Thursday, August 16, 2007

A Good Catholic Family

(This article originally appeared in New Covenant magazine, and later appeared on Catholic Exchange.)


A Good Catholic Family


We see five kids, or six … or seven. Maybe one on the way. And we know. That’s a good Catholic family.

And they certainly are. Their openness to life is an apparent and beautiful witness. But what of those families whose children number only one, two or three? Are we to surmise anything about them?

The question is more than hypothetical for many. My husband and I, for example, strive to be faithful Catholics, to live out all the teachings of the Faith, including those on marriage and children. We have three children -- on earth. In Heaven there are five other souls whom I hope to meet someday. As we have suffered through miscarriages we have gained powerful prayer warriors in Heaven, but our large family isn't visible to the world. This is painfully clear every time I am confronted by the issue. The questions range from well-meaning to thoughtless (though never, I am certain, ill-willed):

"Do you want more?"
"Are you going to try for a boy?"
"Three? You need more!"

Awhile back I met a friend’s mother, and the conversation turned to children. I had two children at the time and I proudly rattled off my daughters' names and ages. She smiled politely. When another guest mentioned her five children, my acquaintance lit up. "That's wonderful!" she said. "So few people have that many these days!"

Ouch. She didn't mean to hurt me, but her words stung as surely as if she’d slapped me on the cheek. I had just lost a baby two weeks prior. I wanted to shout, "I want more -- I have more! They're in Heaven -- does that count?"

Of course she’d have been horrified to know that her words hurt me and of course I said nothing. Charity often demands silence. And it's worth noting that some of my reaction stems from pride. In the presence of people who value life I want them to know that I value it dearly, too. My openness to life is hidden in Heaven with my babies who (I hope and trust) pray daily for their mother to be less prideful and more able to handle the little stings that come her way. But still ... still ....

It hurts to be judged, yet it can be a vital wake-up call to not judge others. A few years ago I similarly judged an acquaintance. When I overheard her being asked about more children, I dismissed her curt response as that of one who is closed to life. I later found out that she’d been unable to conceive again, and I was jolted back to the reality of my own pain and my uncharitably quick judgment.

"Therefore, do not make any judgment before the appointed time, until the Lord comes, for He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will manifest the motives of our hearts" -- 1 Corinthians, 4:5

I was reminded not to judge by the visible number of children. Good Catholic families come in all sizes and "only" one, two or three children may be the visible sign of parents who have suffered.

Conversely, families with many children can struggle in their own ways with openness to life. Occasionally, mothers-of-many can, during difficult or overwhelming times, feel just as "closed" to life as those who don’t understand Catholic teachings on contraception. It seems a cruel irony that a woman with eight children yells at God for the latest positive pregnancy test on the same day that another woman blames Him for the loss of her baby.

It is not a cruel irony, but a holy one. Only the Lord knows exactly what we need -- He is purifying each of us in His own way, allowing what He knows to be best, as we struggle to understand His movement in our lives.

And so, I turn to Him each day, both to understand His will for our family, and to ask for the grace to avoid judging others unfairly. Having struggled on both sides of the issue, I can say that perhaps the best response, when we hear, "Kids? Yes, we have two," is a simple, "And what blessings they must be!" Then, let's pray for one another. Now, that’s a sign of a good Catholic family.

(I am republishing essays that originally appeared online at Catholic Exchange, as not all the links -- via "old CE" -- are functional. That should be resolved at CE soon, but in the meantime, I hope to create new links to those pieces here on the blog.)

51 comments:

Love2Learn Mom said...

I'm glad you posted it again anyway - it's a great piece and worth re-reading. :)

Thank you.

Heidi Hess Saxton said...

Hi, Karen. Funny thing, I was just pondering this same issue today, and writing about it for a future issue of CE. As a adoptive parent of two special kids, it irks me when "good" Catholic families are defined so narrowly. There are just too many variables -- infertility, miscarriage, special needs that require extraordinary attention and patience, and so on.

In reality, to be "open to life" is to receive willingly, each and every day, all God wants us to receive and to learn from the people He's placed in our hearts, recognizing that in the end it's all about helping each other all the way to heaven.

Thanks for posting this. I needed to read it today. Blessings

mike said...

Haven't I read this before?

Karen E. said...

Thanks, Alicia and Heidi!

Mike, you made me laugh out loud when I realized that was you.

Jennifer F. said...

Wow, what a great post. Thanks!

Ambrose said...

Thank you for this.

Alice Gunther said...

Thank you for this heart felt and extremely important piece, Karen.

lk said...

Allow me to add my thanks to you for posting this, and I look forward to more articles to come! I forget, while listening to my sweet baby CRY AND CRY, how much I wished for her during the long time it took us to conceive. Thank you for the reminder.

The past few days have been a bit better, so I'm quite thankful for her progress. Let's hope it continues. :>)

patjrsmom said...

Heidi's link from her blog to yours was well worth the click. I've pondered this (and I know many other Catholic mothers who do the same) often. Thanks for sharing.

Jane

Karen E. said...

Thank you, all of you -- these comments mean so much to me.

Melanie B said...

I'm glad Jen linked to this. Somehow I missed it in my rss reader. Or maybe I read it and was so asleep at the time I don't remember reading it. Entirely possible, I'm afraid. Anyway, a lovely, thoughtful piece. Thanks, Karen.

Patience said...

Thank you for writing about the children who aren't visible in a family, the ones who live in Heaven. I know people don't mean to be hurtful, but it always causes me to sigh inwardly for several reasons when they say, "only one child?"

Leticia said...

Karen, we share the same situation of having 'only' three when we wanted lots more children, and I too feel the need to explain to my friends who are blessed, that I have three children in heaven whom I long to hold.
It helps me to remember that the Blesed Mother had only one Son, and this was seen as strange in her society as well.

Teresa B. said...

Hi Karen,
Love your blog!
This is my first time on it.
I have two children and after my second I almost died due to a fibroid on my uterus - so I had to have my uterus removed.
I feel obliged to tell the story of why - to people from large families to prove that I am a practicing Catholic and Homeschool mom with only 2 children.
But at the same time I explain myself when I come across people who get upset with families with so many children and I say my story and then say God blessed us with these two but we had been willing to have more. It also is good to say to couples - who want to wait till they are financially secure (when is that?)- I say- you wait too long and then what happens if you get complications?

It can also be very emotional after visiting with our friends who have large families. Something that I am still struggling with after 9 years.
Thanks for your post.

Pax Christi,
Teresa B.
(from the Big White North)

Margaret said...

Good for you. Thank you for your post. It is difficult to suffer the judgment of others and not to desire approval. I, too, understand because I've been there.

I've had a child out of wedlock who I put up for adoption and then died of a mysterious seizure disorder several years ago, I have three beautiful children on Earth, and another who was miscarried.

My life has not been perfectly aligned with God's will in the past, but he still blesses me and calls me to be his child. I am striving to be a good teacher to my children and I love the Church and its teachings. The fact that we are all God's children should be respected and honored rather than judged.

We're all at different places in our lives and should be grateful that we are given a new day everyday to do God's will.

Margaret

Anonymous said...

Thank you,
This helped me find some meaning as to why god allows good catholic families to suffer with Infertility. We are a family of "just" three, blessed with "one" son and consider ourselves to be a "Good Catholic Family". We have been dealing with similar attitudes in our family life and church life. I think this post will help me communicate my point to others when they ask, "Didn't you want more than just one"? Secondary infertility can be a blessing, and I am slowly coming to terms with this.

--A "Small" Good Catholic Family in Colorado

Karen E. said...

Again, more beautiful comments and stories ... thank you so much, to all of you.

Anonymous said...

I'm a dyed-in-the-wool Protestant whom God graciously brought to the point of allowing HIM to plan my family. Over the childbearing years we heard our share of comments because Protestants tend to think 3 "fruits of the womb", max of 4, are all the "reward" we should ever let God give us. I'm not a "good Protestant" because I have 7 here and 1 in Heaven.(Sometimes I've been tempted to ask "well, which of these precious people would you like me to put back? Which can we do without?")

I think this attitude because all Christians are somewhat blinded by our culture's insistence that WE get to CHOOSE when conception and birth occur. God's truth is that HE has planned each child and numbered their days since before time began. We only get to choose whether to cooperate with His plan or reject Him. One way brings blessing (even in the pain of miscarriage because God is in it) and one brings leanness to our souls.

I think the best way is to rejoice with each other for each day of each little life and leave the judging the ratio of spirituality to family size to Him.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for renewing my faith in "good" Catholic Families. I knew you were out there somewhere.

As the mother of 3 children, all adopted, I was terribly hurt when the "good", large, catholic families in our homeschoolers group all but ignored us when our youngest was placed in our home. No one rushed to organized meals for us as was the usual tradition in the group when someone had a baby. Our daughter was a mere 6 weeks yet no one congratulated us, asked to see the baby after Mass or hold her. It opened my eyes to what they really thought "pro-life" means. Needless to say I have a whole new group of good Catholic families for friends.

Karen E. said...

Oh, my gosh, that just breaks my heart. I'm so sorry to hear it, but I am glad to know you've found friends who are supportive and truly pro-life. God bless you and your beautiful family!

And, Protestant Anonymous, you certainly sound like a "good Protestant family" from here. :-)

Anonymous said...

Excellent lead article. No area is more tampered with by the devil than this one with the "religious" laity....since he cannot get them on obvious areas. He loves to get Catholics judging on appearances since Christ said, "Judge not by appearances but give just judgement." At most you can materially (not formally) judge your own adult children when they openly say they prefer travel and cuisine to having children. All others are none of our business since all distant lives are hidden from us and since they are outside our purview regarding the intimate.

Stacey said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you for putting into words what I have struggled to articulate for so long. I have two - and have struggled with 2ndary infertility for 5 years. Your article helps put a voice to a part of this struggle that us uniquely painful for us catholic moms who "thought" we were called to have large families.

Michelle A. Brown said...

I was glad that you put in the piece at the bottom about the mother of eight. It is so hard out of Catholic circles to tell of yet another pregnancy. I know we have all different size familes in our non concracepting circle and it can be a cross at times for those who have adopted because of infertility, those that have one or a couple of biological children or those of us who have 6,7 or more.

Pearl said...

Thank you for this post. I, too, have little ones in heaven and likewise hope that they pray for their mother to be a better person. God bless.

Anonymous said...

That was so beautiful......

Jo Flemings said...

I appreciate what you have said here. I am expecting baby #13 and it is no badge of merit of mine by any means. I am undeservingly blessed in this way, but the number of kids I have is no indicator of personal holiness by any stretch of the imagination. I think I would actually be much holier if I had fewer children because I would be more in control of so many things in my life that escape me in the cross bearing aspects of this lifestyle, and you know more hours of consistent sleep, uninterrupted tasks, silence etc all of these things add quality to life that is nonexistent for me in my 25th year of marriage, pregnancy and or nursing a baby. As much as it hurts women who wanted more than God gave to be assessed in their devotion by this external factor it also hurts to be thought of as someone who has some set of virtues or qualities that are assumed a package deal with a large family. It is in Christ alone that our sanctity lies and hopefully we can give Him glory in as many and as varied a number of ways as the expression of His creativity has fashioned our different lives and families.

Anonymous said...

Wow, I feel so blessed to have a baby on earth, now four months old, but I never really thought about our two miscarriages as being "souls in heaven" praying for their mommy and daddy. I was raised Catholic and am the blessing of a mother who had five children even though the world was seemingly against her in this endeavor, and my father was just as happy to have that big of a family.

I hope we have many more, though I know my wife does not share this same blind faith in having more children, but we shall see.

My family is my life, and I dote on my daughter. My father was so important in my life, and I wish to pass that sense of family onto her.

Anonymous said...

PLEASE let it be known that not all of us with children feel superior to or suspicious of those who have fewer or none. I am not judging you - in the first moments I see you - and wondering where your other children are! Also, the woman, from the beginning of the story told, may have been trying to say something NICE to the woman with more children, and it was in no way a reflection of those who have fewer. Understandably, those words hurt. But perhaps it was an awkward response, instead of her saying, "Wow, you've got your hands full" or some other rude thing we often hear. I struggle everyday with numerous children, and still not feeling like a 'good' Catholic family.

Karen E. said...

Dear Anonymous,
Thanks for your kind comment! I think we all have our individual or private struggles and the best thing we can do is to assume the best of others (I agree with you that my friend's mother was trying to say something nice to the mom of five) and keep praying for one another.

Thanks for stopping by!

Gina said...

Well said Karen.
Good post.
God bless you and your family!
Lets pray for one another.

Karen E. said...

Thank you, Gina! Blessings and prayers for you, too.

Anonymous said...

This is a very late reply to an old post. I too have 3 on earth and "seven in Heaven", while a dear friend of mine is getting ready to deliver her eighth. I struggle with jealosy. Every day.

But think of the blessed Mother. She had one Child. Who remained a bachelor. She never had a chance to do the whole grandparent thing.

Maybe we mothers of smaller families are being called to serve the outside community more?

Karen Edmisten said...

Dear Anon,
You have a lot of prayer support from Heaven! :) Praying for you, and I agree that it's always fruitful to look toward the Blessed Mother ... she was given a particular circumstance, and so was I. Embracing it is key.

Amy Caroline said...

This is very thoughtful and really struck a deep cord within me. I recently found out a friend who had no trouble conceiving but then went more than ten years of infertility is pregnant again! I have also known others who suffered terrible miscarriages that nearly killed them. But these are things that not everyone knows. They just assume things... I am sharing this! God bless Karen, you are amazing.

Karen Edmisten said...

Amy, thank you for the kind words. Yes, there's so much we don't see ... so important that we just keep trying to be Christ to others .... Blessings to you!

Anne said...

Just saw this today, linked from another blogger. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I also just finished your book "After Miscarriage" after an ectopic pregnancy and several years of infertility. Thank you truly.

Karen Edmisten said...

Anne, I'm so sorry for your loss. Thank you for taking the time to comment here ... I so appreciate that. God bless you!

Carol Porter said...

Jesus says,He is the way, the truth and the life and no man can come to the father (God) except by Him. Why is Mary being worshipped?

Carol Porter said...

Jesus said,"I am the way, the truth and the life, no man cometh unto the Father but by me". Why is Mary being idolized?

Karen Edmisten said...

Carol, we Catholics neither worship nor idolize Mary. We do accord her the respect that is due to the mother of our Lord. And we completely agree with and accept the Scriptures that tell us that Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth and the Life.

Thanks for stopping by.

Anonymous said...

We have two precious babies in heaven and none on earth. As a young Catholic couple it is so hard to be surrounded by friends with their growing families, friends who have had no trouble conceiving, even conceiving by "accident." We never dreamed that this would be the cross we would bear. It is sometimes unbearable. Thank you for this article.

Catholic Mom of One said...

I am a little late in responding to this as well, but I cannot resist. I came across your blog and thought I would share my story. I am a recent convert to Catholicism-its been 1 1/2 years now. I was raised in a christian home (baptist, methodist, non-denominational) and married a catholic. Before I became a catholic we went through IVF to concieve our son who is now 6 years old. I thought and prayed long and hard and felt okay with how we went about it (no excess embryos created so none were destryed in the process). My husband is the one with fertility issue not me (yes I know it is "our" issue but technically he is the one). I always wanted a large family but now I am catholic, and 40 so its looking unlikely that will happen.
I am an enthusiastic catholic and love learning more about the faith. I would like to have more catholic friends but it is nearly impossible to find anyone who has only one child. It does not help that my son goes to a catholic school where all the moms have atleast 6 or more kids. I love the school, and I love being catholic, but this aspect of it does indeed make me feel lonely, and I wonder how it will affect my son as well.
I know God has our family in the palm of his hand and my son is the best thing that has ever happened to me or my husband.
-Lonely Catholic Mom of One

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this. I am a practicing Catholic who has undergone IVF but still believes she belongs in the Church, as do the many many other Catholics who have undergone fertility treatment or used birth control. We have secondary infertility and are blessed with one child who is five. We have been trying to have another child for over three and a half years. We went through four IVF treatments in the hopes of having a second child, but God did not give us a pregnancy. Again, I do know what the Catholic Church says about IVF. I prayed and prayed about it, and I believe God is always in control, even as we seek medical treatment. I am trying to discern what God wants for our family now. I was at peace with our decision to try IVF between my husband and me, and giving each embryo a chance for life. Now I must pray and discern to be at peace with what we do next. I am able to rule out IVF with donor eggs, which I think God has shown me is not ethical. (We have male infertility for which IVF is perhaps the only hope, but I don't respond well to the drugs.) I do not want to adopt, for several important reasons, nor do I want to adopt an embryo. My strong desire to carry, birth and nurse another child has finally dissipated and I am at last very happy. I feel so blessed, even blessed with this secondary infertility. But I am still praying about it because I don't want to make this decision out of selfishness. I worry I am too attached to material things and my peaceful life (well, since our last failed IVF only one month ago it has been peaceful!) and this is why I don't want to make this huge effort - adoption - to have more children. It is so hard to know. Following God is never easy. I can only give it time as I discern, although for adoption time is never on your side, it seems.

Karen Edmisten said...

Dear Anonymous, Catholic Mom of One, and Anonymous ... I have no words of wisdom, but please be assured of my prayers for all of you.

MrsF3 said...

Thanks for sharing. So many of us have this blessing/cross to bear. There is much to be learned!

Karen Edmisten said...

So much to be learned, indeed! It can be so easy to fall into judging others... these reminders are good stuff. Loved your post!

Anonymous said...

Even mothers of large families have been through miscarriages. Often we are treated as though we don't REALLY appreciate our children as much as those parents of only one, two, or three. Comedian Jim Gaffigan actually does a good bit on this. Everyone applauds when they hear you are pregnant. But say you are pregnant with number four and you are likely met with awkward silence. Or as he put it: "Well, that's one way to live your life."
People see my seven children and don't realize that each and every one of them was as much a miracle as the first. We went through four years of unexplained fertility before having children, and I had three miscarriages. So when you see that big family, know that it doesn't mean they are popping out babies like toast without overcoming trials. And being open to life often translates into being open to pregnancy complications, bed rest, medical bills, children with special needs, going without vacations or luxuries, having multiple kids sick at once, mountains of laundry, and rarely getting a full night's uninterrupted sleep. But God has chosen the right size family for each of us. He sees where we need to be pruned and tested.

Karen Edmisten said...

Yes and amen to all of the above, Anonymous!

And I love Jim Gaffigan! :)

Amy said...

Karen, I know you posted this years ago, but I just found it and wanted to thank you. I have two children with me here and nine in heaven. I remember being at daily mass with my kids a few months ago. We were leaving the chapel and walking behind a mom and her six kids. The deacon saw them and said, "Oh how wonderful, what a blessing your children are!" He looked at me and my two kids, turned away and said nothing. My heart broke. I sometimes feel that the clergy and the Church treat large families as being more holy or blessed than small families. It can be very lonely, especially as a homeschooling mom where the more kids you have the more you seem to be valued in the group and within the Church. Another homeschooling mom of six pointed to my children and said,"These aren't your only two?" I was so shocked, I almost couldn't speak. I wanted to say,"These are my everything two, not my only two." Thank you for your beautiful miscarriage book and for this post. I know God has a plan for each family and I trust in Him, but infertility/miscarriage is a lonely and difficult journey. I struggle with it often. Blessings to you and your family.

Karen Edmisten said...

Amy, I am so sorry for your losses, and so sorry for the unkind comments and treatment you've been subjected to. I am still sometimes stopped cold by the coldness of some people. I want to pass your comment on to every priest and deacon I know, as a reminder that no one can presume that they know what's going on with a small family.

Thanks for your kind words, and I'm grateful that the miscarriage book and this article were of some help and support. God bless you, and hold you and keep you, Amy.

Conceiving Hope said...

Proving that this topic is really timeless - I never read your post about this topic before I wrote one of my own entitled "Good Catholic Families". My perspective comes from primary infertility and recurring miscarriages, with no living children. That said - your post was well written and I was happy to see someone so very like-minded writing on this topic. God bless!