terms of this pattern?

Jenny
Well, I first came to Europe to live 30 years ago. So over those 30 years, I have noticed a trend of just a declining interest in family. To say “declining interest in family” is pretty generalized statement. But I guess just the drive for having a career, making a life, that we saw in the States as well, for women, that it’s really important to get an education, get a career, and do those things first, before having a family. Now, don’t misunderstand. I’m all for educating women and girls. And I think it’s fabulous, how we’re gifted to do different kinds of work. But I think that there are ways to do that while still fulfilling our calling to have families. But over that time, coming over here, seeing that—well, and I’ll just speak personally. I was married at 23. I came over here with my husband. People could not understand why we were married, first of all, when I wasn’t pregnant, I wasn’t having children. People would get married when they were expecting a baby. And so then we started having children and having more children. We have four children. And when we were here, we came in the early—well, 2010, to live for three years with all of our children. So we had four, and that was very much not the norm. And even when we kind of kept having children, people think, well, why do you keep having children? And they would associate it also with my education, and they’d say, “Oh, but you studied! Didn’t you have a career? Why? Why are you having all these children and staying home with them?” And that really spoke to me, that there was this disconnect, or saying that, “Oh, because you’re educated, because you’ve worked, then why would you kind of throw all that away?” so to speak. And thankfully, I had some really good influences in pastors speaking into my life that, no, I am actually—I’m not throwing it away. I’m throwing it where it really needs to go. And at that point, I didn’t know what, you know, years down the road would have for me, but I just knew that it needed to be a priority to raise the next generation and to use my education to educate them, to raise them. So that’s been an interesting and personal thing to watch over the years.

Kelsey
It’s interesting—as I hear you unfolding your narrative, it presses in on my own experience as well. And I think of the story that I’m living in. I mentioned, at the beginning of the episode, what it means to be rearing three daughters. And I’m reminded of this phrase that we use, you know—and maybe I’m going to use a couple different phrases. One of them is, do we live to eat or do we eat to live? And I think that we have also used that with work—do we work in order to live or do we live to work? Really, when we position those things the right way round, we are finding enjoyment in our work, in our food, in rearing children, because that is what life flows into, is that expression of our work, that expression of raising children, that expression of enjoying the work of our hands or the food that we make, instead of having them reversed. And what it sounds like to me, from what I’m hearing, is this reversal, of making my life centered around my work, that I live to work instead of working as a part of the outpouring of my life. So I’d love to know, what are you observing? Chiara, I’m going to turn the question to you. What are you observing in the women around you, in terms of what they feel like their life’s purpose is?

Chiara
Yeah, I share part of the experience of Jenny. I am now in my 30s, and I graduated from college, from university here. And so nowadays, I feel that people watch at me in a different way. I’m always the youngest mom at school, the youngest mom in the hospital for the control that I had in my pregnancy. And so people watch me, like, why, if you have a graduation, and if you can work, are you choosing to just have a part-time job and raise two child—not just one, but two? And also, I got married when I was 25. And that was very countercultural here, and people just didn’t understand why. So I think that, in my experience, talking with my friends from school or university, they just don’t value marriage, first of all, because marriage is a place where you sacrifice yourself—and because Italy used to be a very traditional country, with a very strong man husband, and now girls just don’t want to become like their grandma or mother, just staying at home and [keeping] household and raising child. I think that they feel that’s humbling, or just a way to [not] value your capacity as a woman. Related to this value of marriage is this value of having child because you have to, of course, sacrifice your body—first of all in your time, and a very big part of your life. But it’s sad, because when they—around me, I see people in their second part of 30s or 40s, they have this desire to become mother, but of course biologically it’s more difficult. So we have this problem in medical assistance for fertility, and there is a lot of suffering around this.

Jonathan
I was just going to say, I’m so glad you brought up the idea of “sacrifice.” I think that’s huge. Bringing my perspective as a dad, I share the part of both of your stories where I got married young. I was 21 when I got married. I have two kids now. I am definitely—I echo feeling that sentiment of being the youngest parent in the room often, even here in the United States. And it’s interesting—you mentioned the career desire. We’ve talked about kind of wanting to put off having kids because of your career. Something else I see, when I look at other men around me, is not just that career desire, but also wanting to almost hold on to an extended childhood. There’s like, a desire to not want to give up free time, the ability to go out to eat or go to the movies. And I feel like there’s almost a connection to not wanting to grow up, and also not realizing just the goodness of children and the way that reflects God, and the way there’s so much purpose. And that is so much better than just the little distracting things in life that are temporarily pleasurable. You know, it’s hard work. But there’s such a deep goodness. And there’s a loss of this sense of good things that take hard work.

Kelsey
I was thinking about how we often define our terms at the outset of our conversations at Concurrently. And to me, some of the terms that come to mind are related to what is introduced at the very beginning of our biblical narrative, in Genesis 1—you know, what it means for us to go out into all of creation, to fill the Earth, to flourish and multiply, that these terms—“fill the Earth,” “flourish,” and “multiply”—that we have really redefined these terms according to our self-focus and a desire to have our life, you know, put together, to avoid the pain of sacrifice, to maybe avoid the harder work that, as Jonathan pointed out, is truly the most rewarding work, of pouring our lives into the next generation and watching them grow and watching them flourish. So we have redefined terms that I believe need to be reoriented towards the Lord’s idea of what it means for humanity to flourish. And I’m seeing that in what you’ve pointed to in your article and what you’re drawing out today—and Jenny, in what you are drawing out.

I would also like to identify another term that I’m seeing, which is this idea of what is valuable. I was driving in to work with my middle daughter, who’s learning how to drive. And I am having the opportunity to sit in the passenger seat, and the challenges that come with not being in control of this, but watching her grow and change and develop this independence, this ability to control this massive SUV that she was driving this morning. And thinking about what a pleasure it is to take the passenger seat for my focus, to not be about me controlling, me directing, and that there’s so much value in those moments together. So this idea of value, and how we determine what is valuable within culture. So Chiara, I’m going to ask you another question that’s about, you know, when does it dawn on—when does it become an understanding, within the Italian culture, that it is a valuable thing? How would they define that raising children and having children—how would they define its value? There’s something that you and I spoke about in our correspondence.

Chiara
Yeah, people say that they don’t have the desire to have child because we actually have a weak economic situation. But we also observed that, in wealthier neighborhoods or cities, people with a strong position in their career, they decide to not have child. And I strongly agree with Jonathan, who says it’s not about the career, but it’s about sacrifice, and the idea to take a responsibility, and to sacrifice your free time. Having a child, it’s about to not be the king of your life anymore, or the . Being the king of your life or the queen of your life, it’s the most valuable thing in our society now. “Choose for yourself without any responsibility.” So I think that this is the more valuable thing, more than sacrifice yourself for raising the future generations.

Jenny
Something I think is really interesting, and that Chiara brought out in her article, is that idea that people are making decisions like that individually—like, “Oh, I want to be in control of my life,” “Oh, I don’t want to have to wake up—my friends who have kids, they have to wake up at 5am to feed the child, you know, I don’t want that.” Or this, you know, a loss of the idea of delayed gratification that like, okay, it’s going be a lot of work upfront, but later there’s a reward. And I think, all across the board, cultures, we’ve kind of gotten away from that. But people make decisions individually, from what I want, one person. But one person plus one person plus one person plus one person makes a community. And enough communities, that makes a culture and a society. And people making individual decisions aren’t necessarily thinking, “Oh, how is this going to affect the tax base of my country?” They’re just making, you know, their own emotional, spiritual, intellectual decisions. And yet that has a real impact, a socioeconomic impact on the country. And that’s what Chiara’s seeing in Italy. I thought she, you know, she brought out that this is—okay, peers, these individual people making decisions—and yet all together—even though they’re not getting together in a room and saying, “Hey, let’s do this”—that is affecting the society and the culture in a way, to your point, Kelsey, that it’s now getting people’s attention, because it’s valuable. It’s valuable in the sense of, there aren’t enough people working and paying taxes to pay into the tax system. And this is something that kind of fascinated me a few years ago, looking at the economic crises in both Spain and Greece in the 2000s. I think Spain or Greece had a big meltdown crisis in 2008, or 2009, and then Spain, shortly thereafter, and there was a—they kind of rocked the European Union, who’s going to pay for this? What I thought was interesting is, they were both countries that had very generous social systems. And so they’re paying out a lot to support a lot of people in the society, and with really good retirement benefits. But in both those countries, for the reasons that Chiara had mentioned in Italy—and also I’m sure other ones—but the—people—had started to having fewer children like a generation ago. And so suddenly, you have fewer people paying into the system. And it was talked about completely in economic terms. But I thought, no one is asking, nobody’s talking about the fact—you know, it was kind of mentioned, yeah, there’s fewer people paying in. And I thought, well, why are there fewer people paying in? There’s lower birth rates, but why are there lower birth rates? And I thought it was interesting, because it wasn’t really any kind of conversation about that. And now it’s happening, but like Chiara said, it’s like a generation late. The conversation that should have been had 25 years ago, or even earlier, is finally starting to happen. But it’s kind of a little too little too late. You see governments trying to encourage, in different ways, to have bigger families and to have children. And Chiara could probably speak to what Italy is trying to do, and Meloni there. And in France, I know, there’s economic benefits to support children and families. And so that has helped. France has the highest birth rate in the European Union. But that’s still like—I’d have to look—1.83 births per woman. And that is still not replacement rate, which is 2.1. And so this is a problem across the board.

Kelsey
And it’s interesting, you’ve again identified where we’ve gotten it flipped, only now we’re talking about it not on the individual level, but on the nationwide level, that we have flipped the idea of what it means to flourish as a society, basing our definition on our ability to sustain the things that we’re paying for as a government—you know, sustain an economy. So, human flourishing defined by whether the economy is going to fail, or whether it’s going to be sustainable, resilient. What you’ve both pointed out is that, in a place where individuals are making decisions to have children, the outcome is a flourishing society on a grand scale. So very interesting to think about all those observations and the way that, again, as human beings, we’re exchanging—I would say exchanging the truth for a lie. I’m running it back to that language that we use for what Adam and Eve did. They exchanged the truth for a lie, and exchanged the definition of how we could live our best lives, according to the One who made us, and seeking to redefine it in our own terms.

So Chiara, you brought a point out that I want to press into a little further, of women delaying having families until they’re in their 30s and 40s. And I’m curious to know if you even sense why, the motivation suddenly to begin having a family after delaying for so long—you know, what is causing them to change their minds?

Chiara
Last week, something happened in Italy, I don’t know if you know what happened with the gossip in Italy. Our Prime Minister Meloni figured it out that her [boyfriend]—not husband—was cheating on her. He’s a journalist, a TV journalist. They recorded him trying to cheating on her publicly. And they are not married, but they have a little girl. And she, the day after, posted something on Facebook saying, “I’m leaving him, but I’m very happy to be the mom of his child.” So in one night—of course, she’s the Prime Minister, she won’t be considered weak because of him—but in one night, she decided to destroy the family, even if they were not married, and to value just the daughter that they have together as an individual project, like, “I’m a her mom, and I’m happy like this.” So even being a mom in 40, or later—this is like an individual project. Like, “I want to be realized.” Even being a mom.

Kelsey
That is such a great observation.

Chiara
It’s not just Meloni. It was very public, so everyone can see that. But everyone, at one point, decide “Now I want to be a mom, so I just need dad.” But it’s not the point of the family—like, to boost healthy marriage and then have a child. It’s just, “okay, now I want to be a mom, because I feel that it’s time for me.”

Jenny
I thought it was really interesting, Giorgia Meloni, speaking of her, in her campaign—because she was very publicly talking about marriage and families. And yet she herself is not married, and had a family. She did have the honesty to say, “I’m not married. I’m very pro marriage. I’m not married. So I don’t—I would not expect this same benefits as a married couple.” Because, I mean, she had the honesty to say, “Okay, I’m not married, so I’m not going to”—I can’t remember what the benefits were, like tax benefits or whatever. But do you think like, okay, that’s interesting, because she’s a role model, right? Just by her position, she’s a role model. And as Chiara said, “Oh, I can do what I want. I can, you know, can be with this man, but he’s, you know, he disappointed me” or, “You know, he was unfaithful.” And that’s a valid reason to have questions. But now I’m going to do this myself. I don’t need anybody else. I’m going to be a mom by myself. And that’s a role model. You think of what kind of—you know, for a young woman growing up, you see that and you’re like, “Oh, yeah, that’s great. That’s no problem with that.” And yet we know that there are problems with that.

Kelsey
To trace the theme, again, of human flourishing—we see in the Lord’s design that the flourishing of children happens within a family, where there is a dad, a mom. It is not something that a child has the best benefit, the best outcomes, in a single parent situation, particularly when that person who has decided to bring a child into the world is committed to doing so more for their own satisfaction. It sounds like, you know, that the motivation is more about me and my curriculum vitae, my résumé, “look, I’ve done this too.” So another place where we have flipped that, what it means to have the order that has to do with the flourishing focused on the experience of another, and the growth, the development, the blossoming of another human being.

Jonathan
I like that we’re going a level deeper here, where we were looking at the motivations behind not having kids kind of being this individualism. And now, we’re seeing that there’s that heart level, where even the future choice to have kids can be done for that same wrong motivation of individualism or self-actualization. So we’re starting to look now at, you know, this heart issue, and not just the externals that are the symptoms of it, but—are we being motivated by a desire for the good things God has called us to, which are so often in community, which so often take hard work? Or are we been motivated by, “I want to just realize myself; I want to just be an individual”? So there’s that whole underlying philosophy behind it, that goes a level deeper than just whether or not somebody has children.

Kelsey
And these things highly influence the church, or we would hope that they do. Chiara, something you said struck me here, and I’d love for you to tell what your hopes are for the Italian church regarding this area of having a family.

Chiara
I hope that, for the Italian church, [it becomes] very clear that there is a problem, and that the church can be an example in the understanding of the family and the plan of God. The problem, it’s not about that every member needs to be a mom or a dad, but the idea that God has a plan for His creatures, and family is a good plan for us. Having children is a good plan for us. And as He’s Creator, we rest when we are in His plan, when we not try to just decide for ourselves what is better for us. So I hope that in Italy, the church can impact society and culture in saying that family is a big value, not because we decided, or we—because we like children, but because it’s God’s plan for us.

Kelsey
I appreciate that so much, and long for that to be a characteristic of the global church. And when we think about the global church, you know, what we’re talking about is the kingdom of God, and returning to those ideas from Genesis, of His kingdom expanding to every corner of the Earth, for His will and His reign to be brought into every square inch. So your desire for the Italian church is a desire and a blessing that I pray will be a part of the generative, culture-shaping outlook of the global church.

Jenny
I love the way Chiara phrased that. We want to have children and families not because, you know—we choose not to have them because we have this great plan for our careers, or we choose to have them because they’re the trendy new accessory. And I will say, it feels like in the States—I can speak more to the States on this—it has felt like over the past 10, 15 years, we see celebrities having children, it’s very trendy. And it has sometimes felt like this idolatry of children and babies, like it’s the next greatest little thing. We have all the pretty pictures and stuff like that. We don’t show the hard work and the sacrificial work. And so I love the care brought to the that, “Oh, this is God’s plan for us.” And I think that kind of idolatry of the family, that has had problems too. But there are, you know, people who are struggling with infertility that would love to have children. And that’s not a possibility. And so they feel like, am I worth anything? What am I in the church? Because we can have the flip side of, “To be a true Christian family, you need to have children.” But that doesn’t work out. And so then what is their purpose? Then what is their life? What does human flourishing look like when it doesn’t involve children, even though they’re wanted?

Kelsey
No, I think that was so good, to identify that there are struggles, that we can even put having children on the throne of our hearts, as the idol of our hearts. And that points us back to the fact that everything in our process as human beings is about a deepening relationship with the Lord, primarily. Again, if we’re going to try to keep things right way round, the outpouring of everything we do is an outpouring of that primary relationship.

So I want to turn towards our very final thoughts and just say that, you know, we’re challenged in our discipleship response, at home, in the classroom, to point to the places where we may need to repent over our idols, our self-focus, idolatry of comfort or of ambition, or even having children. So many of those things that we allow on the thrones of our hearts, they replace the one true King. I appreciate Chiara’s language about, you know, are we making ourselves the king and the queen, instead of placing the one true King back onto the throne?

One of those ways that we seek to have our hearts aligned is to recognize His delight in us as His children. That informs our delight in our own children and the children that are around us in other people’s lives, to be a community that He has created. And we see in Jesus’ words in Matthew 18, which I believe inspired Paul’s words that I shared earlier, starting in verse one: “At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, ‘Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me.’”

And this is Matthew who says: “Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people, but Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.’”

There’s so much promise in that to me. Parent, teacher, mentor of kids and teens—our Heavenly Father has made us sons and daughters through His Son, and has sealed us in relationship to Himself, sent us His Spirit to equip us. He has equipped us for this work.

Show Notes

How have society’s attitudes shifted regarding children and families? And what does that do to a culture? On today's episode, we’re joined by WJI graduate Chiara Lamberti and WORLD’s Jenny Lind Schmitt.

Check out The Concurrently Companion for this week’s downloadable episode guide including discussion questions and scripture for further study. Sign up for the News Coach Newsletter at gwnews.com/newsletters.

We would love to hear from you. You can send us a message at newscoach@wng.org. What current events or cultural issues are you wrestling through with your kids and teens? Let us know. We want to work through it with you.

See more from the News Coach, including episode transcripts.

Further Resources:

Concurrently is produced by God’s WORLD News. We provide current events materials for kids and teens that show how God is working in the world. To learn more about God’s WORLD News and browse sample magazines, visit gwnews.com.

Today’s episode is sponsored by Covenant College.

Looking for an unapologetically Christian College Experience? Pursuing knowledge transformed by faith, Covenant College prepares students for their callings and careers. Covenant is located on top of Lookout Mountain, Georgia, 20 minutes from Chattanooga, Tennessee. Students who visit are eligible to receive a grant of $1,200. More at Covenant.edu/world.

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