Big Families – Bad Doodles

There is a category of question I and my friends who also have above the national average number of children get asked, or told about having “so many” kids.  I’m not talking about from the snide but from the sincerely curious.  Some are just amazed at something they’ve rarely seen before, others are contemplating adding to their own brood but are nervous.  This category I’ll call the “love” question.  Variations might include, “Don’t you feel like they don’t get enough attention?” or “I love my child so much I just can’t imagine loving another as much.” or “I feel like I’d be robbing him of me.”  When I found out, a mere nine months after JD was born that I was pregnant again, I was a) thrilled b) overwhelmed and c) sorry for JD.  I snuggled him extra thinking about how soon he wouldn’t be my one and only.  So I think these are fairly natural reactions and fears.  But in the years since then I’ve learned a lot about the nature of love, and that’s what I’d like to share today.  Now, I am not an artist.  Let’s just get that clear right out of the gate.  But they always say visuals help so I’ve sketched up a few here.

Here are a few analogies for what we might fear about expanding a family.

img004

As you can see, here love is a finite thing.  You have only so much and you have to ration it carefully.  Just one more:

img006

But that’s not how love works!  My first attempt to explain this was my Bucket Family:

img005

 

Here we see Mr. and Mrs. Bucket in their leaky roofed house.  Joy and love and blessings are continuously pouring down on them.  Eventually they are full to overflowing, better get another bucket!  I liked this analogy because it does feel in our house like we become so full to bursting with happiness that we all want to share it with another little Bucket.  But it’s not quite right.  For one thing, it would seem to say that some families get enough joy and love and blessing to grow and others don’t.  Not a fan of  that.  Also, it seems to ignore the fact that it’s very good and also easy to share your love and joy and blessings with Buckets who don’t even live with you.  Finally, the Buckets each have a limit.  But love has no limit, either in how much you give or in how much you receive.  Time for a new model. This time with no measurable things.

It starts like this:

img009

 

Pretty straight forward right?  Cait loves Mike, Mike loves Cait.  I use arrows for two reasons.  One, to show that there are two separate actions going on, one in which I am the giver, one in which I am the receiver.  Arrows also go on forever.  So I can always give more love, I can always love better.  I can also always receive more love.  Alright, got that?  Now watch what happens next:

img011

Ok so now there are six separate love relationships.  JD has a relationship with me and with his father.  Also, I didn’t split the previous arrows.  These new relationships are completely original, completely unique.  Now’s probably a good time to point out one of the great things about this model.  Each of those arrows is infinite remember?  So if this is as big as your family ever gets, well there’s still a limitless amount of love to be had by everyone!  But another cool thing happens when you add a sibling:

img012

 

Now we’re at 12 love relationships!  The number of relationships (each in itself infinite) grows exponentially.  Wow.  John Paul II once said that the best gift you could give a child was a sibling.  Now we see why.  Because they’re not losing out on love here!  They get extra places for love to flourish! They give and receive love from Mum, give and receive from Dad, AND give and receive with their siblings.  And it only gets better.

img008

(20 arrows)

And better!

 img007

 

(30!)

Now this is how I picture my family.  A big chaotic mess of love jumbled together and wonderful.  I can’t lie.  You DO run out of energy.  You DO run out of patience, money, time.  But that’s by no means the same as running out of love.  If it were then anybody who worked a job, or who suffered with debilitating illness, or who was in poverty couldn’t love their child as much as a healthy, wealthy stay at home Mom.  Breadwinners would automatically love less.  Well clearly that’s silly.  And there are more than enough hands and hearts to pick up the slack when somebody is running low on any of those things.  My husband comes from a family with 11 children.  Can you imagine that chart?  Well you’ll have to.  Because I’m not going to attempt to draw it.

2 Comments

Filed under Marriage, Motherhood, Uncategorized

A Very Catholic Post on Natural Family Planning

In a contraceptive culture it is little wonder that natural family planning is often in the Catholic spotlight.  Perhaps it is also little wonder that we accidentally slip into using the secular world’s terms or attitudes when discussing it.  It is well established to anybody willing to hear that NFP is a licit practice.  In fact, it is not merely an acceptable but second rate choice made by second rate Catholics but can and should be undertaken in such a spirit as to be equally receptive to God’s will, a loving exercise of our role in the creation of new life with responsibility and generosity.  However, the question of when and why to avoid pregnancy in particular circumstances can easily become confusing and some of the language surrounding the discussion adds to this.

First, there is a tendency to speak of family planning decisions in the long term.  We consider the overall number of children in a family, or how many years there are between children.  Yet, part of the beauty and challenge of natural fertility awareness is that it deals only in the now.  Every cycle, in some sense every day, one must reexamine the family situation and the possibility of adding another child.  While depending on the reasons for using NFP to avoid pregnancy one may have some idea of how long this will be necessary the question is only ever “what about this child, today?” not “how many children do we want in total?” or “what is our five year plan?”.

Second, and quite naturally, we tend to simplify the discussion of reasons to avoid pregnancy.  While the Church remains vague, giving only broad categories for consideration and the requirement our reasons be serious and just, as human beings we want something more concrete and so we list off example after example.  While this is certainly of some use, a good starting place perhaps, it is important to remember that each marriage and each person in a family is unique.  What may be serious and just for one may not be for another.  Furthermore, when we have not experienced certain hardships ourselves we may not consider them, or may underrate their significance.  So by necessity our examples often tend towards the most undeniable and extreme cases so that they are certainly within the acceptable guidelines.  Yet for the couple sincerely seeking God’s will it can seem like nobody struggles to determine the justice of a given situation.  It seems as if everyone else is dealing in black and white while we sift through a sea of gray.  Medical diagnoses, financial issues, and psychological problems are rarely binary.  The scenarios are not a or b but rather a spectrum.  Where on the range of depression, for example, does it become a legitimate reason to space births?  No buzzer sounds: you are now depressed enough.  How much money is enough money?  Anybody who has managed a family budget knows that expenses are only so predictable.  And many medical conditions do not come with a crystal ball.  A doctor can tell you what may happen, what is likely to happen even, what the statistics say, but what will happen is almost never certain, thank God.  How much strain is a marriage under and how much more can it take?  How much strain will any one pregnancy and child be?  In all such deliberations we must err on the side of hope not fear, of generosity not selfishness, confident in the belief that in the end God will provide.  But the fact remains, nobody receives a memo saying, you are now allowed to avoid conception.  It is important to acknowledge that, while NFP can certainly be used licitly, the decision is often complex, ever changing, and difficult, requiring much prayer and the advice of priests and other experts.  This should not be discouraging, but a sign that a couple is striving to be as generous and brave as they can be and to make not the easy decision but the right one.

Thirdly, the terminology and tone taken regarding NFP decisions often fails to reflect the true nature of proper fertility management.  Instead it leaves the impression that NFP is merely “Catholic birth control.”  Consider:  We acknowledge the generosity and bravery of the family that chooses to take every baby as it comes without resorting to any child spacing methods.  We also mourn with the couple who experience infertility, unable to have the children they desperately want.  However, when we speak of the families in between, those who must limit the number of children they have, there is a shift.  We tend to discuss their reasons as excuses: legitimate excuses not to have children.  As if they were sort of hoping for an out and luckily they found one.  It is very difficult not to talk about it this way, in fact I have fallen into it within this essay.  Perhaps it is impossible to completely avoid since we do need words like “just causes” and “grave reason.”  Somehow though, it is important not to leave the impression that NFP is about having a good enough excuse to get out of conceiving.  This is unjust to the couples practicing it and also leaves the impression we are not as excited about new life as we purport to be.   (Lucky them, they got a doctor’s note and can skip out.)  It is natural to sometimes feel a sense of relief at not being pregnant.  Pregnancy can be exhausting and trying.  Some women also feel a sense of relief at the onset of menopause; their work is done.  Openness to life does indeed take great sacrifice and strength.  Yet a couple practicing NFP in the proper spirit are also exhibiting this same sacrifice and strength.  While there is the sense of peace when one feels certainty that a decision is in keeping with God’s will, there can still be great sadness at the decision to avoid pregnancy for a time, or for the remainder of a marriage.  Instead of discussing NFP decisions as reasons, or excuses, we might more properly consider them crosses.  A couple must sacrifice the child they might conceive and in a sense sacrifice their fertility for a time.  They aren’t “off the hook” but rather are being asked to be obedient to God as surely as the couple who conceive another child.

As it becomes more and more evident that I will be among the number of women who cannot have all the children they want without becoming incapable of caring for all the children they have, I am becoming more and more aware of this.  There was a time when I too subconsciously ranked marriages by their fruitfulness and unthinkingly spoke of NFP as some sort of cop out.  What an injustice.  How dismissive of the difficulty of their decisions and the pain of sacrifices they may be asked to make.  If and when the time comes that I must forgo what is left of my fertility, as I put away the baby clothes for the last time and stow the crib, it will be with great sadness.  I pray that I can do so with the same generosity and obedience that I tried to show in welcoming each of my children, but it will be hard.  To all other couples doing their very best to wade through the twisting ways of faithful fertility management, you are not second rate. You too are generous. You too are brave.

1 Comment

Filed under Marriage, Motherhood, Religious Ramblings, Uncategorized