Once, when my husband told a co-worker that he had four children the man joked, “So are you Catholic or Mormon?”
Ha! And that was only for four.
It is obvious why devout Catholics end up with big families. But Mormons? What is their deal? Do they not use birth control either? Do they get a tithing discount for every child they have? Are they doing it for tax incentives?
Or are they trying to take over the world?
Or perhaps it is because it makes us happy. My husband’s mother bore six children and my mom had seven. We both loved growing up in large families.
I have three amazing sisters to laugh with, cry with and swap kids with. I have older brothers who picked on me mercilessly but also stood by me when I was in trouble. Growing up, I adored my many cousins and still keep in contact with them.
As a child in a big, loving family I never even considered having less than twenty.
It is no secret that our church leaders tell us regularly to “multiply and replenish the earth.” The fact that we would take such counsel seriously makes some people squirm.
But before you think we are all just mindless rabbits, let me assure you that we are faithful people, not stupid people.
There is no quota. We are not asked to procreate at will without considering the mother’s health (physical, mental and emotional) and many other factors that may make it difficult to support a large family. Whether or not birth control is used is up to the couple’s agency and discretion. In my opinion, to keep adding children into a family without thought and planning is as bad an idea as using abstinence (in marriage) as birth control. Having a child is a huge decision, but having a healthy relationship with your spouse is paramount.
Church leaders are simply asking us to not let selfishness or fear of the future overcome our desire to have children. Once, when Scott and I were deciding on when to have our third child, it seemed as if there was always some impediment nine months away that would make it difficult to have a baby. But we decided that if we waited for the “perfect time” to have a baby it would never happen at all.
More often than not babies find a way to be welcomed, cared for, loved, and never regretted–even when at first it seemed like it would be impossible.
Many people who don’t have large families can’t understand the desire to have one. My grandmother, for instance. Each time my mother would call my grandmother–who was not a Mormon–and announce she was again pregnant, my grandmother would tell her she was a “glutton for punishment.”
Since I am number six, I’m glad my mom didn’t listen to her.
I have found that the blessings of having a big family are innumerable. When you have a large family you are automatically part of something. You belong. (And if you have a big enough family you are sure to have at least one sibling that you like.) Everyone needs to belong, to be inherently admired and loved…not because they have done something special, but merely because they exist.
That is why people who don’t have supportive families join gangs.
When you have a big family every day is a party. There is always someone to play with, to serve, to talk to, to commiserate with, to make you laugh.
There is a reason why they call families of lions “prides.” You feel great pride when you are part of a large, respected family, headed by a matriarch and patriarch who lead and teach with love and a great affection for their posterity. You feel that you have a stewardship to your family and you are constantly encouraged to honor the family’s name, to keep it untarnished.
People who have never grown up in a family like this don’t think that it is possible.
But it is.
I do know of one Mormon friend who felt “lost” in her family. She felt like there were so many kids that she didn’t matter. She was one of 15. All the more reason for parents to be wise and thoughtful when making decisions to have another child.
Another reason we have lots of kids is because Mormons are alwasy on a quest for self-improvement. We have a great desire to become better, to refine ourselves, to achieve excellence. Is there no greater refiner’s fire than to raise a child?
Peter de Vries wrote “The value marriage is not that adults produce children but that children produce adults.” I know of no other occupation that demands so much focus, creativity, endurance, wisdom, unconditional love, selflessness, generosity, humor, patience, sacrifice, kindness, innovation, organization, composure, self-control, cleanliness and tolerance. The more I try to “master” my children, the more I learn that it is more about mastering myself.
It is true that kids can be a pain sometimes, but they are also a lot fun. They are fun to tickle, to teach, to hold, to laugh with, to cuddle, to sooth, to heal, to learn from. They each come with their own very unique personalities–even my identical twins–and it is fascinating to get to know them as they grow and mature.
As Latter-Day Saints we believe in the eternal nature of families. The family relationships we nurture here will be one of the few things we can take with us to the next life. If being with your family forever and ever and ever doesn’t give you motivation to get along, nothing will.
I used to think that the things that would give me the greatest joy would be to sing on big stage in front of thousands (which I’ve done) to go kayaking on a glass-smooth river (which I have done) or to publish a novel (haven’t done that one yet). But the greatest joy I have is to hear my kids laughing together. To watch them playing together. To witness them doing something kind for a sibling without being prompted.
That is true joy.
Perhaps I will change my mind when I finally publish a book, but I doubt it.
As I sit here and finish this post I am entering my ninth month of pregnancy. I am large and so obviously pregnant that it is no longer taboo for perfect strangers to ask me how far along I am. And they almost always add, “Is this your first?”
I love to smile and say, “No, this is my fifth.”
This post was first published on February 26, 2013 on Turkeyboys Girls