Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Mathematics of Love

From the time I was 12 until about 16, whenever anyone asked me what I wanted to do when I grew up, I'd say that I wanted to get married and have 12 children. (I need to work on recovering that boldness; I almost never tell anyone about my 12 children anymore.)

There have been only two times that I got an encouraging reaction. The first was from a very sweet mother of 10 in our old homeschool group. The second was from the Cobbler. Virtually everyone else has said something along the lines of "You'll change your mind after the first [one, three, etc.]."

I'm not going to deny that taking care of kids is hard work. It is. I just hate this attitude that it's impossible to raise more than 2 children. 100 years ago people raised half a dozen kids and thought nothing of it. There are a couple of things that seem to be connected to the change in attitude. One is a change in social structures, which I'll hopefully address in the near future. The one I want to address here, though, is a change in the idea of how love works.

People who think you should never have more than two children seem to have this idea that love works like division. If you have a spouse and one child, you give each of them a certain amount of love. If you have a spouse and three children, then that's four people to love instead of two, and so the amount of love you give each person is cut in half.

May I respectfully say that this is bull? I have had the priviledge of knowing a couple of larger families (I'm thinking particularly of two families who each have 5 children at home.) Not one of the children in these families shows signs of not getting enough love or attention. The older ones have little siblings who worship them; the younger ones have big siblings who dote on them. And the parents are devoted to each and every one of their children. In other words, not only do they have what an only child has (parents who love them deeply), they have another four people who love them as much. Who would want two or three people loving them when they can have six or eight or ten or thirteen?

The more people you love, the more love you have. This isn't a division problem; it's multiplication.


Erin-Scott's friend from the Scribblers said...

Hear Hear!!!!
Very true. :P
and Very True again.
I'm going to have 12 kids too. *G*
*comes from an eight kid family*

Enbrethiliel said...


When I was in high school, I wanted to have around twenty children. In college, I lowered my expectations and my goal to ten. Now that I've been working for a few years, I'm hoping for six.

I don't know if it's due to being more "realistic" or just being aware that I'm losing more childbearing years and will never make my original projection now. (Barring adoption, that is!)

Em said...

Well argued, my dear friend! I agree that far too many people over-complicate the idea of 2< children, and I think that you shouldn't have any shame about your desire to give the world a bunch of wonderful kids! At the same time, however, the math is a funny trick. I know some people who have many kids who are completely incapable parents in love and attention. Others have none or too few children when they have not only homes but hearts big enough to sustain a larger brood. Then there's people like me, who fears that I shall be wasting the best of my baby-bearing years on school, but still hopes to at least best my mother by one. When it comes to families, 1+1 has MANY differnt answers.

The Sojourner said...

Certainly I'm not saying that all big families are happy or even functional; nor am I saying that small families are necessarily miserable. I'm just taking apart the cultural assumption that happiness is inversely proportional to the number of people in your family.

Connie's Daughter said...

I understand that one's twenties are prime childbearing years. But I think our culture (and medical establishment) have gotten people to think that there is a cut-off in the mid-thirties. And while fertility may decline with age, I have to point out that I know many moms still having babies in their forties! And my last three came along after I hit the big 4-0.

It is true that as later babies came, it impacted what I could or couldn't do with my older children and vice-versa. Contemporary society might say that my kids have "suffered" for being a group of 7. I believe that they have gained more than what they may have lost. Yet even if that wasn't so, here's my take: God chose each one to be in this family, to be 3rd, or 5th, or whatever, of 7. That is that particular child's path to salvation. So if they suffer in the process, that, too, is a part of their path. Part of what I see as being at the core of the Sojourner's observations is that we, as a culture, no longer accept, let alone embrace, suffering. It is in heaven that all will be perfect, not in this life.

BTW, I love that the Church teaches "responsible parenthood" such that we are expected to use our reason when considering family size. It's not wrong to consider our circumstances when deciding whether to engage or refrain from marital relations. Using right reason and praying for God's will seem the surest means to the right family size, whatever size that is for each of us.

The Sojourner said...

Thanks for the comment, Connie's Daughter. It reminds me of a conversation I had over Labor Day weekend with three friends (my roommate, the Cobbler, and Durnhelm). Somehow we got on the topic of people having babies in their forties and I commented that if it were impossible, some of us would be short a few siblings. If you dropped the limit down to 35, not a person in that room would have a single younger sibling. That's a total of 12 people who wouldn't exist. (7 of them born to moms in their 40s.)
Also, the mom of ten I referred to in my post had her youngest at 47.

Part of what I see as being at the core of the Sojourner's observations is that we, as a culture, no longer accept, let alone embrace, suffering.

Glad to know my main points aren't entirely buried.