Thursday, January 1, 2009

Confessions of a "Small" Family

I have three kids.

This announcement evokes two responses, and each depends on my audience. Inside the ward building a person is likely to quip, “So when’re you having another one?” Outside the ward building, the response comes with a gasp and dropped jaw: “Three kids!”

Three kids. An LDS family of three children rivals the non-member family of an only child. Outside the Church, three children is…well, a lot.

I will not have any more kids. At ages 5, 4, and 3, my children are more than enough. I love my kids, but to realize our original plan of five would have been the equivalent to suicide for me.
Try explaining this to others, though. Friends and ward family regard us as children who will soon come to their senses and pop out a baker’s dozen like good Saints do.

“Oh you never know. You’re young. You could change your mind.”

“…Are you sure?”

It’s true I’m young(er), truth that people change their minds, but I resent insistences that I cannot know, that I would be silly to stop now, as if age determines how many children one should have. Even after confiding in a few friends – even my bishop – that after my last child my anxiety disorder flared, they stood by their original thought. “You never know. You’re young.”

I began to question myself.

Three kids. How is that “replenishing the Earth”? I know a family with twelve kids. Eric comes from a family of six. I can’t think of anyone who stopped at three. Am I selfish?


Just a few months ago a girl in my stake related the same thought. Pregnant with her fourth, she confided disinterest in any more children and feelings of selfishness because of this disinterest. Her thoughts echoed my own almost exactly, and I wondered if I share the company of more women than I originally believed.

Why do we feel we must do so much, even at the expense of our health and sanity?

We find merit in large families; indeed alongside a history of polygamy, others know us for our large families. I recognize with awe the women who flourish within their large families, these women who were made for many children. I know they exist. I don’t speak of them now.

But why do we have large families? I know I wanted a larger family upon joining the church. I think most large families are wonderful, the children produced of such often selfless, full of charity. I still think so, but I know myself entirely too well to keep going. I could not handle more. I struggle with the three I have, with my health, and I resent the implication of selfishness or silliness in refusing to have more. It would be selfish to have more children.

It seems to me sometimes that we place far too much emphasis on the frequency of our own procreation. It’s as if it speaks to our righteousness and faith as women. Quantity equals quality?

The admonition to multiply and replenish the earth is not a personal challenge. I don’t doubt some couples choose willingly to have extra large families and who excel and blossom within it. I am not one of them. I am not alone. Doctrinal or not, the idea that all women do and should have many children exists, and I believe it to be a dangerous one.

*Also published at Feminist Mormon Housewives


Noe said...

Replenishing the earth has been done, and done, and done... we face global overpopulation and people really need to slow down and stop having so many kids. I applaud your decision. Two kids is enough, in my opinion, one to "replace" you and one to "replace" your spouse. If you really feel like you need to raise your own football team then adopt a child who would otherwise not know the love of parents. Why can't more people do this? Why can't people adopt children, bring them into their homes and hearts and take them out of this horrid foster system? Why do you have to spawn a dozen little versions of yourself and your spouse? Where is the logic in this? My husband wants another child, I know, as my mother did before me, that to have more than one child would destroy what little patience I have and drive me over the brink. I can hardly handle one kid and I recognize that in myself. Initially I was all about adopting kids, not having them, but then my son happened. A happy accident you could say. Now I'm done-no more-end of story. Those who know me are not surprised by this, they're surprised that I had even one to be perfectly honest with you.

Congrats Lisa. I don't think you'll change your mind, this isn't about whether you're going to get a puppy or adopt an adult dog from the shelter for Pete's sake. I hate the "your young and you might change your mind" bullshit excuse...

Cindy said...

Luckily, at 37 I don't have to hear this anymore. Just wait until your youngest is in Kindergarten and everyone is suddenly concerned with "how will you spend all of your extra time?" (There really isn't much if you factor in volunteering at the school). Sorry, this is an angry, annoyed post for my own blog. :)

I loved how once I had my son (#3 and my youngest), suddenly the conversation revolved around "well once you have three you might as well have four, five or six. It's all the same!" Excuse me? So apparently at that point the older kids just raise themselves and start raising the younger kids for you. Nothing makes me start hyperventilating like the thought of helping six kids with homework. Yeah, they become more independent, but they aren't completely self sufficient. And does individual time with each kid not matter at all? If that's what the other mothers want, then more power to them, but I'm happy to have only three and have the time to sit here at my computer and blog right now.

Steve M. said...

Awesome, awesome post.

My wife and I have a hard time with this issue too. We've been married for nearly 4 years, and are still childless. My wife hates attending Relief Society functions because of their tendency to devolve into discussions of pregnancy, child-bearing, and so on. People seem perplexed as to why my wife is still working when others who were married later than us are already on their second or third child. People aren't always particularly subtle when tip-toeing around our plans for children.

And for some reason, our bishoprics seem to think that sticking us in the nursery repeatedly will coax us into having children. We've probably spent more than half of our marriage serving in the nursery.

We married young (22 and 20), only halfway through our undergraduate education. We will have been married 5 years by the time I begin my career. We've been poor throughout our marriage, and will be saddled with student debt by the time I'm making any money. As an educator, my wife makes enough for us to get by, but not enough for us to live in luxury. I honestly don't know how we could add a child to the mix.

I figure that anyone who's not going to bear, feed, or raise our children isn't entitled to a voice in deciding when we're going to have them.

Katie said...

Two words: Saturday's Warrior.

'Nuff said.

Lisa said...

Noe: haha, yeah I wonder at what point I won't be "too young" - 35? 40? Seriously now.

Cindy: I'll agree: four can't be any different than three, but these are still human beings we're talking about, you know? There's no reason to have more than is necessary, absolutely.

And how fair is it to have more and expect the oldest to help out so much? Yes it's good to learn a few things, but damn. Let kids be kids.

Steve: Yep, yep. While I can see the good in having a family early (done early! haha), I sometimes wonder if I should've waited. You know, actually had a year with my husband first before delving into having kids.

There is a LOT of sense in waiting for school to be over, etc. While there is something for a family to learn if they have to deal with dad being gone all the time for school and work, there's so much missed as well.

I will say that I had no idea how we'd manage with a third. He wasn't necessarily planned, but we felt one of the strongest impressions ever to have him. Things worked out for us financially beyond what we believed was possible.

But that doesn't mean we should have more. It should be a decision between the couple and the Lord. Period. If one feels impressed to have more, than things generally work out.

Relief Society really needs to recognize the fact that there are more variety of women in the church. I know since becoming a RS teacher I try to include single, young, etc. women in my lessons. It's just ridiculous and only serves to shove away.

Nursery really needs to be...well, reorganized in thought. Not only do they stick young married childless couples in there, but young moms with young children. Seriously, I broke down in tears when my bishop called me to the nursery. No way in hell, Bishop.

Katie: lol, yep. Movies like SW really screw things up, don't they?

cleggle said...

I've got to comment. I'm 39 and I've got 5 kids, so I guess most people at church look at us and think we "did our duty". What a crock. Never, never, let anyone tell you that if you have 3 you might as well have 4,5,6.... It does make a difference. A HUGE difference. I am really struggling right now with who knows what- depression, maybe? Anyway- the vast majority of the time I feel like a crappy mom to all of my kids. Thank heavens for a husband who keeps things running.
Don't get me wrong- I'm thrilled with the family I have- my kids are my greatest joy, even if I'm not feeling it right now. But the laundry multiplies exponentially, and that's the easy stuff. I don't have tiny children any more. My youngest is 4. They all sleep through the night. So I don't have that feeling of being constantly physically exhausted. But I am emotionally exhausted. My little one has questions. My middle ones have needs. My two oldest, a teen and a preteen have hormones. Need I say more?
Interestingly enough, I am in nursery right now. It is one calling I would never agree to while my kids were that age. You should be able to get away for at least 2 hours a week. And yes, nursery should be well organized. This has been my goal. I often felt bad for throwing my nursery age kids into a crowded room full of screaming children, but I wasn't about to take them to my other meetings with me. My goal in nursery is to make it a place where the kids are loved and chaos is kept to a minimum.
That's all, I guess.
Only you and Heavenly Father know how many kids belong in your family. Period.

Anna said...

Hahaha! well i believe 3 kids is a large family. you know what you can handle and what you cannot. And it is really none of other peoples business, in your ward or not.

I have been married 3 years now and we dont plan on having children anytime soon. (as in the next few years.) I always get funny reactions from the old ladies in my ward when they ask if i have any kids yet, or when will I.

I know a young man who was engaged to his girlfriend but just broke up with her because she will not be able to bear children. You don't get married to ONLY have children, but to be sealed to someone forever.

Stephen said...

I've just known a lot of people who changed their minds, both ways.

Wish you well, and hope your children's health continues. The RSV stuff can be really scary.

Kengo Biddles said...

You know, the way most Mormons take the "replenish the Earth" thing really bugs me. I mean, don't get me wrong, I wanted (want) a big family, but other things come into play, like my wife's sanity.

She can barely handle the two we have, and yet she's hinting about having a third, and I scratch my head and wonder if more kids is a good trade-off for a crazy wife.

Andy said...

Hi Lisa!

I loved the post - we've just had our second child, and we both feel pretty confident that our family is complete. I suppose the heart of it is that we feel that the idea that 'more kids is better' is a real myth. I look at our nearly-2-year-old girl, and know that giving her the attention she deserves alone could be a worthy life's effort for my wife and I! Plus, there's more than enough cute and wonderful stuff that she does, to keep us both fascinated and laughing.

As I've answered people over the last couple of weeks who ask, that we're probably finished at 2 kids, I've had answers of surprise, universally. Perhaps we need to think a bit more about quality of parenting, rather than quantity!

Great comment by Noe above - let's adopt more! There are so many children on this earth who are not provided for and loved. It makes sense! :)

PS - thanks so much for the blog Lisa - my wife and I are big fans!

Chris and Annalee Waddell said...

Noe, no way. The earth has enough and to spare. People are the world's greatest resource!

And yes, how many children (if at all) a couple has is between them and God. When others interject with thoughtless comments, they should simply be treated politely while you go on your merry way. Like this...

Thank you Lisa for this interesting post.

Joseph said...

That makes me really sad about the guy you know who broke up with his fiancee because she can't have kids. Talk about adding insult to injury.

My wife thought she might not be able have kids and I can't imagine that changing the way I feel about her. She actually did stop ovulating briefly, but medical science can do some pretty amazing things these days-we're expecting in April. Maybe you can tell that to the woman in your story.

Lisa: you crack me up something fierce.