Sunday, November 9, 2014

For moms-of-many who have no support

I've always contended that it's not easy to have and raise eight children, and that is absolutely true, but I want to confess right now that it is easier for me than for many of you out there.

Why? Because I have a city-wide community of friends and acquaintances who have oodles of children, too.

I'm talking dozens of women that I know -- dozens upon dozens -- who have broods. I see them everywhere, I go to events with them, I party with them, our husbands are friends and business colleagues, and we are all in the same boat, child-wise. Ladies with four, five, six... all the way up to eleven kids. One of my closest friends is about to give birth to her ninth child. Our children are friends, too. This reality is not freakish at all in my "bubble" -- it's normal, and it's celebrated. I've never known a time in the past 20 years when multiple friends were not pregnant (we jokingly refer to the "next crop" of babies to come), and I know more women having children into their forties than I can count.

It's Catholic Mecca here in Phoenix. It is a beautiful, wonderful thing.

But I know it's not like that everywhere, and I know that some of you feel isolated and lonely and even ostracized because of your big families. Some dioceses are wastelands as far as following or even understanding the teachings of the Church on marriage and sexuality, and I often hear the frustration from those of you who don't live in a Catholic Mecca, and who are frazzled, weary, and discouraged. It breaks my heart, and I am sorry.

I don't mean to imply that we mothers-of-many here in Phoenix do not get frazzled, weary, and discouraged (because oh boy, we do!), but I want to acknowledge that we have a consolation here that many of you do not have: We have each other -- a built-in support group of friends who are on call at all times. There is no shortage of women with whom to hang out, complain, cry, compare notes, and laugh about the chaos of it all. We see each other's messy houses, our children's shoeless feet and dirty faces, and we don't feel alone with our big-family problems. We feel supported, loved, cared for, understood, even on the days when we are clinging to the very end of our mommy ropes and our sanity. Even those of our friends who do not have large families stand ready to aid and support those who do.

America is an incredible, amazing land. It's the greatest nation on earth. But it's also become a land of comfort and materialism, which is facilitated by contraception and sterilization. In the past, before the sexual revolution and Margaret Sanger's Birth Control League (now Planned Parenthood), mothers everywhere could celebrate new life and commiserate about the difficulties of raising so many little ones along with most everyone else on the block. It wasn't odd or freakish back then. The community of support was natural and the struggles were normal. Clearly, it's not like that today.

I wish every harried Catholic mom could experience the joy of a truly Catholic community, where talking about the trials of a big family is safe among friends; where the women understand that, although it's insanity in our houses and we are often stretched past imagining, we simultaneously love our vocation; and where we have many others picking us up when we get down and reminding us of the beauty and goodness of the life that surrounds us. I cannot remember a time here when a new pregnancy was not celebrated, even when the mother was initially scared out of her mind to see the two pink lines on that dollar store pregnancy test. The support and love for each other and for life is much more overwhelming than any struggles we encounter. This is as it should be!

It is never easy to raise a big family under any circumstances, but with the encouragement of an entire community, it can be oh, so sweet. On our worst days, I know that my friends and I would not have it otherwise.

Which brings me back to my heartache for those of you who do not have a supportive community. I hear you, I weep for you, and I am so sorry. You are truly heroic. You are the light and the witness in a world that needs it, but it's a heavy burden without a circle of friends who know what your life is like. If I had to go it alone, I shudder to think how I'd do.

This post is simply to acknowledge you, and to assure you that God sees what you are doing, and He loves and supports you, even when it feels like no one else does. You have my gratitude and my love, and I admire you more than you will ever know.

And if all else fails, move to Phoenix.

Or Omaha.


Related posts:   How to Raise Eight Children Without Even Trying

                         Is Having Eight Kids Sketchy? 

                         Why I Never Should Have Had Eight Children

                         Parenting: What I've Done Right


  1. We are surely trying to get back to Phoenix! I grew up there and all of my family is there. What a wonderful gift for you and your family. Kansas City has a interesting mix and although we attend a faithful, homeschooling parish, we feel isolated and like a "scene" most places we go. I thought we were going to be packing our bags a few weeks ago to head back to Phoenix and I even called you friend Mary to ask about schools and parishes. It was not meant to be and so we will keep praying and living in the moment here!

  2. I just gave birth to baby #6 last month. Our oldest is not yet 9 years old. And on Labor Day we moved 800 miles from our nearest family and friends. Yet we’ve had a few families bring us meals and more offers for help than we could ever use even though we knew absolutely no one when we moved here. What made a huge difference is that there is a Facebook page for Milwaukee Catholic Mamas. It has been an awesomly fantastic resource to meet other Catholic moms in the area, ask for pro-life/pro-family doctor recommendations, pro-homeschooling parishes, and a host of other questions. There is a similar group, though not through FB, for area Catholic Homeschooling families. I really think Catholics of every major metropolitan area would benefit from such or similar resources. I realize rural areas might have a harder time making similar use, but it still might be helpful there as well.

  3. I can't leave the house without comments on "ALL YOUR CHILDREN!" and I've only got 4! We live in a very child-unfriendly country (IMO) but amazingly, I have never had a negative comment. Almost everyone tells me about how they were one of many and they don't' see large families anymore, or how wonderful it is to see a large family.

    A friend came to visit and I took her with me on all of our errand-running. She told me I just leave a wake of people begind me staring at ALL THOSE KIDS as I walk through stores. LOL.

    I am lucky to have two mom friends who also have four kids, so I don't feel too isolated. :-)

  4. Or move to Helena, MT! This is the first time I have lived in a place where it is normal to have 4 to 12 children. I have four, and I feel small...for the first time ever. It does make a big difference when you are surrounded by all these large families who live everywhere from the city to the suburbs to the farm. I used to stress and ponder about the next baby, always wondering if we should have another, but now it seems perfectly natural to have more. We still probably would have had more kids anyway, being Catholic and pro-life and fairly young still in our 30's...but there is a marked difference even in my own feelings when we are the norm and not the exception. It's amazing how constant public scrutiny can kind of secretly build up and tire you more. I didn't even know it was doing that until I moved somewhere different.

    There are families who struggle with infertility as well, and they do not have tons of children. I've only been here a few months, but it seems like there isn't a huge barrier here between families with different struggles. Even the homeschooling/Catholic schooling families seem to hang out fluidly. Not so much us-vs.-them. Everyone is supportive of each other and not easily offended by conversation relating to different life circumstances. I really like that. I come from a place where there is huge division among the different family situations and the different struggles, and that always made me sad. Everyone tiptoed around each other, and there was marked defensiveness even among Catholics. I'm hopeful that my initial impressions are right!

  5. Christina, we hope to have you back someday! Thank goodness for social media (like Katherine mentioned) because for those people who are not in a place where others understand the struggles of big families, there are so many online groups. It can connect people, and for those in smaller areas, at least there are cyber connections and support.

    Monica, you are a light there! I bet it gives people hope to see your big family, and what a blessing (and a shock to me) that you found two other moms with four kids! Yay!

    Elizabeth, what a sigh of relief! I'll put Helena on my mental list for anyone who asks! :)

  6. I'm blessed to have you as a friend. You are an inspiration to me!

  7. This post is so important, because Catholic community is so important! It is important to have that like-minded support and openness to life....we switched parishes about 3 1/2 years ago and the parish we are in now has many large families and there is so much support. I don't even have support like this in my own family, but in my church family I do! We only have 3 right now, so we are in the early stages of growing our family, but even with 3 I get stressed out, etc., and it is so good to have friends who understand the struggle, but also appreciate the joys and blessings of children. Finding those friendships has been one of the most critical parts of my motherhood journey!!

  8. Thank you, Francis! And Angela, amen! I think the parish makes all the difference, and I feel so bad in those dioceses where people just cannot find a parish that is full of faithful Catholics. It must be excruciating.

    And I need to add something that I missed mentioning in the OP. I don't even necessarily mean that moms are suffering because they are being looked down upon by others who don't understand (although that happens). I think even without any outside criticism, moms of many who have no other moms like them around tend to be very hard on themselves. They also don't feel like they can complain to anyone (because we have to make believe that having a big family is "easy"... to be a witness to the world), so there is no outlet, and the isolation grows. I love having friends to vent to, friends who understand the unique challenges we face with tons of kids, even if no one on the outside is slamming us in any way. (Gosh, even amusement parks, etc., are designed for families of four.) It's just a joy to have, and I don't take it for granted.

  9. Do you remember the lady from the blog "Lord Make me a Saint"? She currently lives in MN but certain events that happened in her life is making her and her family move. It is not official yet, but Phoenix, AZ is where they are leaning. I was very excited for her, telling her how many nice people I know are from there.

    Out here for me, we are currently the only family in my parish with five kids. That's ok but it does make us stick out a bit. I was just talking to Dennis about how I hate going shopping with all the kids; there is a tension there in the store as many people look down on me and my kids for even being there even though I keep them in line.

    I'm sure you've heard about the poor woman who was punched out because she asked a lady to calm down her screaming child in the checkout lane. Well, I don't condone at all what she did, but at the same time, it is not a good time to ask a parent to calm down a child who is having a tantrum. She had enough on her plate. It's like asking to someone to calm down a thunderstorm or calm down the wind. Sometimes, it's impossible. I don't know the particulars of the entire story but that mother clearly snapped not only under the pressure of her screaming child but also from people like the 19 year old girl who clearly knows nothing about motherhood, kids, or trying to shop on eggshells.

  10. Thanks so much for this post! I long for this kind of community for our growing family!

  11. I'm hoping that this will become a trend in my area of the world (Vancouver) For many years my parish had very few babies and now there are so many that Father uses them to tell if his homily is going on too long. This isn't just the case in our parish but all over. We've just started our family and we hope to have more in the future and it would be nice to have what you have in Phoenix!

    I think Canadians attitudes about kids is changing and maybe it's because our government in recent years has become very family friendly. Each child we have gets $100/month (in 2015 it goes up to $160) and also next year the government is rolling out income splitting. The Prime Minister says his goal is to make Canada the best place to raise a family. It is a nice change from the cold attitude Canadians had towards families in the 90s.

    - Elise

  12. While I have been very lucky in that no one has really made any comments, like someone else mentioned, I usually get comments from people telling me that they understand, they had x amount of children themselves. (Though I do get the "You have your hands full." comment all the time. I know some people take offense to that, but I find it obtuse more than offensive.)

    But what do you do when you have a small, but nice, supportive group in your area. An area that doesn't necessarily have large families if they aren't Catholic. But you just don't seem to fit in with the group.

    We have a very nice group here, and they are supportive, for the most part, of large families. But unfortunately I just don't seem to fit in with them. I think it's a combination of they're all (for the vast majority of them) relatively recent convert (think in the last 10 years) and they're timid about anything that isn't *CATHOLIC*. As a convert from no religion whatsoever, and have been Catholic for over 15 years, I'm aware that Goodness, Truth, and Beauty can and do exist outside of an Imprimatur and Saint stories (not that these aren't wonderful things). Unfortunately that means the other moms seems to shy away from me.
    I also admit, I'm not one to reach out to others very often. Not because I don't want to see others, or form relationships, but more so because I tend to operate from the default position that if people aren't reaching out to me, they're too busy. I know that probably isn't always the case, but I spent most of my high school, college, and early adult years, living out this reality, and I guess I got tired (and just plain busy myself) of chasing "friends" who really didn't want to spend time with me anyway.
    Sorry that sounded way more pitiful than I meant it. It's just to say that I'm not sure how to find support when I'm reluctant to reach out to people who I don't really fit in with in the first place.

    Guess I'm too quirky. Oh well.

  13. Elise, that is so great to hear!! Whew!

    And Bethany, I can actually relate to a lot of what you wrote! A lot of my friends were made via the little devout Catholic schools I've been at, and also many of my friends are either converts or reverts like me. So, we have those weird quirky things in common. And, we are an earthy, fun bunch.... even a bit wild when we get together, ha ha. Some of my friends were worried that when they came out of the "secular" world, they would not relate or find good friends among Catholics who live the faith, but they specifically prayed for good Catholic friends. And they came! :) But I really do hear you. And others have told me some similar things privately.

  14. Hey I am not a woman but have you heard about the Edel conference Jennifer Fulwiler is putting on? It sounds like it might be relevant to some of your readers! - or at least looks like a lot of fun, directed at Catholic women and mothers in particular:

  15. Oh, yes, we love Edel and Jennifer Fulfiller (and Hallie Lord) around here! I encourage everyone to try to make it! I am planning on being there, God willing. :)

    Thanks Mark!


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