Other Husband & Wife Articles

Too Many Children?
Kids add love to life
By Pia de Solenni

In my last column, I wrote about the gift that parents are able to give to all of society. Ensuing conversations reminded me of the simple fact that common sense and everyday experiences can counter some of the most readily accepted myths about family and children.

When I was working on my doctoral dissertation, I spent a lot of time reading various gender theorists. Many had elaborate notions about men, women and children that just didn’t seem to touch on the everyday realities that most people experienced. But moments of clarity would come whenever I spent time with actual families and the children of friends. In just a few minutes, I could see how children really interacted and behaved. This was one of many lessons which taught me not only to question everything I read, but also not to underestimate the power of common sense and experience.

One of the most frequent things most of us hear about children is that having “too many” will reduce the amount of love we are able to give each one. But the reality is that by having children we give our children other people to love them. These children get more than the love of their parents; they also receive the love of their siblings. Granted, it may be difficult to discern that love when they’re at each other’s throats in the middle of a squabbling match; but sometimes love is a messy affair that grows stronger with forgiveness. And lonely children tend not to be the ones with numerous siblings, but those who have no siblings or just one or two. There are simply fewer people to keep life interesting and lively. There are fewer people to meet their needs: emotional, psychological, physical, intellectual, and spiritual.

Yes, there are plenty of families who have one child or only a few; that’s not always something that parents can control. However, when a conscious decision is made to not have more children so as to give the existing children more love, the math simply doesn’t add up.

Similarly, as a Catholic speaker, I often hear from married women and men, especially women whose children are grown: they wish they’d had more children. Other Catholic speakers I know get the same comments. It’s a strange thing to be hearing when we take into account that raising children is undeniably hard work and that our media and culture are saturated with examples of family life that make it seem like a thankless job.

At the same time, I hear from many of my friends with numerous children that they are frequently approached by other mothers who voluntarily explain why they don’t have more children. They seem to be prompted simply by the sight of someone with more children than themselves.  Incidentally, the first set of moms are also the ones who get comments of amazement that their children are fairly well behaved despite the fact that they are numerous. So much for the myth that large families are more chaotic than smaller ones.

Sylvia Ann Hewlett, economist and author, set out to write a book on high achieving women. She wanted to write about their successes. But when she met with them, she heard more about their regrets. Many of the women wished they’d married. Most wished they’d had children or had more children. Instead, she wrote Creating A Life, in which she advised women to pursue marriage and children instead of focusing exclusively on their careers. It wasn’t the kind of advice that readers wanted; so her book didn’t do so well. After all, she was exposing the myth that marriage and family should be put on hold or limited in favor of other objectives.

To me these various experiences suggest that there’s a disconnect between negative notions of child rearing and individual conscience. Despite the fact that we’ve been told that having children is difficult and something that one shouldn’t do too much of, the desire to have children persists. Hopefully, more of us will listen to that inner desire sooner rather than later.

Pia de Solenni is a moral theologian and cultural analyst who writes from Seattle, Washington. She can be reached via Facebook and Twitter. (Her website is getting a prolonged makeover and is currently offline.)