Sunday, January 4, 2015

It's ok to enjoy the benefits of small families.

I've noticed in Catholic circles that no one ever wants to acknowledge that there are advantages to small families (or disadvantages to large ones). I can't tell you how many Catholic articles or blog posts I've read that have talked about the advantages of big families or siblings. I think these are beautiful, important, and very needed. But, on the other hand, there is not a single one I've come across written from a Catholic perspective that talks about the advantages of small families or only children (or families that consist of husband and wife).

Perhaps this is because it's assumed that our culture lauds small families and only children (or no children) so there doesn't have to be a Catholic voice for this. But from my experience, the secular articles and posts on the benefits of small families are anything but comforting to a Catholic mother. Inherent in those articles is the understanding that small families are superior, responsible, environmentally-friendly, etc. The overall tone seems to be anti-life and selfish; children are depicted  as commodities to be obtained and enjoyed - thus, having one or two makes them easier to fit into a life full of other, equally important pursuits (career, travel, intellectual advancement, physical perfection, hobbies, etc.) To be lauded for something that is anathema to my beliefs is like a knife to the heart. I'm not "choosing" a small family in order to be a good citizen in the culture of death and self-absorption.

I think there is this fear that if we talk about the positives of small families (or the negatives of big ones) that we'll be promoting this mentality that elevates the small family for selfish reasons, and therefore will be steering Catholics away from being open to life or God's plan for our families. Instead, it alienates Catholic parents with small families and puts pressure on large families to always seem perfect. Of course, there are advantages and disadvantages to both small and large families (and medium size, too) and denying that fact makes Catholics seem out of touch with reality.

Recently I've noticed that at church or other Catholic events, it's extremely rare for us to be told we have a "beautiful family". Extremely rare. And yet the large families all around us hear it several times each Sunday. I'm not sure exactly why that is. I have a handsome husband and adorable daughter and more than that, I think we radiate the joyfulness of Christ and family life. But we're a small family. We don't fit into the Catholic ideal.

I yearn for a large family. Not because it's perfect or I idealize it, but because I love children and love being a mother and because I believe that the joy additional children bring to a family is always worth the added difficulties. In addition to joy, it seems that there are also some very practical benefits to having more children. But since I have a small family (and perhaps always will) I want to stop being afraid to talk openly about (or feel guilty about having) the practical benefits of a small family.

So I'll say it: Having one living child makes many things easier. I have more time to rest, more time with my husband, more time for hobbies, more one-on-one time with my daughter. We have more money and less material needs. We can get by with a smaller apartment, a smaller kitchen table, and smaller car. We can get out of the door faster and travel easier. And it's ok if I enjoy these advantages.

Because I'm sure that while they are struggling with all the difficulties of having a large family, the moms of many are enjoying the blessings of their extra children. There is no need for me to be a martyr by suffering the pain of secondary infertility/recurrent pregnancy loss AND feeling guilty/unable to enjoy the advantages that come with my small family.

My family is small but beautiful. We may not have many children but we have more time and resources to spend on the one beautiful blessing we do have. I'm not ashamed of our small family and I'm not guilty that I have many things "easier" than moms of many. They have the blessings of their many children and I have other blessings that, while I don't think are equal in value because what can even approach the value of a human life???, I can certainly appreciate and enjoy.

Other, even better blog posts on this topic:

The Only Guilt (Annery at Home)
The Double Edged Knife: Guilt and the Small Family (Molly Makes Do)
Benefits of Larger Child Spacing (One Catholic Mama)

And while you're at it, read the beautiful post Molly just wrote On Miscarriage and Mordor (you don't have to be a Tolkien fan to appreciate it, but it certainly helps).


  1. This is something we've actually been doing as a way of coping with our primary IF: we are trying to find the good things about being childless! It's weird but it has sorta helped. It's painful but it's also nice to do all the things we know would be a lot harder with children (like vacations, date nights, getting fit and paying down debt).
    And even though it's just the two of us, we are still a family!

  2. Wow...this really resonated with me. While we have 4 chlidren, thanks to a lower level of fertility they are all spaced out much further than "most" Catholic families. I also don't get comments about "having a beautiful family" because they aren't a perfect stair-step...there are clearly wide gaps in ages. And I've also learned to enjoy that. There are advantages to having kids spread further apart. It's easier not to have 2 kids in diapers or have a 2-year old and a baby. While we didn't necessarily choose to do it this way. w can enjoy the advantages of it.

  3. Such a great message, Mandi. And it's true that there are advantages to a smaller family. It took me a while to see that myself, but it's true. And you do have such a beautiful family. You all are in my prayers.

  4. I was actually thinking about this exact same thing the other day, and hoping that those who aren't blessed with a large family can appreciate the blessings that are specific to a small family! And those blessings are many, as you listed :)

    Also, I think the "You have a beautiful family" comment TRULY means, "Your kids are insane and there are so many of them but take heart, I appreciate you!" Because really, what family ISN'T beautiful? It really seems like more of a consolation than a compliment... It's just one of those phrases that people use with families with a bunch of kids, just like when they tell us we have our hands full :P

  5. This is a necessary voice in the Catholic world. There's a double standard, though I like to believe it's unintentional. Thank you, also for pointing out the silver lining!

    You have a beautiful family.

  6. Hi Mandi,

    I'm so glad your blogging again a little! I really have missed reading your blog. Your family is so beautiful and your life via blog has always been a great example to me of a Catholic family :) Like you said, the benefits to a smaller family are so real and important too. I'm going on a retreat this coming weekend and will make an extra point to pray for you and your family, as I have been the past year or so.

  7. This is so so good and thank you for taking the to courage to write about your BEAUTIFUL family!

    There are so many small beautiful families that I love to see at church. We only have two at the moment: 2 1-2 and 8 months, but I too feel uncomfortable because I am 30 already and "should" have five! And what if I can't have another child? There are so many different journeys and it is so uncomfortable the tunnel vision some can have and pressure they put on others.

    So this was so refreshing. Thank you!

  8. We have similar thoughts on this, only I speak from the perspective of being part of a family of two. All of our children are in Heaven. I wrote a similar post to this...exploring the meaning of a "good Catholic family" that you can read HERE if you'd like. Small but beautiful, indeed.

  9. Such a great post - I've been thinking about the commoditization of children - treating children as objects - and how it creeps into Catholic mindsets even when we proclaim a different belief system. A family is beautiful no matter the size. A family is not a commodity where more = more value. It's so important to remember the "why" behind the teachings of the Church.

  10. Beautiful post, Mandi! Thank you for sharing it. I have three losses, all happened in the first 3 years of our marriage. I remember at times feeling like those who didn't know of our losses must have thought that we were intentionally not having children. Plus, DH and I were in our mid-30s when we married, so anyone who didn't know that we got married "later" may have looked at us at Church and wondered why we didn't have children yet. I never got comments, but I always felt a little inadequate. Now we have 3 living children (twins and a baby). I try so hard to smile at the families we see at Church and to always try to remember that we don't know what others have gone through. By some standards we are still a small family, and I love our small family! Congrats on the baby coming in November!!