Thursday, August 7, 2014

That Small Catholic Family

This one's going to get a little Catholic, folks, so BUCKLE UP. Or, you know, click away. No hard feelings.


Lately, Cari Donaldson, one of my favorite Catholic bloggers has published two pieces about family size in the Catholic community, specifically how we in the pro-life culture have a tendency to objectify children and glorify the larger-than-average family. This not only alienates those in the community who don't have the revered "big Catholic family", but is also completely the opposite of what the pro-life culture stands for.

To Cari I say, YES. And thank you. I am so so glad that these posts are out there. They bear a very important message that I hope many people will take to heart.

Lately I have been struggling with some of my own issues related to the "bigger is better" mentality. 

When I was new to the NFP world I was (silently) a little judgey of the young married couples without children. Then, just as all of my friends and peers were starting their families, I was suffering from sub-fertility and multiple miscarriages. I learned the unspeakably hard way that lack of children doesn't always mean a lack of desire for children.

But that isn't the only reason that we need to tone down the baby-worshiping.

I've wanted to mother a large family for as long as I can remember. I came from a large family, and when I was an adult I came to admire the  wonderful Catholic bloggers out there, many of which run a 6+ child household with grace and poise. Some of the best Catholics I know run large families, and that fed into the whole misconception that in order to be a good married Catholic, one must have more than 2.1 children.

Then I got postpartum depression. It wasn't that I felt a little sad or a little worried; I went completely batshit crazy and had to be hospitalized for a week.

I struggled with a lot of things that week (and for innumerable weeks afterward), but what bothered me the most was that my dream of having a large family was dead. Something that had been so close to my heart for so long was abruptly and painfully torn away.

Not only had I lost my desire for more children, but simply seeing stroller on the street or a onesie set at the mall sent me into a full-blown anxiety attack. If ever the thought of another pregnancy entered my mind, my next thought was of throwing myself out a window. That's how bad it was. I made Nemo promise that we would never try for another, which calmed me somewhat--but I was terrified that stopping my child-bearing career at "only" two would label me a Bad Catholic.

Then some time passed, I did a lot of research, and I finally concluded that due to my specific circumstances, I was perfectly justified in practicing NFP to avoid having more children. The lack of desire for more children is not a sin.

Yay! Not a Bad Catholic.

Then more time passed. I've spent over a year reflecting on this issue, and I have come to a conclusion: I don't want my small family size to be "justified". I shouldn't have to defend myself, or feel the need to explain the absence of several more children given my relatively young age and my husband's gainful employment. I want my family, regardless of our numbers, to be loved and cherished by our Catholic community, end of story.

There are many factors that influence a particular Catholic family's size,  and it doesn't have to be something tragic or life threatening in order for it to be "ok". One of the most important things I have learned in the last year is that preferring a small family doesn't make me any less of a person, a mother, or a Catholic. It simply means that I respect the personality God has given me and recognize that it isn't a flaw that must be overcome. Maybe I can't handle more children; that doesn't make me less than a woman who can.

Sometimes it really is God's plan for a family to remain small. But for people like me, it is also necessary to leave our hearts open so we know when the plan has changed. In the past year I went from terrified, to the point of despair, of having another baby to quietly hopeful that we might someday welcome another baby into our home. My heart has truly been changed, and so dramatically that it can be nothing short of a miracle.

But even if we remain "just four", we are more than "ok". We are more than "justified". We are a family. And all families, whether large, small, or childless, are beautiful. Just love them, support them, celebrate them, and pray for them--no matter their numbers.


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Postscript: There's more Humblebee on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. Hope to see you there! Especially on Instagram. I love Instagram.

11 comments:

  1. Amen. My mom has recently started talking about how she wishes she and my dad had had more than "just" four kids... But I remember how stressed they both were throughout my childhood. I remember how ridiculously tight money was, how hard it was for all of us to deal with my dad's chronic illnesses, and how hush-hush we all were about my mom's hospitalization for mental illness... Thank goodness there weren't more of us!

    And I was feeling horribly, horribly anxious about the prospect of more children for quite a while after we had the twins... Thank goodness there are no permanent solutions when practicing NFP, because hearts DO change, and life changes, and God provides. But even if more children aren't in the picture, it doesn't make you any less of a Catholic family :)

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    1. Thanks, Rosie! Your recent post about being anxious about having more children after the twins really resonated with me. For a long time I thought I was the only Catholic woman who had those feelings!

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  2. Well said. None of us should have to justify the number or spacing of our children, whether many and frequent to non-Catholic family members or few or none to fellow Catholics. It's amazing how our judgements dissapate and our perspectives change on this over time, through our own experiences and insights.

    Anyway, good post!

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    1. Thanks! I don't usually write serious things, and this took me well over a week to publish. I'm glad it made some sort of sense. Hope to see you soon!

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  3. Thank you for sharing, Eva. I love this. I've really struggled with the possibility of "only" having three children, because I have also glorified large Catholic families and have equated that with being a good Catholic parent. But given our particular family circumstances, personalities, and the like, along with lots of prayer, I have realized that God isn't calling us to have a large family. You're right - we definitely need to be more accepting and understanding of each other as we're each trying to follow God's will. Great post!

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    1. Thanks, Andrea! I'm very glad to know that I'm not alone in feeling like this! Here's to hoping that the culture starts changing soon.

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  4. Beautifully said. Yes, every couple needs to prayerfully discern family size. The beauty of Church teaching is that there is no magic number for anyone. I waited to be a mother for seven years. Those were very hard times in our marriage but very gracefilled. Really, I thank God for our infertility. We let it change us and change our hearts. May God bless you abundantly!

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    1. Thank you! It is truly amazing all the good fruit that has come from all the drama I have experienced over the last five years. I haven't yet been able to thank God for my suffering, but...I'll get there someday. Bless you!

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  5. Thank you for this! I have heard the words "only" and "just" so many times to refer to my three children. Over the years, I've also seen the posts and comments of some Catholics with bigger families as they tell stories of encounters with rude people. These posts often include their favorite comebacks--sometimes spoken, sometimes just thought-- in those situations. A common one has been a desire to ask the person, "Which one of them would you have me do away with then?" or something along those lines. Each time I hear that I have "only three children," or "just three children," the thought is always in my mind, "Which one of them is not a full human being? Which one of them is "only" or "just" and therefore, not enough in your eyes?" But, I keep it to myself! Thanks again for sharing your personal experience!

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  6. We have 6 kids. My parents have 12. So I definitely struggled with the "only" 6 part. I just don't want to be raising babies when I'm 50. It's not for me. It took a lot to get past but after my last pregnancy landed me on bed rest for 7 solid months I can say I'm past it. I considered that my sign from God.

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  7. We have 6 kids. My parents have 12. So I definitely struggled with the "only" 6 part. I just don't want to be raising babies when I'm 50. It's not for me. It took a lot to get past but after my last pregnancy landed me on bed rest for 7 solid months I can say I'm past it. I considered that my sign from God.

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