Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The sibling factor

I know, right?

Them's a lot of (squinting) kids at Grandma and Grandpa's house for Thanksgiving.

And yes we are pretty handy to have around when you need help eating a 20-pound turkey.

Oh how I love each of those sweet individual souls, even as I am slightly overwhelmed when I consider the fact that at 31 years old, I have seven kids.  Look at those little faces! I think.  How is it possible that I am somehow responsible for these people making it to adulthood?!

Having a Catholic marriage ordered towards God's two-fold purpose for marriage (the procreation and education of children, and the good of the spouses) naturally results, of course, in assorted messes chaos little people running around the house.  And I know our decisions and values seem old-fashioned and outdated to the average 21st-century American parent. 

Some of this is simply because parenting values have shifted over time.  People thus have a lot of questions about our family, and the way we live.  And one of the things that comes up regularly is the "s" word.


My kids obviously, um, have several.  And barring some unforeseen future personal crisis (where we'd need to use NFP to limit our family size), my kids will probably continue gaining new brothers and sisters throughout my fertile years.  I really don't spend time thinking about the final number of kids that I want and how to achieve that, because I don't believe that line of thought is generally in keeping with the heart of Church teaching on the matter (as laid out by popes throughout the centuries, and articulated quite well in the book Covenanted Happiness.)  Plus, life and marriage just don't really work like that.  But anyway, I'd imagine that this precious baby due in February won't be the last.

And in decades past, kids generally had multiple siblings--no big deal.  The average American home was smaller too so room sharing was the norm, and people had fewer personal possessions in general.  Life was simpler in many ways, because it had to be.

Now though, families like ours are not the norm.  Parenting values have changed. 

I met a woman at a wedding a couple of years ago who, upon hearing that we were in the process of adopting two little girls, leaned in and asked in a concerned voice, "Do your kids have to share rooms?"  I didn't fault the woman for thinking we were crazy for adding to our already-big family, but I think her sentiment is indicative of the (troubling and insidious) mentality that a childhood involving multiple brothers and sisters is not a pleasant one.

But I'm here to say that I wholeheartedly disagree. 

And I will tell you that no matter how crazy people think it is, my children are a gift to one another. 

Yes they fight and cry sometimes, but they're never truly alone.

Yes they share rooms, but they love chatting with each other after the lights go out, every.single.night.

Yes they have limited space for toys and clothes, but they have a healthy detachment from material goods--and would much rather spend their time playing together, anyhow.

Yes they share my time, but they also have a bunch of other people clamoring to congratulate them on their awards, or to ask how their sleepover at Grandma and Grandpa's house went the moment they get into the car.

Yes they have two siblings with medical and developmental needs, but those two siblings are Mary Lu's best friends.

Yes they will surely experience the births of new babies in the years to come, but they have without fail receieved each and every new sibling with eager and open arms and hearts.

My children, all seven of them, have a strong genuine affection for one another.  They are the best of friends.  They are thrilled about the baby on the way.  And the more I think about the ever-changing world around me, the more I believe that life in our home--shared rooms, small closets and all--is good. 

And I always hoped my kids would get along well, but believe me when I say that I do not force them to play together.  I don't micromanage every little conflict, nor do I tell them they have to act excited at the news of a pregnancy. 

I do hold them to standards like showing respect to one another, and being kind.  I do have a policy that says younger siblings are to be included if they are wanting to play with bigger siblings--even when an older brother or sister has a friend over.  I do regularly tell them that virtues like charity and patience are best learned (and hardest to practice) within our very own home, around our very own table.

And lo and behold, our family culture has somehow (in spite of my failings) been conducive to my children developing a love for life and a sincere excitement anytime a child joins our family, through birth or adoption.  My kids choose to spend time together vs. time spent playing independently.  The older children help the littler ones and the littler ones adore their older siblings.  They enjoy being together, and know that most any activity is more fun with more people.

So if you are considering family size, wondering if remaining open to children throughout your marriage is even possible in this day and age, Catholic or not, I want to tell you that it is.  Counter-cultural, yes.  The lesser-travelled road, most definitely.  But it is also really, really good.  We must resist the temptation to internalize arbitrary cultural norms that tell us our homes or our cars or our hearts are too small for more than _____ children.  We must consider our priorities, and how we've ordered our lives, and see how that lines up with what Christ's Church has always told us: that children are a natural part of marriage, and are a gift to marriage--not primarily a burden.

And of all the considerations, I can say with confidence that a child with many siblings is a very loved child--many times over.


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