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5.1: Becoming a Parent

Difficulty Level: At Grade Created by: CK-12
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Why is becoming a parent so important?

Becoming a parent can be a joyful experience. Watching and helping a child grow into maturity is wonderful. However, enjoying parenthood requires that you become a parent at the right time, with the right person, and for the right reasons. Becoming a parent before being physically, socially, emotionally, and economically ready can be very difficult. Moreover, not everyone wants to, can, or perhaps should become a parent.

“In China, the oldest starts cooking at five; you change diapers at six.”

-Debbie, 13, Chinese New Kids on the Block

Janet Bode

Why Adults Have Children

Throughout much of history, women and men became parents as early as physically possible. Until modern tunes, girls became mothers soon after puberty and still do so in some parts of the world. For example, in some parts of the developing world, girls acquire adult status much earlier than they do in the United States. Where our society would consider young teens to be adolescents, other girls are full-fledged adults according to their society's standards. At young ages (13 or 14), they take on adult responsibilities and privileges, although most get little schooling.

Adolescents in industrialized societies such as the United States have very different experiences than adolescents in many other societies. Socially, financially, and educationally, most men and women are not ready for parenthood until they are in their 20s or even later if they want to pursue careers.

This does not mean that American teenagers do not become pregnant. As a matter of fact, nearly one million American teenagers become pregnant each year. Most teenage pregnancies are unplanned, often unwanted, and ill advised. Why, then, do so many teenagers become parents each year? This question is one we will consider throughout the unit.

Activity 4-1: Why Have Children?


One major life decision a person makes is whether or not to have children. It is wise to consider the reasons for becoming a parent before the pregnancy occurs.


  • Activity Report


Step 1 List five reasons why you believe people choose to have children. Then list five things that you think all potential parents should know and be able to do before they have children in order to ensure that the children will be well taken care of.

Step 2 Your teacher will divide the class into small groups. Each group will select a discussion leader and a reporter.

Step 3 The reporter will list the responses of the group on the Activity Report and use this sheet when reporting back to the class.

Family in Poetry Write a poem that includes

  • First name,
  • 4 traits of a good parent
  • 3-4 traits you would want in a mate,
  • 3 things you would like your marriage to accomplish,
  • 3 concerns about marriage,
  • 3 things children would bring to your marriage, and
  • 3 concerns about having children.

Changes in the American Family

There are many reasons people want to have children. Many adults want children for psychological and social reasons. Parents want to give and receive love. They want to experience the joys of raising children. Some people feel a family is not complete without children, and that children may be the bond between couples. Sometimes couples feel pressure from their own parents to produce grandchildren.

Reasons for having children have changed throughout history. In the past, economic pressures motivated couples to have children. For example, there used to be many family-run farms in which family members did much of the work, and every child meant another pair of working hands. The same considerations applied to urban families who relied on family members to work in factories. About 100 years ago, there was no required schooling, nor were there laws against child labor. Children often worked full-time jobs or took care of the house and younger brothers and sisters as soon as they were able. Many children still help their parents, but fewer parents depend on such support. In fact, the level of education necessary to get good jobs in this society has lengthened the period of adolescence. Today, many parents cannot afford to support a large family since many teens don't work until they graduate from high school or college.

Couples today also have fewer children and have them later in their marriages than couples did in the past. Also, many couples wait longer to have children today, leaving less time in their reproductive years to get pregnant. This factor often results in smaller families. In 1964, the average age of the first marriage for women was about 21 years. For men the average age for their first marriage was 24 years. Currently, the average age for women to marry the first time is about 25. The average age for men's first marriages is about 27. Among college graduates, many men and women are getting married for the first time in their late 20s, 30s, and even 40s.

During the past 200 years, the fertility rate, the number of children born to a couple in our society, has gradually declined. In other words, today's families have fewer children. There are several reasons for this decline in fertility rate. At one time in history, health care was poor and many infants died. So some couples had many children to ensure that several would survive. Today, health care is vastly improved and infant survival rates are higher. Another reason for the decline in fertility rate is the increased use of contraception (methods for preventing pregnancy). After the 1960s, the greater availability of contraception provided couples greater control over reproduction.

What Do You Think?

Do you think members of your generation will marry at younger or older ages than present trends (about 25 years for women and about 27 for men)? Will men and women differ in this respect? Would you like to have many children, a few children, or no children?

Two other important trends characterize families today. First, divorce and remarriage rates have increased dramatically over the last 30 years. Today, many children have parents and stepparents. Also, as a result of divorce, single-parent families, usually consisting of a mother and children, are much more common. Today, over 25% of children live in single-family homes. This is compared to less than 11% in 1970. The traditional family-consisting of father, mother, and their biological children-counts for only one out of four American households.

Adopting Children

So far, we have focused on men and women having their own children, but about 10% of the reproductive age population are infertile. Either due to a medical problem in the woman or the man or in both, infertile couples cannot have children.

What Do You Think?

Would you adopt a child? Would you adopt instead of having your own biological child if you were fertile? Would you adopt a child from another country?

Some couples adopt children. They become legal parents of a child whose biological parents (the individuals who physically conceived and delivered the child) cannot or choose not to keep the child. Some couples adopt children in addition to having their own biological children. Experiencing parenthood through adoption differs little from raising biological children when it comes to love and commitment.

Several other options exist for childless couples. One is artificial insemination, which is the injection of semen into the vagina or uterus by a method other than sexual intercourse in order to cause pregnancy. If the male is sterile (produces no sperm or sperm that cannot fertilize an egg), a woman can use another man's sperm to become pregnant. In this situation, usually a donor produces sperm through masturbation. The sperm is frozen for storage. Later, after the sperm has been selected, a doctor deposits the selected sperm in the woman's vagina. If the sperm fertilizes an egg, pregnancy will occur just as it would as a result of sexual intercourse.

Did You Know?

The first baby born as a result of in vitro fertilization was born in England in 1978. Since then, over 10,000 babies have been born in the United States alone as a result of this medical technology.

Other couples try in vitro fertilization. This procedure involves fertilizing the mother's eggs (or a donor's eggs) with the father's sperm (or a donor's sperm) outside the body in a special dish. (In vitro fertilization does not take place in a test tube, even though the term “test-tube baby” is often used.) The fertilized eggs are then transferred to the woman's uterus with the hope that at least one fertilized egg will survive.

Contracting with a surrogate mother is another way infertile couples can have children. A surrogate mother is a woman who carries and gives birth to a child for other people. The child carried by the surrogate mother might have some or none of the parents' genetic material. Contracting with a surrogate mother is not a common way for people to have children.

New Terms in Reproduction

Define the following:

  • sperm bank
  • embryo transfer
  • microinjection

How do these terms relate to the discussion of childless couples?

These medical interventions allow many couples who otherwise wouldn't be able to experience parenthood to become parents. These medical interventions are also expensive, as well as physically and emotionally demanding, paths to take.

Activity 4-2: Newborn


It's hard to appreciate the responsibilities of parenthood without actually caring for a baby. The care and protection of a newborn child is probably the most important, and rewarding, yet exhausting responsibility a person can ever undertake. Do you really know what parenthood means? Let's see.


  • Activity Report
  • Resource 1: Guidelines for Newborn Care
  • Raw egg
  • Hard candy
  • Student created supplies for newborn


Step 1 You take on the responsibilities of a single parent.

Step 2 You will receive one raw egg. This egg represents your newborn child. An egg was chosen because it is fragile, and great care must be taken to protect it from harm.

Step 3 You will have total responsibility for your newborn for 5 days.

Step 4 At the end of 5 days, your newborn will be returned, and your parenting skills will be evaluated.

Step 5 Your teacher will give you a Resource that must be followed precisely in order to obtain a “successful” rating at the end of this parenting experience.

Review Questions

  1. How did children help the family survive in earlier generations?
  2. Why do families have fewer children today than they used to?
  3. Name and define three ways couples who cannot conceive can now become parents.
  4. How is divorce affecting family size and structure?

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Date Created:
Feb 23, 2012
Last Modified:
Jan 30, 2016
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