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
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