Contraception,  Culture of Death,  Family Life,  guest post

It’s ok to have a large family

Today I’m excited to feature one of my favorite bloggers and a fellow Coloradan, Brianna Heldt, whose beautiful family and incredible story never ceases to leave me shaking my head in amazement. Her tales of life with her larger-than-average, biracial, special needs, internationally-adopted-mingled-with-biological-children are captivating and inspiring. And also? She and her husband Kevin are currently hosting a family of itinerant raccoons who’ve taken up illegal residence in their attic. Lots of material there. I know you’ll enjoy getting to know this lovely lady.

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In a Facebook group I belong to, a mom recently asked if people would share how many children they have.  She’d always wanted a large family, she said, and was just curious whether or not people actually did that.

So, being the mother to eight that I am, I chimed in.  And went on my merry way.

Of course I kept getting the notifications telling me when another person would post a comment.  And as I glanced over the responses, I was astounded to see that no small number of people had taken this as an opportunity to tell us big families that: it is impossible for our kids to be happy, our families are not “viable”, and there is no way for these kids to receive the attention and love that they need.

I suppose it wasn’t terribly surprising, considering the group, but it WAS kind of sad.

Since when did fertility and the love between husband and wife become so detestable?  I’m not saying everyone has to want a bunch of kids, and I’m not saying all open-to-life people will go on to have a bunch of kids, but these people were genuinely suspicious of families with more than two children.

Truth be told I often forget that we are not the norm–that having eight kids is not typical.  And I forget simply because this is my life, and I’m busy living it, and I’m not (usually) too worried about what other people think.  Of course I’m reminded of our relative uniqueness whenever folks with two or three understandably wonder how we do it, because they already feel maxed out.  But I suspect this tendency to question the capability of large families is based on the assumption that when you add to your family, the dynamic remains the same, while the workload increases a certain amount for each additional child.  When, in my experience, that is not actually the case.

Because families are comprised of people, they are ultimately a complex series of relationships.  I may have eight kids, but my oldest is eleven years old now–and this is much easier in many ways than when we had three kids ages two and under.  Or four kids three and under.  Oh, the good old days!  It’s true that I now have more laundry, more meal prep, and more to manage, but it’s just different.  Kids are more independent in certain ways, and able to pitch in.  Our family functions pretty well if I do say so myself, and things did not get infinitely more difficult with every baby.  Not that there aren’t trials and joys implicit in each parenting phase, because there are.  But you know what I mean.

So why have a big family?  I used to feel a little bit guilty about it, wondering if we were indeed short-changing our children by giving them so many siblings.  If we had fewer kids they could have their own rooms, we could eat out more often, and I’d have more spare time.  I probably wouldn’t yell as much.  But over time I’ve seen the wisdom and beauty in living out openness to life in our marriage, in giving our yes to the Lord and allowing Him to bless us with a tangible expression of our married love.  I won’t tell you that raising a large family is easy, but I will say that there is a lot of love, and so, therefore, it is good.

One of the things that came up in the Facebook group discussion was the issue of priorities.  Because you just can’t do it all.  And sometimes I think outsiders assume that in being open to life, we are trying to do it all.  But it is actually quite the opposite–having many children forces you to figure out what’s important, and drop the things that don’t matter.  Otherwise you’ll go positively crazy.  In my own experience, this has actually been a good thing, because who of us couldn’t stand to simplify?  Or to practice detachment a little bit more?  But this issue of priorities is probably the reason many couples opt not to have a big family, because changing an endless stream of diapers doesn’t really measure up to the alternatives (travelling, having a career outside of the home, not losing sleep over how you’ll pay for college.)  So they choose the latter.  Assuming we big families are the only ones making big sacrifices, even though in limiting their family size, they’re actually sacrificing something too.

I recently read somewhere that folks should not use the word “sacrifice” when talking about parenting their kids.  There is a sense in which I agree with this (because no child should have to feel that he or she is a burden), but in another?  I think it’s ridiculous.  Because parenting is the height of sacrifice!  We set aside our own comforts, dreams, and wants, for love of another.  We run the risk of losing ourselves.  We give until it hurts.  Moms to many do this several times over, but there’s a secret we’ve learned somewhere along the way, too.  It’s something other people don’t always understand, and it’s nearly impossible to quantify or explain.  And it is this: when you abandon yourself to the joys (and sorrows) of motherhood, you experience a depth of fulfillment that is unparalleled.  When marriages, intrinsically ordered towards children, bring forth new life, we are seeing the creative capacity of God and of man.  It is a thing of beauty, mystery, and renewal.  It is in keeping with natural and divine law.

And yet, we women are supposed to have evolved beyond having babies.  We have the pill, we have the IUD, we have the capacity to limit our family size in a way greater than any prior generation.  And not only that, but public opinion, and the mainstream medical community, are  now on the side of birth control–something our female predecessors did not enjoy.  We are living in what is arguably the golden age of contraception and family planning.  So the very idea of someone eschewing the cultural narrative, and of opening themselves up to the messiness, unknowns, and trials of large family life, is absurd.  And even a little obscene.  It confounds modern minds because it is most definitely anti-modern.

So we large families find ourselves and our beliefs vulnerable to speculation, interpretation, and occasionally attack.  It makes little sense in the world’s economy to welcome needy person after needy person into our homes and hearts.  When parenthood is seen primarily in the form of a pie chart–where there is a static, finite amount of love and attention available, to be divided up equally among members–it is a scandal that you would behave in such a way so as to produce smaller pieces of pie.  But this context for understanding the family does not take into account the love that flows between siblings, or the way that love grows exponentially with the addition of each new family member.  It doesn’t reflect what happens when a squishy baby arrives, and softens everybody’s rough edges.  It doesn’t tell the full story.

There was a time when I too would have questioned the judgment of a married couple throwing caution, good sense, and money to the wind in exchange for a fifteen-passenger-van and four sets of bunk beds.  But that was before I had the misfortune of actually using the pill to prevent pregnancy, and it was before I became a mother, and before I encountered the life-giving truth about the vocation of Holy Matrimony.  Now, I’m raising my eight kids, ya’ll!  Which is funny, because I never really anticipated having a big family, but here I am.  And I don’t worry too much about whether or not other people think that’s the best thing or a good thing or the right thing for kids, because I know, I know, that children are not only a precious gift but that they are also natural to, and good for, marriage.  And I now know too that children are a gift to one another.

Contrary to what people on Facebook were arguing, raising many children is not the same thing as being a teacher or running a daycare, neither of which ever appealed to me in the least.  And contrary to what most people think you don’t have to be a saint.  Kids (usually) come one at a time.  You learn as you go.  Sometimes you mess up.  There are happy moments and sad ones, too.  It’s life, and it’s full.  Oh.so.full.

If you’re thinking about having a large family, you will no doubt encounter those who say that having more than a few kids is unnecessary at best, and selfish and irresponsible at worst.  Women today have recourse to contraception, good earning potential, and even just two children will keep you plenty busy.  But take heart, because well-meaning as these people may be?  They simply don’t see the whole picture.  You can have a happy, fulfilling marriage while also being open to life.  You can have joy-filled, funny, well-adjusted children who have many siblings.  It won’t always be easy, but like most good things, it’s worth it.  Dinners around a full table, lively road trips to the coast, the Christmases and birthdays and even the mundane moments, they are a gift of inestimable worth.

It really is okay to have a large family!

18 Comments

  • Chrysten Copley

    Thank you so much for this post! We had four kids in four years and that to me seemed like a very “middle of the road” number of children to have. Apparently, not everyone thought so.

    There are so many mother bloggers writing about this exact issue, and it needs to be reinforced again and again to fight against the cultural noise. Great read.

  • Kenechukwu Uba

    I’m not a mother. I will never be. Yet I will say I am TOTALLY into this. We’re seven. We’re happy because our mother had us all. It’s really sad that all these anti-life things happen but still thanks be to God for you mothers of many. At least God still has the chance to fill the world with beautiful wonderful people.

  • [email protected]

    Great article Brianna! My younger self could never have envisioned being a mom of 7 sons. If someone told me that would be my life I would have laughed at them. Oh but this life has given me so much, it has smoothed my rough edges, humbled me, and most of all given me peace. Yes peace even in this noisy household. Giving my fertility, my trust, my faith, to God well it has made all the difference. And when people comment asking how we do what we do I answer lots of prayer and well we get to keep practicing how to deal with a 2 or 3 year old, etc.. We don’t really just move out of a stage and on to the next, someone is always coming up behind to practice on 🙂

  • Lisa

    I find here in Louisiana, I usually meet with joyful admiration and not just a little envy when I mention my seven.

    • Lauren

      As a fellow Louisianian, you are so right on this. Even political leaders flaunt their “large” families as clout with the general public because it’s seen as such a kind-hearted and prestigious thing here.

  • Kelly

    This was a lovely read and so reassuring. I am a mum to five.I often get the usual comments such as how do you cope etc I always feel very blessed to spend my life with such a loving family. I’m also one of twelve children so I’m used to crowds

  • Jackie

    Very well-written. Lisa, I grew up in south Louisiana, and I know what you mean. I had the small family in high school, with only three siblings! Most of my classmates didn’t end up having as many kids as their parents, but they all appreciate their large families.

    What I’ve noticed during the course of raising our family of eight, is that as more kids were added, I started wanting another one almost as soon as the most recent baby popped into the world. I’ve heard someone describe it as “baby hunger,” realizing more and more how quickly that precious stage ends. It was a real grief, when the time came, to come to terms with the fact that I would not have any more children. As Danielle Bean once wisely put it, “It’s amazing how quickly ‘How many babies am I going to have?’ turns into ‘Can I have one more baby?'”

  • emily e

    I love this. I just had my fourth and I feel so blessed to have a great church community full of large families that lead by example. I’m also fortunate that people don’t really comment to me on our family being too large (although i’m sure a few think it.) If anyone does comment, it’s usually just to say that I must have my hands full. If only I had a dollar for every time someone told me that!

  • Kati

    Today at the zoo the worker at the entrance said, “FOUR KIDS! You’re like the Duggars!!” And I thought, really? Maybe I read too many Catholic mom blogs but 4 seems about mid-range from where I sit 🙂

  • Lauren

    One thing that really stood out to me was your reference to “sacrifice.” For so many in today’s culture, sacrifice is seen as a BAD thing. Quick, easy, simple. That’s what people are conditioned to want, the easy way, not the most fulfilling. Those of us who are Catholic live in a different culture where sacrifice is seen as a very good and honorable thing. This is why we differ so vastly.

  • Ally

    Just found your blog and can’t stop reading, I am the oldest of nine children and just became a first time mommy myself about two months ago to a healthy baby boy. I just love the positive look on life that you have. What a joy! Oh how I wish there was an easier way to get others to see and understand the beauty in Catholicism. Thank you for the encouragement.

  • Bomb

    It is a very lovely article and very beautiful. I envy large families and find it great to have one. I welcomed my baby daughter 6 months ago and love every moment of it. I would appreciate having a big loving family myself, yet my husband turned away from the faith and wishes no more children. I m praying he changes his mind and finds his way back to God and me and that we will still have time and will be blessed with more children (I am already turning 32 this year).

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