My husband Shannon and I are the blessed parents of two little girls. Abigail, our oldest, is three years old and her younger sister Madeline just turned two. Life is full of sippy cups and tricycles and laundry piles of vibrant, juice-dripped 3T clothing. I wake up early and go to bed late to make time for homeschooling, cooking, cleaning, laundry, and quality time with my husband. Actually, Shannon and I have a pretty great little “quality time” vacation to look forward to coming up! We’re taking a toddler-free, overnight trip to enjoy some room service at a very expensive, top-rated establishment. Incidentally, the establishment is a hospital and the room service will be limited to to nursing staff and my obstetrician. Oh, and the bed is only big enough for me and our little newborn son who will arrive midway through our stay. When we get home from our “trip,” we’ll have three kids ages three, two, and newborn. Parenthood: when giving birth is a destination vacation.
As I excitedly prepare for the day of our son’s homecoming, I am struck by the realization that my idea of a tiring day of homemaking is about to be changed completely. Think it’s hard to meal plan, sort laundry, or plan preschool lessons now? Add a nursing, fussy newborn to the mix and I’m sure I’ll look back on these days and laugh at myself for ever feeling overwhelmed. As my father has been diligent to remind me, “Two plus one somehow does not equal three.” (Thanks, Dad!) There are challenging days ahead, but we truly look forward to them with joy. If there is one thing we’ve learned about parenthood, it’s that the exchange rate of hard work for love is worth every sleepless night, missed shower, and stack of neglected dishes. As a third-time mom, I’m blessed with this foreknowledge. Children are worth it!
Shannon and I have gratefully accepted our three children as blessings from God. From the earliest days of our engagement and through nearly six years of marriage, we’ve been committed to allowing God’s providence to determine the size of our family and when each child would be born. When we became Catholic in 2012, we were thrilled to find the fulfillment of our convictions in the ancient teaching of the early Church and through the beautiful encyclicals of Pope John Paul VI and humanae vitae (of which openness to life is emphasized as a primary act of faith for married couples). Like with so many other aspects of Catholic theology, we “came home” to the fullness of truth for what we already knew to be God’s plan for married Christians: to be fruitful and multiply – to allow for God’s hand in marital love.
And so, with two toddlers running around us and my obviously pregnant self announcing to the world that we are about to add another to this mix of controlled chaos, we’re frequently asked a common question: “Are you ‘done’ after this one?”
It’s a fair enough question. We live in a culture where having one child is wonderful (and it is), having two children is adventurous (and it is), and having three children is downright ambitious (and it is). Three children, especially three young children, seems to be a commonly accepted “max out” point for today’s family. Relatively few couples even discuss having four or more children. So it came as no surprise to us that people were curious about our future reproductive plans (especially after we announced that our third child was a little boy). The first few times someone asked if we’d be having more kids, I stammered a bit with a vague, “Yeah, probably, maybe in a couple years…” and tried to change the subject. Why was this so hard to answer? Almost all of the people asking were just genuinely curious (if not being a little intrusive), and as far as I knew none were planning to go on a tirade about irresponsible environmental stewardship or anything like that. I brainstormed possibilities for the best response to these types of questions and made a mental list of both politically correct and snarky answers to draw upon for moments of interrogation. I wanted to be prepared for this question, darnit, and I wanted to appear to have it all together while simultaneously proclaiming that “Yes, we expect more of this.” I wanted to be The Winner of The Argument if someone was looking to pick a fight about it. And now, after months of prayer and reflection and googling, I have determined the #1 Best Way of Telling People You’re Probably Not Done Having Kids:
Blame your Catholicism.
Please forgive the anticlimactic nature of this unclever and non-witty response and consider three reasons why using your faith as a scapegoat reigns supreme in the market of other ideas:
1. It’s Honest
When someone like a casual friend or fellow mom at the playground asks if you’re done having kids, it makes little sense to say “no” but lie about your reasons why. “I just love changing diapers!” is not realistic and nobody will believe you anyway. Use this opportunity to tell your friend or acquaintance that your faith is important to you in a simple and up-front way. When someone asks if you’re done having children, try responding with something like “Well, we’re Catholic, so we’ll always be open to another child.” It doesn’t have to be a big production – just an honest glimpse into your convictions. Depending on the situation, your response may lead to further discussion between you and a friend that may have otherwise never come up.
2. It Tells the World That Catholics Still Believe This Stuff
Due to many factors, many modern American Catholics actually reject the Church’s unwavering belief about the grave sin of contraception use. Many of these Catholics are genuinely unaware that the Church even teaches against contraception anymore! One solution to this grievous reality is for devout Catholic families to provide a witness to the world about God’s design for marriage. The next time your family pharmacist is filling your perpetual prescription for prenatal vitamins and asks if this is your “last bun to be baked” (as mine did recently), smile and try something like, “Oh, we’re Catholic, so you can hope for lots more business from me over the next decade or so!” If you’ve been blessed with many children, citing your Catholic faith is a great way to remind others that Catholicism, the largest and most unified faith in the world, still professes that children are a blessing from the Lord. Pope Francis is doing a great job and all, but we have a responsibility for properly articulating the faith too!
3. It Makes People Less Likely to Argue With You
Once in a great while, a Catholic will encounter an argumentative person who advocates for “responsible” family planning: small families, childlessness, population control, etc. From what I’ve seen of these folks, the debate fizzles quickly once the antagonist learns their opponent is a convicted Catholic. Catholic parents of large families have endured much sacrifice for their convictions already: multiple long pregnancies, sleepless nights, financial pressure, hard manual labor, stress… The next time a raving environmentalist is trying to shame you about your breeding (almost always online, of course), laugh loudly and say something like, “I’m a Catholic parent of ___ kids. You can’t scare me.”
A far less hostile scenario may play out during a discussion with your medical provider. Though I’m only on baby #3 and have never encountered this issue, I’ve heard stories from other mothers about doctors who are less than supportive of multiple pregnancies, pregnancy past a certain age, or even natural family planning (which is an effective and licit method of achieving, avoiding, or spacing pregnancies according to Catholic teaching). Try explaining to your caregiver that you’re Catholic and wish to remain open to life for the duration of your childbearing years. Even if he or she thinks you’re a religious fanatic and disagrees with your choice to embrace your fertility, your doctor must still respect your decision, especially when your faith is concerned. If they are disrespectful or dismissive, find a new provider who will accept you – and your convictions. As for me, I recently told my obstetrician that I’m a devout Catholic “and will probably be seeing you frequently over the years.” She laughed and wrote it in my chart as her reminder not to bug me about contraception at my postpartum visit. She’s great (and now I’m not nervous for that discussion).
So there you have it – three reasons why using your faith as a scapegoat is an effective way to answer questions about your family planning (or lack thereof). Here is one additional important reminder for using this method: always strive to convey the joy that comes with having many children. If you’re at the grocery store and tired, half-dressed, and ready to lose your mind at six children running rampant in the aisle around you, it may not be prudent to respond to someone’s commentary about your family size (however stupid it may be) by blaming your convictions with an exasperated sigh of misery. It may be honest, but it’s not good evangelism and it definitely isn’t likely to do anything other than confirm the world’s opinions that the Church is a woman-squashing institution concerned with nothing more than growing their membership through aggressive procreation. Sharing your faith through faithful marriage and parenthood means keeping your own attitude in line with God’s. And isn’t that something we should be doing anyway?
Because I know that some clever visitor to my blog will now ask if we’re done having children, I’ll reveal my honest answer: we are almost certainly not done! Not only do we remain open to life, but it would seem that we are blessed with very healthy fertility as well (to say the least). We’re also hoping to adopt someday if God opens those doors for us in the future. I’m blessed to look forward to our family’s future with only mild trepidation. ;)
Well that’s enough blogging from me for one day. The girls are on their fifth episode of My Little Pony and should probably be eating something other than Easter candy for lunch. I also have that vacation to pack for…
Leave me your feedback! Do you have a large family (or do you hope for one)? What kind of response have you found helpful when dealing with questions and comments from others?