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.
Thanks so much for the shout-out to those struggilng with infertility. I am not a materialistic, working wife who’s postponing a family for the sake of her career (though a few parishioners have tried to tell me that’s what I am). My husband and I have always been open to life. In fact, we had to learn NFP to TRY to get pregnant after two years of waiting on the Lord. What I’ve come to realize, and what your article affirms, is that if you are truly open to life, your present circumstance IS God’s plan for you…children or not. I used to think that somehow I was missing out on God’s plan because we didn’t have kids, but that’s not true. I’ve also come to realize that we would not be able to build up the Kingdom with our time & talent the way we are now if we had children to care for. Sure, I want a “gaggle” of kids. But do I want what God wants for me more than that? You betcha. +AMDG+
please be assured of my prayers for you and your husband! it’s a daily intention of mine since i have so many friends and associates who struggle with this very same thing…and, know that at times when my son is giving me gray hairs, i immediately think of others who would give anything to be going gray thanks to a baby and i offer it up for y’all…
hang in there and thank you for your beautiful witness of faithfulness!
Thank you so much for this! I really needed to read it. My husband and I are both from very fertile, big families. We struggled for years to get pregnant with our daughter, and now we’re struggling to get pregnant again. Our daughter might be our only child. So many people assume that we’re waiting until our daughter is older (she’s 2.5) until we have another baby. So many people assume that we want a small family. They also assumed that we were waiting until we had a nice house and established careers before we had a baby. I’ve even had people comment to me that they are glad that we’re not “crazy” like our families and having tons of babies! It’s very painful to have everyone else around us having so many babies, but we’re so thankful for our precious girl. God bless you!
Congrats to you on the blessing of your daughter! I know she’s the light of your life b/c our son is definitely for us…here’s to wonderful, happy families!
Thank you for this!!!! As an almost-catholic (currently episcopalian, but going to be confirmed soon) I would LOVE to have more children. (I have 2). My husband, a staunch athiest, and also a very rational man, is adamant that we are done having children. (when I say rational, I mean he has all those “rational” reasons for no more kids – money, time, age, etc). Anyway, given our particular circumstances and his strong feelings, I will probably not have any mroe children. But I am very open to new life, and only wish my DH was as well!
You never know how God will work in him and your family! But, if you end up with only the two, i have no doubt that you’ll be rejoicing in the blessing of those two kiddos!
Thank you for reminding Catholics not to judge, lest they be like the Pharisees, whom Jesus made a point of condemning. I am Catholic, the oldest of eight children (the youngest two were adopted when I was 22), and trying to discern whether God is calling us to be a one-child family. It is not clear to me what God wants me to do. When we learned of our secondary infertility diagnosis, after months of prayer, I felt at peace with our decision to try IVF, but after four failed IVFs, it is clear it would not be God’s will that we try again. (I know the Church’s teaching.) It is also clear that purchasing donor eggs for IVF is not God’s will. I have very little desire to adopt or to try embryo adoption, for many reasons. I am finally thankful and happy with our family as it is, and the grief of lost embryos and intense longing for another baby is finally passing. But I want to be sure that I am not choosing not to adopt because I am too attached to material things and to our easy, peaceful life with one child. I am praying and discerning still. I am thankful to be past the point when I care about what others think, so this decision is not at all clouded by a desire for approval from other Catholics, only a desire to follow God, which is not always easy.
prayers for you as you discern God’s call for your family!
You were so on top of this issue weeeeeeelllllll before I was! Great piece, Rebecca!
Great minds think alike!!