Large families when you can’t run away

In America today there is a paradox of choice regarding large families that is as far as I can tell totally ignored by people who have or defend large families.  My experiences with large families (double-digit) are that I’m only one generation removed from women who couldn’t escape that size of family.  It wasn’t just one option they were taking and could drop at any time.  Yes, even extended abstinence is a major privilege that many of those women would have been pretty cheerful about having access to.

They had to agree to what he wanted when he wanted it, no matter if they were just a few weeks postpartum or had had a hard delivery and needed more recovery time. Formula being easy, cheap and reliable to use wasn’t the case and some of the double-digit kids didn’t make it on the various alternatives available.  This informs a huge amount of my views on birth control.  I don’t think birth control is something women should feel pressured into doing either for related and religious reasons, but let’s just be real and note that the medium-term consequence of that is fewer children you can handle if you do have a resource shortage in your household.

I just have to shake my head at women who have the totally free and unfettered choice to have zillions of kids acting like women abandoned that in droves in the last 50 years out of (@($*@#@(!@ “selfishness” or “hard hearts” or whatever self-righteous word of the month gets tossed out there.  Being able to feed, clothe, house and provide for the medical needs of ten or fifteen children with relative ease and comfort no matter what your income level is should be acknowledged as the astonishing modern consumption good that it is.

Now certainly some of these women would argue with me on the ease point, but you know what, if you can welcome pregnancy after pregnancy with zero concern that the other children or the one(s) you’re carrying will be stunted or die from lack of food or medical care when sick or have to be shipped off to sometimes pretty distant relatives because you can’t feed them all once the next one appears, that’s relative ease of provision.  This is not what the women I am speaking of could count on.  I am talking about deaths under age 5 all the way into the 1960s, in America.

It was really bad in the richest country in the world before mass-economy made food and clothes so cheap.  And anyway that’s where I’m coming from regarding large family rhetoric among conservative Christians.  It didn’t matter whether you had joy in your heart or not, you were facing another pregnancy anywhere from a few days to several months after that delivery until your 30s, and sometimes into your 40s.  A lot of those women knew however dimly about the sterilizations performed on many of them without their consent after World War I and many weren’t mad about it because it meant a break from the treadmill of fertility.  They weren’t as stupid as people think and had some idea what was going on.

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6 thoughts on “Large families when you can’t run away”

  1. TPC:

    “I just have to shake my head at women who have the totally free and unfettered choice to have zillions of kids acting like women abandoned that in droves in the last 50 years out of (@($*@#@(!@ “selfishness” or “hard hearts” or whatever self-righteous word of the month gets tossed out there.”

    Amen to that.

    It’s only been in the last few years that I started realizing how off-base the talk of “selfishness” in orthodox Catholic circles is. I finally asked myself, is it really true that the parents of two I know are noticeably more selfish than the parents of three, four, or more? Were my parents (parents of three) 50% more generous than my aunt and uncle who had only two? Were my aunt and uncle with four children 33% more generous than my parents with their three? Were my grandparents with five children much more generous than my grandparents with only three? (Apologies for any math fails.)

    I don’t think I can say that that any of that is true. (Especially the last one–my grandpa who was a father of five was a world class miser.)

    There’s also the issue of envy. Parents with larger-than-average family sizes sometimes seem to wind up with bizarre misunderstandings of what kind of lifestyle a family of two with a moderate income can afford. There’s a lady on a Catholic forum who cites her friend with two kids who doesn’t want another baby because then she couldn’t afford a cruise every year. Sure, that sounds selfish, but how many people can honestly afford to take their entire family on a cruise every year? We have a well-above average household income and only three kids, but we would need to save scrupulously for a couple of years even to send two of us on a cruise.

    There’s also the issue that I’ve mentioned on a number of occasions of believing that small consumer goods are what is sinking American families, when that stuff is dirt cheap and very easy to get inexpensively. What’s hard to save on is the big ticket stuff like housing, school, and medical.

    I don’t know where these misunderstandings come from but I have a couple of theories:

    1. A lot of people aren’t living within their incomes, so it creates a distorted impression of what a particular income range can actually cover. When you have kids and actually live within your income and do all the stuff you’re supposed to (charitable giving, retirement savings, college savings, etc.), even on a great income there aren’t a lot of cruises, Mercedes SUVs and $30k kitchen remodels happening.

    2. I think at least a piece of the puzzle is people just not knowing other families well. When you know people well, then you learn stuff like that the SAHM mom still has $40k in student loans or that the family has an expensive special needs child that they have been shoveling therapy money at.

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  2. What I get tired of hearing is how women don’t know how to “sacrifice” in order to have the double digit family size, or even a family size over 3. Since no one actually defines what sacrificing actually is, I interpret it as some kind of Christianese buzzword and ignore it. Yes, I said that. If someone would like to correct me, I’m all ears but that hasn’t happened yet.

    They had to agree to what he wanted when he wanted it, no matter if they were just a few weeks postpartum or had had a hard delivery and needed more recovery time.

    This is a very, very important point to consider. Women by and large, didn’t have much say in how sex in their marriages went. I’m sure the manosphere would read my words thinking “she’s for using her vagina to control a man.” Nope, not even close. I think it’s the responsibility of husbands and wives to be considerate and caring to health issues when it comes to sex, and that wasn’t the case in the past. What is kind of sad is this issue is becoming a large discussion in Zika virus areas, especially with the recommendations women delay pregnancy for 2 years. I’m not sure how realistic that is, but it also demonstrates how a lot of those women can’t seem to use fertility awareness to prevent a sick child. As a Catholic, I’m kind of torn with the issue of birth control because as great as NFP is, it doesn’t seem to work out very well for a lot of couples (or it’s too arduous). I’m not really for having women birth 10 children, or even 5, if it’s taxing on her health, or if she’s always sick and nonfunctional during pregnancy, or anything else along those lines. Whenever I’d read something on the manosphere about a guy talking about having 10 kids living in a house he supposedly builds himself, I snort and laugh at the same time.

    @Amy P:

    A lot of people don’t consider children with disabilities because “back in the day” those children were institutionalized. Yes, another uncomfortable and inconvenient truth people like to pretend didn’t exist. Children who had Down’s Syndrome, to even cases of what we now know of as autism, to children with a MI were all institutionalized. Those parents didn’t have to worry about counseling, occupational therapy, after-school programs, etc. In fact, since their children were institutionalized, none of those things really existed. Now parents have their children at home, experiencing a family life, and some children move into group homes or live independently with an aid to help out every now and then. I’ve already come across the idiot who tried to lay the case out for how institutions were better at financial management, despite how poorly people were treated. People who’ve never had children with disabilities (or even worked with them) are insanely clueless.

    Like you, I don’t think it’s true parents with fewer children were inherently more selfish. At any rate, I don’t like to speculate on the selfishness factor of parents for probably the same reasons you don’t– it’s an immense lack of charity. Gosh, if only I could kick myself when I was in my early 20’s wondering about the “selfishness” of such-and-so Catholic couple with “only” 2 kids. It was incredibly uncharitable and judgmental on my part, and frankly none of my business.

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    1. Maea said:

      “What I get tired of hearing is how women don’t know how to “sacrifice” in order to have the double digit family size, or even a family size over 3.”

      Yeah.

      “Whenever I’d read something on the manosphere about a guy talking about having 10 kids living in a house he supposedly builds himself, I snort and laugh at the same time.”

      It might be this family:

      http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3168933/Controversial-free-range-parents-win-10-children-despite-discovery-living-squalor-claims-physical-abuse-earn-45-000-donations.html

      They just had their eleventh child.

      “A lot of people don’t consider children with disabilities because “back in the day” those children were institutionalized.”

      Or died young. Or lived at home in seclusion like Boo Radley.

      “I’ve already come across the idiot who tried to lay the case out for how institutions were better at financial management, despite how poorly people were treated.”

      Lawdamercy.

      “Like you, I don’t think it’s true parents with fewer children were inherently more selfish. At any rate, I don’t like to speculate on the selfishness factor of parents for probably the same reasons you don’t– it’s an immense lack of charity. Gosh, if only I could kick myself when I was in my early 20’s wondering about the “selfishness” of such-and-so Catholic couple with “only” 2 kids. It was incredibly uncharitable and judgmental on my part, and frankly none of my business.”

      I know! I did exactly the same thing at the same age. Having two of my own pretty much cured me of that idea, but I didn’t start thinking about it until the last few years.

      At the time, I never stopped to think, “Are Aunt Suzie and Uncle Charlie who have two kids (and give buckets of money to their church) selfish?” or “Are Aunt Julie and Uncle Bob who have four kids much better people and much better parents than Aunt Suzie and Uncle Charlie with two?” or “How well would my parents have managed more children than they had?” I never thought about it. The rah-rah-big-families thing was completely divorced from my actual extended family experience, which was people managing reasonably middle class lives (or not) with 2-4 kids.

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      1. Another thing too, is people forget how medical advancements have changed the way we view family size. When infant and child mortality were higher, families had more children as a safeguard against mortality. The way parenting works now is not like the way parenting worked back then, as people had less attachment to their children. They understood reality differently, and in their reality the child could be dead by age 5 if not a few months after birth.

        It is amazing to see how people conveniently forget all these issues. It’s not like the concept of larger families existed in a vacuum.

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  3. Maea writes: ” The way parenting works now is not like the way parenting worked back then, as people had less attachment to their children. They understood reality differently, and in their reality the child could be dead by age 5 if not a few months after birth.”

    I used to believe that, but after years of doing genealogy, I no longer do. Old cemeteries are full of little headstones marking the burials of babies and little children. It was a considerable expense to bother with a headstone, yet many did. Old newspapers in small towns published the sad news of a little one’s passing as a great loss and mention the grieving families. And it was a popular practice in the 1800s to have a photograph taken of your dead infant or child. Again, a significant expense. You can Google and I see for yourself, many are now published online.

    In my own family, my paternal grandparents’ first child was stillborn (c 1910). They named her Mona. I have my Grandmother’s last datebook from 1965 where she marked all her children and grandchildren’s birthdays and anniversaries – Mona’s birthday was still included, even though Grandma went on to have 10 more children.

    I think they understood mortality differently, and perhaps better, than we do today. They accepted it more as Divine Providence and not a failure of modern medicine. I think they better understood how precious life is because they could see how quickly it could be taken away, and I believe in that way they were more attached to each child, rather than less.

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    1. Well, I can only speak of my ancestors and what I do know to be true. They weren’t from the U.S., and a few of them were indentured servants who migrated from halfway across the world. One side of my family has nothing detailing their births, pictures, etc. and anything we know was orally passed down. Infants dying was accepted as a fact of life because they were poor…if an infant died, they were cremated. Nothing left to remember them by, other than memories. My grandmother had many children in part because she needed all the hands she could get, but the level of attachment isn’t close despite having an intact family. I think she considers herself blessed in part of having all her children live past childhood.

      It’s sad to say this, but the luxury of having a picture of a dead child wasn’t until my parent’s generation. I have cousins who passed away in infancy. They too, had to learn to be somewhat detached. One of my cousins had an older sibling, and I think she mourns his absence more than her own parents do. They had to learn to let things go in order to build a new life in the U.S.

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