May 16, 2006 | 9 comments

I want to clarify that the points I made in my last post were not meant to be an argument for not having big families. I just think that a lot more women would choose that option if we honestly addressed the fact that it’s more difficult without a support system. Once the issue is out on the table it can begin to be addressed. Right now most women I know feel like they’re having a much more difficult time raising kids than they should and have no idea why. They just blame themselves and get despondent and start thinking about going back to work. I felt that way for a while (except for the going back to work part), but once I realized what the problem was I got positive and proactive about it and got a good support system in place, and it made all the difference in the world. I just wanted to share that with other women in case it helps.

I agree wholeheartedly with Jennifer that openness to life is of dire importance demographically as well as morally (my dad is living in a Muslim country right now and every time he sends me email stories of life and culture there I think, “Oh, man, we’re screwed.”) My thinking is that we should try to figure out why women (even most Catholic women) are so opposed to having big families these days, address the issues openly, and come up with solutions.

My take is not, “It’s hard to be solely responsible for young children without help so therefore you should try not to have too many young children around at once.” The way I see it is, “Children are a blessing, new life is always a blessing. If you don’t feel that way it may be because you’re having a hard time being solely responsible for young children without help, so let’s sit down and try to figure out how you can hook up a support system.”

But while I enjoy brainstorming about the challenges of modern life with a big family (especially since I’ve never seen a big family in action so, personally, I’ll need all the tips I can get), it’s not worth it if I’m taking part in perpetuating the idea that having a lot of children is “just too hard”. We must keep the big picture in mind. As usual, Jennifer says it best:

Life is fragile. Life is transitory. And it is sacred. You do not control it–the Lord does. The womb, throughout scripture, is referenced as the conduit for grace, the most likely interface between God and the world. All of his prophets and saints have been sent through the womb. Even to women, I imagine that sometimes, felt less than up to the task and perhaps even a little tired–he saw fit to send his only son through the womb of a humble and willing woman, terrified and weak, with no protection accept the good grace of a working man named Joseph who, could have understandably and morally acceptably broke their engagement with her quietly. He did not.

Is it acceptable to use our knowledge of the human body to respect the conduit through which God interfaces with the world? Yes. Is it understandable? Absolutely. Is it ideal?—no it is not. We accept that we are all not made in the image of Joseph and Mary and that we struggle and fear and find very real limits to our capacity to give of ourselves. We cannot fault others for being human and having limits. Hey, sometimes the thought of another 9 months of physical discomfort and the responsibility of that life is just too much to handle and no one should blame a person for knowing their limits and acknowledging them frankly.

But don’t look at limits and call them virtues.


  1. Christine

    And yet, at the same time as we realize that a big family is a blessing, we need to also keep in mind that the number of children in one’s family does not correlate with the level of holiness. There are large families that are fantastic and loving and everyone is doing well. There are others that are not so: teens feel as though they are not as important as the next baby is. There are some people who look at small families like mine and think that we are just not really orthodox. (Some are, as a friend of mine put it, providentialists about it. No NFP…no nothing.) Yet people like us have serious reason to avoid pregnancy. I cannot care for my family at all while pregnant. I am less than useless – I am actually a burden. And the thought of being completely out of commission and unable to even interact on the most basic level with my children for 25 weeks or more, then being too tired to do much more than very basic interactions for the remainder of the pregnancy…well, it’s just not a good thing. And my first responsibility has to be for my already-born children.

    Does this mean that if, by some miracle, I became pregnant I would even entertain the idea of abortion? No! But it does mean that, even if I’d kept up with NFP instead of sterilization, I would be avoiding pregnancy always.

    I do think that large families are a blessing, and fortunately, my children have been exposed to enough of them to see that for themselves. They no longer talk about having only two babies, but about having 15 (the seven year old) and 35 (the four year old). The numbers do change, but I am happy for them that they see motherhood as a wonderful thing, and that they see lots of children as the blessing it can be.

    My friend told me (when I called her up on Friday to cry on her shoulder) that family size isn’t corresponding to holiness. The Blessed Virgin and St. Joseph had only one, and how much more holy can you get than THEM!?

  2. Jennifer F.

    Christine – I don’t disagree with the truth of anything you said. But…

    Maybe it’s just my warped perspective, but I feel like warning against maximalism in this society is like warning kids against being too health conscious and eating too many fresh fruits and vegetables. Yes, there are probably a few kids out there who are too neurotically health-conscious, but they are SO much the exception to the rule that it’s not even worth talking about.

    But, as I’ve said, I live in a really liberal city, so I might be totally off here.

  3. SteveG

    Maybe it’s just my warped perspective, but I feel like warning against maximalism in this society is like warning kids against being too health conscious and eating too many fresh fruits and vegetables.

    Et, Tu, Jen!!

    I just had to use that. 😉

    OK, so if Jennifer AND Jennifer have now said that my warning against maximalism was off the mark, I own that. I apologize, I was wrong. It was imprudent.

    There. Fin. I stand chastened and humbled.

    I still have a ton of problems with how it was handled, and with some of the implications that were made toward me, but whatever, I don’t want to be the one to hold a grudge.


  4. Jennifer


    Thanks for the compliments in quoting so much of my original blog.

    And peace Steve.

    This was never about a judgement against you it was always about the ideas and language being advanced.

    I wasn’t calling you a liar. I was calling the ideas at large in the culture about large families lies.

    Shake and make up?

  5. SteveG

    And peace Steve.
    And also with your spirit.

    This was never about a judgment against you it was always about the ideas and language being advanced.

    I wasn’t calling you a liar. I was calling the ideas at large in the culture about large families lies.

    I keep reading, and rereading your post and comments, wanting to see this, but I don’t. I do acknowledge that I may be too close to it, and it may be a deficiency in me that is the source of that failure.

    If you say it is so, I will take you at your word.

    Shake and make up?

    *swallows hard*

    Yes, shake and make up. No hard feelings. Let us forgive so that we may be forgiven.

    FWIW, I really have gotten lot to think about from this (not just Creighton). I had a bit of a flash of insight after this, and the last post by Jen (unfortunately after my last round of posts to you) that are making me view things in a different light, and with more hope.

    We really have done the best we can given our circumstances, but that doesn’t mean we have to stay stuck in that same place.

    There definitely is something in what you are saying. Must go ponder it a bit.

  6. rach

    I am not a Catholic so I am not thinking my opinion even matters so much. But, I will say this. God gave us the ability to have pregnancy upon pregnancy, yes. However, he also gave us the ability to treat our bodies as the temples that they are, and to be good stewards of all He has given us.

    Let me venture to say that God allowed us the capacity to be able to figure out how children are created. In choosing not to create them by abstaining certain times of the month, would one venture that I was sinning?

    I used to want 5 children – now I am thinking 2 or 3, if we should be so blessed. I want to be able to give the time and energy to my children that they deserve, as wonderful little masterpieces made by God.

    Let me throw another log on the fire. What of someone who continues to procreate, knowing there is a heightened risk of genetic mutation in the children that can lead to some very serious malformations and many times, death.

    Do we not use that information to our advantage by perhaps not having more children? I don’t feel like I articulated this very well.

    150 years ago women were not expected to entertain their children, play with them, take them to lessons, etc., etc., like they are today. The pressure is high.

  7. Anonymous


    I certainly didn’t take your post to be an argument for not having large families. I just felt you were bringing up a very valid point—until we address some of the real issues, psychological, emotional, and physical, that directly affect and impact couples choosing to have many children, we will not get anywhere as far as spreading the good things that having a large family can bring. If the general public does not see a valid good coming from a particular walk of life, there will be no incentive for them to try to take that walk themselves.

    Despite the ambivalent feelings I still have toward motherhood, I LOVE these six children we have been blessed with and feel that my husband and I have done a very good thing for society by having them. To ignore that it’s been a long, HARD road every single day for the past nearly 13 yrs, however, is silly.

    I say, don’t kill the messenger. There are plenty of other women out there who feel just like I do and who have found this whole thing to be a huge struggle, and I would argue that until such issues are addressed, NFPers will never be able to influence a society that is so geared toward NOT having children to suddenly be open to having packs of them.

    I also wanted to say that although I DO believe motherhood is much harder in some ways in our modern world, I also don’t live in Pollyanna-land thinking that people way back when had it so easy. Most of them worked their fingers to the bone from the time they were 8-10 or so until they died in their 40s. I thank God every day day for my electricity, running water, and clothes washer. Having family members who have worked closely with orphanages in Africa has brought home to me just how blessed we ARE, and I don’t take any of this for granted. To say, however, that just because we have all these objects at our disposal means that motherhood is easier psychologically doesn’t make a lot of sense to me, either.

    I don’t really care what anybody on this blog (or anywhere else, for that matter) thinks about me as a mother or about our child-rearing techniques/philosophy or about what I’ve been through, but I do think my story is meant to be shared if only to let people know that we ALL come from very different places and to assume that we are all capable of doing the same things well is ridiculous. You can choose to ignore stories such as mine if you like, but I argue that the culture-of-life won’t win over many new followers if real issues aren’t addressed. I think Jen was getting to the heart of this in her post.

  8. Anonymous

    To Steveg:

    I do appreciate your comments about nutrition and cycles. I haven’t meant to ignore you, but I just feel kind of uncomfortable hijacking Jen’s blog with too much personal information about my own health, which I am quite sure nobody is really that interested in 🙂 Suffice it to say, I did at one time have a copy of that book on fertility, nutrition, and cycles you mentioned, but my own specific health issues have had to supersede all others. I’ve had to follow some pretty specific and restrictive diets to maintain my own health (digestive issues), and I do take nutrition very seriously. I try to eat well, exercise daily (ok, almost daily!), and take vitamins because I believe strongly that if we don’t take care of ourselves physically, we will not be able to be the best parents we can be.

    Thanks for sharing your advice, and I do wish you and your wife the best in your efforts to follow God’s Will for your family in your particular circumstances.

    Jen, I’m sorry to post this here, but I didn’t want Steve to think I didn’t appreciate his advice regarding NFP and nutrition, and I couldn’t figure out where else I could put the message, as I didn’t find a blog for Steve when I clicked on his name. I wouldn’t want to email anybody privately because my email address contains my family name, and some of you may know me, or at least know of me. I know firsthand just how small the circles of traditional Catholic families can be in this country!! 🙂

  9. Jennifer

    I just wanted to say, thanks Jen–this conversation has been, to use a punny word, fruitful.

    It is wonderful. We shouldn’t be afraid to cross swords in this way because it is a productive endeavor.

    Well done!

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