We are at a homeschool conference. It is time for the introductions session. I have slipped away from the hall. So has Andy. As I hurry along the path, I see him ahead of me.

“You didn’t want to stay for the introductions either?” I ask.

“No,” he replies, taking my hand and pulling me close.

In the hall, the introductions have begun: 

“Hi, I’m Anna and this is my husband Greg. We’re from Beeton and we have ten children.”

“Hi, I’m John and I’m here with my wife Debbie. We have six children and one on the way.”

“I’m Peter and this is my wife Claire. We're from Victoria. We’ve got two children.”

I imagine: “Hi, I’m Sue. Andy and I have….” But I don’t want to define Andy, myself and our family by how many children we have. I don't want people to make an initial judgement of us based on that number. How many children we have is not who we are. (I can see that this isn't really true. Our children do affect who we are. I would not be the same person if I didn't have my children.)

What does a number tell us? Does each child we have add to our status as parents? Does it tell other people how open to life we have been? Are we better Catholics if that number is large? Or conversely, could that number condemn us as irresponsible in some people's eyes? Does it tell the whole story of a family? No.

Andy and I stroll along the path arm-in-arm until we think the introductions are over. Then we slip back into the hall but someone notices us.

“You missed the introductions. I’m Tom. This is my wife Jane. We have eight children.”

“Hi I’m Sue.” I glance at Andy who continues, “I’m Andy. Is this your first conference? Did you have to travel far to get here?”

We exchange details of our interests with our new friends. We don’t mention our children. It's obvious we have some because we’re at a homeschooling conference.  I am sure details of our children will gradually emerge as we chat. 

Maybe later when we know Tom and Jane better, we might tell them more about our seven living children and Thomas who lived for a day, and even about the seven children who were with us for only a fleeting moment. We might share the joys our children have brought us, and also the sufferings we have endured…if Tom and Jane would like to know...

How many children do you have? Fifteen.

How can you tell the story of your family in a number? It just isn’t possible.
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  1. This is a very wise and true post Sue.

    Sadly, in this world we measure each other by "what we have"; rather than who we are.

    Are you married, single, separated, divorced? What job do you do? Where do you live? What car do you drive? and so on ...

    Our "worth" is measured by the job we do and how successful we are; and whether we live in the best part of town, with the latest model cars in the drive.

    And sadly too, children are also seen by some people as being possessions. I've seen this often.

    "We have X children and they go to a private expensive school !!!"

    Perhaps when I meet people for the first time I should ask them a new question. "How sinful are you?"

    God bless you and your family Sue. Thanx for this brilliant post.

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    1. Victor,

      The question, "How many children do you have?" is just such a natural one for parents to ask each other. We do it without thinking and perhaps we then form an initial opinion of someone based on the answer. But sometimes that opinion is wrong. It gets complicated. I just feel uncomfortable sometimes with the way we are defined by the size of our family.

      "How sinful are you?" Victor, I don't think I could ask that!!! Though that is a very interesting way to start a conversation.

      Yes, our children don't add instant value to who we are. Those who have children are blessed. They are a gift, a gift not everyone receives.

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

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    2. You're so right Sue. People do form opinions of others by the size of family or whether they have children.

      I've known couples with no children for a variety of reasons; and the question "How many children do you have?", however innocently and well-intended, can be so hurtful at times.

      People forget that children are a gift from God. The way we raise them is our gift to Him.

      God bless you and yours.

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    3. Victor,

      Maybe we just need to be more aware that 'numbers' of children don't tell the full story. There are probably hidden sufferings behind such a bare description of a family (both in large and small families). We shouldn't be quick to judge and form an opinion until we know a family better. I suppose this is what meant by, "I don't want people to make an initial judgement of us based on that number."

      "People forget that children are a gift from God. The way we raise them is our gift to Him." This is so true.

      God bless!

      Delete
  2. my parents had 9, it is not the number, for a bereaved parent, it is hard saying you have 3 when you in fact have 4 without embarrassing the others.

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    1. Ann,

      Yes, it is hard knowing what the best answer is to the question 'How many children do you have?" when you are a bereaved parent. I think that's one of the hardest questions to deal with. Yes, our answers can cause embarrassment. If we were more comfortable as a society with death and loss perhaps we wouldn't have so many problems talking about such things.

      Thank you for stopping by and commenting!

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  3. Hi Sue,

    I've seen this pride in family size among those of us who are open to life and I've been tempted (guilty?) myself. Being grateful for whatever blessings we receive is different to taking a vain pride in them, isn't it?

    God bless:-)

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    1. Vicky,

      Yes, I think there are two sorts of pride when we are considering our family size. We can look at our children as ours by right and feel clever about producing them. Or we can full of awe over what God has given us and want to share His goodness.

      God bless!

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  4. Hi Sue,
    Maybe I've got this all wrong! My understanding is that God wants us to be open to life, and when He accepts this openness and gives us another child then this is a blessing. I am proud of my family's size because it shows not only our openness to life but that God has accepted that openness and blessed us abundantly. (See CCC 2373)
    The size of my family is part of who my family is. Just like my being married is part of who I am. My job, however, is just what I do to provide for my family and I make a point of not asking other men what job they do when I meet them.
    Do I judge those with smaller families? How can I! I have no idea whether their family size is because of lack of openness , lack of blessings or both, short lived blessings or a multitude of other ‘just’ reasons. (This is not saying that the temptation to judge is not there!)
    When I am asked how many children do I have, what do I answer? 7 or 9. It depends on who and when they ask me. I know I have 9 and I also know there is no problem with saying 7 when appropriate. My little 2 will not be offended.
    Yes we need to remember that the children we have are blessings and not medals to wear vainly. It is not a competition about who has the most children, but whether we have been open to the children God wanted to send us.

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    Replies
    1. Gerard,

      You are not wrong. Yes, every child is a blessing and we should share God's goodness in giving us those children with everyone. I am not disagreeing.

      When I wrote "How many children we have is not who we are," I had a niggling feeling something was wrong with this thought. But I am finding it hard working through everything and to find the right words. I have added an extra sentence in my post. I didn't want to change the post because then your comment wouldn't make sense.

      Similarly, I agree that being married is part of who I am. Jobs? I think that these also can make up who we are if we have a particular vocation and our employment isn't just something we do to earn money for our families. It is quite possible to raise children and have a vocation in the outside world.

      I am sure you don't judge other families because of size, Gerard. I never meant to imply that anyone in particular does. But I do think it happens. I have been judged myself. Someone I hadn't seen once said to me, "Isn't it about time you had another baby. What are you waiting for?" I replied, "We had another baby. He died a few months ago."

      I have obviously failed to convey my thoughts properly in this story. The main point I wanted to make was that I can say "I have 7 children" or "I have 8 children" or "I have 15 children." Each of the answers gives a different picture of our family, none of which is correct. How can I tell the story of my family by giving a number? I'd much rather avoid the dilemma of deciding what to say by not answering the question. I'd rather tell the story of my family gradually through means other than numbers.

      Andy and I really do feel uncomfortable when asked the question about our family size in such situations as I have described. I am not talking about unimportant situations like answering a question given to us by a stranger in a supermarket. The pain of all our losses rises to the surface as we consider the answer. And so I wonder if it is the same for other people. Perhaps there are hidden stories of suffering behind other parents' 'numbers'. Maybe we should be aware that what is a straightforward question for some people is a heartbreaking question for others. Not everyone can proudly and easily speak about their blessings.

      Thank you Gerard very much for your comment which has led to much thought. I know I haven't got everything worked out properly but it is good to discuss such things.

      God b;less!

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    2. Thanks Sue.
      I know what it is like trying to find the right words. It took me a while last night to write my comment as I did not want to offend (and I pray I haven't) but felt compelled to share.
      A way to get around giving a family size at an introduction session is not to give a number but instead introduce the children you have on camp by name.
      I like the introductions because they give a chance to place unknown children to a family. This is especially useful for younger children when they are wandering around looking for ‘mummy’ or complimenting parents on actions of older children.
      It really is a thought provoking topic.

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    3. Gerard,

      Thank you for returning and continuing the conversation.

      No, your comment didn't offend me at all. But it did make me realise I hadn't said what I wanted to say clearly enough. So it has been good to expand thoughts and also discuss new but associated ones. I think our own experiences colour the way we see and feel about certain issues. Sharing thoughts helps us to understand each other better regardless of our own situation.

      Introducing children by name would be very helpful, I agree!

      Delete
  5. I'm on the opposite end Sue when I say, "I have one child" and get the questions of why didn't I want more? What am I waiting for? Your son needs a sibling to grow up with? I've finally learned to say "it wasn't our choice to have only one child, it was God's and He knows best."

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    1. Noreen,

      It must be difficult having people ask such questions. You said,"I've finally learned to say..." so I am guessing you have had to work through how to deal with other people's questions. Yes, God knows what is best for each of us. We can accept this despite the pain. But sometimes, maybe we add to each other's pain by our thoughtless remarks. Noreen, thank you so much for sharing your thoughts.

      God bless you!

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  6. I do know what you're saying. However, in our circle there are very few families who have more than 2 or 3 children. When a young couple asks and hears 5, or 7 or 8 they may start to question the status quo - wow, maybe we can be open to another. See, they look normal and happy ;-) Vicky is right, we oughtn't be prideful, but being authentically awed by the gifts God has blessed us with is just right ;-)

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    1. Beate,

      I understand what you're saying too! I don't want to keep my family size a secret. Yes, children are a blessing and I want to encourage others to have more if they can. Maybe for me, it depends on who is asking the question. I don't know. I'm still thinking about this. The problem is it's an emotional subject and so we have feelings that hurt, but deciding just why they are hurting is very difficult. There is obviously a problem (for me) but why?

      "awed by the gifts God has blessed us with" Oh yes! Of course. I am in awe constantly over what I've been given. I often ask, "Why me?"

      I am sorry about this confused comment, Beate!

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    2. Not confused at all. It definitely depends on the situation. At homeschool gatherings it might be helpful in personal conversations to know the age range of children, etc. jugt because if affects how learning happens - if that makes sense? It's also hard when you have children not with you anymore.... Every single child is a gift - I don't like when people will say "only one!" One child - one unique soul created in the image and likeness of God! Idk why people ask things that are so completely obnoxious! One person asked my sis if all her children had the same father! We should all accept one another and have positive intent - but it's a fallen world. Thanks for such a thought provoking post :-)

      Delete
    3. Beate,

      You are kind! There is something scary about exposing thoughts and feelings on such subjects as this one, especially when it is hard to express inner feelings and I get confused in the process!

      Age range? I sometimes say I have a 25 year old and an eight year old and a few in between. I also sometimes say "I have four children with me. I also have some young adult children." I agree that information like this can be helpful.

      " Every single child is a gift" How did the word 'only' ever get to be associated with the number 'one'? Yes, thoughtless remarks can be made to both mothers of small families and mothers of large ones.

      I agree that we should all just accept each other. But somehow we don't. We are much too quick to judge.

      I've enjoyed swapping comments with you, Beate!

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    4. Hi Beate,

      You are right when you say that people might see that having more children than the status quo is possible. And I will add affordable. I often get comments from people, including workmates and students (I am a high school teacher), about how can we afford to have 7 children. We are showing by our family that all the media hype about the hundreds of thousands of dollars it costs per child is false because I don't earn that much and my kids have all they need and even some of their wants.

      God continues to provide for our needs in so many ways.

      Delete
  7. Hi Sue,

    I'm new to your blog... Found it via an email Suzie Andres sent out. I just finished reading your " how many children" series and it gave me food for thought. I love, love, love what you wrote " How can you tell the story of your family with just a number?" So beautiful and true. I've suffered a few losses myself and it's awkward to talk about them with strangers. When I lost my first baby a few years ago --the one we prayed eagerly to conceive-- I felt like I was betraying her when I didn't include her in my family size... Like she was the " unmentionable.". But then it felt strange or awkward to talk about "Three here and one more in God's hands!" it makes others feel uncomfortable and then they feel like they ought to express their condolences sometimes... so I avoid saying that now. And since having two more babies since then and a few more miscarriages, I've since come to terms with how to talk about it. When asks how many I simply say 5 now. I don't feel like I'm betraying my other babies I've lost anymore because while I will always love them and long to meet them, they aren't mine anymore. Our children are all simply loaned out to us to steward and raise as best as we can. When God calls them back... even long before we are ready to return them to Him... They are His. Knowing this helps me personally very much to keep the proper perspective... when I am tempted to drown in pity or relive my sadness or revisit my heartache. They aren't mine. He has called them to Him for reasons I can't know until I get to see God in Heaven. I ache for my lost babies, I do. And I hope and pray to hold and meet them in Heaven. But for now, I have to surrender the title of "mine." of course they will always be a part of my family, my children make family pictures with a handful of little babies sitting on clouds over our heads... and this hurts my heart so much. But they are His now. And for conversational purposes, it's helped me to introduce ourselves as simply 'having' five children now.

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    1. Ellie,

      You have given me a lot to think about! You said, 'I don't feel like I'm betraying my other babies I've lost anymore because while I will always love them and long to meet them, they aren't mine anymore... But for now, I have to surrender the title of "mine."' I have also always regarded my children as on loan from God but I'd never thought about it from the perspective of describing my family in numbers.

      You also said, "They are His. Knowing this helps me personally very much to keep the proper perspective... when I am tempted to drown in pity or relive my sadness or revisit my heartache." I am wondering if deep down there are times when I want others to know about my lost children, not so much to acknowledge them, but to share my sufferings and maybe gain a little sympathy. It is very difficult to remain silent sometimes. Though I do think sharing our losses is good too. It allows others to open up and share their own sufferings in turn. We all need a listening ear and a compassionate heart at times.

      Thank you, Ellie for sharing your family including your lost babies. I very much appreciate you taking the time to read my posts and write this beautiful thought provoking comment.

      May God bless you!

      Delete

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