Monday, June 23, 2008

Familia, Famiglia, Famille....

How many kids is too many and how do people decide?

I've been thinking lately about how this has evolved over time within the mormon community.

When I was growing up most families I knew had 4 or 5 kids. Four or 5 was kind of "normal" - 6 wasn't very weird and 7 wasn't even that big yet. You weren't officially a big family until you had 8. But eight wasn't enough to be a big deal. In my ward growing up we had the Evan's family who had 11 kids and that was pretty big. But across the street from them was the Ferguson family and they had 18. So in my ward, anything under 18 was kind of ho-hum because the Ferguson's couldn't easily be topped.

We had 3. So we were kind of weirdos. The only other family with three was the Leathams and both Sister Leatham and my mom ended up having to adopt 2 of their 3 kids. Infertility was almost a mark of shame. My mom wanted more than 3 but it just wasn't in the cards.

On my street we had the Robison's next door with only 2 kids but they didn't really count because they really weren't very active in the church. So they were sort of considered heathan so that's why they only had two. Down my street we had the Neville's with 5 kids, the Smith's with 4, the Laddles with 4, the Peck's with 4, the Gallups with 5, and the Sessions with 6. Obviously the Robison's stood out in that crowd with their piddly two kids and we were just scraping above the point of garnering frowns from little old ladies with our 3. But everyone knew about the adoptions and the infertility, so it was forgiven.

My best friend had 5 kids in her family, and my other best friends had 5, 9, and 11 respectively.

Growing up I sort of envied all the sibling relationships and the sheer volume of people inhabiting their households. It seemed more exciting. Less boring, and more likely you could find a sibling or two who you really liked.

People didn't pray about how many children they were going to have. To my knowledge most people had the number of children they physically could have. There may have been exceptions. But I can say with certainty that at least among my friends families, every mom had the number of children she was capable of having. Birth control was sinful and that was that.

Sometime in my teens the tone on that topic changed. I specifically remember a talk in a general conference on the topic and it reallly stuck in my head that they were saying that the mothers mental health needed to be taken into consideration when having children. An exhausted and depressed mother is not really an effective mother.

As I got older, I realized that having 10 children, for me, would be crazy talk. I am somewhat impatient and not that type of person at all. Yet in some weird way growing up it had seemed like such a badge of honor to have a lot of children, that I had pretty much accepted that is what you were suppose to do if you could.

And I know people have their religious reasons sometimes why they think they should have a large family. But it never seemed to be about that to me - it seemed that it was just de rigeur.

By the time I got married in the late 80s, there were no more thoughts of having lots of kids for me. I knew I probably would never have more than 4 or 5 and I wasn't even sure about having that many.

I started talking a lot more with my friends who had come from those large families and you know what they all said? None of them wanted families as large as the ones they came from. My friend who came from the family with 11 kids talked about all the ways she felt ignored growing up as the 5th of 11. She talked about how no matter what she did to get attention, someone ahead of her had already done it. The lead in the school play? Your sister Rebecca did that two years ago. First chair in violin? You sister Kara did that 5 years ago. Lead soloist in the choir? Your sister Lanee did that 6 years ago. You won the award for best freshman artist? Ralph already did that. Everything she did earned her not much more than a pat on the head and sometimes not even that. She had a lot of resentment about it. When we were young I totally idealized her family. They seemed so perfect. But apparently, that was not how it felt growing up there.

I had a sense that how many kids I had were totally up to me. Well, me and my husband. It was our personal decision and no one else's. And I know where I got that idea - I got that idea from the church who told me under birth control in the Bishop's hand book (and on their website):

Birth Control

Children are one of the greatest blessings in life, and their birth into loving and nurturing families is central to God’s purposes for humanity. When husband and wife are physically able, they have the privilege and responsibility to bring children into the world and to nurture them. The decision of how many children to have and when to have them is a private matter for the husband and wife.

Notice it doesn't say anywhere there that you have to have as many children as you can. Notice also it says the number is a private matter for husband and wife. Now if you want to read further on that topic the church also says this:

God has a plan for the happiness of all who live on the earth, and the birth of children in loving families is central to His plan. The first commandment He gave to Adam and Eve was to “be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth” (Genesis 1:28). The scriptures declare, “Children are a heritage of the Lord” (Psalm 127:3). Those who are physically able have the blessing, joy, and obligation to bear children and to raise a family. This blessing should not be postponed for selfish reasons.

Sexual relations within marriage are not only for the purpose of procreation, but also a means of expressing love and strengthening emotional and spiritual ties between husband and wife.

Husband and wife are encouraged to pray and counsel together as they plan their families. Issues to consider include the physical and mental health of the mother and father and their capacity to provide the basic necessities of life for their children.

Decisions about birth control and the consequences of those decisions rest solely with each married couple. Elective abortion as a method of birth control, however, is contrary to the commandments of God.

Having children should not be delayed for shelfish reasons.

Husbands and wives are encouraged to pray and counsel together as they plan their families.

Sexual relations are not only for pro-creation but to strengthen marriage.

Issues which should be considered in planning children are health of the mother, emotional/mental health, and financial capabilities to provide.

Abortion should not be used as birth control. All other birth control is a private decision of the couple.

So I can be down with all of those thoughts and points. Wise thoughts. Good points.

But what is really weird to me is that after we moved to Arizona I kept hearing woman talk very weirdly about these decisions. One girl I knew said she wished she was done having kids but that Heavenly Father had not told her yet that she was done.


Do we not have free agency? Did you not just say that you wish you were done? Does God not expect us to use our brains? I didn't know I needed some sort of revelation that I was done. Some sort of directive. What I thought I was suppose to do based on the information and advice given by my church leaders was to use my head, make a decision based on all the information available to me, make that decision in conjunction with my husband and then check in with God and let him know my thoughts - if he disagreed or wanted to tell me differently, then I guess he'd have something to say, otherwise it was my decision.

So that's what I did. And I never looked back. I always felt totally secure in that decision. It was right for me, it was right for my husband and I think it was right for my kids (though sometimes I wish Jordan had been a twin so she could entertain herself a bit more - but the upside is she and Brennan really do hang out a lot, which I don't think would have happened if she had a little sister or a sister her age). Basically I felt that I made a reasoned, thought through decision. I let God know what I thought. He and I talk everyday. He never disagreed with me so I thought that was that.

Still do.

So what is up with all the girls who think God will tell them when to stop? Why should God tell you that? I don't get it at all. And I guess if you really want to have a lot of kids, it's fine. But that's not what they say. They don't say "we really want to have a lot kids". That I can accept. It's not for me, but different strokes for different folks. I'm very laissez-faire about having much of opinion about other people's choices. What drives me insane is that they don't say that at all - what they say is "we are going to keep having them until heavenly father tells us to stop".

Doesn't the fact that you are saying that indicate to Heavenly Father that you're willing to have more kids?

I guess I'm a bigger believer in free will than some people.

I'm not really kidding about that either. I really think that I should make decisions and then consult God. Not the other way around.

There have definitely been times when God has had to step in with me and say "that's a bad idea". And when he does, I totally listen.

Anyway, lately, I'm really grateful I had 3. The perfect number for me.


I am Boymom said...

Interesting topic. Yeah, I've always had the feeling that every person and family dynamic is different. We know our limitations, or should know them if we are at ALL self-aware, and I personally knew that 2 was probably one more than I could handle and 2 more than my husband could deal with! After having my 2nd, I felt very much at ease telling Heavenly Father that "Hey! This is it 'cause I'm scared and overwhelmed with these 2, so, you know what? I'm good with what I have." I have yet to feel like He would want anything different from me than what I feel I can handle in this arena. I am very grateful for the concept of agency, I am just not wired for a huge family and I think I would be resentful if I felt like I HAD to keep going to meet someone else's agenda. Nope! I know my body, I know my personality, I know when I'm done!

Bandanamom said...

To be honest Geri, I don't think very many people are wired for a huge family.

Carol Rose loves to say that you don't know you've had too many kids until they are already here. She's saying that about herself and her 5. Five put her right over the edge in terms of her ability to physically watch 5. (hence the number of visits to her house by the fire department after number 5 was born). She's kind of kidding but really she isn't. She loves all her kids and wouldn't send any back but she's pretty frank that 5 was too many.

Lucia Gardner is one of the few people I know who handles a large family without being an insane person. I think it's her very mellow personality that makes it work for her.

Some women seem to handle the large amount of children by becoming holed up in their house and something of a martyr. I worry about those women - they have no time to themselves and no interests outside of their children. You kind of see that glazed look in their eye and it's troublesome to me.

I think you were super smart to realize two was the perfect number for you.

(by the way, miss you, wish you were still in our ward)

Rachel said...

great topic. For us we have always "felt" when should have another. As we have now had 4 I hope we don't get that "feeling" again. Honestly. 4 feels like it is pushing me over the edge. One more and I will probably leap. Sometimes I forget I am incharge(of having children) and can tell the Lord yea or nea! I try to keep my self open for Heavenly Father and his plan. I know and understand that there are hundreds(+) of spirits still waiting to come to this earth. So I feel guilty telling the Lord "no way". But I do have my limits. I know He will never give me more than I can handle, so at this point this decision is in His hands. At least for a few more years. I did give myself and the Lord an age limit. That was the best compromise I could come up with.

I do love that the Lord has left it up to use. And it is funny when people will keep having as many as the Lord wants. TO me it is funny. Having unprotected sex will eventually beget a baby. duh!

Anyways, thanks for the thoughts!

Bandanamom said...

Rachel -

I do think, like Geri said, that every family/person/dynamic is different. And I really appreciate women who can have lots of kids and do it well. Ruth Hatch would be another good example.

I do think there has been this sort of folk belief within the church that it was better for children to born into good families (church families) than elsewhere and therefor, we should have as many as possible. I've certainly heard a lot of people say that. But I'm not sure that's exactly how it works.

And that all gets into a lot of deeper doctrine that maybe I shouldn't get in to here. But I will maybe just say that I don't think there are a finite number of souls/spirits waiting to come to earth, I think that's a deep and complicated topic but I don't think it works in this sort of simplistic way. Also, since we do not really believe in pre-determination, I don't see how we can with a straight face believe that there are a certain number of children were "suppose" to have. For instance the idea that if I had decided to stop at 2, that Jordan would have had to go live with another family (or that in fact my number 4 who I am not going to have is living with another family).

Our kids are a unique combination of whoever they were before they come here and the genetic and environmental factors we pass on once they get here. Jordan wouldn't be my Jordan if not born in my family.

Because I'm such a believer in free will I believe there are multiple 'right choices' sometimes. Although I've been caught saying Kirk and I were 'meant' to be married to each other - I only believe that based on choices that I made and he made leading up to our meeting and after. But I think if I had made other equally good choices and so had he, but our paths did not cross due to chance and differentiation - then I may have married some other really great guy, he may have married some other really great girl and we both would have had slightly different kids. Or maybe I wouldn't have gotten married at all and had no kids right now. That's all okay. I think within the 'plan' the Lord has to allow for all that 'free choice'.

Some people will say that the Lord is omniscient and therefore, he already knows what we will choose. That's true. But we don't know, and I'm not sure God cares what we choose and long as it's good. I don't think God is much of micro-manager, I think he's more a big picture guy. I think we have a lot more power than we sometimes think we do.

Anyway this all gets into really deeper thoughts than I intended with the post obviously but I'll just say here at the end of my SUPER long comment, that if we were put here to learn and to make decisions, it wouldn't make a lot of sense if there was a very specific plan mapped out that we had to follow to the 't'. That sounds a bit more like satan's plan to me.

Does that make sense?

rachel said...

It makes total sense. I do not believe in "fate" or "predestined".

I kind of see it like this. Life is one LONG straight road with millions of turns. Heavenly Father know exactly what will happen to use no matter what turn we take but we always have the free agency to chose which tuns we do and don't take. There are defiant wrong turns. But wrongs can be made right and in the end we always end up back on the same road going home.

I hope that makes sense. I feel comforted knowing that I have paved my life and made my own turns. I have a road map (the Gospel) but sometimes it ends up turn upside down or even folded wrong. But we have a very patient Father who loves us and just want the best for us. And ultimately we will always have free agency. No matter what.

Just so you know it is wonderful to talk about something other that Sesame Street and dirty houses. I love adult conversation. I so used to be REALLY intelligent. But my children have melted my brain~

Queen of Chaos said...

Every mother is different that's for sure. Every mother finds her limits while having children, like Carol, or knows her limits well before having them 'all'. While others go insane no matter what!

But I do beleive in my heart of hearts that we as women judge other women {especially in the church} way too much when it comes to motherhood/ having babies.
"She has only 3?" - "She has none, what's the deal?" - "She has 7 already and thinking of having more?" and so on.

It's nobody elses' business, really.

Bandanamom said...


It's really no one's business.

I just had this conversation last night with a friend who only has two. She is very ambivalent about having any more. She feels like, if it happens it happens and if it doesn't, I am fine with two.

She's tried to have a third for a few months but she feels a lot of peer pressure from within the church and within herself to have a third and yet she feels like her little family of two kids is complete.

She said hardly a week goes by that someone in her ward doesn't say something. An added complication in her situation is that she is getting her Phd, working on a documentary and probably getting a book published this year. She and her husband travel frequently and are going to argentina on business for almost the entire monthh of July - taking the kids with them. With two kids that's totally doable.

She takes her children to work with her and has nursed her children while teaching at ASU. So she kind of feels she's made her point that she's a dedicated mother. But there is so much pressure from other women in the church she almost feels that she needs to have another one to proove a point.

Which she totally knows is a bad reason. But it's hard to face the scrutinty of other women sometimes and feel that sense of judgment emminating from them.

We all do that way too much.


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