Sunday, February 21, 2016

The two-child norm is not necessarily the result of selfishness

Please Note: I am writing about the wider culture and its norms; this post is not referring to faithful Catholics with smaller families.


Since my reversion 21 years ago, I have been surrounded by my Catholic friends in an amazing Catholic diocese and community. The norm in my circles is openness to life in one's marriage. Those of my friends who have small families, or no children at all, are usually suffering from infertility.

But when I am in the broader culture, a culture I used to fit within quite comfortably, I recognize that large families are an anomaly. Sometimes, the realization can be jarring. A couple of my younger kids now go to a public charter school down the street, which is a change from the small Catholic school and homeschooling that had been the norm for us for decades. Almost all of my boys' classmates come from families with one or two children.

On my block, almost every other family has two children. Over the 15 years we've lived here, a strange thing has happened. A bunch of us had small kids/toddlers/babies at the time. As the years passed, the neighbors' kids grew into teens and even adults. No more babies or little kids in the neighborhood -- except for our house, which continued to contain young kids, toddlers, babies. It is sometimes just a little eerie, honestly.

Families that welcome many children are not the norm. In the past, big families were seen as a blessing, as natural, as routine, but the culture has changed completely, as evidenced by a comment I received just the other day from a reader named Amy:


Leila: I would rather like to know what made you have eight children and expect your husband to provide for all of them, unless he is quite wealthy.


I don't want to assume snarkiness (though it sure seems a little snippy), but I do assume that Amy has a general unfamiliarity with large families. She simply cannot imagine why a regular married couple would welcome many children. It makes no sense to her at all, and she sees it as even a terrible imposition on the marriage itself, unless it's the luxury, whim, and frivolity of a "quite wealthy" family.

Which brings me to the thoughts I've been having lately, when I see just how different my family and my friends' families really are in today's America. When I first discovered the truth of Catholicism and the beauty of God's design for human sexuality and marriage, I was exploding with joy! Everything made sense, it was so stunning, so lovely, so profound!

New converts or reverts have a tendency to get zealous very quickly, due to that blush of "new love" that comes with the embrace of Christ and His Church, and that zeal I felt, combined with spiritual immaturity, led me to so many rookie mistakes. I made assumptions that were unfounded, including the assumption that "people in this culture only have one or two children because they are selfish!" I was just sure of it.

And then I began to mature, and I began to think. While it is true that some couples close their marriage to any or more children due to selfishness, materialism, and a desire for the "finer things and the good life" (I have had people admit this to me with great honesty), I can't assume that for the majority.

In fact, I started to look at my own pre-faithful life. When my husband and I were married, I was on the Pill. We had talked about having two kids, maybe three at the most (especially if the first two kids were the same sex). That was how it was, and there was no big controversy or angst.

But interestingly, that was not my heart's desire at all. I actually always thought that big families, when I had seen them or read about them, were amazing, wonderful, fascinating! In my heart of hearts, I would have loved to have a "big family" -- four kids, maybe even five!

Of course, that was just a dream (and one barely thought of), like saying that it would be amazing to weave my own clothes on a loom, or travel the world on a yacht. I mean, some people did that sort of thing -- the eccentrics, the uber-religious, the uber-rich -- but not normal folks.

It wasn't that I was being selfish or stingy in fully intending to limit our family to two children (three being possible, but not probable), it was that I was doing what was done. The cultural norm of two children was and is the very air that we breathe in regular America. There is no thought about it, no deeper questions to be asked, none of that. We do what our neighbors do. We do what the culture says. I would no more have thought about actually having a large family than I would have thought about going barefoot on a trip to the mall or joining a circus as a trapeze artist. I mean, who does that? A very odd few.

Selfishness, like love, requires willful thought and action.

And so, in looking back, I was not selfish in my decision. It was simply not a decision that I even knew could be made. It was not a question on the radar at all. When I look around at the majority of my neighbors and fellow parents, I cannot assume that they are being selfish in deliberately limiting their family size. They are just being 21st century Americans. It's just what we do. We have very small families and we do it reflexively. It's no more complicated than that.

Which brings me to the freedom. When the glorious moment hits, when the awesome realization strikes, "I don't have to follow the American norm; I am a Catholic and I follow the Lord", oh the freedom! Oh, the joy! It's as if the sealed box we've been living in has been burst open and we can jump out into the sunlight! Everything is different, new, bright, fresh, and colorful -- teeming with life and abundance! Oh, the possibilities!

My heart's hidden desire, to have more children and have my house full of life and my children lush with siblings and exponential extended family potential, was now unleashed! No one and nothing, not even a mindless and powerful cultural norm, could bind me again.

I pray that we Catholics would understand that those who deliberately have small families are not necessarily being selfish; they simply don't know a higher authority than the cultural norm. When they question or act shocked by our big families, it may well be that they are, as I once was, truly curious at the "eccentrics" in their midst.

May we Catholics never take our freedom for granted, nor judge as selfish those who don't yet know that they are still bound. Our job is to love them, and to lead them to the freedom that is meant for all.









160 comments:

  1. I really appreciate what you're saying, and since Catholicism is a religion that is *embodied* within *history,* it has a real relationship to cultural norms in and of themselves. I do want to add that the freedom Catholics have to cross the cultural norm into the beauty and joy of large families is the same freedom Catholics have to limit their families for many good reasons, and that it's always so important to remember (lest we judge) that submitting our desires to God means living with God's specific gifts for us. Some will hear that stirring of the heart (how amazing to have four, or even five) and others will hear a call to be open *at all* (how amazing to have life join our marriage) and some will hear the sad and heartbreaking no (that sometimes means, as in my case, a call to a very different kind of YES to life)...
    But the cultural aspect is Real. And that first zealous blush to which you referred can also be channelled to do more damage than good when comparison steals joy, and self-righteousness or the bitterness of exhaustion (or poor discernment?) might supersede mercy.
    When I was struggling with multiple miscarriages amidst a counter-cultural group of *very Catholic * (more Catholic than I???) families with copious offspring, my spiritual director gently reminded me that the Holy Family had only one child....
    There is the consideration of the Will. You are so right to point that out. Thank you for this thoughtful piece.

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  2. Though of course not everyone is called to or necessarily desires a large family either...I do pray for a culture of life (and openness to life) to permeate our families but I think we should be cautious about sounding smugly self-satisfied with our decisions. Those of us who do have larger families are blessed, but no more or no less than those who have families who look a bit different, you know? Freedom in Christ does mean freedom from cultural norms, but it also means freedom to discern what God means for us while remaining open to His will.

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    1. Thanks for this. I have one boy and one girl, and one in heaven that no one sees. I'd love to have 5 kids (8 feels like a pipe dream). I wanted 4 children ever since I was a little girl, clueless about Catholic teaching. We may yet have 4 to raise here, but I fear it might never happen. I think the farther we move away from counting a family's kids and assuming anything based off the number, the better off we will be. :) Children are indeed a blessing... 1 or 10 of them. That's the only thing I know for sure!!

      And Leila, I loved this post. It's so true and an important distinction to make. I might even take it one step farther in that some couples do think about it a little more, but do honestly feel like it would be too much for them just because the idea is so unusual and they might feel a lack of support that we Catholics often take for granted.

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  3. Amen! One of the most faithful Catholic couples I know (my daughter's godparents) have only two children (as well as several saints in heaven) due to a long struggle with infertility.

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  4. I would just add that the Bible says that children are a blessing, and that arguably, that was more true then than it is today. Or if not more true, at least it was true in a very different way.

    I'm talking about economics. Research shows that less developed countries and societies which rely on agriculture to survive tend to have larger families, and to facilitate this, they also tend to be polygamous. Hence, ancient Israel. A larger family ensured 1) that a male heir to the family's property and wealth would be produced, and 2) that there would be plenty of hands to help work the farm/ranch. Yes, children were an economic blessing because they were essentially free labor.

    Today, however, children are not an economic asset: they are an economic liability. Because we live in a society where money is earned from skilled labor, rather than on the farm, children add nothing to a family's income and are costly to keep alive. You said it yourself, Leila. You assumed that only the wealthy got to have many children. It's a fact that we take for granted that children cost us a lot of money, but that isn't necessarily the case in less developed countries.

    Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that the fact that children are an economic liability makes them any less valuable. My point is that, especially for secular families, the choice to have fewer children may indeed simply be something they don't consider, but behind that cultural norm is a simple fact: children aren't an economic blessing anymore, and you have to have money to survive.

    PS. I admit I have not had the energy to engage in the abortion debate recently. It's about that time in the semester when every week there is seemingly a new due date for a test, an audition, or a concert to play, so forgive me for being absent. I do intend to answer everyone's questions in full eventually, though it may be too late for the lurkers.

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  5. The rewards children provide may not be monetary in nature, but they are nonetheless invaluable.

    I look forward to reading your responses re: abortion and miscarriage once your schedule settles down, John.

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  6. I do pray for a culture of life (and openness to life) to permeate our families but I think we should be cautious about sounding smugly self-satisfied with our decisions.

    Oh, goodness, did I sound smug? Honestly, my point was to say that we should not judge. I was there. I get it. But that's the danger of writing a blog post: I cannot possibly give all caveats and examples. I was very specifically focused on those who do not give though to the expansive teaching of the the Church in this area, but who reflexively follow the cultural norm on these issues. I hope that was clear.

    And the point of the post was not to compare what devout Catholics do. If a Catholic is within the moral law and discerning with God, that is awesome! And it's not what this post is about.

    Christine, I totally agree with you that that first blush and zeal of a new convert/revert can damage. I did damage, I am sure! Trusting that God covered me and limited damage in the long run. I even almost did damage to myself, by getting so zealous that I almost became seduced by the schismatic voices! That is a danger many converts face.

    John, the blessing of children is inherent, not economical. If we know one thing from our Christian faith, it's that we do not look upon human beings as valuable for what they can do for us or give to us. We reject utilitarianism. Humans have value and dignity (infinite, eternal) because they are made in the image and likeness of God.

    And, I didn't just assume the rich had big families, not at all. I knew that "super religious" families had them, too. I have since learned after two decades that middle-class and even poorer families (families I know and love) can and do have large families and they thrive. It's sort of a myth that you HAVE to provide a million types of lessons, sports, a full college education, etc. for your children. And in recent decades, it was normal and fine to have a large family in a small house. Today, our expectations and level materialism have changed.

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    1. NO! Should clarify: You did NOT sound smug, though I think it's often the (unintentional) voice people with lots of children use when addressing those who do not, whether indirectly or directly. So sorry for the misunderstanding!

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  7. I said:

    "I was very specifically focused on those who do not give though to the expansive teaching of the the Church in this area, but who reflexively follow the cultural norm on these issues."

    I will add: I was talking about all those, Catholic and non-Catholic, and non-Christian, who just accept that this is "what we do" in our society. That is the vast majority of citizens.

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  8. I edited a couple of my examples in the OP, so hopefully it will be more clear. Thanks for the feedback!

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  9. Amy assumed a lot in her email. That’s typical but rather sad.

    I made assumptions that were unfounded
    I can’t assume that for the majority

    Ah, blessed wisdom. ^

    Assumptions are not good and tend toward the negative. Such is human nature and our fallen tendency to assume without really knowing.

    My thought is: Allow me to tell you (stranger/acquaintance/random person) who I am and share my experience, instead of having you (stranger/acquaintance/random person) project onto me all that you assume I am, or have you tell me who I am, based on your assumptions. It might hinder a friendship. Kindly remove your label from my forehead and just get to know me. I’ll probably blow away every stereotype you had in mind, as you will with me.

    It's a lot more charitable if we just refrain from casting a judgmental assuming eye on anyone for any one thing (family size, income, education, etc.) and really get to know them.

    Nice post.

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  10. Yes, Nubby! That's it exactly. How can we know anything about anyone by looking from the outside? We have to get to know people. It's what we are called to do as Christians. There is a reason that I love the story of the Woman at the Well so much. Jesus did this "dance" with her. He knew her. He let her know that He knew her. She left all behind after their encounter. It was so personal! It was not merely an account of her (sinful) deeds and what was seen and supposed from the outside.

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  11. Great post, Leila. I remember how I use to hate it when well-meaning people in my parish would ask me why I didn't have any children yet after being married for so long. It may sound a bit funny but I always felt as if I were wearing a scarlet C for "CONTRACEPTS" on my chest even though we did not. After 9 years, I had my daughter and you would think the questions would stop but they never did. There was one couple with 7 children who would ask me, "When are you going to have more children?" And every single time I'd feel that scarlet C pop up on my chest again. Because when you ask that question with a "when" attached it suggests that the person is doing something to prevent conception. So it was either wear the scarlet letter or explain to them my problems with infertility, which I wasn't willing to do. I often wonder if other Catholic couples with no or few children feel that way or if it's because I am too sensitive. Which I am! Lol. I realize I shouldn't assume that they were thinking anything negative but even now, after 22 years of marriage, I still feel that scarlet C creeping up when people from my new parish ask me how many children I have. Strange but true. Just thought I'd throw a "small" Catholic family perspective into the loop here!

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    1. I love your reference to the "Scarlet C" I completely get it. I do not actually interact with many people from my parish (I do plan on changing that), but the few times I have over the years as soon as they find out we do not have any children the next question is "well don't you want kids, or when do you plan on trying?" Everytime that happens I want to crawl into a hole...why am I all of a sudden forced to discuss with a strange person the fact that YES I do want children but it just hasn't been part of God's plan for us. I resent having to open up about my fertility the first time I meet someone, let alone be made to feel guilty about the fact that we have no children. I think that's why I've avoided being active in our parish.

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    2. I agree that we *shouldn't* have to discuss our pain or private issues with strangers. But what I've discovered is that everything, everything is an opportunity. So, even a "Oh, we are so hopeful that God will one day bless us with children!" is something that might instantly educate and touch the hearts of those who asked! What a bridge to friendship and conversation! There is a phenomenon that happens with big families and it goes like this: A mother of a big family (usually at the end of her rope that day) will have someone make a curious or incredulous comment about her family size ("Are they all yours?" "Wow, you have your hands full!") and she will pop off with a snarky reply and think it's clever. But she has assumed the bad intention of the other, where perhaps there was just curiosity, encounter with something new -- and the opportunity to evangelize, or to meet that person in an "encounter" (as Francis says) is lost! I hate that!

      Why aren't we all, infertile and fertile, taking these opportunities for the Lord? Imagine the relationships and understanding and bridges and friendships that could come. Perhaps (not perhaps, since all is providential) God has placed that questioning person in your life because he or she needs you to touch them that day. Or vice versa.

      I hope you read that in the spirit of excitement and joy, as I am truly enthusiastic about looking at every encounter this way! I think you are poised to change a million hearts and minds! Go, and be active in your parish! People need to hear your voice and perspective!

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    3. PS: I did not mean to imply that you would normally assume the bad intention of the other. I do see that too often with the moms of big families who do seem to assume that all the questioning is the result of bad intent or judgement, rather than curiosity. So, forgive me for making it seem like I was connecting you with that attitude. I know you are not like that, and that infertility is a painful thing that is hard to talk about (a whole different scenario than the mom who gets the comments about a big family).

      I just think that the minute you let anyone a tiny bit into your heart and pain, the opportunities for true understanding, growth, and friendship are huge! And, helping others to come closer to the Lord in the process. Hope that makes sense.

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    4. I love your post on opportunity, Leila! Oh, the relationships and spiritual growth we could have if more of us were able to do this in our parishes. We have to remember to be merciful to each other -- We may need a lot of mercy in our suffering, but the person, in asking his/her questions, also needs mercy from us. If they are truly being judgmental, they still need our mercy even if it is painful to us. If they are curious or just getting to know you as best they can, then we need to assume the best and risk engaging with them. Both parties have an opportunity to grow spiritually, and we can support each other through different suffering even when our suffering is completely different, even when one person's suffering magnifies your own to a degree (super fertile vs. infertile, as an example). It helps to remember that the other person did not get to choose his/her cross anymore than you got to choose yours.

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  12. Mary, you are not alone!! I hear it a lot, and it's so valid. It would have been me (but for a different reason) had my husband had his planned vasectomy after three kids (or who knows, maybe we would have tried to reverse it?). But yes, I can imagine the discomfort in those encounters. I always have said that I feel that faithful Catholics who struggle with infertility are the most holy, because they get it from both sides: The secular side which says, "Why don't you just do IVF or ART? Why are you being so stubborn?" and the devout Catholics who are wondering, "Oh, I'm sure they must contracept! Why don't they have more children (or any children)?"

    So, you all suffer in silence and become holy, taking the narrow road and carrying a big cross. That is why I blog, because I started reading the blogs of the infertile Catholic bloggers and I had to follow them because of how holy they were! I was so impressed! And they befriended me (love those women!) and convinced me to start a blog. Crazy how things work, but I have such a heart for Catholic infertiles.

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  13. I might even take it one step farther in that some couples do think about it a little more, but do honestly feel like it would be too much for them just because the idea is so unusual and they might feel a lack of support that we Catholics often take for granted.

    Yes, indeed!! This is so true, and it makes me sad. I like to think that God plants faithful Catholics in every neighborhood or town quadrant, or one in the workplace, or at least one faithful in each nominally Catholic family. Someone around to sort of buck the culture on these issues for those who really do have a heart that is open and seeking and longing.

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  14. What if a person has issues where having a lot of children can impact a person's health in a negative way and then that person cannot be the parent to 10 kids she would want to be? 10 kids sounds like a fantastic thing til you realize the physical demands of it might really not be in line with other health issues one may have. Many many people who come from big Catholic families recount the horrors of it if Mom and Dad were ill equipped to take care of them. Health issues impact financial ones. Having two kids being the "norm" and just what people "do" nowadays is not the whole story. Some people don't have 10 kids based on who they are as adults, and also what their own experiences were like growing up in families with parents ill equipped for it.

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  15. Hi Catherine! But that's not really what my post was about. First, I never said that everyone has to have ten kids. I don't have ten kids. Some people do, but it's still pretty rare. Second, the whole country can't possibly have health issues, so there is something more going on here. I think you might have read things into my post that weren't there.

    Do you disagree that most people in America are conditioned to have small families? I don't know how that is deniable; one need only look at statistics.

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    1. Still pretty rare even among those who are open to life in their marriages, I should have said.

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  16. the Holy Family had only one child....

    Didn't Jesus have brothers?

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  17. No, Johanne, Jesus did not have any siblings. That is a false misconception: http://www.catholic.com/quickquestions/does-the-use-of-this-greek-word-for-sibling-indicate-that-jesus-had-brothers

    Also, I can't highly recommend www.catholic.com highly enough as a FANTASTIC resource to answer nearly any question you might have about the Catholic faith :)

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  18. You hit the nail on the head. Before my husband and I accepted the Church's teaching on birth control I thought my dreams of having a large family were almost certainly out of reach. Even after accepting NFP, it seemed that the default was necessarily going to be avoidance of conception for the duration of our marriage, as we already had two children. Even after a number of NFP 'accidents' this mentality has been nearly impossible for my husband to escape, even though he loves his big family. It was just the way he was raised, and his family harasses him constantly for being stupid and selfish in having so many kids. This is why I cringe whenever I see parents of large families get snarky when they get the typical comments about getting snipped, you know what causes that, etc. Yes, there are a few people out there who are actively hostile against large families for whatever personal reasons, but I have found that there are many, many more who are enchanted by large families, and many women especially who carry that secret desire around and have no idea where to go with it. If you are nice to them when they get up the guts to make their awkward jokes, you may find out they are trapped in the prison of societal expectations, and the sight of your family gives them a flicker of hope for something more. Please, moms of many, please be nice!

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  19. Okay, I have a lot to say. I think.

    First of all, a bit tongue-in-cheek, but what strikes me as odd in Amy's inquiry is the implication that you had all these children without any discussion or even "help" from your husband, but rather you somehow just went out and 8 children without consulting him or even without his knowledge, but with the expectation that he would pay for all of them.
    Pretty sure it takes two to tango. And as mother of 7, my husband was d@#^ well aware of what we were doing that resulted in 7 children. Good grief.

    Secondly in reference to the actual topic of the post - I remember when I was pregnant with my 4th child, already and outlier as I was having a 4th, but I had two older boys and 2 year old girl. I was so hoping that number 4 was another girl so that my daughter would have playmate close to her age, that I cried and cried when I found out he was a boy. I was glad to know he was healthy, but I mourned the loss of the little girl I was so sure I was going to have... to balance out the family, 2 boys, 2 girls. It wasn't until years (and a couple more children later), that I realized that a large part of why I was so upset when I found out #4 was a boy, was that I had convinced myself that he was going to be the last. That there would be no more children after him, and therefore if I was going to have another baby girl, this was my last chance. I had already been pushing my luck regarding friends and family and how they looked upon our family (often with disdain for being "larger than the norm"). When I finally acquiesced to the reality that God was the one really in control(that's a WHOLE other story - realizing that God is in charge), my next two children, both boys, were easier to handle.
    And #7 is the charm... She just turned 1 last month and her big sister is thrilled to have a My Little Pony playmate - even if she does just eat them at this point.

    I'll put my third set of observations in another comment, lest this one get too convoluted.

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  20. My wife and I have been teaching precana courses in our dioceses for the past four years. One change we note compared to twenty years ago is how many fiancés fear infertility.

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  21. Hi Leila, I'm a frequent lurker on your blog and have to chime in on this. My daughter is a convert and her husband a revert through logical thinking after a spin through evangelicalism and seeing its superficiality. They use NFP (which by its very nature cannot be done with a contraceptive mentality) and have two children, for financial reasons (struggling middle class family, college debt) and emotional stress reasons. They want two kids unless the Lord plans otherwise, which is faithfully following the Lord. They have been judged harshly by so-called Catholic, so-called friends. They don't feel like they belong, even though they are faithful Catholics who love the Lord. My son in law admits this puts a strain on his faith. I just think there are a lot of self-satisfied Pharisees out there. Thank you for letting me vent.

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  22. I like this post, but I think you skipped over Amy's major complaint: that you're extremely lucky to be able to afford to have a large family and be a SAHM. For many couples, the life that you and your husband have just isn't financially possible. As dachsiemama pointed out, many young couples today have tens of thousands in student loan debt or low-paying jobs or other financial issues that make a large family a luxury. Maybe this could be its own post?

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  23. These are some great comments! Let me address them one by one.

    First, Johanne, as Margo said, Jesus did not have brothers and sisters. Mary was always a Virgin. We call her, in fact, Mary Ever-Virgin. To understand more about that (and why she was both Virgin and Mother), go here:

    http://littlecatholicbubble.blogspot.com/2010/06/little-teachings-from-bubble-marys.html

    And yes, Catholic Answers (catholic.com) that Margo suggested is awesome. They were instrumental in my own reversion, even before the internet.

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  24. Do you understand how smug and condescending it sounds to say that people are just mindless robots? If someone said you were mindless in following the "Vatican" by having eight children, you'd paint them as an anti-Catholic bigot. People have their reasons for having smaller families, and it isn't simply because they are mindless. And where I live, three children is the average American family. Are they just a little less mindless for having three?

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  25. Robin E., you said: "I have found that there are many, many more who are enchanted by large families, and many women especially who carry that secret desire around and have no idea where to go with it."

    YES! I cannot tell you the amount of times that women have secretly told me, "I always wanted more, but my husband said no" (even after they proudly talked about their tubal ligation). It's heartbreaking. Which is why I always say that we cannot know what wounds others carry around. I have one dear friend from high school who had her tubes tied at age 22 after she and her husband had their two sons (she married out of high school). By the time I was on my fourth or fifth child, she confided in me that she was so regretful for that tubal. She even looked into a reversal, but the doctor had burned and butchered her tubes beyond repair. She is not Catholic, and she "gets it" now. If the societal expectation had not been there, she would likely have had a brood!

    There are a lot of sad and lonely hearts out there, and regrets, so we have to tread lightly and be loving and merciful. There but for the grace of God...

    And oh, the older folks who are without many children or grandchildren! So much loneliness. I truly feel for the elderly who had children (maybe only one or two, maybe more) and they went the way of the "career-first" culture, and have decided (even if now married) not to have any children. One older lady approached me after a daily mass many, many years ago (right after my reversion, and I had a small child with me), and she oooohed and ahhhhhed over my baby and then said with the saddest eyes, "I have five children. And no grandchildren. None of them wanted any babies." She walked away and my heart was just broken for her! We have a lot of very sad and lonely elderly folks in this nation, and it's only getting worse.

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  26. PRG:

    "Do you understand how smug and condescending it sounds to say that people are just mindless robots?"

    No, I don't, but thanks for pointing it out! I think you might want to read a little more closely, though. I didn't say that people were "mindless robots". The cultural norms (in any society) are a very strong thing (do you deny this?). And all I can go on is my own experience of being an adult for several decades. I know what the mindset is of my peers. I know what my mindset was. I know that having big families was just "not done". It's not about being a mindless robot, it's about being a regular American with regular American thoughts and understandings and expectations. Just like use of contraception. It never occurred to me that using contraception was actually wrong, or that "normal" people could actually choose never to use it. I had no such experience with people like that. Surely you can understand that? Outside of very specific circles, those ideas don't even penetrate as viable options. No one thinks of them. I guess your experience is different? Everyone is open to large families, and the majority do not use contraception? I would love to know what community you live in! :)

    By the way, of course people have reasons (often good reasons) to have small families. I never denied that. But when I say that I put no thought into it, what I mean was this: Of course there was a "reason" to have only two kids -- it was the reflexive reason that the culture says incessantly: "Too expensive. Can't do it, because it's just too expensive. I have to put these kids through college, after all." There, that was the reason! Or, the other one, "Couldn't handle that many kids." Again, the reason is reflexive. Does the thought go deeper than that for the average person? Didn't for me. Those are the reasons. They are not dissected and discussed. It's a given. If you are from a place where these reasons are carefully weighed against the alternative, then you have a very special community. And there must be lots of big families as well as the ones with three or two or one. Otherwise, how can it be other than what I've said?


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    1. Sorry if I sounded harsh. I've often encouraged others to try for the third or fourth child. Even though I only have two children, I've always thought four was the perfect number. We might have had four if our circumstances had been different. Maybe it's an urban cultural thing, but I do know some people who sound like the reflexive thinkers to which you refer. I just don't think they're the majority. Often, people don't go on to have more kids because they feel taxed with two or three kids, and once those kids get older they don't want to return to the exhaustion of the baby years. That's just what I've seen.

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  27. For John Romero -- I am 100% with Leila on the inherent blessing of children, so I hope my comment does not come off as a monetary measure of children. But I did want to add one thing: When worrying about finances and raising children, our culture often only measures the cost to raise children to adulthood. You often see the studies that show the cost to parents from pregnancy to college, and it strikes fear in the hearts of young adults everywhere. Yes, it does cost money to raise kids (but often less than people realize when we let go of cultural expectations).

    We often overlook, however, the monetary value of children as parents age. You can see the financial burden of the elderly in countries like China and Japan where families are very small. One child helping aging parents can be quite the financial, emotional, and physical challenge. Now take a family with six kids, where each grown child can contribute in a myriad of ways based on his/her abilities -- it might be financial, physical (maybe one is a nurse and caregiver), emotional, etc. Everyone can pitch in and help, and that reduces financial strain on the parents (among other things). And more kids in one generation will grow to support the social safety nets of their elder generation. It works on a family scale all the way up to a national scale. People forget to factor in the other end of life when considering kids and their monetary "burden" or "value".

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  28. sthenryii, I did respond to that (at least a bit) when I responded to John Romero. Interestingly, JoAnna also responded, and she is a mom of many that has to work outside the home for financial reasons (she has a great Catholic working moms website and I believe she is working on a book!). Also, my husband just turned 50, and as can be expected after a quarter century of building a career (heck we have three grandkids now), he is financially stable. But when we first had children, he was making about $26,000. We had three kids and he was making in the low 30s. It's been a journey! We have had family who have helped us through the years, but we know people who do not have family help and still have large families and small salaries. I guess I'm just around so many of them all the time that I know it can be done. Many of the moms work, and many of them don't (even those with blue collar husband/workers). Everyone's situation is different, but I don't like to perpetuate the idea that only rich people can have a big family, because it's just not true.

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  29. Someone above mentioned that Leila is lucky to be able to afford her large family. I think she's lucky to have been born in Generation X. I, too, am from Generation X and we have some financial advantages the younger people don't have (student debt/higher rent/home prices in urban areas). In Leila's defense, I certainly believe that she and her husband have made financial sacrifices to enlarge their family. However, I don't think many people in their 20s can have that life even with sacrifice.

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  30. dachsiemama, that is very sad and I am sorry! Truly, no one should look at an individual couple and judge them like that! It's painful and un-Christian. And frankly, we need to be looking at our own sins, not pointing out the (perceived) sins of others (who may not be in sin at all!). That is unfortunate. :(

    Bethany, ha ha, yes, I'm totally with you! My husband was not SURPRISED that we got pregnant and had a big family! Gosh, it's sort of insulting to him for her to imply that. And oh my gosh, I totally relate to you. When we were "done" at three kids, I was so happy that my daughter would have a sister! But I was truly sad that my son would never have a brother. We were to be a "girl-heavy" family, with three of us females and only Daddy and Eric as the boys. That was to be my life, because we were done. Now, I remember when we were getting ready for a vasectomy, I was so sad. I didn't question it at all... this is what we had to do, of course... but I remember "mourning" my fourth child who would never be. Who might that fourth child have been? What would he or she have looked like? Thankfully, God's grace led us out of the bonds, and I can now tell you that my fourth child is Paul Joseph. He is brilliant and HILARIOUS and handsome and fun and just about the perfect son. He is a senior in high school now and has a full academic ride to engineering school. He is a faithful and devout Catholic gentleman. When I gave birth to him (we had not found out if he was a boy or girl), my first son, my only son who was never going to have any brothers, remember, said this when he found out Paul was a boy (Eric was five years old): "I HAVE A BWOTHA!!" To this day, the two of them are best friends. And, Eric not only got his brother, he got five little brothers! Anyway, I still marvel at the story and at God's goodness. So, I get what you are saying!!!

    Elizabeth, yes!! Absolutely agreed.

    Kevin, oh, that is something I hadn't thought about. What a sad but good point!

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  31. PRG, I disagree with your statement. Are those in their 20's facing different challenges? Sure. Are they so difficult that they cannot possibly afford larger families? I don't think so. I'm 35 -- not much older than those in their 20's. My husband, also in his 30's, went back to grad school and just graduated two years ago. He was in school with all the 20-somethings (law school). We had four kids throughout his three years in law school. We might still have more kids. We have 120k in student loans. We have a mortgage that is 230k. My husband does not make six figures. And, yet, we have a solid savings, a 401k that is much higher than average, we balance our bills every month. We have no credit card, vehicle debt, or any other debt other than the mortgage and those hefty student loans. We will be fine, and we can have more kids. Are most 20-somethings facing much more than 350k in debt?? It's just not so impossible. (I don't recommend everyone take on that debt load -- We did have to very carefully calculate our risks and decisions when sending him back to grad school. We do have a solid long-term plan.)

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  32. Student loans don't just magically appear. When you take out student loans you know you are going to have to pay them back. The most typical way to pay them back is by working. A decision was made that limits your choices later in life....that's not luck. That's life.

    But please, my parents raised 5 children and never made a lot of money.

    It isn't people can't afford to have more children, it is they can't afford to have children in the lifestyle they want.

    Kids don't actually need piano lessons, dance lessons, private schools, new bikes every few years, vacations every year and a lavish birthday/Christmas until they are 18. They also don't need you paying for their college education.

    Now, you may decide you _want_ to give your kids all of that and that's fine. But don't be nasty to other people because they prioritize things differently and decide to have more children.

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  33. I have so many thoughts on this that I don't even know where to begin!

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  34. "As dachsiemama pointed out, many young couples today have tens of thousands in student loan debt or low-paying jobs or other financial issues that make a large family a luxury."

    I should have commented on this (and thanks, StarFireKK for hitting on this, too):

    Student loan debt is a HUGE problem/issue. Huge. There should be a massive discussion between parents and children about how or why they would take on this crushing, life-limiting debt. There are SO many other options for education, job training, etc. First, work hard in high school and get full scholarships. Yes, they are there! Second, if you have to take on debt, please make sure you go into a field that gives you a reasonable chance to pay off that debt!! And, rethink the paradigm. Why not go to two-years of community college, do well, and then transfer into a university? Many people do that here now. It's very different from the days I went to my private four-year university and had the luxury of an English degree and parents who had good income and only two kids so they took on the loans, not me. My husband had loans for ten years of our marriage, but looking back now, that was NOTHING compared to what kids take on today. WHY are we going along with the culture on this, too? Why are we digging a hole we may never get out of? I think debt is a moral issue, and I hope we are teaching our kids that. We need to rethink a helluva lot of things in this society, because it's a society that is practically designed to destroy or impeded healthy families.

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  35. Elizabeth:

    I agree 100%.

    I have an insane amount of student loan debt, but it is less than most people's mortgage. I took on the debt before the economy committed suicide in 2008 and I'm done apologizing for it. It'll take me a while but I'll pay it off.

    We can afford kids. We just aren't lucky enough to have them.

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  36. PRG, thanks for your comments! Yes, we GenXers have it different than kids today. I would never have gone the same route with my university career and choices if I were entering college today.

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    1. Ha! My husband put himself through ASU back when in-state tuition was $1500 per year. He has a B.A. in Russian. My parents paid for NAU and I have a degree in history. We both ended up going to law school! I'd never recommend that to a kid today. Times have changed.

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  37. And my comments to PRG about how we had it better off financially than today's kids is true, but I also agree with StarFireKK and Elizabeth, that big families are still possible, even with the massive debt people have today! In fact, for the future, when those parents become elderly (as Elizabeth mentioned to John Romero), it may be the most beneficial thing of all for young families today to have more children so that they have lots of supportive family in their old age!

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  38. Perhaps I don't know as many big families as others, but it seems they all have family nearby, family helping (financially or babysitting or otherwise), and loads of Catholic relatives and friends. Those things right there are a huge advantage to couples who desire a large family. My husband and I do not have these advantages, and so are coming from a different place/perspective.

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  39. Elizabeth, it's definitely important to have the plan and it appears you guys made good choices for your family!

    Beth, do you have any kids of babysitting age, yet? That makes a HUGE difference.

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  40. Yep, I've worked full-time outside the home since 2003 (and my blog that Leila mentioned is www.catholicworkingmother.com). Our first child was born in 2005. We've had nine pregnancies total since then (five live births, four miscarriages). About half my salary goes to daycare; the other half goes to pay mortgage and student loans. (And my husband's salary covers everything else.) Is it difficult? Yes. Would I rather be a SAHM? Absolutely. (And if my husband can get a better job, we *might* be able to make it happen.) But thanks to NFP, we've managed to space our kids so that we've never had more than three in full-time daycare at once (right now we have two in full-time daycare, which is a bit easier).

    So it can be done. It takes work and sacrifice, but it's not impossible.

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  41. My oldest is twelve and can stay home alone, but I'm not necessarily comfortable having this child babysit siblings yet. Lots of Catholic relatives and friends also offer the advantage of having plenty of people to choose from to be Godparents and confirmation sponsors. Perhaps that sounds trivial, but when practically all relatives have left the church and even friends, that causes the stress of "who will be godparents if we have a new baby" and "who will my son/daughter choose as a sponsor when they're in 8th grade?" Also, for those who have no debt or car payments (I believe Elizabeth said this, aside from her mortgage and student loans), what about the fact that for some people, just the hospital bills alone from a birth cost? Out of pocket for us is unreal, and that's a real concern for people. So I'm not talking strictly material things when raising children.

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  42. StarFireKK -- I'm glad to know we aren't alone in the student loans! I'm sorry that you don't have kids. I am reminded that we are so fortunate to have our kids, and I wouldn't trade any of them for greater financial ease or stability.

    Beth, we actually live thousands of miles away from any family. We moved here knowing no one after law school, and we are slowly forming a solid Catholic community. But we still have to pay for babysitters, and we have to be more independent. I understand that hardship, and I do miss my family. I can empathize.

    Our oldest is 11 -- He often watches some of his siblings for short periods of time, and he will eventually be old enough to be a full-fledged babysitter. He is excited about taking on that responsibility. So while we do not have family to help us, our oldest children will be a great help to us as they continue to grow. It's a different life than when we only had toddlers and preschoolers.

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  43. Beth, I don't know if this is an option for you, but we are part of Samaritan Ministries, a health-sharing ministry. We have no health insurance. It is exempt from the mandate (three ministries are exempt). It only costs $300 to have a baby through them, we pay $405/month toward helping others pay their medical bills, and the ministry has been around since the 1990s and is financially stable. There are restrictions on pre-existing conditions, so some people have to crunch the numbers to see if it is worth it to give up expensive health insurance for a sharing ministry. That is how we afford babies :). Otherwise, with medical insurance, would have a 10k deductible and pay $750/month in premiums, which would be a hardship. Samaritan saves us from that. It is fantastic.

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  44. ^Samaritan operates in all 50 states and has no restrictions on providers. They also do not cover contraception, abortions, sterilizations, etc. You walk in as a cash-pay patient, and other members reimburse you for your bills.

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  45. Elizabeth- Student loans are the pits, right? I applaud you for taking such a practical approach to your debt, it really isn't a life sentence. Thank you, my doc says I am still young so maybe we'll get lucky. We've lost one, and haven't gotten pregnant again. We are considering adoption but we don't really know where to start.

    Beth- You are right a lot of larger families have a good support group. Only one I know relies heavily on family, most of the others have good friends through Church and their kids activities. I think they cultivated those friendships as their kids grew. You wouldn't think a father of five has time to coach but he does.

    One mom told me the secret was learning to recognize when helps comes even if it isn't in the form you really want. My husband and I don't babysit often but we love joining our friends for dinner or a trip to the zoo. We often bring most of the food, help clean-up, play with the kids, help with homework, etc. I remember spending time after the kids went to bed helping the mom fold clothes while we visited. She didn't want the help until I pointed out I knew how hard I worked to keep my house clean and I didn't have littles I needed to pay attention too or who contributed to the mess. After that she opened a bottle of wine and we had a great time.

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    1. Bah, apologies for the terrible grammar and spelling. I was on my phone.

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  46. What is missing from this discussion is the fact that many couples choose small families, not because it is the cultural norm, but because they are concerned about the health of the planet and the quality-of-life their children will face in the future, as well as other peoples children. I don't mean to open a discussion about overpopulation, just two at the perspective that is the reason a lot of people have small families.

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  47. StarFireKK, that is beautiful!

    Johanne, yes, and I would consider that fear of overpopulation to be very much culturally conditioned.

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  48. Johanne:

    Trust in God's creation. He created the world and "He saw that it was good." He told Adam (representative of all of mankind) to "be fruitful and multiply." The "overpopulation" meme is indicative of man's distrust of God and more trust in himself. It is a form of idolization of the self. Or, to be even more blunt, it is to worship the creature instead of the Creator, a grave sin against the First Commandment.

    When we place ourselves above God all sorts of sins emerge. In fact, and I refer to Romans 1:18-32, St. Paul admonishes those who eschew God's omniscience to beware of what happens to their minds and bodies; essentially their thinking and behavior becomes putrefied.

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  49. PRG, you went to NAU? My husband went there for undergrad -- geology :). I was there for a year studying geology as well. You are right that law school (or history or Russian) isn't always the wisest choice nowadays, but combining law and science is actually a smart and strategic move currently. You just have to understand the market a little, scarcity, and take calculated risks. I also would have no trouble encouraging my kids to get history or classics degrees, but we would again have to employ serious strategy and thought to that road. It will depend on the kid, the school, and other factors.

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  50. StarFireKK -- We will definitely keep you in our prayers. And, yes, student loans are the pits :). We don't have college savings for our kids, and my parents didn't have any for us either. We have walked the road, so we can at least help them navigate it.

    And, yes, take and offer help where you can get and offer it. We had an awesome fellow law student friend who babysat our kids for free on occasion when my husband was a student. Such a blessing!

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  51. When it comes to the liberal arts these days, it's tricky. First of all because they are so perverted and distorted in most universities today, and secondly because a degree can cost a fortune, and job opportunities (that pay) are scarce.

    My husband went to Emory undergrad and got a Poli Sci degree with a Philosophy minor. I would not recommend that today, if one has to take out huge loans! He went on to get an MBA, which was helpful. His loans were small (this was in the late '80s, early '90s), and it took about ten years to pay them off (small payments). I was debt-free from my liberal arts college degree, thanks to my parents.

    My daughter has a liberal arts degree. She was a Classics major, with a minor in Latin. She was made for that kind of thing! Thankfully, she chose a state university and had a pretty decent academic scholarship. She also worked and we helped as we could. She got out of school with no debt, and she is now a very well-educated stay-at-home mom!

    I think a mommy with a Classics degree is a great, great thing! She is going to be able to open up a huge world to her kids. But if she had to go into hock for that degree, knowing that she wanted to stay at home after kids? She would not or should not have done it.

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  52. I know women who have been sterilized after having the second or third child and they tell me, "I'd really love to have more children, but..."
    But what?! There's no rule that you have to do that to yourself because you got your "perfect" family.
    That being said, I am that person in the Catholic community with three kids, when everyone else has five or more. I look like such a jerk, but discernment don't lie. Three is our number until I hear otherwise.

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  53. Leila, I did not intend to insinuate that children do not have inherent value. Even secularist have very strong reasons for saying that children (and each individual in general) have intrinsic value. For one, survival of the species will always be more important than the economic cost of children.

    No, my point was that 1) in the less developed, Bronze Age culture of ancient Israel, it WAS an economic asset to have many children, and that made it much easier to say that children are a blessing. The verse that comes to mind is the one that directly states that having many children is an even bigger blessing (quiver-full).
    2) In the developed world, having lots of kids is not the economic blessing (initially) that it used to be. I am 100% certain that if having more kids garnered more money, rather than less. for the parents, you'd see a drastic decrease in abortions.

    I do agree with you in that many parents assume the cost of having many children is higher than what it really is. I come from a family of 6 kids (3rd child), and while I didn't get to do karate classes, get all of the latest video games, or a new car at 16, I had a nice childhood. I do think that I would probably be farther ahead in my career if my family had been able to afford private lessons during my public schooling, but I'm doing okay regardless. My mom is an elementary school teacher and my dad worked as manager for a city rec center, so even with the relatively good economy before the recent recession, we were never in the upper middle class. And yet my parents have said that "they never had to struggle for money."

    So believe me when I say I understand that having a large family isn't impossible or even a huge burden. I do think, however, that there are valid reasons to want to limit one's family size.

    My fiance is another case study on this topic. She says she only wants to have 3 kids max, and was very adamant about it, saying that she wanted them to have a very posh life, basically. But after seeing my larger family at Christmases and Thanksgivings, she said she isn't so sure now, and that part of the reason she was so scared of a large family was because she didn't know how that would work because she never saw it in action.

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  54. So I suppose another reason you could add to your list of reasons why a small family is the norm is, well, because it's the norm! Fear of the unknown, in other words.

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  55. Thank you for this post, I love it. We started having our 8 kids in our 20s way before our friends, and we continued until our early 40s after our peers were long done and no longer our friends because all of our large, lively, boy heavy family kept us from having a social life! (I'm 43, husband is 47 now) It has been a lonely walk, even in our parishes. I have endured endless awkward questions and wide eyed stares when I would be expecting "again", and whispers behind our backs, and bad jokes...The "eerie" neighborhoods, yes, I've lived there.

    But I have never questioned this path and the vision that I have had for large family life, only felt sad for what these other families are missing out on for whatever reason, now and in the future. This post is a great reminder though, sometimes this "feeling sorry for people" thing is pretty close to pride and judgement! I know plenty of people with sub-fertility, so I would never assume anything about a small family...but the many other people who openly explain their usually petty reasons for getting snipped after 2 or 3 kids and suggest that I should consider something similar don't have my respect.

    I agree that it isn't usually about buying a boat or taking fancy vacations! I've heard the "patience" argument more than that one...as in, "I've got my hands full with these two, I couldn't never have another one!"

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  56. Marianne, yes, it is definitely a lonely walk for some people (and I don't even have a large family yet).

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  57. I understand your point here and why you might feel this of distinction of being aware of the option for larger families vs being conditioned by secular society's family size is important.

    However, I bristle at this whole thing because by making it, you are counting and judging. It does not feel welcoming and open.

    While I appreciate that you believe Catholics that struggle with infertility to be especially holy, this whole post has added to my heartbreak today. My husband and I have been involved in the NFP teaching community in Phoenix for 10 years. We have 5 children, but an outsider counting our family at school or church sees a 10-year-old boy and a 6-year-old girl, tidy and neat within secular norms. And if I am being, frank, we almost didn't get to know either of those children as well.

    Infertility and infant loss are deep wounds and it is easy to make assumptions that are like pouring salt. And now I am more aware that those who consider themselves faithful Catholics are making assumptions and passing judgement.

    I realize your intention wasn't to be smug. But it certainly feels that way. I shouldn't have to feel like I must share my dead children with you to be considered Catholic enough or to demonstrate openness to God's plan for my family.

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  58. Notsosmallfries, I am sorry for your losses. We have had one miscarriage. Our family with four (living) children is actually small in our Catholic community, but I can honestly say that I don't feel judged by anyone, even with some of our wider spacings.

    All my sisters have suffered miscarriage. My twin has two living kids. I do not doubt that some people judge devoutness by family size, but I have found that this is not the case nearly as I often as I had assumed in the past. So many people have family members and friends suffering from sub-fertility and loss that I find most people are not quick to make assumptions about other families. Leila was specifically talking about the secular world and our cultural norms. We should be able to converse about social norms without making anyone feel judged or excluded. Please just know that many Catholics with big, medium,and small families do understand that we rarely see the full size of a family or the struggles under the surface.

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  59. And I don't begrudge anyone for having neat, tidy children who fit into secular norms, no matter the number. Those are great things to give our children! JPII had a lot of loss in his life. His childhood was simple, ordered, and joyful, going to school, playing soccer with his friends, etc. That's how it worked out for him and his parents, and he is a great saint.

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  60. Notsosmallfries, I'm very confused. What did I say that made you think I was judging you or those like you who have suffered from infertility and miscarriage? I specifically made the point that I'm talking about people who reflexively choose small families. I was never even talking about devout Catholics who are not using birth control. Not at all. The whole point was that there is a different mindset with those who do not practice or even know about NFP and the Church's teaching. So, you wouldn't even be part of what I was discussing in this post. I even mentioned your kind of situation in the very first paragraph, because it's not what I was addressing in the body of the piece.

    I really am quite confused! I even thought, "Is she speaking to me?" when I saw your email, and then I went to look at the thread and I think you were.

    So, help?

    I even think I wrote in one of the comments how the infertile Catholic ladies (many of them now moms either through birth or adoption or both) are my heroes. I wouldn't have a blog if they had not encouraged it.

    I am sorry for your pain. I just really am confused as to why you applied it to this post?

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  61. "So I suppose another reason you could add to your list of reasons why a small family is the norm is, well, because it's the norm!"

    John Romero, I don't need to add it to the list, because that happens to be exactly the point I was making in the post! :)

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  62. MarianneF, yes! I actually wrote a post a while back for women with large families who have no community support. It's hard!! And lonely! I've heard from those ladies. We don't have that problem in this diocese, but many do.

    Eva, yes! "But what?" is the question I finally figure out! I didn't have to go along.... ;)



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  63. John Romero, I am actually really happy that your fiancee might be open to having a larger family! Siblings are an amazing gift, and I wish I would have had more than one!

    I'm a bit confused about this:

    "Even secularist have very strong reasons for saying that children (and each individual in general) have intrinsic value."

    In our previous conversation about abortion, you were very clear that there is no inherent value whatsoever in the unborn human individual. That a "life unlived" (whatever that means!) is not inherently valuable. If fact, is of no value at all. Could you clarify?

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  64. "I do think, however, that there are valid reasons to want to limit one's family size."

    John, absolutely! I completely agree, and so does the Catholic Church. :)

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  65. Elizabeth, God has blessed you with the gift of empathy even as you get your point across. You conveyed just the right tone.

    I tried for several minutes to compose a response to Notsosmallfries but mine would have sounded judgmental because I really don't have many wounds that I can call up (that are not of my own making, lol). My natural inclination is to remind people that we have to move past ourselves, heal with the help of our Christian resources and open ourselves self-sacrificially to others.

    Too many of us allow our sadness to turn to acrimony. We should otherwise look to the Parable of the Plow and not look back in anger or regret.

    Blessings.

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    1. Thank you! :) Yes, sadness to acrimony -- I have noticed over the years that we Catholics easily isolate ourselves and guard our crosses fiercely, often building walls among our biggest allies, fellow devout Catholics. It is unnecessary loneliness and suffering.

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  66. Barb, yes, and the other thing that each of us has to understand in order to accept our crosses with joy is the concept of total abandonment to God's providence. It's the path to peace that all saints learned and practiced, and they had what we all want! I recommend this book constantly:


    http://littlecatholicbubble.blogspot.com/2014/12/mind-blowing.html

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  67. Hello Leila!
    Thank you for this post and thank you to all who have replied with their own unique responses to how they interpreted what was written. Without the ability to dialogue back and forth, as we would in "normal" conversation, much can be misconstrued.
    To be honest, on first "read," I found myself becoming defensive about the opinions/observations expressed. It did seem, to me, to be somehow pointing to those who through no fault of their own, had small families. Then I walked away from the post, thought about it, came back to find FIFTY more comments, re-read the post and most of the replies, and came to a quite different conclusion. Sometimes it takes a stepping away, and a digesting of the written word, before one can reply in a productive fashion.
    Leila I appreciate your zest for life! Your zeal for your Catholic faith and your love of your husband and all of your children. You are truly blessed and are an example for many. As a mother of 2 girls, 26 and 18 years old respectively, I am one of the women who longed for a larger family, but was instead blessed with two wonderful daughters. Small therefore does not = selfish, as you stated, often it is what God wills, with all of its pain. For a long time I would look at larger families and wonder why I wasn't among them. I am finally at a place where I have come to the realization that comparison and wishing for something other than what I have, may also have something to do with having an ungrateful heart. ( speaking ONLY for myself here. ) Instead of looking at what I did not have, I have begun to look at what I DO have. It does not mean that I no longer look without longing, but it does mean that I remind myself that the life and family I have is just as it is supposed to be and I am grateful for that. My husband I remained open to life at all times. Our lovely foursome, was not "us" ordained, but God ordained.
    If I may go on for a few more lines..... I have learned that words matter, whether in print or verbally spoken. With the utmost respect I say.... "Mindless cultural norm" could have been expressed differently. "Selfish" could be replaced with "self focused," or in the true sense of the word ( although this will CERTAINLY be met with disdain ) "ignorant of the truth." A conversation on the true meaning of the word ignorant would be an important one to have, and perhaps be an eye opener for readers and the broader population. It is not what we think.
    Finally, and this is just me speaking, the term Catholic infertiles is a bit jarring to read, Leila, even though I am certain you say it with a caring heart. Could we just do away with labels? I am not a Catholic infertile, even though I did suffer with secondary infertility for nearly a decade. I am a woman, created in His image and likeness, and also a Catholic, who later in her life carried the cross of secondary infertility. I did not always do it gracefully, but I have learned a great deal from it.
    Thank you for the opportunity to express myself here.

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  68. Leila
    Why would anyone think couples with small families were selfish to begin with? (I'm referencing the title of this post.)

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  69. My problem lies in the fact that I have to explain my cross to avoid judgement. While your post may not apply to me, most people would not know that just looking at my family at school or church. And you wouldn't know it if I didn't share it in my OP. And I shouldn't have to share it to prove anything to anyone.

    The takeaway I have from all of this is that I now need to be aware that people are making assumptions about my commitment to my faith or my ignorance of it just by looking at my family.

    It is probably akin to strangers approaching mother to many telling her how birth control works. Only the judgment isn't coming from those entrenched in the secular world.

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  70. FrancieB, thank you for your eloquence.

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    1. You are welcome, notsosmallfries. Cute name!

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  71. Notsosmallfries - if I may, with this particular post, the judgement is NOT of small families with few children, rather the judgement is being placed on cultural norms that have created a form of subtle peer pressure resulting in some, perhaps many, families (non-Catholic and Catholic alike) to "choose" a small family, without even realizing they have a choice.

    The judgement is not on the people or families, but the cultural circumstances.

    I hope that makes sense.

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  72. I have to admit something here. I rarely feel myself discouraged by a conversation after writing a post, but this is where I'm at. How on earth did a post about NOT judging the wider culture turn into judging devout Catholics?

    It just makes no sense to me and I wonder why I write at all? lol.

    Let's look at my actual words. I was talking about your average, secular (for all intents and purposes) American family/mindset. I was most definitely NOT talking about Catholics who are faithful to the Church teachings.

    How did we get from there to here?

    And, as someone who is involved in the Phx NFP community (my hubby is on the board), I don't know anyone in that community who would judge a couple who is faithful to the Church! Much less someone who has suffered with fertility, repeated miscarriage, which is very, very common within that community.

    I can make a point in defense of my actual arguments, but I am not able to defend something I never wrote nor implied.

    I can write as clear as a bell, and I guess in a fallen world we will all read or see things through our own lens of pain. I am sorry for that, but I can't do anything about it.

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    1. Leila,
      Because several here, read the post they way they did, I think it very simply says that something MAY have been lost in translation.... lost in "readation?" haha
      Some interpreted it differently, despite the fact that you thought you had laid it out so clearly. Maybe it wasn't clear to some. I think that can be acknowledged... no right no wrong. It just is.

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    2. I absolutely acknowledge it. They saw the headline, felt judged immediately, and couldn't see the rest of the words. Because there is not one thing in the article which talks about judging Catholics who are faithful and cannot have children or big families. Not one thing.

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    3. I think we agree. It was not in the words, per se, but in the way they were interpreted. It's hard sometimes to get the full or proper "gist" of something when we are reading something, from each of our own unique vantage points. It's what dialogue is all about. And I think this has been a most enlightening and engaging one. We are all merely trying to understand one another. And that's good thing!

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    4. Thanks, FrancieB! I think the caveat I put at the top should help.

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  73. Thanks, FrancieB! You have a beautiful outlook on things! My own parents could only have two kids (my mom was not able to have children past 24; I think she was okay with that, though. ha ha!).

    I guess I really did mean "mindless cultural norm", because that's what it is. And I really did think, in my newfound zeal of reversion that people must be "selfish" in the broader secular culture, for the almost automatic contraception and sterilizations minus the one or two kids (three if they got two of the same sex and had to "try for the boy" or "try for the girl").

    It was my perception. It is now not my perception (unless I am told specifically by someone, as I have been ["Yes, Wife and I are selfish. We like nice things."], and I appreciate the honesty). Now my perception is that most people do what others do. Most of us follow cultural norms (I think, or thought, that most of us can agree on this -- what John Romero said). And there isn't enough thought put into it to be able to say that it's selfish. It just is.

    I want to say, about the label of infertile.... My IF Catholic community (IF = Infertile) use the term. I adore them. I owe my blog to them, and every good thing that flows from it. I think I have been using that term with them for the better part of seven years, and no one has ever taken me aside privately to tell me it's offensive (and these are my dear friends who tell me a lot of things they don't like, ha ha!). So, if it's offensive to my original posse, I want to hear from them!

    Meanwhile, here is the story of how I found the IF bloggers:

    http://littlecatholicbubble.blogspot.com/2010/05/how-fertile-found-if-bloggers.html

    (and their responses!)

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    1. Thank you! If that is a term that you wish to use, you certainly may. We are all just sharing thoughts here.

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  74. I wonder, Leila, if some are focusing on how you admit as a newly zealous revert, you did make assumptions and judge, if you will, regarding the size of families, and not moving past that?

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  75. Johanne, it's a good question. My answer is that when my entire worldview changed and opened up, when I was able to see the abundance and life that God placed before us, and the possibilities (eternal!) that came from that life, suddenly, the life I knew before seemed small and yes, selfish. I began to see the culture as incredibly materialistic (and it is, oh my gosh), and I could see the goals of most everyone (including my former self) as temporal and materialistic in nature. To me, that materialism and drive for comfort and convenience (which is how our culture is oriented) looked selfish, not sacrificial. No one was "willing" to sacrifice! I thought. And while that is truer now than ever before, I am not prepared to say that it's a willful choice, because a willful choice implies the knowledge that there is another way open to one. I don't think most people think there is another way. We just do what we do. We get the nice phone, we want to the good car, we want to move to the bigger house, we want our kids in the best schools (with an eye towards the most impressive college and lucrative career).... maybe that is just my particular middle-class experience, but it was the same whether I was in Tucson or Boston or Atlanta or Phoenix.

    I hope that makes sense! :)

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  76. Bethany, possibly! I have had people tell me before that they have read only the headline or part of a post (other posts) and got so angry or upset, but later realized that they should have read the whole thing. I can't control for that, though. I wish I could! But we are still human and no matter our best intentions, there will be misunderstandings. Ah, well.

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    1. "I wonder, Leila, if some are focusing on how you admit as a newly zealous revert, you did make assumptions and judge, if you will, regarding the size of families, and not moving past that?"

      But the weird thing is that even when I said that, I was not talking at all about practicing Catholics. I was talking about people like me, pre-conversion. I was talking about non-Catholics, even non-Christians. It was my "old self" and "old life" (not faithful Catholics) that I was judging as selfish.

      So, I'm still scratching my head!

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  77. Problem solved! I added a quick caveat at the top of the post. :)

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  78. I have had time to think and pray on this and perhaps I can be more eloquent now.

    In this post, you talk about a before mindset and an after mindset. If it is not presumptuous, I would characterize your original view as, "They are selfish." I would say your heart has moved to a more open and merciful mindset where you seem to be trying to say "for they know not what they do."

    Is that a fair understanding? If so, I will try to better explain my perspective. But I will wait until I know if I am better understanding your perspective.

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  79. In this post, you talk about a before mindset and an after mindset. If it is not presumptuous, I would characterize your original view as, "They are selfish." I would say your heart has moved to a more open and merciful mindset where you seem to be trying to say "for they know not what they do."

    "They" meaning, people like I used to be. Not people who live a faithful Catholic life. In other words, not you or anyone who lives according to the teachings of the Church. I mean the average person who is contracepting, sterilized, just living the American life.

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  80. Leila
    One would think from your comments that the only reason people had small families by choice was their desire for comfort and convenience. There are so many other reasons--disability, poverty, illness, etc.

    Non sequitur: what do you think of the movie Risen?

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  81. I think it also can be more difficult for people who weren't raised in large families to make the leap to have one. Not everyone, of course. I am one of two kids, and I don't remember anyone in my parish growing up having a family larger than three kids (two was more common). When you don't have the experience of a large family, it seems like (to me, anyway) it's something completely unknown. The majority of the people I know of now with large families (don't know a whole lot) came from large families themselves. Of course, it goes back to your original point, Leila, that it's the societal norm, but I always wanted more than two kids, but it was scary for me bc it was like I was entering a big "unknown". Now I'm wondering if what I said even makes sense, lol.

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  82. The "only" reason? No, of course not. People have concerns about health, money, etc. Absolutely! But I would say that in general, that most don't even get that far, as it's already pretty established that two or three (or one) are the limit. So, many have neutralized those concerns upfront by being "reasonable" like the rest of society. There are certainly those messages coming from the culture, yes? Small families are 'what we do', raising kids is so expensive, have "me" time, etc.? It's the air I breathed as a young married and as a college kid. Am I so off-base in this?

    Look at it this way. Surely we are no more sick/unhealthy, or poor/poverty stricken than we were fifty, sixty, or ninety years ago, right? So, what accounts for the smaller families if not a shift in cultural opinions and norms?

    I haven't seen the movie, but I've heard some pretty decent reviews! Not a perfect portrayal, but a movie that might be worth seeing! :)

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  83. Beth, totally agreed! Big families were like a curiosity! So, it's much harder to even consider it if you've never really seen that. That is exactly why people stare and ask question and stare some more when they see a family with lots of children. I always make sure that I never take their questions defensively. They aren't usually trying to be rude at all. In fact, in all these years, I've only had one actual rude comment directed at my family when we were out and about. And this rude man's wife actually chastised him, which was nice, ha ha.

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  84. The "me" time is definitely a huge thing nowadays. I was into it for several years myself - always thinking I deserved my time away, investing in my own hobbies, being kid-free for a day or two. And of course it's fine to have a break and other interests, don't get me wrong - but I do see people thinking their kids are keeping them from better things.

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  85. Barb Hayes, that is beautiful! Just for the record (I wasn't sure if Johanne saw and would reply), Johanne is not a practicing Christian. She is Buddhist.

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  86. Thank you, Leila. As long as she is a Gentile, St. Paul won't discriminate, LOL. Maybe someone else in the group would like to "hear" him talk about putrefaction (I had to look that word up, lol!)

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  87. I really like this perspective Leila as I have never looked at the secular population through merciful glasses as you are doing. You're so right though. Two things do spring to mind.

    I know Catholic families that have struggled with fertility and have few to no children of their own or have adopted. The families that are open to life aren't just open to life... they're open to God's will in all of their lives, not just childbearing. So what they can't fill a pew? They're serving the church, their communities, on boards of schools... its a feeling in the heart and its damn inspiring, pardon the language. They've taught me so much about what really being open means. Your piece just reminded me of this.

    The other thing is that it reminded me of is that people often say to me, "Oh you're amazing with your big family, I could never do that" because they've been conditioned to what the culture says children should have in terms of attention, things. But women used to think they could never work outside the home and hav advanced degrees and surprise, surprise, we can!

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  88. A final thought ( unless I have another final thought : ) )

    An earlier post suggested that for those who have fewer children than they desired due to fertility issues, or miscarriage, that some may allow their "sadness to turn to acrimony."

    I know I do not speak for all, but personally such loss and/or struggle, is a private grief that I, and maybe others, have carried with me/us my/our entire life/lives. That is the place from which we write here, and speak. I respectfully ask that our profound sense of loss, and our attempt to articulate those feelings, here, not been viewed as bitterness, for it is not.

    Perhaps we all could do a better job of walking in each others shoes.
    Thank you.

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  89. Monica, that's a great perspective that I'd never even thought of!!

    FrancieB, I think it's fair to say that infertility is one of the heaviest crosses of all. I heard one woman say that she had suffered both from cancer AND infertility, and infertility was much more excruciating. But I do believe (and I'm not speaking for anyone here) that we can get bitter when we are given heavy crosses. We can resent our cross and allow it to crush us. Bitterness is definitely something that can afflict most humans with an unwanted, burdensome cross. The question is what do we do with it? Why does God give these crosses to us? That is the very crux (pun intended) of our path as Christians. There is no holiness without taking up our crosses and walking with Christ to Calvary. The saints were the ones who understood, at last, to embrace their crosses and abandon themselves to the Father in joy. Even the joy of the Cross. (One of the infertile bloggers named her blog "This Cross I Embrace" -- was it bitter at times? Oh gosh, yes!! She and the others write at length about their grief and despair, bitterness, loneliness. But that is all part of the struggle of sanctity. To get to a place of not only acceptance of whatever cross might be given, but to have the graces (and at the final stage of union, when the soul has given up his will for God's) to have peace and joy not only in spite of but even because of the cross! It's crazy beautiful this faith of ours, and we are the only faith on earth (that I know of) that makes sense of suffering, and that gives it meaning and fruit. The theology of suffering (redemptive suffering) is the gem of our faith that NO ONE else has. It is breathtaking, and it can only be from God.

    Sorry, I really got caught up in that, but I still can't believe how good our God is for how He cares for us and how He turns even the worst suffering into glory if we offer it in union with Christ's suffering!

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    1. Forgive my typos and my lack of closed parentheses (for my OCD friends).

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    2. I agree, Leila with your commentary on one's cross. Yes, and yes and yes. Been there, lived that. I was just speaking for myself and perhaps another blogger, when saying that sadness does not always turn to acrimony. My smallish point, was that it did not appear to me, at least, that anyone here was expressing bitterness with their cross. The cross is a struggle though, isn't it?
      The End

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    3. FrancieB, thank you and yes! It surely is a struggle. My obsession lately (as readers may know and that I can't seem to shut up about), is that our cross can be our instrument of life and salvation and joy if we stop the struggling against it (assuming it's a suffering that we cannot avoid through moral means). I think that the world is trying to throw off the crosses that were given to us, individually, precisely for our sanctity, from the hand of a loving Father.

      But, I didn't mean to shut you down or make you think twice about posting your thoughts. I am glad you are posting and saying what you are saying and don't you dare put "The End" on it, because I want to hear from you again and often. :) I enjoy your thoughtful comments and so do the rest of the readers!

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  90. I have eight children and 2 in heaven. My husband passed away 6 years ago. I thank God every day that He blessed me with that many because they and their families are such a blessing to me now. They are all caring helpful individuals. Yes, maybe it was a struggle when they were small and growing up but there were and are so many blessings having them all around. I also have 22 grandchildren ranging in age from 25 to 2 years old. I thank God every day for my wonderful family.

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  91. Dorothy, what a beautiful comment! Thank you!!

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  92. I think maybe part of the confusion is that because two children is the norm, part of the grief of Catholics struggling to build a family beyond the norm is that they look just like everyone else... they might have envisioned being a great witness to life with a larger family, and instead, their cross or witness is much more invisible. So when you read about the cultural norm and remember that your family has the exact same appearance, you feel that twinge of... yeah, I wish I could be a witness to how awesome it is to raise a large family, but I am stuck with the norm.

    That said, I really liked this post. I am not offended in the least. And I too felt a certain freedom to pursue my natural desires once I realized the Church's teachings. At least I can TRY to pursue them and look back with no regrets even if I only end up raising one boy and one girl.

    I also have maybe a weird thought... you know I am a big promoter of NFP and openness to life and the Church's teachings and of course, love larger families. But as one who has "the norm," I take a small comfort in that my family is, well, normal. It feels good to know that I won't be stared at in my neighborhood for only having 2. It's a small consolation. Of course, I want every couple to do God's will and see the beauty and freedom of the Church's teachings, too. But sometimes, it's a little sigh of relief that our culture does value the 2-child family which is exactly what I have (and objectively, not a bad thing to value). SO I kind of appreciate that this post points out that it's not always sinful for a secular couple to choose two... (although I totally agree that there might be something even better waiting for them with the fullness of the Truth... depending on a lot of other factors, ha!).

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  93. (Well, I mean there is ALWAYS something better waiting with the fullness of the Truth, but I just meant in relation to actual number of children before vs. after... some couples might indeed be blessed beyond their wildest dreams with a happy, larger family after a conversion, which is awesome).

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  94. Leila, I appreciate your comments on redemptive suffering. They are worth hearing.

    Not everything hits people the same way so I understand if infertility doesn't always give rise to bitterness.

    But the possibility of not have kids is the closest I've ever come to breaking.

    It is also the first time in my life I have ever said to God, I'm lost without you.

    Not, please help me with this and make it easier. Not, I don't want to deal with this. Not, this stinks but I'll do it.

    But, without your Grace and help the person I am is going to disappear and a evil, bitter, nasty witch will rise in her place.

    I'm a long way from joyfully picking up my cross. I'm still kicking my cross as it lies in the dirt and going "Really??? Do I really have to do this?" But I am better....and it wasn't my doing.

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  95. StarFireKK, earlier in the comments, you said that you were considering adoption but didn't know where to start. If you are at all interested in international adoption, I'd talk with you if you like. (We adopted our youngest son from Bulgaria.) But I'm not trying to "sell" you on the idea, just offering my small experience if you want to "meet" someone who has adopted. May God bless you on whatever lies ahead for you.

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  96. Sarah, that makes perfect sense, and what a great and interesting perspective!

    StarFireKK, yes, it's in the darkest moments that we suddenly realize that we are face-to-face with God, and it's such an invitation to trust, which is the invitation to peace! With regard to infertility, my dear in-real-life friend (Danya, who had the blog He Adopted Me First, if some of you remember) was so distraught about her infertility that it made her almost, literally, crazy. She was desperate and despairing. But what happened (long story) is that her infertility became the cross that led her to the fulness of Catholicism (whereas before she had been a very weak and dissenting Catholic). It was what brought her to the joy of Christ! That does not mean that the pain was eradicated, but the joy and peace were the gift of kissing that cross and trusting God. And the fruit has not only been spiritual, but tangible as well, in multiple adoptions and also three bio children (now she and her husband are on the last stages of getting ready to foster). None of this would have happened, not her vibrant faith, her family and her ministries, if she had not almost been crushed by the weight of a cross she would have given ANYTHING to throw off.

    Anyway, just my rambling thoughts.

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    1. Yes Leila, Infertility is a profoundly painful (and often private) cross. For many years I had to fight bitterness and despair. Infertility strikes at the heart of everything a woman holds dear: her faith, her marriage, her friends, her community. I knew others were likely thinking that I/we simply didn't want more children - which only added to the weight of the burden. I remember very clearly praying and asking why, why my body was broken and He simply responded that it was my heart He was after. Everything changed after that. I knew that I wanted to do His will (with my husband of course) and what others thought became inconsequential. This was a love story between us and it was then and there that the adventure of adoption began. Of course this desensitizing to the opinions of others came in quite handy when we went on to adopt four children. Every painful pang I feel now, I try to accept as His will, and always, always remember His goodness and the many blessings showered upon me and my children.

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  97. Angel, thank you and I love that about this community. Always ready to help and be there for others if needed. :)

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  98. I love the idea of seeing every comment as an opportunity... I suppose in my case, it's when I get that knowing look and a parent says, "Two and done, right?! This is way too hard!" (And I do empathize with it being hard, but I can turn that into a conversation about how we want more, have a third in heaven, etc). I also think having experienced loss, it allows us to really talk and empathize with those who have also experienced loss.

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  99. Sarah and Elizabeth, yes! That is exactly it! This is very good stuff, and I have seen such great fruit in taking those opportunities. It's amazing how open people really are, if we break that barrier!

    Also, I know that I broke my rule about hitting "reply", but I wanted to address Molly directly. We have new readers/commenters who are still settling in, and that reply function is so darn tempting!!

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  100. Yes, I'm having a hard time avoiding the reply button too :). It is helpful to keep them in order, though. To find the nested reply comments, I searched a word or phrase in the comment to take me right to it. Otherwise, there would be a lot of scrolling and scanning.

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  101. Yes, I hate it. I hate to search, lol. I am so linear. And I like when we are all having the same conversation, not several separate conversations. I'm so weird that way!!

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  102. Angel:

    That's very kind of you. I would love to talk to someone who has been there. I see you have a blog, can I contact you through there?

    I know we can contact the nearby Catholic Charities but we have no idea what to expect once we talk to them. Or if there are other options out there.

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    1. OK, I know we're not supposed to reply, but this case seemed to warrant it. You can contact me through the blog, or my email is: angelita.333@hotmail.com I'd love to talk to you!

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    2. Angel, in this case it's totally allowed!! :D

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    3. Thanks, Angel. I'e emailed you from my yahoo account. My name is Kathleen Starfire is a really old AOL login for me. If it sounds like it was thought up by a 12 year old girl, that's cause it was :-)

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  103. It's funny how nobody has mentioned so far how society is currently systematically structured around the assumption of a 2-kid family ... For example, that's how many car seats fit easily in the back of a sedan, the "family pass" at most places is for 4 people, 2 double beds per hotel room, most houses have 3 bedrooms. Breaking the norm can be expensive *up front*, not just down the road, just because suddenly you don't fit the system. For example, I feel that our first 3 children were basically ''free' but the 4th cost us several thousand dollars because we had to upgrade to a minivan.

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  104. Munchie Mommy, absolutely true! Just another indicator that having more than two kids is really "just not done" in society. That message is engrained, it's the air we breathe, and we don't even notice it until or unless we have a large family. I grew up in a family of four. We fit neatly into everything society had for us. It never even occurred to me that larger families had to struggle to make things work, especially in taking a vacation (except for camping, and my husband and I are NOT campers!) Now, I don't expect the culture to cater to me and I don't feel like a victim at all, but it is surely interesting! :)

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  105. It's funny how nobody has mentioned so far how society is currently systematically structured around the assumption of a 2-kid family. For example, that's how many car seats fit easily in the back of a sedan,

    Hold on, though. Car manufacturing is reflective of federal design/engineering requirements and economic factors for a particular body style, not of any family demographics driver. Sedans came into existence on a massive scale roughly a hundred years ago. It’s called a sedan because it’s a completely enclosed body and engine based on a,b,c pillars in design, that was unique among designs of the time. That particular body design is what became produced on a mass scale in a post-war era. Its design is not an indicator that the car companies think we should only be having 2 kids.

    but the 4th cost us several thousand dollars because we had to upgrade to a minivan

    A mini-van shouldn’t be much more than a sedan as far as market value, since mini-vans are not considered an upgrade (not luxury, sport-utility, etc.). Sedans also offer 3rd row seating and start at a base of around $20,000 which is less than a mini-van with the same seating option. So it’s not really considered an upgrade to go to mini-van, and there are 3rd row seating options in sedans out there that actually are affordable comparatively speaking.

    I see what your point is, but it’s not really accurate to say that car design is reflective of some cultural idea that “2 kids should the standard, and therefore, we are going to design around that”. No, the design idea comes down from the executives (multi-million-dollar budget) who have a concept in mind to make $$$ for the company; and the program designers/engineers make that come into a reality, within the budget, for the bottom dollar, that’s all.

    I can’t speak to the reality of the family passes at vacation resorts, but automotive design and manufacturing is completely apart from any cultural shove toward only having two kids. Look at the staggering options in vehicles nowadays. They’re not going to limit their product design when they’re all about making bank $$$.

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  106. ^We bought a minivan on Craigslist, and there were many minivans for only a few thousand, similar in age and mileage to sedans. We had to go through the hassle of getting rid of our sedan and switching to a minivan at our third child, but it wasn't a big financial change except that the gas mileage was a tad lower.

    Now that we have four kids, we are struggling to figure out how to switch to a larger vehicle should we have more. We'll figure it out eventually, but jumping to five or six kids does require vehicle "upgrades", with far fewer options. Our minivan only seats seven, and the car seats reduce that. And, as the big kids get bigger, we need a little more room, especially for long-distance travel.

    But, yeah, I'm with you Nubby -- cars and car seat have so many other considerations that it's hard to make the connection with social norms other than the reality of demand. I am actually happy to see relatively affordable, safe, and comfortable vans increase in availability and popularity in recent years, like the Nissan NV.

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  107. There are many options with 3rd row seating and the options available are actually terrific nowadays, you’re looking a mid-20’s in price, no which model, it seems. The idea of upgrading is technically only upgrading when you leave a certain body style and enter into more options. That's only why I said sedan to mini-van isn't really an upgrade. Some are built on the same platforms.

    The mini-van market is actually shrinking. It's all economy-based. If gas prices are high, people want to drive smaller more fuel-efficient cars.

    Most vehicles are now being designed and manufactured with aluminum bodies/body parts because it shaves off literally hundreds of pounds from the vehicle weight and therefore, are more fuel efficient. It just costs a lot to design and engineer aluminum changes because it's difficult to design strength into aluminum (you have to corrugate it, groove it) depending on the function of the part and part placement. You need a company with a huge budget to allow for that. You also have to pass all the testing requirements.

    It’s not driven by a cultural norm idea. It's driven by requirements, like I mentioned. Vehicle sales is all based on CAFE requirements, which are fuel economy requirements. Fleets need to meet an average of certain miles to the gallon; so if a company sells more gas guzzlers, then they need to sell more fuel economy sized cars to off-set that and meet their federal average standard.

    That’s the only rationale I wanted to bring into the idea. And as far as vacation resort tickets being for 4-people, they’re just reacting to what is out there. They’re not driving any idea. I mean, what number should they assign to their package? It’s just relative to what their read is.

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  108. *you're looking at a mid-20's price range (20k) no matter which model

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  109. The car thing never was an issue for us. Everyone here has seven-seaters anyway, even those with two kids, because they haul around other friends or going on outings or whatnot. We fitted our old Suburban with those federally-approved (bolted down) Little Seats or whatever they are called and it worked well. Lots of my friends get the 12- or 15-seater passenger vans, but we strategically avoided that!! I always wanted to be able to fit in our garage and any parking garage. But the reflexive "... for a family of four!" that is included in every vacation package or promotion for anything is glaring. We are fitted up to be a family of four in America, and that's obvious. But again, I am not a victim. I feel blessed every day to have broken out of the mold that I thought I had to stay in! Praise God!

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  110. Elizabeth, this!! It's Little Passenger Seats and they are awesome!!

    http://www.littlepassengerseats.com

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  111. But the package of tickets isn't driving the idea that we need to be only a family of 4. It's just reacting to demographics in sales based off surveys. It's like saying, here's the typical family size or party size that comes in so we can offer this. But they're not urging a small family. Just like car companies aren't. That was my only point. The 4 people 2 double beds accommodations aren't because of a preconceived family size they're promoting. The hotel was designed for maximum capacity meeting requirements for fire and safety and for whatever design allows them to make the most money. Designing bigger rooms at higher cost probably won't book as fast or fill as much. It's more than a cultural persuasion is my point.

    Have a good day all.

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  112. I know this is a tangential to your point, Nubby, (and I agree with your point), but I don't find the 3rd row in sedans to be that helpful to larger families. It's nice to have more 3rd-row options out there, but most minivans (with the exception of ours) seat eight, whereas 3rd-row sedans and SUVs seat seven at best, and forget that when you include car seats, boosters, or even large teenagers. They tend to be smaller seats, and you sacrifice storage space to keep them up. They tend to work better when planning to transport extra passengers on occasion. That being said, I'm sure they work just fine for some growing families, it's just that I don't find them to be great alternatives for the minivan. Like any purchase, there are trade-offs, and it is good that we have more options now.

    Our minivan had the same engine and mostly the same frame as our sedan. So it was only an "upgrade" for space and possibly safety with a few extra airbags depending on the model.

    Part of the struggle for larger families is that we didn't own cars that cost 20k before needing a larger vehicle. We were straight out of college, driving our tin cans. Many of us owned sedans that cost 3k or 5k used, 10k new, at most, and now we suddenly have to find a larger vehicle and, hopefully, a safer vehicle. So, yes, theoretically, if your budget is 20k for a sedan, there are plenty of larger options in that price range without upgrading. If you are young, still driving around that old college car, and now you need a vehicle in the 20k range because your family is growing, that is an upgrade. I guess most of my friends fell more into that category.

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  113. "It's like saying, here's the typical family size or party size that comes in so we can offer this. But they're not urging a small family."

    Yes, I agree. The hotels/amusement parks/packages/whatever are simply reflecting what is already our four-person-family reality/norm. If the average American family were four to six kids, let's say (so six to eight family members), we'd likely see a different configuration to get those families to book with them.

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  114. I thought this was interesting:

    http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/05/08/ideal-size-of-the-american-family/

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  115. Oh, thank you, Leila! The Little Passenger Seats look like a great option. I've never heard of those!

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  116. I love that they can be rear-facing, which is supposedly safer for any passenger. I would like to see more rear-facing options in vehicles. I especially like some of the high-end minivan options that allow the middle row to be rear-facing so that the kids can play games and face each other. But I can't afford most of those vehicles. Haha!

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  117. whereas 3rd-row sedans and SUVs seat seven at best, and forget that when you include car seats, boosters, or even large teenagers. They tend to be smaller seats, and you sacrifice storage space to keep them up.

    I get ya. Unfortunately, we consumers can’t have it both ways. I’m just saying that all vehicles must be designed and engineered to meet all kinds of testing requirements and federal fuel economy requirements.

    We cannot design an open-type raft of a car safely or strongly enough to accommodate a large family while keeping costs low.
    (There’s so many tests done for strength of materials alone: compression, tensile, impact, temp performance, strength-to-weight, etc.)

    You most likely will need to have a bigger SUV of some type. You will have to be ready for that cost because the all-aluminum bodies that are coming out (due to federal regulations!) are costing more to make, yet saving more on the fuel-economy side. We’re getting away from heavy steel, and not all plastics can be designed strongly enough to pass all FMVSS testing (crash, rollover, safety testing). Aluminum can be designed for all of this, but it costs more.

    So a vehicle for a large family will cost. That’s just economics, sorry to say, I have no easy solution for you. The seating Leila recommends is probably your best bet, but obviously check into the safety, installation, warranty, etc. You'll prob need a full size SUV or passenger van for larger accommodations.

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  118. ^Absolutely. That's what a meant by trade-offs: To get more space, you have to spend more money, which is a trade-off. Some families might decide they can make-do with the smaller space to save some money, and others will decide their situation needs more space, so they sacrifice the budget a little. For example, we often drive across the country to visit family, so we may worry more about size and comfort than a family that almost never takes big trips. Another example: An older couple with a better idea of the end size of their family might decide they can do with less space than a couple trying to plan for a bunch more kids in the long term. So trade-offs factor into family situations, but they are pretty much always there. I just generally don't see a 20k vehicle as very affordable -- more of a necessary financial sacrifice at times and often an upgrade for a growing family. But those Little Passengers might save some families some financial heartache :)!

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    1. That's what *I* meant...sorry for all the typos!

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  119. I just generally don't see a 20k vehicle as very affordable -- more of a necessary financial sacrifice at times and often an upgrade for a growing family.

    Right. It's probably not very affordable for a lot of people and this gives me a chance to tie everything we've said here, directly back to Leila's post title and general theme which was: just because people have only two children doesn't automatically make them selfish. People who have only two kids are probably struggling, just like most American families, no matter the amount of kids.

    It's a larger economic issue, not a selfish personal one. We're all getting gouged as consumers, every which way we turn, even when we minimize our spending, because someone else has us marked for profit.

    So, it's good that we don't assume anything about anyone's reasons for their family size and just stay out of their business. The problem isn't family size for this reason or that, the problem is that everyone wants to be in everyone else's business and they make rash judgments. Not that you said any of that, Elizabeth, I'm just bundling my final thought here.

    That's my take, anyway. Now I'm off for real. A dishwasher is waiting to be installed here with my name on it.

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  120. I didn't mean to imply that car sizes and hotel rooms were designed with the intention of punishing larger families. It is a bit of a chicken and egg situation ... people have families of a certain size, so companies design products to be most convenient for the typical family, and so then it becomes easiest to have the family size that works for these things. What I meant by structural was simply that many products/systems are built in such a way that they fit the cultural norm but do not easily accomodate those outside it.

    I also didn't mean to derail this conversation into an evaluation of vehicle options. Our reality was that we were that family that was driving a 16-year old car that we had got for FREE from a family member. And, I will add some shock value by saying that we had 3 kids before we had ANY car at all. Where we were living at the time was really walk-friendly with good public transit, Honestly, having extra kids was cheaper than a car payment, and given the choice, we chose the former :)

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  121. I would also like to add, regarding Nubby's comment about saftey requirements, that safety requirements are often written up by the companies that produce goods and are very likely to reflect cultural norms. If most americans had 6 kids, you can bet that vehicle body size and carseat capacity would reflect this. For an example of how culture determines safety regulations: car safety standards in Japan are required to minimize injuries to pedestrians, should they be hit by the vehicle in question, whereas in America standards are only tailored to the occupants of the vehicle.

    Ok, now I'm derailing this into a conversation about cars :)

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  122. Munchie Mommy, we went a long time with only one car (free also), to get my husband to work. We lived in the country, and I stayed home with the kids, homeschooling, with no way to drive anywhere all day. So finally needing a car to accommodate more kids was definitely a change! We now live in the city and walk a lot, but we still need two cars at this point. We do get insurance discounts with low mileage and save money on gas in the city, of course, unless we do a road trip. I think the vehicle conversation was very helpful -- I would never have known about Little Passengers otherwise! :)

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  123. Regulation matters a lot. Japan imposes large taxes on certain types of vehicles, particularly the larger ones. My sister was stationed there with her husband and four kids, and I remember the thousands of dollars in additional costs involved in owning a minivan. There is a big incentive to walking or owning tiny vehicles there, which undoubtedly contributes to family size challenges in addition to other cultural factors.

    Available vehicle options will change with country regulations. It is clear that the Japanese and Europeans drive different cars than Americans, vehicles that are often impossible to buy in the U.S. partly due to different regulations among other factors.

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  124. people have families of a certain size, so companies design products to be most convenient for the typical family, and so then it becomes easiest to have the family size that works for these things.

    But I am saying no to that arrangement. Automotive design was not hatched from an idea top down to reinforce an idea that there ought to be only 2 kids per family and they set up their product to design around that promotion. Not at all. Federal requirements dictate. There is no chicken/egg here. Other models came along to accommodate passenger size, but again, it's not based on a cultural reflection. This is not how business works in design and engineering. It works from an executive budget with executive concepts and designers and engineers work on the programs to bring that into reality. "We want this design." "We can't do that, but we can do this." It's not built around chicken/egg anything.

    that safety requirements are often written up by the companies that produce goods

    ?? No, no, no. Automotive requirements are federally mandated. Federally. All the testing, all the other critical items like budget approvals, engineering/design approvals, tooling changes, manufacturing approvals, PPAP (Production Part Approval Process), assembly builds, those are all both internally and externally mandated. These are all called critical path items to get to deadline (which has its own technical term). There must be engineering sign-off and government compliance approval to sell the first vehicle. There isn't some vague notion of car companies dreaming up design here. You're talking safety and reality of engineering, first.

    and are very likely to reflect cultural norms. If most americans had 6 kids, you can bet that vehicle body size and carseat capacity would reflect this.

    We do have vehicles to accommodate that. But that's got nothing to do with what drives the reality of the automotive world. Please. I kind of know this area.

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  125. See, they're not meeting the need of the culture based on some idea out there. They're meeting a bottom line number for profit. What you see marketed on tv and billboards (4 door sedans) are orchestrated under heavy marketing strategy because that company needs to sell more of those for the bottom dollar and to meet federal CAFE requirements. That's it.

    When I see car/truck commercials, I know exactly why they'd be marketing that vehicle the way they do. It just comes from knowing the industry. I mean no disrespect in my comments, it's just that I know the ins and outs of it all.

    You're seeing the marketing side as a consumer, as someone who buys a product within the culture. I'm seeing the reality of federal mandates and bottom line profit within those commercials.

    To illustrate further, Ford's bread and butter is their F-series trucks. Always has been, always will be. They have a massive budget for that vehicle line. Always will. Their 4 door car lines could go away tomorrow and they'd be just fine profit-wise, because their $$ is in selling trucks. So, there's no real cultural reflection of selling sedans to 4 person families all connected here. There's just dollar signs for profit. Marketing strategy can drive design to a point, but there are always federal requirements to meet over and above that.

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  126. When we outgrew our 7pass minivan a few years back we found a used Suburban. We were so lucky that it turned out to be a 9-pass one (middle front seat), when we found out baby #7 was coming. Now I'm just waiting for the day I can get a Nissan NV 3500 Passenger. Seats 12.

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  127. We upgraded from a 7-passenger minivan to an 8-passenger SUV (Nissan Armada) when we found out baby #6 was on the way. (Sadly, I miscarried so we still have an empty seat.) I'd love a Nissan NV someday, too, though!!

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