Sherry Antonetti is a freelance writer, blogger and published author of The Book of Helen. She lives just outside of Washington, DC with her husband and their ten children.
Every once in a while, I get a comment about how many children I have, and questions about whether in my youth, I knew about biology, medicine, and procedures. Every once in a while, I get asked if we have cable, or internet or hobbies. They'll ask, don't we know it's expensive, time-consuming, hard work raising ten kids? The answer to all of these questions, is yes. Yes. Of course we know. We're in the midst of it. Yes. A million times. Yes.
At which point, there are often one of two presumptions at work. The first is that we're ignorant, and the second, that we intended to have a large family from the get-go. The first preconception is condescending towards us, the second is dismissive of God in the equation. Both presumptions put all of the reasoning behind the size of our family on us; it's either our fault, or our preference.
Let me start by saying, we had a full understanding of biology and theology. We didn't say, “Let's be the Catholic version of the Duggars...” We were gifted with these people as part of our marriage, and we said “Yes” to God and each other when we said “I do.” We agreed to accept children lovingly from God, and we did even when it wasn't what we thought an ideal time. We grew into the size of our family, not all at once, and not evenly, and not always with graciousness.
Families come in all sizes, and they aren't something you custom order from Amazon. Our family is larger than normal, because grace and God, had everything to do with it, even in spite of us.
One commenter suggested that wise women should get themselves and their husbands fixed after the first two children. I'd argue decidedly not so. I love and need those first two children, but with them, I remained in charge and in control. I would only learn from those two what I thought I needed to learn, not what God wants of me. I remember thinking three was a big number, and having well-meaning friends suggest surgeries for my husband or me or both.
The third taught me that I could survive being overwhelmed, and that the heart grows bigger with each new person to love. The fourth taught me humility; I had to ask for help. The fifth brought us deeper into the Church. The sixth we thanked God for, because we’d lost a baby between the fifth born and the sixth. The seventh made us pray and cherish each other. The eighth, she brought us close to the Blessed Mother.
We thought ourselves a big family and we were. We thought, “We’d given” and we had. When we got nine, we felt stressed because we’d need a bigger car. We found out he had Trisomy 21. We felt stupid for worrying about the car. We found out he needed heart surgery. We felt stupid for worrying about Trisomy 21. We cannot imagine life without him. He makes our hearts not just larger, but roomy.
As for the tenth—well, she’s a reminder to each of us to be joyful. She’s got each of us, even the older children, rediscovering the joy of their own childhood as they watch her live hers. We needed all of them. We still do.
Some say, that's too much work. But sacrifice and suffering—that’s par for the course, whether you have one child or ten. It’s just the how that will differ. If you love, you will sacrifice. If you love, you will suffer. You will suffer long nights because you stay up with a child who is sick. You will suffer un-anniversaries when you take one kid on a mandatory trip for his team. You will suffer through speeding tickets and broken arms and bad grades and catching your kid in a lie. You will suffer because you love. You will suffer even if your kid does everything right, because the world won’t do everything right to him or you.
What I've learned with ten, I hold is true with one or any other number of children. You will love and love and love and not count the cost because you love. Whole oceans of dollars and time will be thrown lavishly with fatted calf feasts over and over again because you love. Further, if someone asks you “Why?” you will look at them with something akin to shock and answer, “How could I not?”
No parent who loves would refuse any of this suffering, hunting for shoes, taking kids to driving lessons, making kids get braces or eat vegetables, not even the fights and meltdowns. Because we love, we’d welcome even the unnecessary errands and mandatory battles. We might not like all we experience, but no parent who loves would refuse one moment of parenting, even the awful parts, if it meant the rest of these moments didn't exist.
These children, and the labors they require of us, they are all necessary. Our goal is to be saints, to get to Heaven. To become saints, we need to learn to love as God loves. My children aren’t necessary or important because they will show how great a parent/Catholic I've been by what wondrous splendiferous brilliant prize winning world beaters they become; it's that they've made me a better Catholic by beating the world out of me, for all the times they didn't win prizes, or be splendiferous. They teach me to love them in their “am”-ness.
Each person we love more, brings us closer to the people we’re called to be, people who love unconditionally. We will know how to love when we recognize the bottom line is, all of our necessariness in the universe isn’t based on accomplishments or talents, past or present. It's based on our being. We are made in God's image. God who is the great “I am.” Our “am”-ness, is the reason we love, and should be loved.