I have always wanted a big family. While it's true that Catholicism condemns the use of contraceptives (including contraceptive methods of completing the sexual act) as grave sin, that's not the reason behind my wanting a big family, as if I actually only wanted a kid or two if not for my religion. For one thing, to explain to those of you who don't know the Catholic teaching, the Church allows Natural Family Planning, a selection of methods of determining when the wife is fertile or not, so that IF there is *serious reason to avoid having children at a given time the couple can simply refrain from sexual contact during the wife's fertile phase each month (or for some couples, the phases immediately surrounding it). So my desire for a big family is not due to some mandate that I simply should have one, as there are many Catholics who may well have serious enough reasons that they aren't called to that.
For another thing, I've wanted a big family since long before my conversion to Catholicism. I had barely entered puberty, really, when I first started dreaming of having a family of six children. In hindsight, my dream was small compared to some families I've seen, but certainly large by the standards of our prevailing culture, with its "ideal" prescription of precisely 2.5 children per household.
|It's hard, though, to depict child #2.5 in a visual.|
Over the weekend, my wife and I visited my best friend and his family. He lives two states away, and it was actually the first time we'd met in person, despite being friends for a year and a half, and close friends for quite a big portion of that. He and his wife have five children, all of the age of eight (though close to nine) and under. Incidentally, the couple are young enough to have more, if they find themselves called to it. For now, though, their hands are rather full already, and it was easy to see why. Their children were, down to the last of them, incredibly sweet and respectful toward us, but they were not--just as my friend had warned me--low energy children, by any stretch of the imagination.
The room was always abuzz with noise and activity. Children got into arguments, hit each other, cried, screamed, yelled, chased each other, tried to get into things they weren't allowed to do, had to be called on multiple times and sometimes physically made to cease whatever they were doing, and more. Now, these friends are incredibly skilled parents, so each solitary instance of chaos--at least, if the chaos had mischievous or disobedient causes--was almost immediately taken care of by them, and in general the children ultimately humbled themselves before their parents with impressive consistency (another testament to these friends' parenting). But energetic children can have short attention spans, so before long something new--often different, to the kids' credit, from whatever they'd just been told not to do or had been disciplined for doing--would come up, and the parents, already travel-weary from the long drive to the hotel where we were all staying, had to be on top of it all over again.
Several times, both my wife--intimidated as she was by the scene--and my best friend's wife would turn to me and jokingly (sometimes maybe only half-jokingly!) ask whether I was yet scared out of my own ambitions toward having a big family. My answer each time was, without hesitation, "No." Their resolution, of course, was to "try harder." Because my wife's a total dear that way.
|"Hey, his dreams are still alive. |
We're gonna need a backup plan."
Be all that as it may, I'm still quite set on having a big family, if God and my wife are willing. In fact, seeing the beautiful family of our friends has only made me want such a family even more than before, because where there was chaos and stress there was also great life and vibrancy. Children argued, but they also showed affection and love to each other. The rooms that rang with their shouts also rang with their laughter and joy. Tears were quickly forgotten and made way for simple pleasures and forgiveness. Where tension sometimes arose, it was surpassed by times of amazing sweetness. It was painfully obvious to me that dealing with so many children had to be rough at times, but there were so many diamonds in that particular rough that one would be a fool to think of trading it in for a smoother, but poorer, lot.
There's a passage in the book of Psalms:
"Children too are a gift from the LORD, the fruit of the womb, a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children born in one's youth. Blessed are they whose quivers are full. They will never be shamed contending with foes at the gate." -Psalm 127: 3-5That is the gift that our friends have. And one day, when the chaos of having young children has passed, the blessing of having that many children, or perhaps even more, will still be there, remaining long after the last child has become a responsible and more self-sufficient adult. Yes, there are different worries and stresses that come with adult children, but the particular madness of child-rearing, the sleepless nights, the constant need for correction, the ever-present chaos and continuous work that goes into imposing order on a group of children, all of these things are temporary compared to the lifelong--and indeed eternal--treasure of having played a role in the creation of so many precious souls. And if one is quite blessed, one will know such love from and for those souls that all the hardship and travail of their formative years seem to be nothing when compared to the reward.
As the father of two children under the age of two, I know that in the short term and in the present, it can seem that it's not worth it at all. There are times, in our own chaos, that I sincerely believe I'd be happier without any children, when I absolutely hate being a father. So I can only imagine it's far harder with more children, at least depending on their ages (especially, I'm told, the age of the eldest). However, when I look at how lasting the blessings are, and how ultimately temporary this part is, I know what I want: When my children are all grown, the last diaper changed and the last teenage hormonal phase outgrown (well, okay, tentatively outgrown), I know I will never regret having had "too many," but--at least and especially if by choice--I know for a fact that I would regret having too few.
A large family is a blessing, and one that indeed God does not give to everyone. My wife and I are always aware that, due to certain fertility issues that are inherent to her family, we may not reach that goal. And even if we have a somewhat large family, its size may still fall somewhat short of my old dream, and the thought of surpassing the number from that dream is barely more than an outright pipe dream. We will learn to deal with that cross of deprivation, should we come to bear it, with faith and trust, seeing the admitted bright sides of having a smaller family if it comes to that, but none of that negates that a full house is a blessed one.
*Note: "Serious reason" to avoid having [more] children, in the Catholic Church, is not something to be decided on lightly. It must certainly be more serious than "I just don't want another child right now," and even more serious than the other "reasonable" standby in our materialistic, career-driven culture of "But I'm too poor to send each kid off to College!" In terms of mental and emotional reservations, there should probably be solid reason to believe that one literally cannot cope with having more children or that one seriously cannot provide for each child psychologically, emotionally, and/or spiritually if there were another added to the family. Though it's not mandatory, these things are best determined with a spiritual director or a trusted expert at judging these things, or at the very least an outside objective party, because it's easy for us to deceive ourselves into taking the "easier" path when it's not necessarily warranted. Reasons of physical health, it should be noted, are also perfectly valid reasons to use Natural Family Planning to avoid another pregnancy, obviously including those cases where the wife's body probably could hardly handle another pregnancy.