Other Husband & Wife Articles

What Do You Have in the Bank?
By Pia de Solenni

Before I was married, the seemingly unceasing question was: “When are you going to get married?” Mind you, I wasn’t in a prolonged, serious relationship. I was asked simply because I did not have a ring on my finger.

Yet since my husband and I got married, the constant question has changed to: “When are you going to have a baby?”

To be honest, until recently, I didn’t have much of a polite answer. In fact, I saved my choice response for a friend of the family whom I don’t know well, when he made that inquiry a few months ago at a party. To his question, I smiled and responded, “How much money do you have in your bank account?” Flummoxed, he looked at me and sputtered through a few utterances until he said something along the lines that it was a strange question for me to be asking since that’s a personal matter. I took the opportunity to explain calmly that I felt similarly about his question of me.

Maybe I’m too influenced by a culture that repeatedly talks about “privacy” in the bedroom. But I fail to see why people think they have a right to ask others questions about their family size.

When some relatives of mine were blessed with a honeymoon baby, several people saw it as an occasion to remind them that after this “mistake” they’d do a better job of not getting pregnant. Similarly, spouses with large families or children born closely together are often asked when they’re going to stop having children. In fact, I can’t claim credit for my bank account response because I got it from someone who uses it to answer those who inquire when he and his wife will stop adding to their brood. I have to admit that one of the best answers I’ve heard to this annoying question is: “When we decide to stop having hot sex.”

Questions about family size don’t come only from those who support the use of contraception. They come from people of all backgrounds. On the one hand, these are normal questions since children are a natural result of what couples do in marriage. That’s why most wedding receptions contain multiple references to the blessing of children and why close friends and family members ask such questions. On the other hand, decisions and circumstances concerning the number of children a family has aren’t always topics that wives and husbands want to discuss with everybody. They are decisions ultimately involving only God and the two spouses.

Sure, unfortunately people may make mistakes and selfishly choose to not have a child or to not assume responsibility for the children they already have. But the great thing about free will is that we have the freedom to make mistakes. These choices may come with a heavier price than anticipated. But we still have that freedom. With that freedom also comes the opportunity of learning from our errors and even improving ourselves, despite ourselves.

Free will also means that we have the freedom to make the right decision regardless of popular opinion, whether that means prudently and prayerfully deciding to expand one’s family or to postpone a pregnancy.

And then we also have to account for situations in which things turn out other than how a couple may have planned, like infertility, a prolonged illness, a particularly difficult situation, or a pregnancy that may not have happened in the most opportune of circumstances. After all, children are a gift, and one can’t always determine if or when a gift will be given.

Questions about family size, even when asked lightly, involve weighty decisions about how spouses decide to live their vocations together. When it comes to such complex topics, people don’t always want to discuss their choices, especially in settings that may not be appropriate. More importantly, if we really care about others, often our support for them communicates more than our prying questions.

I got a lasting lesson when some friends announced their engagement and several of us spent a great deal of time carrying on amongst ourselves about how this wasn’t the right time for them to get married, that they had no money, and so on. Finally, one person pointed out that it didn’t matter what we thought. We weren’t the ones getting married. However, we were their friends and we owed it to them to support them in their legitimate decision. And as it turns out, they were right about their decision to get married.

While I’m not without opinions, very strong ones in fact, my friend’s admonition continues to instruct me. There are situations where it really doesn’t matter what I think or what I know. After all, you’ll be able to retire even if I don’t know the details of your IRA.

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