I feel kind of funny describing my family as “big.” Several of my friends have twice the number of children I do, and so my five-child family pales in comparison. Nevertheless, when I venture into public with my four young children and pregnant belly, strangers inevitably feel compelled to remark on my “big family.”
“Your hands are so full” and “are they all yours?” are two of the frequent and unoriginal comments, but there are two other responses that I receive often enough to give me pause. One of them is older women telling me how many (often two) children they had and why (often, “my husband said we were done.”) They seem to be justifying their family choices to me, a total stranger. Is it because they now regret those choices? Are they comparing themselves to who they perceive me to be? Unfortunately, the checkout line isn’t long enough to find out.
The other frequent comment is something to the effect of, “you must be a supermom” “wow, I could never do that” and “you must be so patient” etc. If I had the time, I’d love to explain to them why I have the number of children I do. I’d love to explain that I am in no way superhuman or the perfect mom. I yell too often. I require too much sleep. My children drive me crazy on a regular basis. No, I’m not somehow hardwired to raise a “big” family, but I am blessed to do so. I’m simply fulfilling the promise I made on my wedding day to “accept children lovingly” and doing my best to serve and raise them. So if I ever had the chance to explain myself to the Costco strangers, here are some of the things I’d say…
Fertility and my children are such a gift.
I have friends and family who long for a baby and are unable to conceive. Some of my loved ones have suffered the pain of multiple miscarriages and don’t dare to hope when they conceive again. While many live in the illusion of control over family size, none of us truly are. I find the healthiest approach to living with this reality is surrender and acceptance. My husband and I have been blessed with the gift of fertility, healthy pregnancies, and thriving children. And I’ve never been one to refuse a good gift.
My husband and I are crazy about each other.
I am so in love with my husband and I love being one with him. When you look at our brood, you can tell. There is nothing like knowing that your marital love has overflowed into the existence of a new human. When I look at one of my children, I see a reflection of myself and the man I love blended into a unique and unrepeatable human (albeit one covered in peanut butter, mud, or some combination of the two!) and that reality deepens our love for one another.
Siblings are the best gifts I can give them.
While the world might see my “big” family as not being able to give my children everything, I see it as giving them exactly the essentials. They are a wonderful gift to one another. There are few things in life more beautiful than witnessing a child meet his newborn sibling for the first time. You can almost see a child’s heart grow as she meets that newborn and hear the awe as he examines those tiny toes. This unfiltered, pure, childlike reverence of the human person isn’t learned in a religion textbook, it’s experienced in the school of life.
Siblings teach my kids that they are not center of the universe and they teach one another how to care for people more helpless than themselves. I think we can all agree that our world could use more selfless and empathetic humans! Of course, they fight. But they learn to work through fights. And let’s not forget the JOY that children experience with siblings. Unknown to them, the foundations of lifelong support and friendship are being forged with every fort built, bike ridden, and book shared.
I’m taking the long view.
I recently had the privilege of attending my grandparent’s 70th wedding anniversary. They have six children, 28 grandchildren, and 19 great-grandchildren with three more on the way. At their anniversary, they were surrounded with the fruit of their love. In their old age, they not only have each other but the joy and companionship of the people they co-created. Yes, parenting can be draining now…but I’m taking the long view.
What’s nine months of suffering compared to a lifetime, let alone an eternity?
An understandable assumption among grocery store strangers is that I must love being pregnant or have easy pregnancies. While I have had healthy pregnancies, they have been far from easy. For the first trimester, I live on the verge of throwing up. In the second trimester, the varicose veins kick in, causing my leg to feel like it’s burning up from within. And with the third trimester comes exhaustion, back pain, and the steady spread of those nasty veins. So no, I don’t love being pregnant. But I can suffer anything for nine months. And what’s nine months compared to a lifetime, let alone an eternal soul?
We have the health and means to do so.
My husband and I are healthy and young(ish). We aren’t wealthy, but we want for no material need. Family and friends have been so generous in supporting our family. In gratitude for these blessings, and knowing they are subject to change, we thank God for them and are open to the children He sends.
Every time I give birth, I’m actively involved in a miracle.
Because every human person is made in God’s image and likeness, when a woman gives birth, she literally bears God’s very image into the world. That is miraculous. And when you scoop your baby up from your womb and into your arms for the first, second… fourteenth time, you have the sacred privilege of holding a miracle.
My children don’t hinder my life, they enhance it.
If Christmas seems to have lost its magic, try experiencing it through the eyes of a child. If you’ve become so absorbed with a digital or work world that you forget to find joy in the real world around you, watch the joy of a child splashing in a puddle or toddling after a bug. If your faith seems dull or your prayer life dry, discuss the love of God or the reality of heaven with a child whose awe is contagious or pray along with an innocent child’s prayer. In these and countless other ways, my children have enriched my life.
Parenting is purifying (if I let it be.)
Like I said earlier, I’m not hardwired to be a perfect mom. No woman is. But a great mother is not born, a great mother is made. Through practicing motherhood, I am given the chance to become a better mother and a holier woman. My job isn’t just to teach my children virtue, it’s to grow in virtue alongside them. When tensions are running high, I have learned (through trial and many errors) that stopping for an out-loud spontaneous prayer or chanting the Divine Mercy chaplet is far more effective than joining in the temper tantrums! When I remember to pray without ceasing in this way, I am forming their souls along with my own. Little by little, through the vocation of motherhood, if I let Him, God will shape me into a less selfish, saintlier version of myself – the woman He created me to be.
They are really cute.
I have always loved children and I always will. Their adorableness far exceeds their peskiness and I honestly enjoy having my “arms full” of them!
So there you have it, some of my reasons for having a “big” family. Maybe I should print this out and keep copies in the diaper bag to hand to the next inquisitive mind we meet at the grocery store!