Yesterday, the incomparable Danielle encouraged us to encourage one another in our openness to life. Then, the incomparable Christi at "Mum2Twelve" posted her Family Foundations article on the subject. The incomparable Minnesota Mom did likewise.
And, now, I'm being a copycat.
I was blessed to appear in the same issue of Family Foundations that ran essays by Christi and Margaret. We were all asked to write about how we had discerned family size, how we "decided" to have the number of children we have. And, even though we have such varying numbers of children, ultimately, our answers were the same: God decided.
And we keep letting Him decide. He's the boss of us.
It's not always easy to follow the Boss's orders. But, it's always good. Always best. And always, bottom line, the most joyful road to take.
The Little Way of a Little Family
“How many children should we have?”
When young, Catholic couples marry, do they ask that question?
My husband and I wouldn’t know. We weren’t Catholic when we married (we were, in fact, unbelievers) nor were we particularly young when we started a family. For the first seven years of our marriage, we agreed that we absolutely did not want kids. We thought them too expensive, too consuming, and definitely too sticky.
But time, God’s sense of humor, and conversions to Catholicism led us to embrace parenthood. We’re now the happy parents of three beautiful daughters on earth and a number of (miscarried) souls in heaven.
For us, “How many children should we have?” was never the question. Once we opened our lives to God’s plan, our question became, “How many children does He want us to have?”
He seems to have settled on three. We are, at ages 47 and 50, ridiculously open to more, but that’s in God’s hands. And, I must say that life with three is good. No, let me amend that: it’s great. I dote on my daughters, find endless delight in being a mom, and repeatedly catch myself wondering, “Who was that horrible woman who didn’t want children and how could she not know what jewels they are?” My incredible girls make me laugh every day, cry now and then, and, most of all, thank God constantly for the gift that they are to me.
By Catholic standards, we are certainly a little family, due to our late start and our losses. And while having a small family has brought certain heartaches, perhaps our losses have also helped us appreciate more fully what is unique in each individual child. And, perhaps, they’ve helped us to see that every child (born to us or not) is an eternal blessing. In my journey to accept God’s will for our family, I’ve learned to trust that He gives what’s right for us.
On a more lighthearted note, I’ve also learned to appreciate some practical advantages to being “little.” For example:
- In our small family, I can revel in more one-on-one time with each of my children than perhaps a mom-of-many can. We schedule regular “Mommy/Daughter Nights” out, which usually involve an evening Mass and copious amounts of ice cream.
- Speaking of Mass, when we’re frantically racing around getting ready for it on Sunday morning, I have only three little heads of hair to fuss over (my husband is on his own) and only three pairs of shoes to track down (he’s on his own for that, too.)
- Our whole family still fits in our ’92 Grand Am, a more fuel-efficient vehicle these days than our van (which we broke down and purchased during a particularly strong phase of “Van Envy” that I experienced a couple of years ago.)
- A mom with only three kids and a van (aha -- It was a smart buy!) can tote her kids’ friends around town, making her feel quite magnanimous, and giving her the opportunity to help out the big families, who have no spare vehicle space.
- Our whole family still fits in one hotel room, making traveling a slightly more economical proposition.
Now … would I trade in all of these silly, little worldly benefits in order to have more gifts from heaven?
Oh, yeah. In a minute.
But, God is making that call. And, I firmly believe He wants us to work with what He’s provided, to “bloom where we’re planted.” The Lord allowed our many miscarriages; He gave us only three living children in our little family. In contemplating this, I’m reminded of St. Therese of Lisieux and her “Little Way.”
St. Therese had big dreams. She wanted to be a missionary, evangelizing the whole world. Instead, she was given a short, hidden life, full of mundane little tasks in the convent, tasks she learned to do with great love. And now, this Doctor of the Church is evangelizing the whole world through her intercession from heaven.
It’s true that St. Therese could have asked God, “How many countries should I visit?” but that would have been the wrong question. God answered Therese’s desires and expectations in surprising ways, just as He has done for my husband and me. Our little family here on earth -- our “little way” -- is not the big dream family we’ve often wished for. But, our little domestic church is exactly what God wished for it to be.
It was never up to us. But I know that, like Therese, we will see rewards and beauty in heaven that we cannot begin to imagine here, while we’re still looking through a glass darkly.
Ultimately, the answer to the question, “How many children should we have?” is easy:
In so many ways, big and little, He’ll let you know.