Zelophehad’s Daughters

Too Many Children

Posted by Eve

As a topic, motherhood has been written about so poorly and at such length that it is very difficult to write about well. It is especially difficult to write about well, and even more difficult to write about at length, when one actually is a mother and subject to incessant interruptions.

The hot-button conference talk of October 2011 seemed to be Elder Andersen’s on children. I didn’t hear much of it live, of course–I have small children–but I went back to read it with curiosity and trepidation. More than most general conference talks, this one conveyed two fundamentally different messages. On the one hand, Elder Andersen repeatedly reminded church members that childbearing decisions are between husband, wife, and God, and that we ought not to judge one another. On the other hand, he repeatedly urged members to exercise the faith to bear children.

Being willing to have children does take an enormous faith. It’s the most frightening thing I’ve ever done, physically, emotionally, and spiritually–not to mention financially. And raising our children is the most important work I and my husband will ever do; I wholeheartedly embrace the church’s message that family comes first. But at the same time, I was disconcerted to find that all of Elder Andersen’s examples seemed to involve having more children than one had planned, or at least having them earlier than one had planned. The acknowledgments of motherhood’s immense difficulties–the woman on the bus with seven children declaring “It’s no picnic!” and Elder Mason’s unfortunate timing in announcing to his wife, who had just given birth to their sixth child, that they would have a seventh–were all inflected and thus dismissed with humor, as the brutal realities of motherhood so often are, and immediately followed up with serious pronouncements about the responsibility to reproduce.

We need to see beyond the patina of humor we cast over motherhood to the pathos, and the downright tragedy, that often underlie it. A friend once told me that her mother, who was a ward and stake Relief Society president before birth control was widely accepted, used to point women out and say, “It was the last child that did her in.” My own mother remembers hearing Hartmann Rector, Jr. announce at a stake conference in the seventies that there was no set number of children an LDS family should have–but that any righteous Mormon woman would have eight. I think of women I know and have known who are drowning in the demands of too many small children too close together, constantly frazzled, clearly miserable, entirely unable to cope with the chaos. I think of women religiously committed to large families and to the ideal of the husband as provider and the wife at home whose husbands have little earning power and few job prospects, women whose husbands do little housework or childcare, and women who neglect and emotionally abuse the children they already have who nonetheless feel religiously obligated to have more.

These women are not in sustainable family situations, economically, emotionally, or spiritually. And often, it’s their very faith–in strictly delineated gender roles and in unlimited childbearing–that’s doing them in. We need to remind ourselves of the most basic truth about motherhood: when a woman goes under, she takes her children down with her. Because we do not ordain women, we Mormons have anxiously, defensively shored up motherhood as women’s compensatory avenue for spiritual growth. But the terrible irony is that if we inadvertently push women to have children they can’t care for, we privilege an idea of motherhood over the well-being of actual children.

It’s possible to avoid having children because it looks too scary and hard. That’s a tragedy. But it’s also possible to have more children than you can care for, and that is a tragedy as well. The difference between faith and magical thinking cannot be overstated. And the specter of Andrea Yates should haunt us all.

 

42 Responses to “Too Many Children”

  1. 1.

    Great post, Eve! Sorry to rush to a tangent right out of the gate, but I think a good question is why the people making pronouncements encouraging us to have lots of kids aren’t in touch with the sometimes awful consequences of too many children. But of course the answer is obvious. They’re church leaders–they’ve been in high church leadership positions for years, likely decades. That’s a long time to spend leaving your kids with your wife to go to a bunch of church meetings. In short, they’re traditional men living the 1950s model of marriage. They have no reason to ever be in touch with the reality that sometimes they’re pushing women to have more children than they can handle. A benefit of having women in general Church leadership might be that they would be more understanding of this possibility.

  2. 2.

    You hit on exactly what I’ve been thinking ever since I heard Elder Andersen’s talk. Mental Illness runs in my family (it practically gallops!). If Andrea Yates had stopped at two kids then she wouldn’t be famous. I may want to be famous, but not like that.
    When I’ve phrased it like that some people are inclined to pooh pooh at me and claim that I’m exaggerating. And in a way they are right, I’m not going to go crazy and drown my kids in a bathtub if I have one more. But a situation can turn toxic long before you reach that point, and that does nothing but harm.

  3. 3.

    Wow, amazing post. I also cringed through the laughter of Elder Andersen’s talk.

  4. 4.

    There have been so many times I’ve been “grateful” for my profound infertility.

    I have two children. And the truth is, two children are ALL I can handle. The very *idea* of OTHER people having more children can start me off into a panic attack–even though I know that their circumstance is different from mine and maybe that third (or fourth or eighth) child is fine for them, though I always suspect it isn’t. Yet, I constantly feel the need to defend the fact that I “only” have two children.

    This is why I’m “grateful” for that infertility. Because I know that if I told them the truth? That I can’t handle any more? I’d expect platitudes like, “God will provide…” or, at least, judgment. But I can sidestep the issue. Technology provided me two beautiful babies. But I simply *can’t* have any more. A literal statement, not a choice.

    And that I am grateful for my ability to side-step the issue? Well, it makes me incredibly sad. Because there are millions of other sisters who can’t sidestep, and what about them?

    If I wasn’t infertile, I think I’d feel obligated to have at least one more child. (Heck, I AM infertile, and I STILL feel obligated! Magical thinking, oh yes!) But I agree with the post. Because what about that third child? If I can barely take care of the two I have (and sometimes, I’m not great at even that), what would happen to my third? Maybe I’m sentimental, but I feel like if you don’t really, really, really want to have a baby, you shouldn’t. Because doesn’t every baby deserve to be wanted like that?

  5. 5.

    I’m usually just a lurker, but this topic has always deeply disturbed me. When I heard Elder Andersen’s talk in October of 2011 I too noticed the seemingly mixed message that it sent. So, I did a little research.

    In no way do I mean to be disrespectful to Elder Andersen, but what I learned was that Elder Andersen only has 4 children. Not 6, not 8 nor 10. Many of the general authorities do not have LARGE families. I realize by t he wold’s standard 4 children is a large family, but I think by LDS standards 4 is just slightly more than average.

    I truly believe we need to have confidence to make these decisions with our spouse and consulting Heavenly Father in prayer. He knows our abilities better than anyone. Perhaps there are some real reasons why you should only have 1 child. There may be some real reasons why you should wait 2 to 5 years before you start your family. Nobody knows this but your spouse and Heavenly Father. Also there may some real reasons why you should have 8 children. It’s important to become confident in your ability to obtain answers through prayer, and thus when you act on these decisions you it really does not matter what others may say because you know you are doing what’s right for your family.

    Tres

  6. 6.

    Kerry, your experience reminds me of a very specific memory I have that suggests that some of this “have lots of kids” pressure leaks over to men too. As a teenager, I had a couple of friends in my ward who were several years older. One of them came home from his mission and got married quickly, and he and his wife had two children. His wife had some kind of medical problem in delivering their second child (the details are lost in my head) that resulted in her not being able to have any more kids. I remember thinking how great that must be for them: they were off the hook! They had only two kids, and they could legitimately stop and not have to continue having kids endlessly.

    What’s particularly interesting about that memory is that I don’t recall any specific things I read in church books or heard in church lessons that led me to the conclusion that you were supposed to have as many kids as you could (and then one more). It was clearly suggested or implied, though, given my thought that it would be a relief to be able to have your kids limited.

  7. 7.

    I have definitely been feeling this. I have 2 kids and I’m now the same place postpartum as I was when I got pregnant with my second. But having 2 is a whole different ball game and with all my other responsibilities, I just can’t conceive (literally and mentally) of having another. My DH’s family all have lots of kids (he’s the 5th of 8) and there’s definite pressure to have more, but I’d rather be sane and nice to my kids.

  8. 8.

    Um, that wasn’t supposed to be a smiley guy. It was supposed to be an “8” with an ending parenthesis.

  9. 9.

    When I first moved to Utah County and started meeting women, I was shocked to find that a common first conversation went like this;
    “How many kids do you have? Are you going to have more? Why not?”

    The idea that I only have two children and don’t plan on more seems to shock most of the LDS women in their 20s and 30s that I have met here. I’m not sure whether they are judging me, or are envious because they feel that they can’t possibly stop at two but wish they could. Such a small family surely would mean they have no faith and are inferior members of the church.

    I have an excuse involving severe pregnancy complications and fear for the life of another child. This story is true, and my concerns are valid, but really the reason I don’t have more is that I couldn’t handle it. I could not handle it physically or mentally, and the career I am building for myself would fall apart, and I am pretty sure that I would be miserable, and the fight against depression that I have been fighting most of my life would get even harder.

    According to talks like this one, mine are selfish reasons, and I should just have more faith. I think the disregard Elder Anderson placed on the well-being of family, especially the mother, is frightening, and it sets a dangerous expectation for the women of the church.

  10. 10.

    I’ve been thinking about this exact same topic lately. With baby #2 coming in close on the heels of our first, hubby and I have of course been talking about family size. He’s fine with just the two. I could be, too, though I wouldn’t mind three or four eventually. Maybe. I haven’t completely decided what is influencing that desire. Our own economic prospects are of course a factor in the discussion, even though I’ve got this niggling guilt in the back of my brain that it shouldn’t be. How often have I heard people say, “Don’t worry about it, it will work out.” And I don’t doubt that if they are really motivated, parents can often find a way. But . . . what about those that can’t? What about those kids then?

    So, I absolutely agree with the part about that decision being between the couple and God. No one else has any business spouting “shoulds.” Giving a nod to that idea doesn’t counter or undo the rest of the mixed message, though, or all the mom-guilt messages that are so otherwise pervasive. Not wanting to have kids is awful and selfish, right? That’s how the line goes. It’s your divine calling to bear and raise kids. There’s no out, no other role or stage of life to move on to, no guideline or indication that there even -is- a possible end-point at which you can safely say, “Now I’m done, I don’t want -more- kids,” and feel safe about it. Sometimes I feel like there are moms that push themselves to exhaustion in order to give themselves a valid cultural excuse to stop. We have -no- right-of-passage out of the childbearing motherhood stage.

  11. 11.

    I agree with this. But then I remember how impossible it seemed to be able to handle a third. I didn’t choose a third, but we definitely choose the fourth based solely on asking God because of the pressure. God said yes.
    Life is more awesome because he exists. So I am glad for the pressure because it made my family complete.
    Worse than the pressure to have a lot of kids is the pressure to know your plans and proceed with them. I was miserable when trying to “decide” after two. When God finally told me to quit worrying about it, it was a huge relief. For some reason, women have a hard time shelving that decision. They want to know they are done or if they will have another.

  12. 12.

    “I feel like if you don’t really, really, really want to have a baby, you shouldn’t. Because doesn’t every baby deserve to be wanted like that?”

    EXACTLY. DH and I have been married for almost 13 years and neither of us really wants children. We have both prayed about it extensively, especially after we both finished graduate school, but neither of us has felt that having a child is the right thing for us.

  13. 13.

    I really liked Elder Anderson’s talk, because of the many times that he repeated that we should not judge one another and that the decision is up to the couple. I don’t know how else one can re-affirm the church’s view that having kids is important. What else could he have said?

    But then, I have met Jim Mason and his wife personally–while he was director of the CDC during the early days of AIDS, he was also a regional representative for the church. They are pretty open about such things, and his stories were very inspiring during our struggling grad student days.

    I am horrified at #9, and the notion that anyone would think this a topic that you can ask a stranger.

    I understand the point that jks is making as well. Some of my kids were wanted without being desired. There is a stretching and leap of faith that is very satisfying in the end.

    I am grateful for the spiritual promptings that allowed me to know when I was done. We had made that decision earlier, but I prayed again the night before, kneeling on the cold linoleum floor hours after giving birth to our last. The peace of that confirmation was indescribable. But I totally understand that not everyone finishes with that sense of completeness.

    I don’t think we should ever push anyone to do anything. Personal stewardship is the antidote to anyone’s pushing. I am not sure that Elder Anderson’s talk does this.

    My MIL was angry when we stopped at five, and bluntly told me that I was being selfish. But it didn’t bother me, because she has absolutely no say and was speaking out of ignorance.

  14. 14.

    Asking how many kids you’re going to have and why? Getting mad at someone else for stopping at 5 kids? Good grief. What is the matter with people.

  15. 15.

    Question: Do people really listen to and feel pressured by GAs on the subject of how many children to have? I can understand feeling pressured by the in-laws or something closer to home. But it would never occur to me to let broad-based, generic counsel over a Conference pulpit be an influence on our decision how many children to have.

    I come from a family of six kids (a seventh died as an infant), my wife from four. When we married, I sort of vaguely had in mind four, my wife three. We in fact had two, and we both jointly decided that was it. I then had a vasectomy (Handbook be damned).

    We have never felt judged or pressured in this sphere from any source whatsoever, whether Church or family. It has been completely our decision, with which we are happy.

    So I’m interested in how the manifestation of these pressures works in practice. (We live in Illinois, not Utah–is that the difference, I wonder?)

  16. 16.

    Brava!

    Kevin- Advice from GA is used as a weapon by family and church acquaintances. So no, I’m not thinking “How many kids does the prophet want me to have?” I am annoyed by my sisters telling me that the prophet wants me to have more kids.

  17. 17.

    Elder Anderson’s talk was the catalysts for my sister and her husband to go from waiting a year post marriage to start a family to becoming pregnant 3 weeks after that talk. (I know because they told me). If they had decided on their own I don’t think I would have cared, but for some reason it really bothers me that they felt the pressure to change their plans based on that talk. I know it’s judgey of me and not my business, of course, but it bothers me because they’re my family and their circumstances are far from ideal. A year would have made a big difference.

    Also, my dear sweet Grandmother went to the bishop in 1977 (after having her 9th child at 40) to ask if she could stop having babies. Based on my Dad’s stories of growing up, she had many more than she could handle. The fact that she clearly felt she had no control over it breaks my heart (and makes me furious).

  18. 18.

    Kevin – Conversely to what HokieKate said, if just one GA were to share a story of a couple prayerfully deciding to have fewer children than they had originally planned or resisting outside pressure to have more children, being able to cite that story could be an incredibly powerful defense against the ammunition of friends and family.

  19. 19.

    No. 16 HokieKate, thanks, that makes sense and is helpful to me in understanding the dynamic in these situations.

  20. 20.

    Within a few weeks of President Andersen’s talk, I heard from two women I know that both were expecting another child. In both cases, I found the announcement heartbreaking. Both are married to somewhat immature men who don’t earn much and probably never will; neither woman considers it acceptable for women with children to work outside the home. Neither woman can handle the children she already has; one neglects her children, and the other is so harsh with hers that it’s painful to witness.

    I don’t think either of these women made decisions based entirely on Elder Andersen’s talk, but his was one of many that has set their families up to feel a religious obligation (President Kimball’s piercing question, “Where is your faith?”) to take on more than they can handle. Their children are already paying the price.

  21. 21.

    I think you should limit the number of children you have to what you can emotionally and physically deal with. I am a mom to one 10-month-old and my husband and I are wrestling with having another. I want my son to have a sibling…..I think it will be healthy for him to not be treated like the center of our world (although he is), and he’ll want someone to play with later on. However, 2 is our limit. I come from a family of 6 children and let me tell you, growing up I hated it. My mother did not work, my dad made a meager salary, and we wore mostly hand-me-downs. As the oldest and a girl, I was the built-in babysitter. My parents were involved in a million “ministries” in the church and going there was anything but pleasant half the time. Sundays consisted of being barked at to move and hurry up, then we spent almost all day at the church. I always craved alone time with my parents as they were spread too thin to give much. Why they wanted that many I’ll never know, but that’s their business I guess. I just don’t want that kind of life for my husband and myself. I don’t think it’s selfish to want to be sane, relaxed, and to enjoy my kids and some “me” time. On the contrary, I feel I’m doing my kids a service by taking care of myself too. My 2 cents.

  22. 22.

    Growing up in the church, with dreams of 8 perfect little children, it surprises me that now that I’m actually married and in the position to have children if we want, I’m not sure I actually want it. It makes me wonder how much of that desire was church-fueled…

    Great post and comments, but I would also add, if someone wants to have a lot of kids, I think that’s just as valid as a choice. Not everyone with big families are neglectful, unhappy, etc. I know no one thinks that, but it’s easy to slip into the idea that they are crazy (read: all the commentary on the Duggers).

  23. 23.

    Great post. What really struck me is that someone needs to understand that these jokes aren’t funny any more. They are just tone deaf. We don’t laugh at racist jokes. We don’t make light of suicide. We don’t yuck it up over mental illness. Then why is it so friggin’ funny for a woman to be harrassed and haranged by too many kids or a clueless dad shrugging about how to help. These jokes aren’t funny.

  24. 24.

    I agree with this post. The financial cost of children is not a selfish consideration. There is an enormous cost, particularly in the U.S. And that’s if your children are healthy. I believe it’s not being “of the world” to take this into consideration in the decision making process.

    As the oldest in my large family, I did a lot of raising of younger siblings. I think it is unfair for a strategy for a family to be “the oldest will help out” or “the oldest will take care of the younger ones”. While I learned a lot from caring for my siblings, I also didn’t have much time to be a kid and figure out who I was (aside from a caretaker). I didn’t want to be a mom as a young teen (or change diapers at 8/9) but I did, because it needed to be done. It made me part of who I am.

    I’m glad that this is changing, that parents don’t make these decisions as often simply by assuming the oldest will care for everyone. Each child deserves a chance to be a child and to have the full attention of their parents.

  25. 25.

    I’m sorry, but I can’t help but think we could all use a little bit of Monty Python’s take on this subject:

    “Every Sperm is Sacred”: The Musical Sensation

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fUspLVStPbk

  26. 26.

    “As the oldest and a girl, I was the built-in babysitter.”

    “I think it is unfair for a strategy for a family to be ‘the oldest will help out’ or ‘the oldest will take care of the younger ones’”

    This was me, too, and I really resented the “built-in babysitter” label. While it’s not unreasonable for parents to expect -all- their children to help out with the house and family as a whole as the children’s abilities allow, it’s not fair to expect your older children to be mini-parents. The fact that I was always the babysitter, (and even when Mom was home I was expected to bear some responsibility for keeping the other kids in line,) -really- strained my relationship with my siblings growing up. I had a hard time making friends in general, and babysitting all the time left me with no idle time to just go do things and try to find some. The default assumption was that, if I didn’t have specific other plans made ahead of time, I was babysitting.

    My experience there is absolutely an influence on my decision to have no more than 3-4, and more likely 2-3 kids.

  27. 27.

    So back when I was a newlywed in a married BYU student ward and very eager to be righteous…. I chose to get pregnant after our stake president told us that it was sinning to delay having children. (One quote from Sis Beck in particular was passed around as a handout…) A few months later as I was struggling to make it through stake conference with my uncomfortable pregnant body when the newly called stake president got up and made it very clear that waiting to start your family was not a sin and perfectly fine with Heavenly Father. I was so mad I had been sucked in so easily to the inappropriate expression of opinions by the first stake president as an authority figure/spiritual leader. I feel so stupid every time I think about it because my knowledge and view points on the gospel have changed considerably since then.

    Also my parents had way too many children and way too many church callings which resulted in mental illness in my mother and physical abuse of the children.

    I walked out of the room during Elder Andersen’s talk — much to the confusion of my in-laws.

  28. 28.

    Having children — and the number thereof — is a personal choice, not some sort of duty.

    It really is no one’s business — your family, your coworkers or church leaders.

    Some wants lots and some want few. And, either is ok.

  29. 29.

    my friend, the oldest of 17, decided never to have children as she had already raised three families.

  30. 30.

    Once I was talking to a friend, and mentioned that I thought were were done having kids (at 2), and she said: “That’s not fair.”

  31. 31.

    Once I was talking to a friend, and mentioned that I thought were were done having kids (at 2), and she said: “That’s not fair.”

    Once again, the “If I have to do it, so do you” argument rears its head.

  32. 32.

    Interesting post, interesting comments. A few thoughts
    1. My mother, nor my bishop, nor any stake president ever said, Start Now, Stop Now, Have This Many. Thank goodness. I emulate my mother – I don’t say one word to my adult children about this sacred committment. NMB – not my business, no, siree.
    2. I had two profound spiritual/real life experiences before I married about how many children I wanted to have. I can’t deny that these experiences shaped my thoughts in how many children to have.
    3. I can’t imagine telling anyone about my methods of birth control (except my adult children who have asked), my plan to start or stop having children, or asking any of my friends about their decisions. Why do women do this to each other?
    4. As a woman in the church with tons of experience working with women, I have seen many that I thought had more children than they could handle. I don’t recall seeing anyone that I thought should have had more.

  33. 33.

    I have seen many that I thought had more children than they could handle. I don’t recall seeing anyone that I thought should have had more.

    Agreed.

    I think Katya nails it. If we tell stories about couples who think they’re done at six but can’t shake the feeling that there’s one more, we should balance them with stories about couples whose lifelong dream is to have eight but who quickly realize they are maxed out at three.

    The realization that you just can’t handle any more is no failure of faith. It is, rather, the triumph of the good judgment God gave us. And sometimes it requires the greater maturity to sacrifice an image of oneself in a particular mode of faithfulness–the extraordinary woman wiling to bear all the Lord will send–for the wellbeing of the children one already has.

  34. 34.

    I may be in the minority, as an active church member who has fully embraced the counsel about having children–it is between me, my husband, and God. I have never felt an ounce of guilt over the timing and number of the children in my family.

    My husband comes from a large family and my MIL is one who doesn’t understand why any married couple would wait a day beyond the marriage to begin their family. To her, that’s a breach of the covenants made in the temple. My attitude? Heavenly Father didn’t ask me to include her in my family-related decision making, so her opinion doesn’t really matter. And, unlike my husband’s siblings, we did wait for a while before having children. We NEEDED that time as a couple and we recognized that. I had zero guilt over not being pregnant within a month of marriage, as her expectation for us would have been, even though I knew that she was inwardly frowning upon our decision to wait.

    I also had zero guilt over waiting 5 years between the last of our children. That age span was not fully by choice (we also deal with infertility), but we were certainly not trying as soon as many would have felt it appropriate–even a responsibility–for us to try. I took great comfort in Elder Anderson’s reminder that the subject of children can be painful for those who are unable to have them, or unable to have more. I’ve been in the latter position and it’s a very conflicting feeling to desire more children, not be able to have them, and then wonder why I should feel sad when, sitting at my feet at that very moment, I already had three beautiful children (and therefore shouldn’t feel sad about not having more).

    I find it interesting how many people are willing to point fingers at families that have only one or two children, and label them as having less faith. On the flip side, there seem to be many here who are labeling those with “too many” children as having a misplaced overabundance of faith. There are days when I feel as though I’m drowning in the chaos of three children…..should someone look at me and say “wow, she really should have stopped at two” or “she has no business having a fourth”? I hope not (though I’m sure those judgements are out there). It’s especially easy to perceive those with exceptionally large families as unable to care for them….and no doubt there are families that fall into that category (though even then, we all have different ideas of what adequately providing looks like)….but the outsiders perception of inability to care for a large number of children could also be far from the reality of what that family is experiencing. To me, it’s as much a judegement upon those families as it is upon small families just for being small.

    I didn’t feel that Elder Anderson’s advice was contradictory. It takes faith to include God in the decision of when and how many children you should have, and I didn’t view his advice to perhaps take a leap of faith to have children outside of the time frame we might have envisioned for ourselves to be a condemnation up on those who don’t. I know how easily I can become prideful and rely solely upon myself to make important decisions and I was grateful for his advice to exercise faith and allow God to have a hand in what happens.

  35. 35.

    In regards to comment #32 from NotUtah (I don’t know how to do that fancy quote thing)….I think the operative words in your 4th point are quite telling–“I thought”. It’s not your place to think or not think that the number of children a couple chooses to have is appropriate. I’m guilty of it as well….I could rattle off a number of families in my ward that I think would be functioning better with fewer children….but all that is is an unrighteous judgement from me, and a puffing up of pride that I’m perhaps doing it better than they are.

  36. 36.

    Sarah, as long as a family is making it work and their children are cared for, physically and psychologically, I agree that it’s none of any of our business how many they have. And large families certainly are subject to strangers’ judgments; my mother recalls being stared at when she was at the grocery store with five of us in tow. (This was California in the seventies.) Some families can make five or eight or ten kids work. More power to them.

    But when a family is in a constant state of financial and/or emotional crisis, when the father is absentee and the neighbors and visiting teachers are constantly taking the children because the mother can’t cope with the ones she has–and they’re having more–then we do have an obligation to pass judgment on the situation. We should do so as kindly and as responsibly as we can, of course, keeping that obligation in tension with the humility we should all feel before the vast tracts of one another’s lives we do not know. It’s not about pride that we’re doing it better than someone else; it’s about trying to save families and souls.

  37. 37.

    I understand your perspective, and I agree to a certain extent….I just feel like the overall tone of your article conveys that when it comes to large families, disfunction/crisis is the norm. In my experience, it’s the exception. The majority of large families I know (and I do know many) are pulling it off just as well as I’m pulling off the raising of my “average sized” family.

    I’m going to disagree with you on when it becomes our place to pass judgement….I think there are very few circumstances in which most of us will ever be called upon to pass judgements on others (and I say that with the full disclosure that I made in my previous comment….I’m guilty of it myself and it’s something I need to work on).

    I will admit that I often get bothered by the addage “God will provide”, because it tends to be used flippantly, as a way to excuse a lack of self-reliance. My grandpa always said “God helps those who help themselves” (though he usually said it in reference to being the first to dig in at mealtime ;). Heavenly Father gaves us brains. He expects us to use them. I do believe that oftentimes couples fail to plan appropriately to provide for the size of family they desire, then declare “God will provide”, and then sit back and wait for it to happen. The sin there is not having had a large family…..it’s in the lack of effort in being self-reliant, and IMO, people who aren’t motivated to be self-reliant can be found in homes with two children or ten children.

  38. 38.

    Nothing much to add, but great post.

  39. 39.

    Hi, Sarah! I’m glad you decided to weigh in.

    I agree with you about “passing judgment” in the sense that we shouldn’t be cruel—that (a) we should not assume we understand the circumstances that led others to where they are and (b) we should not suppose we ourselves are immune from falling prey to similar problems. But in a sense, you’ve passed judgment yourself, albeit positive; you write:

    In my experience, [dysfunction in large families is] the exception. The majority of large families I know (and I do know many) are pulling it off just as well as I’m pulling off the raising of my “average sized” family.

    The same criteria that led you to deduce that many (most?) large families are pulling it off just fine have probably also enabled Eve to deduce that there are families in which the parental resources are severely overtaxed and the children are paying the price.

    If “passing judgment,” on the other hand, means predisposing ourselves to assume, out of kindness to the parents, that all the families around us are healthy, then we’ve set the expectations for our own behavior such that it will be impossible for us to know whether there are families around us that are going under. Our own attitudes will preclude our seeing it.

    That said, I think we’re all in agreement that we shouldn’t assume all large families are unhealthy, by any stretch of the imagination.

  40. 40.

    “That said, I think we’re all in agreement that we shouldn’t assume all large families are unhealthy, by any stretch of the imagination.”

    Agreed there. It’s also worth noting that the particular challenges of a large family vs. a small one, or any size, aren’t necessarily “unhealthy” even if and when they arise. Different situations have different challenges, and different effects on those who are involved in them. Hence why it’s up to the couple and God to decide what is right for them and their family, specifically. Outside pressure either way isn’t ideal. I know women for whom motherhood truly is their calling of callings, even more than it being generally a valuable and good thing, where they feel the happiest and most fulfilled and capable. If that’s you, rock on with your big family and your awesome mommy self. If not, rock on with the kids you do have, or whatever else brings you joy and fulfillment and growth.

  41. 41.

    I felt immense pressure as a young newly wed to have kids. We never used birth control because it was entrenched in us by the GAs like Elders Rector, Nelson, Pres. Benson and Kimball. It was all selfish to NOT have kids asap and when the marriage blew up in my face and divorce was the outcome it was selfish to do that even so now I am still active but when it comes to actual daily living I just ignore what they say, I have to for my own protection

  42. 42.

    The reason we decided to try for a baby two months after marriage was – I believe, in retrospect – because my husband was a gung-ho returned missionary and it was the next step in his personal kingdom-building agenda. He pretty obviously had no clue what we were getting into. I was a naive 19-year-old (this was the late 70s), and agreed with reservations.

    I fell madly in love with our baby as soon as he was born, and madly longed for the next right up until our fifth, 15 years later (birth control between them all), who was obviously our last, because of physical problems and my expanding career.

    My own children are stopping at one, two, or (potentially) three. I support them in their decisions.

    I haven’t seen noted in this thread the physical costs of multiple childbirth, which sometimes don’t show up for decades. Surgery doesn’t always fix it. My sisters and I are paying physically, years later, for our fertility when young. I don’t regret my children, but the total costs should be factored into those decisions.

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