I come from what some might consider a “big” family, being one of five children. My Catholic family came in the standard way – one mom, one dad. My husband’s family, however, arrived at their 15 kids (yes, you read that correctly) in a different way – one mom, two dads.
Now, before you freak out that that is an “unorthodox” way of having a big Catholic family, you need to know the circumstances. Josh’s mom and dad got married and had 6 kids. His dad died tragically at a young age, leaving his mother widowed with small children. Several years later, she remarried a good man with two children who had just come out of a difficult marriage. They had 7 more children together. If you are keeping up, that means my husband has 5 full siblings, 2 step siblings, and 7 half siblings.
Big families are great and many people are very blessed to have them. I have several friends who are in their early 30s and already have 4,5, & 6 children. I’ve always dreamed of having a big family, though maybe not as big as the Duggar family of 19 Kids and Counting or my in-laws!
But, when my husband and I got married at the ripe old age of 29, it took us 13 months (which, at the time, seemed like an eternity) to get pregnant with our son, wishing every month to see “pregnant” blinking on that little stick. During that time of waiting, I remembered a serious truth that I had forgotten – even if we do everything “right” to get pregnant, God alone is the author of life and HE chooses when life begins, not us.
It’s easy to get caught up in the ultra-conservative mindset that a family must have lots of kids in order to be truly Christian or Catholic or pro-life and questioning why this family or that couple only has 1 or 2 kids or maybe even none at all. We forget that children are not a right owed to us, but a gift from God. And the gifts of great fertility, ideal health, or perfect circumstances for a gaggle of kids are not necessarily what God has in mind for everyone.
Take for example this beautiful couple I know who are in their mid-30s and are very involved in parish life. They are good looking, well-off with two great careers, and are committed Catholics. From the outside someone might wonder how they could be “so Catholic, but have no kids.” But, the truth is that they’ve struggled to have children, losing several pregnancies, the most recent one being 28 weeks before delivering a baby who lived for only one day. My heart aches for them as they still hope and pray for a child.
Another Catholic couple we know just had a little girl – 7 years after they got married. Why 7 years? Because that’s how long God asked them to wait before He blessed them with this ONE child. They weren’t trying to avoid pregnancy and they were definitely open to life. I don’t know if they are able to have more, but I DO know that they are celebrating their daughter’s life with great joy.
There are so many stories, so many reasons why a family might be small, like my dear friend from college who is 4 years into marriage and still waiting for a pregnancy. Or, another friend from church who only has 2 children because every other time she’s gotten pregnant, she’s had a miscarriage. And, a friend who has 3 children and can’t have any more due to a serious health issue. Even missionary families, devout Catholics, converts, and hardcore NFP using couples don’t or can’t always have the stereotypical “big Catholic family”. But, that doesn’t lessen their desire for children, their love of the Church, or their pro-life stance.
Families with lots of children are a beautiful example of life and important witnesses to our society and I truly hope God blesses me and my husband in that way. But, if He doesn’t, I know that He doesn’t love us any less and has a specific plan for us. I know, too, that small families are great and important especially when they are filled with the love of Christ and have the goal of heaven in mind. As Job said,“The LORD gives and the LORD has taken away. Blessed be the name of the LORD.” (Jb. 1:21).
We are quick to pass judgement, without knowing or considering the crosses in other people’s lives. Instead, we should make an effort to rejoice in the blessing of good and holy families, no matter the size – whether there are few or no children or are a household bursting at the seams with babies.