Hart: Time for some Valentine's Day babies?

Americans haven't had enough to replace

Scripps Howard News Service - As Valentine's Day approaches, I'd like to make a suggestion:

That more of you younger married couples use this day of romance as an excuse to, well, make some babies. We need them.

Look, I've done my part: I have four, and so does my new husband.

Now it's time for others to step up.

Here's why: As Jonathan V. Last wrote in a recent Wall Street Journal essay based on his new book, "What to Expect When No One's Expecting: America's Coming Demographic Disaster," America's biggest problem is not infighting in Washington. It's that for decades Americans, like the rest of the developed world, haven't had enough babies to replace the existing population. We're not as bad off as Europe, which is in steep population decline, or Japan, which is shrinking fast. But we're in trouble.

With the world population likely to start contracting in 60 years, Last notes, the problem is that incentives change. Societies increasingly made up of older folks, because fewer and fewer babies are being born into them, tend to invest in health care and extending life instead of innovating. That is, these countries are not going to come up with the next iPhone and all the wealth, opportunity and jobs such inventiveness creates. Such societies lose their economic and social vibrancy, they can't fully support Social Security-type programs because there are not enough young workers to pay into such systems, and on the list goes.

Last notes that much of the drop in new births has to do with reliable birth control, and better educational and professional opportunities for women. He comes up with some ideas, such as changing tax codes, to allow people to more easily have the number of children they want.

But there's the rub -- one rarely addressed in these discussions: That people might "want" very different things from their children today than did generations before us, and that's impacting the number we have. Today, we too often idolize our children, live through their successes, take their failures personally, are desperate for them to be comfortable and happy at all times. We spend countless dollars on their education, activities and advancement. Our egos get tied up in their achievements -- or the lack of them. So, of course, we have fewer. Affording or just keeping up with more than a couple of kids seems impossible.

(I may have written a book on parenting, but I can be guilty of these things, too. It's easy to get sucked in by these little guys!)

And as children increasingly take center stage, guess what? They can get more annoying! How many parents feel comfortable telling a whining child, "Don't interrupt" or "Go entertain yourself" or something else along those lines? Instead, we are too likely, unlike our own parents and grandparents, to drop everything and cater to their every demand.

My own mother, who adored her kids, would order her children to leave the house on a summer day and not come back until the streetlights came on. That's how she could handle five. In kowtowing to our children, I have no doubt, we create a vicious circle that makes us less interested in having even enough children to replace ourselves.

(Again, I may have written a book on parenting, but I can be guilty of these things, too.)

Today our culture typically idealizes parenting as this always-joyful and -fulfilling experience, full of wonder and teachable moments -- a culture that would have us believe the endless commercials and parenting magazines. Of course, it's wonderful -- but it's not like that. Could the place where reality meets Hollywood be dissuasive to parents considering adding to their brood? I have no doubt.

I know there are lots of thoughtful reasons why people have smaller families today. "Thoughtful" or not, it's their business. I just want to point out that there are many reasons for the phenomenon of our dangerous birth dearth and it's not all about reliable birth control, better education and the need for more child tax credits.

It goes deeper.

And sure, I'm hoping maybe some of you younger married couples just might like to talk about all this over a nice, romantic Valentine's Day dinner!

Happy Valentine's Day.

(Betsy Hart's latest book, "From The Hart: A Collection of Favorite Columns on Love, Loss, Marriage (and Other Extreme Sports)," has been newly revised. Email hartmailbox-mycolumn@yahoo.com. For more stories, visit shns.com.)

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