Monday, May 5, 2014

Family Size: Large Marges and Tiny Tims

Note: K, so I lied. I told you my next post was going to be about Natural Family Planning. Well, I started to write about it, but what I meant to be a "short introduction" to my post actually turned into an entire post in itself. So....I'm gonna go to confession for lying to y'all, and you can enjoy this post that resulted in my lie...but wait...does that mean you are partaking in my lie? Which would make you sin? Which would make me sin even more because I'm encouraging you to sin? AHHHHHH!!!! IS THIS REAL LIFE????

Sorry about that. Just read it. K? K.

I believe it is harder to be a mom now than it ever has been before. Sure, we have modern technology that make life a heck of a lot more convenient. We don't have to go to a river and wash our clothes. We can heat up leftovers in a matter of 30 seconds in the microwave and call that dinner. We have the ability to pop in a movie for the kids if things get a little too hectic around the house and mom needs a few minutes to herself.

But here's what most of us don't have: help. Trust me, I'm not degrading our husbands in any way. I appreciate and need my husband's help more than anything. And I have SO much support from family and friends who help with babysitting and cleaning that I'm probably one of the luckiest moms out there. What I'm referring to is a community of women to essentially live together and contribute their help in all areas that need it. Raising children. Cleaning. Cooking. Teaching. And, just as importantly, providing emotional and spiritual support for each other.

In just about every culture around the world up until present day, women lived this way. They lived in a community, either very near each other, or actually in the same house. They were raised by their own mothers and a whole lot of other women who were like mothers to them. They were taught from a very young age how to take care of their houses, their children, and their husbands. And they always had older, more experienced women around them to offer advice and support.

Now, family units are much smaller. A "typical" household consists of two parents and their children. Even if we live near our families, we might only see them a few times a month. Or even less, depending on the situation. Many families live clear across the country from each other, and can only visit once per year, or even less.

This presents a big problem for mothers. (I'm sure it does for fathers too, but I'm speaking from a mother's perspective). Whether you work outside the home or you work as a full time stay at home mom, you are expected to maintain your house and family in the same way women have been doing for thousands of years:
  • Cook wholesome and healthy meals for your family
  • Respect your family's budget by saving as much money as possible
  • Keep your house clean and organized
  • Make your place of living look and feel cozy, comfortable, and decorated
  • Keep track of everyone's schedules
  • Give individual attention to each member of your family on a regular basis
  • Make time for yourself 
  • Make time for prayer
In short, it's impossible to accomplish everything unless we have help constant, live-in help. Most of us don't. So we have to accept the fact that we just can't accomplish everything.

Large families used to be the norm. A family made up of two adults and 15 children was not anything mind blowing. Now, we have TV shows about these types of families. We view them almost the same way we view zoo animals: with wonder, awe, and fear. And, of course, we automatically categorize these families as "weird" or "religious zealots".

My husband and I have a joke about how people react when they are told the news of a pregnancy. For a couple's first and second pregnancy, the reaction is typically joy (assuming the circumstances of the pregnancy are good). For the third and fourth, people will start to get uneasy, warning the couple that they need to be "done." For a fifth or sixth, eyes will roll and comments will be muttered under their breath: "They DO know what causes pregnancy, right?" Anything seven or more will simply cause heads to shake...these couples have already made the "weird" and/or "religious zealot" list, and no one will be surprised.
Why is it so crazy in our current age to have big families? It is partly due to the contraceptive mentality in which we live. Children (and our fertility) are viewed as good long as they are convenient for us. When they are not convenient, they are viewed as diseases that need to be "fixed." So we use pills and other methods to prevent pregnancy, making sex something totally twisted from what God originally intended for it to be.

It is also due to our consumerist and individualistic society. Our goals are to have enough money to be comfortable and to be able to give our children all the opportunities we can. We often feel sorry for large families who can't afford to go on vacations or go out to nice restaurants. "If only they would have been smarter and had less children," people say. But do you know what the funny thing is? In my experience, every single one of these families I have seen are happier than anyone else I know. They don't have a lot of money. They don't have a big house. Several children must share rooms. Sometimes they have to eat beans and tortillas for dinner for weeks so they can pay their bills. But they have each other. Life is hard and stressful for them, but they are the most fulfilled and peaceful people I know. Their homes are full of life and laughter.

The bottom line: God provides for those who trust in Him.

That being said, having a large family is not for everyone. Although the Catholic Church is against any form of contraception, She recognizes that there are serious situations in which a mother and a father might NEED a break from children. I think now, more than ever, parents have legitimate reasons to space their children out more than before. We don't have a community living situation in most cases like families in almost every generation before us did. We don't have the help. And sometimes, we get emotionally, physically, and mentally exhausted. Sometimes, serious health issues arise in which it would be extremely dangerous for a mother to get pregnant or give birth. Other times, a family's financial situation might be so dire that they in no way can afford another child at the moment.

For this reason, God gave us the scientific knowledge of Natural Family Planning, or NFP. Unlike contraception, it does not separate sex from procreation. It can be used to conceive children OR to avoid pregnancy. Keep on the lookout for my next post explaining what it is, how it works, and why it is a morally acceptable.


  1. Economics plays a large part in reducing family size. While it's true that many people's expected standard of living has increased (bigger houses, bigger cars), even without those expectations the economy has still fundamentally changed.

    If you look at charts of real wages (adjusted for inflation) over the past 100 years, the average worker's pay peaked in the 1960s and has been steadily declining ever since. In my parents' generation, an average husband earning an average salary could fairly easily support his family with little debt and a few dollars left over at the end of the month. If you went into debt, it was usually because of truly excessive spending, a drinking or gambling problem, etc. But otherwise you could make ends meet without much thought or effort.

    Since then, costs of living (food, housing, clothing, medical) has steadily risen faster than the average wage. Every year, it has gotten harder and harder to make ends meet even with no change in your standard of living. As a result, consumer debt has grown dramatically. My parents paid off their first house in 10 years and never financed a car or any other major purchase. Not because they were wealthy or super-savvy, but because they earned enough relative to their expenses to pay cash for things. As did most middle-class people.

    Fast-forward 50 years. Today, many young people enter adulthood already owing huge student loan debts. A friend of mine just shared that she owes $96,000 between college and grad school loans. Other people have the burden of credit card debt which is an endless downward spiral. Not necessarily from living beyond their means, but often from having no other way to purchase groceries, gasoline, etc.

    There are many complicated reasons for the decrease in family size, but the economic realities of our society are a major factor. If our society wants to give people the freedom to support more children, let's talk about raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour for the working classes, and cutting back the now 50-60 hour workweeks of the professional classes. My dad used to be home for dinner by 5:00 every day, now many of my professional friends regularly are at the office 10 or 12 hours per day, nights, weekends, and travel. This is another factor in family life.

    1. I would agree with all your points. I personally understand the "young people starting out with a mountain of debt" husband has almost 100 grand to pay off from pharmacy school. I myself have a good chunk of student loans too, and my salary is not very large. We will not have our house paid off until we are in our 50's.

      Even though I think this IS a large part of the problem, I still believe that many people think "need" and "want" mean the same thing. Standard of living has increased, there's no doubt about that. Many families COULD cut back if they had to. Not ALL families, but many. They just don't want to.

      That's not necessarily a bad's normal to want a comfortable life. I would say that right now, my husband and I live comfortably...we have a strict budget and must watch our spending carefully, but we have the ability to eat out every once in awhile and see a movie occasionally. If we had to, though, we would cut that out.

      That's why, I think, the Church does not specify what a "serious" reason for avoiding children is. We must pray about it and decide if living a comfortable financial life is reason enough. It will be different for every family, since every family's financial situation is different.

  2. I also have a few thoughts on tuition at Catholic schools. To say it politely, the Catholic church sends conflicting messages about family size. We're for NFP and being open to having several children if the Lord should grant them. There is great wisdom in this. But at the same time, many Catholic schools contribute mightily to the cost of raising Catholic children. Some parish schools offer tuition breaks for larger families, though not all offer discounts and those that do offer partial discounts only. Many good parishes allow tuition breaks to a few large families, but the economics would quickly crash if dozens more families started sending multiple children and needing reduced tuition. Without nuns to work for almost free and with educational standards no longer allowing 50 kids in a single class, the economics of Catholic education have changed.

    Then there's Catholic high schools. As far as I know, the only tuition break is a small reduction if you have two or more kids enrolled in their school at the same time. Even if you have other kids in private grade school, or another private high school or college there's no discount. There is some financial aid available, but typically just for families living near the poverty line. If mom and dad are fully employed, there's probably no assistance available for you and no student loans other than a second mortgage or running up credit cards.

    Catholic high school tuition and fees run around $15,000 in the St. Louis area. That's $60,000 to put one child through. With our three girls who want to attend Cor Jesu like their mom, aunts, and cousins before them, we have to save $180,000 for tuition--just for high school. Several years ago our financial planner said we should be saving $1000 per month for high school tuition, and probably another $1000 per month for college for even a modest state school. $2000 per month? We'd be doing well to save $200 per month, or at times even $20. I think with careful planning and sacrifice we can make it happen. But what if we had 4 kids? Or 6 or 8? Impossible!

    Middle-class families may be faced with a choice: violate the church's official teaching on contraception, or violate the church's unofficial but ingrained emphasis on Catholic education including private high schools. We all know which of these teachings is broadly ignored and which is broadly enforced by social pressure. It's a frustrating situation.

    What's the solution? Raising more scholarship funds for Catholic schools helps, but if suddenly every family started sending three times the children with no more tuition dollars to spend, the system would crash. I don't have the answer, other than to pray!

    1. I have not personally experienced this pressure to send my children to Catholic School because my children are obviously not old enough yet, but I have seen it, especially as a Catholic school teacher.

      I honestly think this outrageous increase in tuition has happened, in part, because of contraception. Since we no longer have large families to send to Catholic schools, enrollment suffers, and tuition prices must increase to meet the financial demands. This in turn causes these schools, like you said, to not give as many breaks to larger families, which in turn will make enrollment go down even more. It's like a downward spiral that I don't see getting better in the near future.

      I agree with you, at least around here, that many of our churches send conflicting messages about contraception and family size. Supporting families is left up to individual churches in the dioceses, not necessarily the Catholic Church as a whole. And unfortunately many dioceses fail to do this. They also fail to convey the importance of the Catholic Church's teaching on contraception. When's the last time you heard a homily or talk about contraception? I never have. I don't think this is necessarily a problem with the Catholic Church as a whole, but more of a diocesan problem.

      I have seen dioceses that are made up of wonderful people and communities who thrive with large families. These large families are supported, both financially and emotionally, by their Churches and Catholic Schools. But these dioceses are usually the ones that are thriving in all other areas too. People are attracted to successful dioceses like this, and leaving the ones that are struggling, which causes even more struggle.

      The numbers you gave me made me cringe, but did not surprise me. We personally would never be able to afford that. And like you said, most people can't. It's a shame that there is such pressure to send children to Catholic School without the schools being able to financially help, but I think they're doing everything they can possibly do. I don't know the answer either...the only thing to do is pray about whether or not this is a reason to avoid having more children. For me, personally, it's not. I would home school if I could not send my children to Catholic School, but I know that's not a realistic option for everyone. I went to public high school and turned out fine. But it's too bad that families are forced to make these hard decisions now.

    2. For us, homeschooling is the obvious solution, though we'd want to do it anyway. At home we can make sure our children get a Catholic education (not necessarily true for some Catholic schools, though I'm sure there are great ones out there too) and can provide them with a lot more resources and attention for the fraction of the cost of private school.

    3. This is one reason why we are considering homeschooling. With one income I honestly don't know if it will be possible for us to afford Catholic education. Plus I love the idea of teaching my own children!

  3. Thank you for a Catholic blog post that states "large families are not for everyone." As an older mom of 38, and a new convert (as of Easter 2014), with only one child (conceived with fertility drugs, before my conversion), I know that I will never have a typical large Catholic family. I feel funny coming to church with my Tiny Tim family, sitting next to families of six, seven, or even more kids. (This is a Latin Mass community we go to!) Yes, children are a blessing, and my son's conception and birth are what led me to the Catholic Church--the absolute miracle of him was conclusive proof to me of God's grace and mystery. I doubt we'll have another child, given how hard it was to get our dear son. God has given us enough, and we are so immensely and forever grateful.

    1. I have always had a special place in my heart for people such as yourself! I have talked to many people in situations similar to yours. They always say they feel like their church friends and acquaintances think they are not "Catholic" enough because they don't have a lot of children. It's such a shame that people make such assumptions. As Catholics we are all about having as many children as God intends for us to have, and if that number is one, then that's just as beautiful as 10! God Bless you and thank you for sharing your story! :-)

    2. The obvious answer if you want kids is adopting. There are plenty of children out there who need good families...

  4. While we have seven children on earth and ten more in Heaven, our family isn't about a number. It is about obedience and trusting in God. He has a design for every family and in trusting Him, we have been Blessed in so many ways. He will always provide! He will always carry us through the difficult times! He will always shower us with love and grace and reward us for our faithfulness! He did design the earth after all...we know He can be trusted with something as simple as our family size!


Feel free to comment! Disagreements are fine, but please be nice :-)