Today's question comes from a blog reader who emailed me. I think it's a great question, and I know it's something a lot of people wonder about (but usually are too afraid to ask!) So, buckle up and away we go...
Large families are awesome. I don't have one but always liked the idea of lots of kids and the joys that would come with it. When though does a large family border on group home? It can't purely be a number thing so would it relate to the time or relationships children have or don't have with the parental figures or maybe something else? Also what are your thoughts on the good or bad that would come with crossing that border?
As for me personally, I subscribe to the historic Christian belief that children are part of a loving God's design to enrich our marriages and push us toward selflessness and thus further towards holiness (aka, teaching us what life and love are all about)! I believe that the Catholic openness to life is, in general, part of being man and wife and part of God's purpose in instituting marriage. Therefore, I think that children are a good thing. A healthy thing. A designed-by-God thing. Having a large family, for many of us, is thus not an arbitrary decision, but a core part of living out our vocation as a married man or woman. The goal is not to have a slew of kids so our quiver can be full or because we simply can; instead, we accept that God has bound procreation to our sexuality and that children are gifts to our marriage and signs of our love.
Adoption of course brings an interesting dynamic to this discussion, because it has the potential to defy natural child spacing and no natural law arguments are at play. And, we're talking about children who've come from trauma. The hard places. In February of 2006, for example, we brought Yosef and Biniam home--twin boys just eight months younger than our biological daughter, Anna, who had just turned two. Yes, that is three children ages two and under. :)
Again, I'm thinking not so much of a group home. :)
And we are of course currently in the process to adopt two little girls from Ethiopia. Bringing us to seven children.
So how does one know how many adoptions is "too many"?
How long before your home ceases to be a home, and begins to more closely resemble the orphanage your children originally came from?
Because while I once felt compelled to fix the orphan crisis myself, I now simply ask God to use our family how He sees fit, to meet the greatest needs that we can realistically meet. And I recognize that we can't meet each and every need. Nor should we try.
And I'm sure there are some small families that more closely resemble a bootcamp or an institution, while some large families are as close as can be. (How do you even define "close", anyway? Pretty subjective. Not to mention, a high-structure, therapeutic home is anything but cold or devoid of love. These parents in the trenches are some of the best you'll find, anywhere. Period.) It seems to be more about family culture and family dynamics than the actual size of the family. And families can and will have different dynamics. Yes I do know adults who resent that their parents adopted, relocated to a developing country, or gave birth to a child with medical needs. But I also know that most people find something to resent about their dear, poor parents who were doing the best that they could. And life, as much as we'd like to pretend it is, is not all neat and orderly and designed to revolve around us. (I also know many adults who admire the unconventional path their parents chose, some of whom even caught the vision themselves. I hope this for my own children, but who can know?)
Something I think about a lot, especially when I'm tempted to romanticize the days when I had just one baby napping in the other room (bwahahahaha!), is that our house-of-five-children is filled with life. You cannot spend more than about one minute here without, um, discovering that. I hereby apologize to anyone who has come over for an evening, only to be accosted at the front door by children eager to host them, or who have been begged to read a story aloud, or who have had to listen to endless descriptions of t-ball practice, Aztec sacrifices, or Pixar movie plots. (Doubly sorry about the Aztecs, but let's face it, we homeschool).
If nothing else, please do understand that large families are really just...families. Whether they are high-structure, high-nurture, or a mixture of both. And we desperately need grace because we are constantly being judged and scrutinized based on the number of children we have.
Is my almost-two-year-old screaming and crying in Target? That mom has way too many kids to handle.
Is there a skill that one of our children hasn't mastered yet? Well, when you have so many, you just can't give individualized attention to any of them.
Nevermind the mom-to-two in Target whose four year old is throwing a huge fit. Or the parents of one screaming-and-throwing-food toddler at Chili's. Or the couple with two children, spaced five perfect years apart, whose youngest is a late walker/talker/reader/underwater-basket-weaver. Could it be that life with kids, whether it's one or twelve, is just plain unpredictable? Could it be that that is part of why God gives us children in the first place? To teach us the virtues of patience and long-suffering and charity, not just toward our children but also toward others?
While I don't have an easy (or short! ack! sorry!) answer as to when things move from loving, tight-knit family to institutionalized group home, I've hopefully clarified a little bit about how I see families in general. And ours is probably a lot like yours. Happiness and sadness, laughter and tears, lots of messes and the occasional mommy-meltdown. That's just life, and it's a crazy ride, and choosing to embrace it is a daily, moment-by-moment, only-by-God's-grace choice for me. May I learn to rejoice more and more in my vocation as a wife, and mother-to-many!
Thank you for asking!