Large Family or Sheer Insanity?

We are only a family of seven but we still get some looks when we go out.  There are the familiar comments:

 Are they all yours?
 You must have your hands full.

and the despicable…

Don’t you know what causes that? (Is there really any polite response to that?  I mean, “No! Tell me!” wouldn’t really be appropriate…)

It’s not been that long ago that our family size was the norm.  When people with one or two children were pitied.  Now in recent years something called the “Quiverfull Movement” has come into vogue.  This tends to flourish primarily among evangelical Christians.  The Duggar family is the one people are probably most familiar with since they have been featured on television.  As Orthodox Christians, most families we know have at least four children, many have more.

Now before my mother has a heart attack reading this (smile), I have no specific plans to have nineteen children.  Frankly, I don’t think that one’s family size or anything that goes into it is a topic of conversation for anyone but you, your spouse and your spiritual father.  That being said, there are a few general guidelines.

1. First and foremost, children are a gift from God, a blessing!  Losing sight of that leads people into so many ills like abortion.

2. Reasons to limit family size or delay childbearing do not include waiting until you have a brand new three-bedroom house, two cars, an established career and a trip to Jamaica under your belts.  Now, I acknowledge that many people would disagree with this.  There’s not really any point in arguing.

Beyond these general “rules” there is a continent of gray area that is, again, best navigated with your spiritual father.

We had our children one by one, unlike some families we know who had them like the animals on the ark – two by two (you know who you are!).  There are also families that acquire multiple children at once through the blessing of adoption.  Some things that we have learned along the way:

1. There is always room for another baby.  We’ve never had to put a crib in the back yard.
2. The largest expenses in the family do not change with the addition of one child or three. 
3. There is always enough attention to go around.  Remember that old saw: you multiply love, not divide it?
4. The older children love having a new baby in the house.  Usually they fight over who gets to hold it and I have usually had an audience every time I nursed the baby.  After we had number three, I never had to entertain the baby: the older children are delighted to pretend to trip and fall down 473 times to make the baby laugh while I get dinner.
5. It’s nice to have children find out that the world doesn’t revolve around them – personally.
6. As my spiritual father said once, “You don’t know how selfish you really are until you have children.” This is so true.  Children force you to grow up.

I could go on and on.  When people look at me with incredulity or pity, I smile and think about how delightful it is to watch puppet shows, magic shows and recorder recitals, be served with a bewildering array of plastic food, watch your child crochet or build something for the first time, come in a room to see an older child reading to a non-reader and (joy of joys!) hold your baby for the first time.  Now, a large family isn’t all sunshine and rainbows, but a small one isn’t either!

From Fr. Thomas Hopko:

According to the Orthodox teaching as expressed in the sacramental rite of marriage, the creation of children, and the care and love for them within the context of the family, is the normal fulfillment of the love of a man and woman in Christ. In this way, marriage is the human expression of the creative and caring love of God, the perfect Love of the Three Persons of the Holy Trinity which overflows in the creation and care for the world. This conviction that human love, imitative of divine love, should overflow itself in the creation and care for others does not mean that the procreation of children is in itself the sole purpose of marriage and the unique and exclusive justification and legitimization of its existence. Neither does it mean that a childless couple cannot live a truly Christian life together. It does mean, however, that the conscious choice by a married couple not to have a family for reasons of personal comfort and accommodation, the desire for luxury and freedom, the fear of responsibility, the refusal of sharing material possessions, the hatred of children, etc., is not Christian, and can in no way be considered as consonant with the biblical, moral and sacramental teachings and experience of the Orthodox Church about the meaning of life, love and marriage.

In light of the perspective offered above, the control of the conception of children in marriage is a very delicate matter, discouraged in principle and considered as perhaps possible only with the most careful examination of conscience, prayer and pastoral guidance. The abortion of a child already conceived is strictly forbidden in the Orthodox Church, and cannot be justified in any way, except perhaps with the greatest moral risk and with the most serious penitence in the most extreme cases such as that of irreparable damage to the mother or her probable death in the act of childbirth. In such extreme situations, the mother alone must take upon herself the decision, and all must be prepared to stand before God for the action, asking his divine mercy.

The vast majority of us can’t stand at a lectern and expound on the role of the Christian marriage.  What we can do is stop feeling guilty for fulfilling God’s plan for our selves, our marriages and our families.  We can stop apologizing for the number of our children, or the desire to have many children. 
 
Ps 127:3 Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb is a reward.  4 Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are the children of one’s youth.  5 Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them; They shall not be ashamed, but shall speak with their enemies in the gate.
Ps 128:1 Blessed is every one who fears the LORD, who walks in His ways. 2 When you eat the labor of your hands, you shall be happy, and it shall be well with you.  3 Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine in the very heart of your house, your children like olive plants all around your table.  4 Behold, thus shall the man be blessed who fears the LORD.

16 thoughts on “Large Family or Sheer Insanity?

  1. Can you imagine the horrible questions that I get? We are so blessed to have 4 children… and so thankful that adoption is a gift from the Lord.
    And by the way this is the 2nd day in a row that I have cried reading your blog.
    Love you so much.

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  2. I like this post. I get a similar question when I come into a room with Teddy: “Do you have any more children?” Do they think I got a babysitter for the rest and just took a high-energy boy around for fun? (As my father replied when I asked how many doughnuts I could have: “One at a time.” … I learned not to ask my mother, who said, “Three, and no more.”)

    If I recall my Miss Manners correctly, there's 1. the knowing smile, 2. an innocent “Why do you need to know?”, or 3. “That is personal.” I'd venture on a, “Yes, thank you for asking,” and if you're up to it, you could ask if they need any explanations (via a library book), assuming they want a large family, too. (After seeing pictures of your family, I can't imagine that they wouldn't!) I don't know whether this is useful information, but I hope it makes you smile.

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  3. Magda, I can't remember where I saw it, but there was a couple who came up with a list of answers to that question and others like it. Most of them you wouldn't actually use, but they were fun to read!

    (and yes, I smiled (c; )

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  4. I had to come back to tell you what Gannon just said. We were watching the video of Baby Milo and I said without thinking “It sure would be fun to have a baby again…” and Gannon said with a panicked tone:
    “But you just threw away the booger sucker [bulb syringe] yesterday!”

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  5. Beautiful post.

    Isn't it amusing how right after having a baby, people ask if you're going to have any more. You reply, “Oh, probably.” And they look frightened?

    My girls can't get enough of their new baby brother. I find, the more kids I have, the more fun they are, and the less I have to entertain them!

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  6. Matushka, there is a polite response: “I sure do.” And a heartfelt smile. They may be thinking of the mechanics, but the real cause is God's love blossoming in your marriage. Sad that they are ignorant on that point. But what a joy for you!

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  7. This post was apropos for me today. I spoke with my mom over the phone today and expressed how we would like to have more children. I told her that Punky wants me to have “two more girls” and she made some kind of noise and a comment that wasn't very supportive. I have been dwelling on it all day! I know that we shouldn't limit the size of our family, but the rest of the world has a hard time seeing that. Since we won't be using birth control at any point, we are more than likely going to have a large family. I am happy with that… but I know we are going to get a lot of comments. Even now, with only three children, I get the same comment all the time: “You have your hands full!” And I do, but I love it that way!

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  8. Beautiful photo–so sweet. I can't believe how much truth there is in lesson learned #6–I've learned so much about myself with children. And number 4 makes me laugh. I can't get over the energy children have over their siblings. So much joy.

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  9. This is a beautiful post.

    It's very funny to me how just few years before I was born (1966 -yes, I'm old) it was perfectly normal to have at least 3 children in a family and nobody batted an eye or wondered how women managed.

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  10. This post was such an encouragement. In the country where we live, 2 kids is somewhat accepted, but 3 is already frowned upon. To say nothing of 4+ children… And, unfortunately, sometimes parents/grandparents are among the least supportive. That's why every bit of encouragement helps 🙂

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  11. Its so weird how many times I have had to defend people having 4 kids. 4 kids? Really? That is nothing compared to the large families people were having decades ago when times were harder on the farm. I think alot of this small family trend does reflect our culture of selfishness and having bad priorities on a comfortable life living the American dream. If the poor folks on the farm could survive, so can we. Sure… 4 kids can be a circus… but you love the circus you have and wouldn't trade anyone of them…so who cares what anyone else thinks.

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