In honor of Mother’s Day I am reprinting this column, which appeared in the ETC about two years ago.
When Emily started kindergarten at St. Joseph School in 1996, the largest family at the school had four children. What happened to all the big Catholic families, I wondered. It was a far cry from my days there, where in my class alone there were representatives of families of seven, eight, nine, even ten.
Big families have been making a comeback, although five seems to be the new ten these days. Still, our family of five is not the biggest at St. Joseph, where offhand I can think of families with six, seven and nine kids.
When I tell strangers I have five children they say, “I couldn’t do it. Two (occasionally three) is as much as I can handle.” I am not here to make judgments on anyone else’s decisions concerning family size–only you can know what is best for your own family–but I wonder if people give themselves enough credit. There’s nothing special about me or my husband that makes us able to handle more kids than most people. Any additional noise or chaos tolerance we have has been acquired “on the job.” I tell people, “If you have three, you’re already outnumbered. After that, it just gets louder.” Going from one to two is the hardest adjustment. Once you’ve figured out how to divide your attention between two kids, adding a few more is not that hard.
Why do it, though? Why have a large family? I’ll answer that question from our family’s perspective this time, and from the Church’s perspective another time, but I have to say that I wonder the opposite–why would anyone NOT want to have lots of children? Having a baby is the most amazing, creative thing we can do in this life. When you add to your family you are a co-creator with God of an immortal soul. Nothing else you accomplish in this life will last forever but your child’s soul will exist to give glory to God for all eternity!
Even in THIS life, think of what a gift a child is to the world. The zero population growth folks like to frame human beings as nothing more than consumers of the earth’s precious, non-renewable resources. They forget that a child IS a resource, a more precious one. It’s trite but still true that the child you choose not to conceive might be the one who would have come up with solutions to global warming or the lack of a cheap alternative to oil. Family size is only one aspect of environmentalism and not the most important part.
I know some people who think that it’s not fair to the other kids in the family to keep having more. How can baby number five possibly get enough love and attention? It’s true that Lorelei does not get the focused attention from me that Emily received. She’s got something better, though–four older siblings to give her attention and love. When we are looking at books about babies, she always asks where their brothers are. When I told her that I did not have any brothers and that her father had no siblings at all, she looked at me uncomprehendingly. When you ask her to name the people she loves, she has a long list to fire off. “Aren’t you a lucky girl,” I say, “To have so many people who love you?”
And there is nothing like seeing a teenage boy who spends a lot of the time driving you crazy comforting a crying toddler or watching movies with her. I don’t think Lorelei is the only one deriving benefits from being one of five.
In a big family, kids have fewer material things and more responsibilities, yes. But is that a bad thing? We make sure our kids have everything they need. In our family, needs are pretty basic. Clothes are a need, but designer clothes are a want. Ipods and cell phones are not needs. Emily has an ipod but she earned the money to buy it herself. Her cell phone was her 16th birthday present. Our big kids have chores they have to do every day. John and I both have evening commitments outside the home and we expect them to take care of the little ones–feed them, bathe them, help William with his homework, and put them to bed–if we aren’t there. So they are learning to clean house, do laundry, cook, take care of small children. Even William and Lorelei–aged 7 and 3–can set the table if need be.
So, are we done yet? The answer is that I don’t know. We still feel like someone might be missing from our family. Each child is unique, and it’s fascinating to watch their personalities develop, and to know that you are partly responsible for the existence of this human being who will grow up and accomplish things and live after you. Honestly, it’s a wonder to me that anyone wants to stop at two.