31 Days of Writing with the Nester,  Contraception,  Marriage,  Sex

Why do Catholics have so many kids?

“Wow, you’ve sure got your hands full.”

No matter how many times I hear this and no matter how well intentioned the speaker, it always rubs me the wrong way. One time in the grocery store I did actually lift my hands from the cart, bearing two blonde heads, and hold them up in the air whilst the baby dangled from the Ergo across my midsection and loudly announced “NOT RIGHT NOW I DON’T!” which sent the kindly fifty-something woman sharing the bread aisle with me scooting backward, nervously, laughing out of confusion and fear.

But yes, I suppose my hands are full. I just feel like I’m in some kind of bizarre, narrative-driven ABC family drama when complete strangers announce it to me over and over again. Can you imagine yelling to a man walking his dog down the street “wow, you must pick up crap all day long!” or maybe suggesting to a person in a wheelchair “Man, I bet your arms are always tired!” Not that I’m comparing my children to dog poop or a mobility impairment, but come on people, let’s try to be a little more creative.

Moving on.

Catholics do, in fact, tend to have larger than average families, though that number is sadly diminishing, at least among the cafeteria variety who don’t actually practice what the Church preaches.

(This is emphatically NOT a jab at smaller Catholic families who are for whatever reason unable to have child(ren). This piece is a must read for facilitating better understanding between families of all sizes in the pews.)

And why do we have more children than the average family? Ding ding ding, I’ll take patriarchal oppression and denied access to contraception for a thousand, Alex. 

Oh, wait, nope, that’s actually not the reason. Want to know the real reason Catholics have more kids?

Come closer.

Closer.

Okay, are you ready for this?

It’s because we like them.

Like we actually full on appreciate small humans and think the world would be a better place with more of them around. Isn’t that bizarre?

And it’s also because we practice realistic sex: sex as it actually exists in reality, in nature, in all it’s messy and impressive and inscrutable design.

And in reality, sex is where babies come from, when everything is in proper working order.

Did you get that? Catholics have more babies because babies are sometimes the result of having sex. And since we believe that sex is good, true, beautiful, and perfectly designed by a God who loves us and wants us to be happy, we accept it on His terms, embracing the mystery and honestly, sometimes, the suffering inherent in our fertility.

Now, just a little PSA because I’m kind of embarassed by this as a fellow female of the species but did you know that you can’t actually get pregnant save for a small (or large, in my case) window each month during a woman’s cycle? Apparently like 90% of adult women have no real idea how their bodies work and that’s just sad to me. And a little bit the opposite of empowered and independent and free choice-y. But I digress. We’ll get there later this week.

Back to the babies. Oh, those babies. See, the reason we keep having them isn’t, contrary to popular belief, because we haven’t figured out what causes them, or because we don’t have a television. The reason they keep showing up is because, frankly, they’re kind of the best thing about being human, and having them is an incredible privilege and it’s hard as hell and yes, self denial and self obliteration on a daily basis but … it’s so worth it.

And since we’re not supposed to be using contraception, we actually have to discuss the possibility during seasons of fertility (i.e. months where you get a regular cycle) whether or not it would be prudent to have another child at this juncture. And then, if the mutually discerned and prayed for answer is: do it, then we do it.

Ba dum ching.

But seriously, do you know what kind of freedom that can bring into a marriage? And how selfless you have to be to ask these kinds of questions over and over again? And how incredibly incapable you know you are to handle yet another little responsibility with your last name, but then they get here and you can’t imagine having said “no,” and slowly your grinchy little heart begins to grow and you actually become a better, more productive, and – please God – holier member of the human race.

It’s a wild ride.

But seriously, we’re just in it for the sweet retirement party. And for the moment when we can whip out our iPhone 27s in the grocery store and torture innocent bystanders with holograms of our 8 children and 34 grandchildren because finally, our freaking hands are empty and we can work the keypad.

Click here for the rest of the series.

43 Comments

  • Trisha

    Thank you! Thank you for stating your love for children, for being honest in the grocery store, and for being blunt.
    I just found out a guy at work has 7 kids 14 and under. I told him “you’re lucky!”
    He seemed confused and said most people seem shocked.
    I told him how lucky he is to have them, love them, and have a wife that wants more!

  • Rosie

    I just can’t stop chuckling at the mental image of your grocery store outburst! I’m pretty sure I’ve done something similar… Can we hang out some time, pretend to be sister-wives, and totally creep people out?

  • Laura

    Hi Jenny, I’ve been reading your blog for a little while and I have been wondering who you envision as your readers when you write a piece like this? I get the feeling that you are writing these types of posts for Catholics who practice the faith with just the same amount of rigor as you do. I just don’t find snark to be an effective tool for evangelizing and wonder if you may be repelling people who do not already see eye to eye with you on these issues.

    • Jenny

      I appreciate the feedback, but I do take issue with the idea that I practice the Faith with any more “rigor” than the next poor slob in the pew. Nope, just doing my best, same as the rest of us.

      Also, if you read for longer than a little while you’ll recognize that I can be a little snarky, it’s kind of in my writing DNA… I’m sorry if it’s off putting to you though, I’m really not seeking to hurt people or turn them away with my words,
      just to provoke thought and discussion.

    • Laura

      I’m glad to see you consider yourself the same as everyone else, but then why use the term “cafeteria Catholic”? It’s just as dismissive to assume people who are not on board with everything handed down by the Church are thoughtless or inferior Catholics as it would be for someone to assume that you are mindless follower of the Catholic doctrine and hierarchy.

      Annd you’re right. Snark does not resonate with me when discussing religion. But beyond just my own personal preferences it doesn’t seem like the most persuasive tool to use when tackling issues like the public’s perception of Catholic family planning or the lack of room for gay marriage in the Catholic worldview. Are you just seeking to reinforce the opinions of Catholics who agree with you? Do you expect to be off putting to people who do not already agree with you? Good chance that I have a particularly thin skin on these topics, I suppose.

      I’m not trying to be a total troll, I’m interested in your answers.

    • Abby Bloom

      I love your tone Jenny. I think we spend an awful lot of time apologizing for who we are as Catholics. Toning it down is boring. Everyone does that. Be who you are! Your voice is bright and clear. So, Laura is offended. Ok. That means you did your job.

    • UnanimousConsent

      @Laura Actually, the term “cafeteria catholic” was first used by Rev. Andrew Greely following his popular description of “Communal Catholic” in his book from 1976. This was a term created by a dissenting Priest to describe what he thought the strength of Catholicism was.

      People who dissent from Church teaching should have no problem with the term “cafeteria Catholic” considering the etymological source.

    • EW

      Hey, guys, Laura’s right. We DO need a more PC term than “cafeteria Catholic”. How about “should-be Episcopalians”? Still too controversial? Maybe “ruining-it-for-the-rest-of-us Catholics.” Hrm. It’s just too hard to strike that balance between charitable and honest.

    • maapple

      I think Catholics are born with snark. @Laura “Cafeteria Catholic” refers to people of faith who want to pick and choose which teachings they follow. In other words “people who are not on board with everything handed down by the Church.” We are Catholic. Our priests don’t go out and start new catholic churches because they disagree with a teaching. That’s a protestant thing.
      And if we as Catholics are snarky about our beliefs, it’s because it is just part of who we are. We’re also snarky about our kids, our husbands, and what’s for supper. No offense intended.

    • Laura

      @unanimousconsent the etymology of a word hardly seems to matter in every particular occasion of a word’s usage. Maybe Rev. Greely was being charitable towards a particular group of Catholics when he coined the phrase (I still don’t know, even from the information you provided in your post), but in Jenny’s post the phrase reads as a slur. Like she is saying cafeteria Catholics are ‘just a dumb bunch of can’t actually be Catholics who indulge in contraceptives to fight the patriarchy and don’t realize what treasures everyone’s children are’. Girl, please.

      Really Jenny, this particular post is not even one that I found to be especially abrasive. If your family is small or large, it doesn’t matter to me. Other families’ number of children is not my business, I have a healthy appreciation for how fraught the topic of family size can be- this is not my particular issue. I just feel like you have a habit of incorporating a straw man into a lot of your otherwise helpful posts and it’s present in this post, too. Look, I’m sorry to be a no-fun voice of PC encouragement. You have written some informative posts on topics upon which I oppose the Church and rather than find them compelling I leave thinking- shit, I do not want to misrepresent people who oppose me as carelessly as this lady does.

      The phenomenon is not unique to you Jenny. I see it across the Catholic blogosphere, plenty of people even jumped to your defense right here. It stuns me! I’ve been so lucky that I have not had to encounter it in real life! Surely a church as old and as vast as ours- the universal church, for crying out loud- has room for diversity! So you’ve been blessed with a faithful, believing mindset- not everyone has. I think there is more than enough room in this ancient religion to practice a little persistence and patience rather than scorn and dismissal.

    • Jenny

      I guess my only question to you would be…who keeps leaving your browser window open and forcing my crazy on you?

      And faith is a blessing, yes. But practicing your faith is a choice. We’re all given free will. It’s up to us to decide what we’ll do with it. I choose to exercise mine to practice the Faith as the Church asks me to, even the parts I disagree with. Hell, especially the parts I disagree with. That’s really the essence of faith, isn’t it? To walk when the way is unclear, and to give consent when He asks, even when we don’t understand?

      For what it’s worth, some of the Church’s teachings don’t come easily to me. At all. Contraception and the sanctity of human life happens to be one that does, and for that I am grateful, because I cannot imagine the difficulty of bending my will to His on that one if I didn’t already believe it on an intellectual level.

      I hope you get there some day, I really do.

    • Jerry

      @Laura
      1. No, your commending Jenny for taking so much time doesn’t soften your criticism.
      2. You may take the term as a slur, perhaps because it hits close to home. It is accurate shorthand for people who reject Church teaching by embracing intrinsic evils (abortion, artificial contraception, IVF, sex outside sacramental marriage–homosexual or heterosexual, etc.), because they are picking and choosing which doctrines to obey on their own authority.
      3. I am stunned by people who demand the right to openly dissent from Church teaching while still calling themselves Catholic, yet they bristle when people like Jenny profess Church teaching with the same firmness.
      4. To echo Jenny’s last post, we are called to obedience, especially when we find doctrines difficult to embrace.

  • Molly Walter

    {this comment is not for you Jenny, I know you know this}

    For those curious about Catholics with small families – it’s all still good. Not having a large family doesn’t get your Catholic card exempt – every family is different; people marry later in life or have adverse medical issues and so many other things. We don’t get kicked out if we don’t get to 6+, and there is still a place for faithful Catholics with small families.

    What is expected of us is that we’re open to a plan that is not our own and that we embrace “Life” even if we don’t end up producing as much of it as the family sitting across from us a Mass on Sunday.

    • maapple

      I love how you put that. “Open to a plan that is not our own.” That is the core of our belief system, maybe most especially the family planning aspect of it. Someone asked me (after discovering I had 7 children) how many I originally planned on. I answered “2”. I told her I was just kidding, but at no point in time did I think, “I’m going to have 7 children over the next 20 years.”

  • Emily Cihlar

    Oh my gosh. I got done reading this (smiled the whole time – you go, girl) and was looking at the little “Catholics Do What?” picture on the bottom, when I saw the note below it. My heart did a little flip-flop: there is a SERIES!? My fav-o-rite topic ever ever ever. Thank you!! Awesome post – will be sharing this up the wazoo.

  • Justine Brason

    I love this series! You are saying all the stuff (although more eloquently) that usually gets me into trouble on social media. (We should be friends so you can come rescue me next time I get mad and post a controversial status on Facebook lol.) My husband and I just had a our first baby 3 months ago and we keep saying let’s have a million more of these! So yes it does go a lot deeper than the whole no contraception thing.

  • Mary

    “Like we actually full on appreciate small humans and think the world would be a better place with more of them around. Isn’t that bizarre?” That’s just crazy talk! In the world today, that’s heresy, but you did so well to show how obviously sensible the Catholic position really is.

    I have a snarky side too, so I might be biased. When the world has things all completely out of touch with reality, I think the snark is a more effective approach than, “Repent, ye evildoers, for Judgment awaits every man!” even though that would be completely accurate, or a painstaking theological proof a la Thomas Aquinas. When some falsehood can be made to seem absurd, that’s when its hold can be loosened. The lie has to be exposed and laughed out of town before there’s room for the truth.

  • Dee Brady

    We are the proud parents of 11. From Oldest to youngest the age range is 28 down to 8. We have been asked this question so many times over the years. The other question is “Did you plan on having this many?” I always answer with “Did you plan on having blue eyes and blonde hair?” …their response is “No, that wasn’t up to me.” My reply…”I know, it was God’s choice…just like my having 11 kids was His choice, too. Aren’t you glad He’s in charge and knows what’s best for both of us?” That usually ends the conversation and gets them thinking…

    • Marsha O'Flaherty

      This is the whole point. It is GOD’S choice! We left in His hands 50 years ago and were BLESSED with 10 beautiful, wonderful persons to raise and love. Did we intend to have 10? NO! We didn’t “intend” to choose any number at all. We let God choose the number, the when, the who, the how. He blessed us with graces and love and so many other wonderful things(even things of this world), that we could not even begin to believe HIS generosity. Nursing babies, holding them,loving them, treating them as special persons sent by God to be cared for by us as their particular parents… these things, this attitude, this sacrificial love taught me humility in the face of such incredible LOVE!!! I learned so much, but I had to be ready to learn, ready to search for the truth, ready to find what it was all about to be here on this earth, at this time. My children and the dear Lord taught me that “Happiness is not something you reach out and grab. It’s something you give away. And in giving it away, it comes back a hundred fold to you.” We have such a hard time realizing happiness only comes from that joy. And that joy only comes from doing what God wills for us and for our families. It may not be easy… IT IS NOT EASY… but it is simple and it is joyful… and it is “blest”.

  • Nicky Rothmann

    Ahhh awesome!!! I only have 2… for now, and that’s only because I converted 2 years ago while coming off the Mirena, but have been practicing NFP for 2 years as well. Yay for freedom, but not that many people see it that way, hmmm, sadly!

  • Quaerens

    Jenny, this is awesome. And I have always loved how you talk and write, and feel it can be very valuable both for conversion of those not in “our” pews and those in our pews that need reassurance or explanation. Well done; you had me giggling!
    -Christie Collins

  • Ashley Ullom

    I am Catholic and was raised Catholic. My husband and I have 3 girls and we use contraceptives , because we don’t want to burden the system with children that we cannot afford to take care of… ie welfare. Perhaps that makes me a poor Catholic (pun intended) but I do know I am a good Christian and that is all that matter to me and to Him.

    • Bonnie

      Ashley, I am Catholic and was raised Catholic too. My husband and I also don’t want to burden the system. We want to be responsible parents as the Church asks us to be. Why do you believe that the only way you can not burden the system is by contracepting?

    • Molly Walter

      I just wanted to add in that we don’t believe that any family should have more than they can care for or “burden the system”. You’re allowed to have three kids and still be a great Catholic – it’s just that we believe that there are better ways to go about that. Ways that respect any life you and your husband may conceive, that respects your body and so much more. I know it’s kind of scary and overwhelming, but there is a happy medium out there.

  • Christine Macdonald

    LOVE this article. My husband and I could never have children together due to my health reasons, but did raise a son I bore “out of wedlock” —- is that still ok to say 😉 ? as a teen. We’d always hoped and prayed for a large Catholic family, but, alas, that was not God’s will for us. However, we are very proud of our grown son who, along with our lovely daughter in law, are striving to live a vibrant Catholic life. They’ve just had their 3 child since their marriage 5 years ago. As the GRANDmother, I even get these kind of comments from my friends and coworkers! I’ve always attempted to explain what we believe about love, marriage and children, but your piece is just perfection to me, I will be sharing and sharing and sharing…

  • Lillian Keil

    I love this. The goal of life is not happiness but Christlikeness, and I do think having more kids expedites that process – more opportunities to practice sacrificial love! Unfortunately my husband is less excited about having a larger family. We are not Catholic but I feel very compelled to the Catholic Church, partially because I really appreciate the idea of “openness to life.”

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