My thoughts on the challenges of being open to life and God’s bountiful providence
Whenever I reveal that I have four children 6 years old and under, people are usually taken aback. Often, the next question is how many of each gender. When I say two boys and two girls, people would sometimes say, “Perfect.” Inevitably, some will venture to ask if my husband and I are having any more. People are almost always astonished when my husband and I admit that we are always open to life. I could almost hear them wonder why on earth we would want to have more when we already have two of each gender.
Though I’ve expected these reactions from peers who have an average of two children, I’m a little puzzled when it comes from the older folks. After all, it wasn’t unusual for families in their generation to have six or even more children. What’s more, I am regaled with stories of how their families were able to somehow provide for all children on one income and how happy they are now despite the sacrifices that they had to endure. I don’t think that any one of them wished they had one less sister or brother.
To a certain degree, I can understand how couples nowadays hesitate about having larger families. How can they not, when “experts” like the U.S. Department of Agriculture tells us that it will cost a middle-income couple $245,000 to raise a child born in 2013 up to the age of 18? Even their parents who grew up in large families are dissuading them from doing so. And after they have one child, they experience how much time and patience is needed to rear one tiny human being and this seems to confirm what the rest of the world is saying – “It doesn’t make sense to have more than one or two children.”
I believe that the number of children that a couple should have is not the same for each couple since each couple have their own unique circumstances. Some are invited to have bigger families and some are not. This decision should be discerned prayerfully and thoroughly together with one’s spouse.
However, for those who are being called by God to have one or a few more children but feel afraid, I would like to offer some encouragement. Here are some of my thoughts on the top three reasons that I think deter a lot of couples from having larger families:
Lack of time
When you have a child for the first time, your child takes up so much of your time that you automatically think there is no way you can spare any more for another child.
I know! I used to think the same, especially when I was waking up every two to three hours at night to feed and change my baby while thinking about getting up for work in a few hours. But then I had my second child (and then a third and a fourth…) and somehow was able to manage. How?
First of all, motherhood has taught me how to use my time more wisely and finish tasks more quickly. I have also learned to prioritize, delegate, and multi-task. Looking back to my pre-children days, I realized how much time I wasted surfing aimlessly on the internet or watching too many TV shows. I used to spend too much time obsessing over little unimportant things like matching the milk bottle with the same colored ring or the pajama top and bottom. Now, I breathe a sigh of relief when I see that each child has clean clothes and both their shoes on when we go out.
Second, babies do not remain babies. They grow up and can help with younger siblings. My children start doing little chores when they turn two. My two eldest daughters help wash some of the dishes and fold their own clothes. All three children help with cleaning the house. I also teach them to dress and undress themselves early on. I could do the tasks more efficiently but it’s also important to teach my children to be self-reliant and responsible.
Some parents also worry that they will not give enough attention to one of the children if they have too many. While it is true that you might have less one-on-one attention with your child when you have multiple children, your child doesn’t necessarily need or want all the attention from just you or your spouse. They actually love spending time with their siblings as well!
From pretending to be each other’s pets to making their own carnival games to playing school, I’m constantly amazed and delighted at the many creative ways they’ve come up with to amuse themselves.
Each sibling also brings out something in them that I or my husband could not, and our family is richer because of it. For instance, I see my daughter becoming the confident leader that she is when she’s directing her siblings in a new game she invented. I get to see the sweet nurturing side of my second daughter when she’s teaching her brother his letter sounds. My playful two year old son just enjoys teasing his two older sisters (to our secret amusement). And my 9 month old baby is all giggles when his siblings are around.
Lack of financial resources
It seems logical that having more children would equate to needing more money for food, clothes, toys, etc. We’ve been told a number of times how we’d have to be rich to afford so many children, especially here in New York, but we’re not. A lot of our friends earn far more than we do and yet somehow we are able to provide adequately for each one.
First of all, my husband and I try to live very simply and spend our money prudently. We are blessed to have many generous friends who have given us their children’s barely used toys and clothes. Ninety percent of their clothes are hand-me-downs. We buy each child an average of two pairs of shoes twice a year. We only get two simple presents for their birthday and Christmas. We also limit eating out and going on trips.
And what about college? Well, I would be assuming too many things if I limited the number of children I had to how many I can afford to put through college. I would be assuming that they couldn’t get a job or a scholarship or a loan that would defray the cost. I would be assuming that they would rather go to college debt-free than have a sibling. I would be assuming that they would be going to college.
My husband and I are doing our best to equip our children so they can have a good education that will make the most use of their talents. But going to the most prestigious college or having the highest paying job is not our ultimate dream for them. Our primary goal is to raise saints for God.
Lack in ability
For some couples, it is a perceived lack in ability that gives them pause to having more children. One friend I know watched a mother run around after a toddler in a restaurant and declared that she did not have the energy or patience for that again. Another friend thought about the many sleepless nights that having children would entail and decided that there was no way he could manage that. And still another looked at her baby and couldn’t imagine how she could love another child as much.
I have two words for that friend who thought she might not be capable of loving another child just as much – love multiplies. Love is not something that diminishes for each person that we love. God, who is Love, will fill our hearts with the love to love our children (and others) if we let Him. And another new family member means having another person that loves each one in the family in a unique and beautiful way.
And how many of us could honestly say that we were equipped with all the skills and knowledge to do our jobs perfectly on the first day we started work? I doubt if it would be a lot. Many of us learned on the job and it’s pretty much the same with parenting. I think that the most important factor is our determination and commitment and God will do the rest.
When I got married, I didn’t think that I would be able to take care of four young children without the help of a nanny while working full time. Often, it is the weakest and the least that God chooses to use to show forth His power. All that He requires is our assent to his will – our fiat.
Imagine if Blessed Mother Teresa said no to God when she was asked to leave her religious order and start one on her own and serve the poor? Or St. Jean Vianney who struggled so much in his studies for the priesthood but who later on drew over 100,000 pilgrims a year and became the patron saint of priests? How many times have you been able to do something that you or others thought that was beyond your capabilities?
“I can do all things in Him who strengthens me.” (Phil 4:13)
Will I ever have any regrets about our decision to have more than two children? I once sat beside a woman I just met who had two boys now in their twenties. When she learned that I had four children and that I was open to having more, she repeatedly said how she wished she had more. I will never forget the regret I saw in her eyes as she explained how she thought she and her husband wouldn’t be able to provide for more children so they only had two.
This incident plus the dozens more of couples in their old age deeply regretting their decision not to have more children further strengthens my decision. I know in my heart that I will not regret not owning more gadgets or a bigger home or even going on trips and fitting back in my former clothes. But I know I will regret not being open to having as many children as God would give me the privilege of loving and taking care of.
Will it be easy? Even if His grace is sufficient, it definitely doesn’t mean it will be a walk in the park. On the contrary, Jesus said that following Him means to carry our cross. Parenting is, by far, the most challenging endeavor I have ever undertaken. But it is also one of the most rewarding. The joy that comes from loving and caring for the children that God has so generously blessed me with is simply priceless.
And when I am in the midst of those difficult and trying moments, I will persevere to strive for things, not because it is easy and within my reach, not because it is convenient and sensible, but because God wills it.
“The world offers you comfort. But you were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness.”
– Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI
Ultimately, if God is calling us to perform a particular task, He will also supply whatever we need to accomplish it. Because the Lord is our shepherd and there is nothing we shall want.