“That is like saying there are too many flowers” (Mother Teresa). Nowadays the use of contraception is quite accepted and even encouraged and couples frequently aren’t encouraged to ever actually have children. And when they do, it seems that it is frowned upon for them to have more than one or two. Even in the Catholic Church, over 90% of couples use some form of artificial contraception (including sterility) despite the Church’s teaching against it.
Why all this opposition to having children and embracing God’s gift of life?
Mark Pickup at Human Life Matters offers a wonderful reflection on his unwillingness to be open to life as a young man and what he might have done differently if he knew then what he knows now.
For many, like Pickup, the decision not to have “too many” children is financial. A large family would get in the way of advancing one’s career and hinder the expansion of one’s savings account. The expense of feeding all those hungry mouths would supersede the ability to acquire greater material possessions to ensure a more comfortable living situation.
As a young man with a career ahead of me, I did not have time for a large family. There were places to go and people to see. I can’t remember the places or the people anymore – but they were so very important at the time. I was convinced of it. I wanted more money and more status. I can’t remember why, or what I needed to buy, and the professional accolades have long since died away. In short, my career was calling me to bigger and better things.
The idea of modest homes filled with children was passé: Anybody who was anybody used birth control and limited their families to two kids. They warehoused them in daycares because both parents “had to work” to pay their large mortgages on big new houses in well-tailored cul-de-sacs, in just the right neighborhoods. There were, after all, appearances of success to maintain.
True, having more children sometimes requires greater financial sacrifices and to this Pope John Paul II noted that “it is certainly less serious [for parents] to deny their children certain comforts or material advantages than to deprive them of the presence of brothers and sisters, who could help them to grow in humanity and to realize the beauty of life at all its ages and in all its variety.” In her book, Life Giving Love, Kimberly Hahn points out many times that “siblings are the greatest physical gift, apart from the love you give your spouse, that you can possibly give your children.” We want to be able to provide well, financially, for our children, but we also have to remember to provide well for them spiritually and emotionally. In Life Giving Love, a woman who is one of 13 children says of her parents:
I can never thank them enough for all they have provided me: food, shelter, clothing, a two-parent household…a great faith, and twelve best friends that will be there for me the rest of my life. The best gifts my parents could give us children, besides our faith, were siblings. For when the entire world is against you, your family will always be there to support, help, guide, protect, and love you.
Being open to life not only benefits the other children in the family, but can be a great benefit to parents as well. Another anecdote in Hahn’s book is from a woman who wasn’t sure, at 10 children, whether she could be open to number 11, when a friend mentioned that number 11 could be her special companion in old age: “She was right. My husband passed away recently, and this special son, number eleven, is my heart and a dear friend.”
It is rather unheard of that someone, later in life, wishes that they had had one less child. Instead, like Mark, they have been known to wish they had been open to at least one more:
If I could go back and do it again, I think I would have more children—lots of them. Yes! I would fill the rooms of my little house with the joie de vivre of children’s perpetual laughter, the hum of play, and then I’d revel in the offence it caused the population control fanatics. I’d attach a swing to the maple trees in my backyard and have a fire-pit to roast marshmallows on warm summer nights. We would have hours of fun doing nothing in particular.
So many people mistakenly think that espousing the Church’s teaching on contraception and openness to life means that you have to have as many children as humanly possible, or that you will have a baby every year. To this, Kimberly points out that “God doesn’t ask us, ‘Are you willing to have a certain number of children?’ Rather, he says, ‘Will you be open to the next one?’ Yes, we may sometimes have legitimate, serious reasons for declining the gift of life at one moment or another and we recognize this by examining our motivation (is it faith or fear) and praying for the gift of wisdom. Entrusting our family size to God does not mean that we will have many children (it is possible that we may not have any), but simply that we are open to doing God’s will. If we do that, God will never fail us; he always provides.
BTW: The pictures are of a few children and siblings in my family – including me and my sisters (picture 3).