While I applaud the many large families in my home-schooling group, I'm quite discouraged by their disapproving remarks about small families. Emergency surgery made me unable to conceive after giving birth to my son, and my second is adopted. However, I feel that information is personal and that I owe no explanations about my family's size. How shall I handle these people?
You certainly don't owe anyone an explanation about the size of your family. It isn't any of their business. One option is simply to leave it at that. However, it's clear that you'd like some sort of response that lays the issue to rest—without divulging personal information.
First, let's recognize that this attitude is often motivated by the unfortunate reality that we live in a culture of death. While that means that abortion, euthanasia and a myriad of other acts of violence against life loom large in our society, the most commonplace evidence for an anti-life culture is to be found in the shrinking size of American families. Generally speaking, many families, motivated by selfishness and materialism, choose to have small families.
Having said that, the problem of judging others arises when we ascribe that motivation to a particular family we know with few children. We may think we know their circumstances, but no one outside of the Lord knows what is in their hearts.
Still, we need to remember that the shoe is worn on the other foot: Large families are often the recipients of glares and rude remarks from complete strangers, so we must be sensitive to the fact that they are no strangers to sweeping judgments, either.
Our own theory about why small Catholic families such as yours are scrutinized in this way is this: Many people are simply uninformed about secondary infertility. Ironically, the childless couple is less likely to draw negative attention, for the assumption is that they must be unable to have children; there must be a medical explanation. But, in your case, others might be thinking, “Well, obviously they can have children; they've proven that. They must be choosing not to have any more.” The cross of infertility is well-known; the very real cross of secondary infertility gets far less press.
A relative of ours was in precisely the same situation. She and her husband had a small family due to secondary infertility. Well-meaning friends would ask, “So, when are you going to have another baby?” These friends had no idea how much these words hurt every time they were uttered, for the couple truly did desire more children, but they also didn't feel much like divulging their entire medical history. In response, the couple began telling people, “We've always been open to as many children that the Lord chooses to bless us with.”
This answer will tend to satisfy all but the nosiest of individuals, yet does so without giving away personal information.
We wonder how the Holy Father's mother responded to such judgments. After all, she only had two children!
Tom and Caroline McDonald are family-life directors for the Archdiocese of Mobile, Alabama.
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