This is not my friend's family. It's the last family picture there is of my husband's side of the family. He is one of seven. There have been two babies born since this and there's one more on the way.
Last week I ran into someone I used to know and his wife. They have five kids and another one on the way.
We had just attended mass for Ascension Thursday. Even though it was a weekday, the whole family was there together. The almost half a dozen children sat nicely and quietly without toys or snacks to entertain themselves with. They were just good. My kid on the other hand was throwing tantrums because I didn't let her eat a whole bag of dried cranberries.
After mass, I said hello to them. As we were walking out to our cars and catching up a little bit, an older man who had also also just gone to mass approached us all. He said to my friend's wife: "Are these ALL YOURS?!" while looking at her children. She sweetly responded that yes, they are in fact all hers and proudly said she is also pregnant for the sixth time.
"Man! You guys don't waste any time," the man said.
I hate when people react this way upon seeing big families as if it's something open for public opinion. When I hear comments like this one my brain races trying to come up with a good come back.
That's what happened this time and in my pursue for wit I stuck my foot in my mouth.
I said: "They're all so cute, why would they waste any time?!"
Wrong, Esther, wrong. As soon as I said it I knew that if I was my friend's wife I would want to punch me in the face. The little that I know her, I know that she is a gentle, kind woman so she would never punch another human. But if I was her, I would have gone ahead and punched me. I should have known better.
Don't get me wrong, their kids are SUPER cute but, you see, being a parent is hard and you don't become a parent to one, two, three, or more children just because they are "cute."
I know my friend and his wife didn't say: "Oh look at how cute these five are... and they're not hard work at all!.. let's have another cute one who doesn't have needs and wants! Our life will be so much easier."
Cute doesn't get you through pregnancy. Cute doesn't get you through labor. Cute doesn't get you through breastfeeding. Cute doesn't get you through tantrums. Cute doesn't get you through discipline or diaper changes and puking in the middle of the night. Cute doesn't get you through any part of parenting. Any part.
What I should have said was: Isn't it amazing God has blessed them six times? Aren't they great for taking the responsibility of raising good Christians? How awesome is it that they are such an obvious example of our call as Catholics?
These would have been wittier and certainly would have stumped that well-meaning (I'm sure) old man. How I wish I would have said any of those things...
Sometimes I hear people, maybe family members or strangers or even friends, talk about how big families are for Jesus-Freak Catholics or people who don't know how to use contraception. For some reason some people think that when it comes to family size they are entitled to share their opinions freely and specifically. "One for each hand!" "One of each kind!""Two... and one oops baby!" "Three is a good number!"
People who make these comments don't seem to stop to think that babies are more than just numbers. Babies are blessings, a path to sanctification, a way to grow and learn. They require tons of work, take a toll on your body both in childbearing and in the everyday routine, and make you grow in patience more than you thought possible.
Parenting is a calling. Every time you say yes, it's accepting an immense amount of responsibility. It's not for the faint of heart. It's not for the weak.
Good people don't just happen by chance. They happen because parents saw beyond their cuteness and made strides to mold them into men and women of good character.
I'm not only talking about big families of six or more. If you see a parent with one or a bunch of kids, commend them or encourage them. No matter the number and no matter how cute their kids are, they are raising humans of society, after all, not just herding cattle.