I’ve noticed a trend lately. It’s probably been there for years, maybe even decades, but maybe I’ve just noticed it since entering motherhood myself, and perhaps I’ve become especially attuned since working at Elizabeth Ministry International. It’s the habit that our culture has of commenting on, asking about, and even passing judgement on people’s family size and family planning intentions.
When I’ve been in the store with my three girls, I’ve been asked by complete strangers if I am “going to keep trying for a boy”. It somewhat amuses that they assume we have already been trying for a boy. I have friends who had a boy and a girl and people tell them, “Good! Now you can be done!” It seems odd to me that there’s even such a notion that there is a “perfect family” and that that family consists of one boy and one girl. I grew up with two older brothers and no sisters and although I loved my brothers immensely, I always wanted a sister in the worst way. As a mother, I’m so grateful that my girls have sisters.
Beyond these assumptions though, asking people questions like “When are you going to have a baby?”, “Are you done now?”, “Are you going to keep trying for more?” and the many variations of it are incredibly personal questions. They are questions that maybe your closest and dearest friend can ask you during an intimate conversation, but they are not questions to be asked by the general public, by general acquaintances, or around the Christmas table with extended family present.
- When people ask someone else if they are going to have more, they’re asking something that could be incredibly hurtful to many people. People who are struggling with infertility, repeat miscarriage, and other health issues may want a(nother) child in the worst way, but may not feel like sharing their intimate struggles with just anyone. Dealing with infertility is a daily struggle anyway and being asked constantly when they are going to have a child just pours salt in their wound.
- A lot of things go into consideration when discerning if one should have more children or not. Asking someone their plans for their family size is like asking them, “Please tell me about your finances. Do you feel like you are doing okay in that area? Do you feel like you would be okay to support another child? Or are you having difficulty making ends meet as it is? And while you are at it, can you also tell me about your physical health? Do you have any health issues that may make pregnancy excessively difficult or dangerous? Can you also tell me about your marital relationship? Are you having any problems in your marriage? And about your emotional health? Are you feeling overwhelmed with life currently, or do you feel like you have a good handle on everything?” All of these things come into consideration when people are deciding whether they might like to have more or if they want to hold off for awhile. Maybe a week ago that mother of two would have wanted more but yesterday she discovered her husband’s pornography habit, and now her marriage is hanging on by a thread and another child is the last possibility that she would consider. Maybe a person has one child but the birth of that child was so traumatic that she is having difficulty coming to terms with her birth experience and the thought of having another is completely terrifying to her.
Having a child is such a deeply intimate and personal decision. Tied up in the issues of family are all the private issues in regards to the whole of life. Being privileged to walk with and to know many couples who are experiencing the varied joys and struggles in relation to sexuality, childbearing, and relationships, I’ve learned a few things:
- The plans that people have for their families aren’t our business. If they choose to share their private concerns or plans with you, you are a treasured friend, but no one is owed this information, and we shouldn’t ask for it.
- Although many people receive comments and questions about their family size intentions regularly, I don’t know of one person who enjoys or appreciates such comments.
- When people are open to life and they let God plan their families, we end up with a wide variety of family sizes. We end up with families of two (because a family is created when two people marry), with families of 3, 4, 10, or even more, because like everything God creates, families too are stunningly beautiful in their wide variety.