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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