Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

The myth of "What's one more?"

Jumping off Darwin's post about whether "planning" is a dirty word: I've been thinking a lot lately about the myth of "What's one more?"

Some of you may have invoked this phrase as conversational protection. Someone makes a comment about the number of kids you have (or the one you're expecting), and you smile cheerfully and say, "Well, at this point, what's one more?" Short and pithy, this defense is intended to show that you're open to life, children are great, and that three aren't that much more difficult than two, four aren't that much more difficult than three, etc.

The trouble is, it's not exactly true. Here at chez Darwin, we're finding that four is a lot more than three. Baby's a treat; he's not that demanding (though he likes to be held most of the time) and he's at that delightfully gurgly three-month stage. But the addition of a baby changes the dynamic of the household, and highlights the behaviors of the under-7 crowd that are now more difficult to manage. It seemed like we were just getting to a point where everything was becoming manageable, but throw a newborn who needs the constant attention of one adult into the mix and suddenly all the parameters have shifted to some unknown point.

There's nothing wrong with acknowledging that -- except that since large families run against the cultural paradigm, it puts those parents into a constant propagandizing mode. In an arena in which most (though not all) families are consciously limited, the decision not to limit your family (or even proclaim a particular number as "it") stands out. Catholic parents don't want to seem as if we're participating in a contraceptive or limiting mentality, and so reflexively spin our answers to intrusive questions as positively as possible. (My current response to the "Are you done?" question is, "But every boy needs a brother!")

The truth is that families who have many children close together are taking the harder path. I don't use the phrase "choose", since not all parents who have children close together necessarily plan to do so. (We certainly didn't plan to have our first two so close.) Frankly, four seems as much as I can handle right now, though I expect that in the future I'll feel differently. For now, though, one more is an awful lot, and I won't make excuses for that-- in this friendly forum, anyway.


Karie, the Regular Guy's Extraordinary Wife said...

Mrs. Darwin,

Thank you for those words. I am currently expecting #4 and he will be arriving shortly after Christmas (Dec 26th to be exact, unless he is "early").

I am loathe to express the anxiety and concern of how I am going to manage my children ('s behavior) when my youngest comes along. I have to put a "happy face" on it to most people, otherwise I feel like I'll be getting the "I told you so" expression.

Oh how I wish for the days when pregnancy _wasn't_ expected or planned and most families knew what you were going through when the next one came along. And pitched in where they could.

Fortunately our church is rather "(large) family friendly" and most parishioners have several (4+) kids. I can be more relaxed around them. But it is a strain to deal with the rest of the world when you are trying to present the "image" of being a good Catholic family.

Aimee said...

For me, the number was three. For some reason, three children nearly sent me around the bend, but I felt that I couldn't articulate that to many of my friends for fear of the "I told you so."

It is a strange symptom in our society that people with more than two children are seen as "deserving" of their stress. If they had only stopped at two . . .

I completely agree with your assessment of large families needing to put a good spin on their answers. I often feel that I need my children to look better/act better than the average child since they are being judged, fairly or unfairly, as being products of a large family.

When someone asks if we are done, I just try to smile and then enthusiastically say, "I hope not!" Whatever stress I may be feeling at that moment remains undisclosed, but my attitude remains hopeful for anything in the future.

And, interestingly, I found that the addition of number 4 was not nearly as stressful as number 3. I'm sure many factors come into play in that perception, but I'm not arguing at this point :)

mrsdarwin said...

Exactly -- I fear the "it's your own fault for having all these kids" reaction. And like Aimee, I feel like my kids have to be poster children (which they are just not cut out to be).

Anonymous said...

Just found out last week that we are expecting our tenth.

Three is tough because that is the point at which mom and dad are outnumbered and you realize you can not operate by direct control.

Which is not bad, because that is an illusion anyway.

A newborn is always a newborn - no matter how many times you have had one in the house.

Anonymous said...

I hate most of all the "it's your own fault for having all these kids" or "haha, and you want more?" which I've gotten even from family members when venting about a particularly trying child.

I feel like I have to preface everything with "just because I'm having a hard time right now doesn't mean I'm not happy with my family or wish that I would've stopped sooner" which just gets me the response that I'm only being defensive and they didn't mean anything by it. *sigh*

Hoping things ease up for you!

Anonymous said...

I'm at four and holding, ages 2, 4, 6 & 8, and I go in plain terror at the thought of getting pregnant. (A hopeful, trusting kind of terror, but which makes me a much better NFP practitioner than I ever was before.)

I just let people know that my life is a madhouse. Why try to hide the obvious? And I'm a joyful madperson, so it's okay.

When asked, I'll say that I'm not trying for more right now, but I'm willing to be surprised. Again, plain truth.

(And I'm still young -- I'll sometimes point out that is way too early for me to know how many children I'm going to have when all is said and done.)

I'd rather be one of the people who could parent a dozen kids with no difficulty, but I suppose the Lord knows I'd be insufferable. So instead I get to be the witness to 'openness to life' even when it isn't easy.

--> Which is more valuable, I expect. People don't need role models for how to do what is right when it is easy for them; they need to be shown how to do what is right even when it is difficult.

Good luck to you. And congratulations again on the little bundle.

Kate said...

"Oh how I wish for the days when pregnancy _wasn't_ expected or planned and most families knew what you were going through when the next one came along. And pitched in where they could."

This is exactly how I feel!

lissla lissar said...

Yes. How I wish that I didn't get level, measuring stares when I say we hope for between two and ten children (I'm thirty, and we just had our first, so more than that is pretty unlikely). We're recent Catholic converts, from Protestant families, and almost everyone we know in person believes that children are carefully planned in accordance with pocketbook and personal desire.

I'm an only child, and my husband is one of two, and we're both frankly terrified and elated at the thought of a large family, especially since we hope to homeschool.

I love the answer Anonymous gave, about giving up the illusion of control. It's true. I have to give up my fingernails-sunk-deep in the illusion that I run my life, and God can't manage without me micromanaging and worrying.

CMinor said...

I think the way our society is structured has a lot to do with why having a large family is difficult.

In the past, there was usually an extended family network on hand to help with that "outnumbered" feeling and give the older kids a little distraction so mom could tend the new baby.

Couples who have large families today are often going it alone, and the thought of "just one more" can be daunting in that context.

This may in part explain why so many "stop at" two or three.

Maggie said...

This is such a great discussion; I'm thankful for all the honesty!

I'm a single young Catholic and I come from a small (3 kids) Protestant family, so when I came home to the Church one of the first things my friends and relatives asked was, "So, are you going have to like 12 kids?" Since I'm not married it's not quite as tough a question as it is for you all, but so far my answer is just a simple, "Well, if I get married my husband with use NFP and prayer and spiritual direction to discern family size, but it's really God's decision, not ours." Again, being single, they usually just smile at me, probably thinking, "My, what a crazy young idealist she is! Just wait till she starts having kids!"

Mrs Darwin, I love this quote: "since large families run against the cultural paradigm, it puts those parents into a constant propagandizing mode." How annoying! This must get frustrating, because there are probably some (many?) days when NFP-using families would like to say out loud, "Actually, yes, having five children under seven isn't always a picnic. But we love what they represent- our love made flesh. Even when we're up to our eyeballs in Melba toast and two different sizes of diapers and might want to scream, they're still a blessing, not a burden."

Part of witnessing to the truth is being honest. If we always put on a happy face and gush about having lots of small children is wonderful and fun and fulfilling and beautiful (all true) but don't stay honest about the frustrations that usually come with parenthood, people won't take us (or the Church's teaching) seriously. That's not good!

Hats off to you all, moms! You're my heroes!

lissla lissar said...

Maggie- we got that from lots of friends and relatives, too. All except for our Catholic friends (all but one converts). Including my Catholic doctor, who asked me about what birth control I was going to use after our son was born.


"Better hands full than hands empty, right?" And I wouldn't exchange a single moment of holding my son for a year of childless partying. Even when he's driving me nuts.

Anonymous said...

Once a neighbor/ fellow parishioner told me she didn't know why another mom in our parish asked for help --- after all, she CHOSE to have 4 children. This neighbor herself is one of 7. Anyway, I did not tell her we are expecting #4 (although when her husband heard he asked me if we knew what caused that.) Now I am afraid to ask anyone at our church for help, in case they all feel this way. Which is hard, when the older 2 go to school and play sports, and occasionally need to be somewhere at the same time. I feel like if I only had 2 I could ask. And we're Catholic.

nicole said...

I've been reading about your blog for the two years I've been blogging, but I am just now making my own way over here.

I have been where you are. Life with four was rocking and rolling along quite well, when we were surprised to be expecting our fifth! She is a joy to have (9 months old) but I feel like we are just now getting to a point of semi-controlled chaos. My in-laws live ten minutes away, but we rarely ask them for help. They love our children, but their attitudes when we first tell them we are expecting discourage us from asking for help too much.

In the end, all we can do is stay on this path to holiness and trust God to work through us, to show himself to others, when our kids are on their best behavior and when they are not.

It is hard sometimes.