There are roughly 4 million married couples in the United States between the ages of 20 and 35 who don't have children. Many of them want to have children – at some point. Unfortunately, there's a growing gap between the desire couples have for future children and how things actually turn out. While only 3 percent of couples reported in a World Values survey that they don't want children, the reality is that about 20 percent of couples end up childless.
For some of them, the gap between desire and reality exists because they don't know the limits of their fertility. Couples who marry after the average age of 27 sometimes try to spend a few years enjoying life without kids, yet when they finally decide to start a family, they're surprised to find they are already past the peak of their fertility. Many of these couples end up having to work a lot harder to have children than their parents or grandparents did. (Many of these couples – as well as many couples who aren't infertile – have discovered the redemptive possibilities of adoption).
Other couples must deal with this gap between desire and reality because starting a family has become a wedge issue in their marriage. Often, one spouse is more ready to have children than the other. Even couples that are on the same page about kids tend to worry how becoming parents will affect their marriage, so they decide to just wait a little longer.
In the meantime, a third of all pregnancies in marriage are unplanned. That means a lot of couples who weren't sure how they felt about kids are sent headlong into parenting without a lot of vision or preparation. These parents often end up like people who are "taught" to swim by being thrown into the water; fear and desperation can work wonders. But learning to swim that way is all about survival – there's little, if any, enjoyment. Not surprisingly, we see a lot more flailing among parents today and a lot less visionary parenting.