By: Stephanie Pacheco, Guest Contributor
Occasionally, I find it enlightening to read the Huffington Post in order to keep abreast of the common opinions of secular, left-leaning readers and generally those citizens more disposed to oppose the teachings of the Church and their legitimate role in debates/discussions in the public square.
Last month, I was very pleased to find an honest but playfully written essay called “Six Reasons to Have Six Children.” It was very pleasant, mentioning the economics of scale that come into play with more children, the independence of the kids, their happy inter-relationships, etc.
Then I read the comments…
About half were supportive, but the other half were filled with accusations of irresponsibility and unsustainability. Here, I would like to offer some responses to the bitterly incoherent comments:
Bad Reason #1: As both parents have to work nowadays, the responsibility falls to the older children and that’s not fair.
In a big family, it is extremely uncommon for both parents to work outside the home. Big families tend to view the household as a unit with the mother and father contributing in different but equally necessary roles. The mother and father need not perform the same role (work at a job) in order to be of equal value.
Additionally, if any parent slacks off and saddles older children with too much care of younger ones, that is the fault of the parent, not a function of the number of children. This can easily happen in families with just two children as well.
Bad Reason #2: There really isn’t enough money. It’s more expensive and the older siblings come to resent the spoiling of younger ones. Other comments were that it is unfair not to put all the children through college.
It’s all about how you spend it. And as far as younger children being spoiled, this again is hardly exclusive to big families. Families with two or three children have this occur as well. My own little sister got sent on way grander vacations and school trips and got the latest electronics sooner.
It’s very normal for families to have more money in later years, and naturally some of that makes its way into treats for the kids. As an oldest child, it can be tempting to see that as cause for resentment, but it really isn’t. No child, oldest or youngest, is entitled to European vacations or a debt-free pass through college. Everything we receive from our parents is a gift, just like in the parable of the workers. The ones who worked all day received the same wages as those who joined later. Jesus explains that all agreed to their wages and receive them through the generosity of the Father, so no one is getting a raw deal (Matthew 20:1-16).
Money can be a real issue if the basics of life and debt management come into play, but potential spoiling of younger children and requiring young people to work if they choose to attend college are not real problems created by larger than average numbers of children.
Bad Reason#3: It’s unsustainable for the environment because of overpopulation and just think of all those dirty diapers in landfills. (The follow up to this was: well, overpopulation is a problem in the third world, so the Catholic Church needs to advocate abortion and contraception over there to prevent this).
This I think packs the most punch, in a way, because of how commonly accepted the bogey-man myth of overpopulation is. Refuting the pseudo-science of overpopulation requires more space than I have here, but here are a few reasons “overpopulation” is yet another bad reason to avoid having children.
First, the unsustainable for the environment argument is a red herring. Would all the people who mentioned diapers in a landfill suddenly change their mind about children if we all promised to use cloth diapers instead?
The more insidious aspect of this comment is the fear of overpopulation, that somehow the planet will not be able to shelter and feed a growing population.
Yes, there are parts of the world that are very crowded. There are also huge, huge swathes of land that are practically empty and completely habitable. Most of America is open farm land. There is so much land in the world that is sparsely populated, if indeed anyone lives there at all. If we are concerned about overcrowding in some places, we should seek out these places and help make them more accessible. We should not tell people not to have children or to kill their children (as in abortion) because there is no place for them. There was no room for Mary and Joseph in the inns, but the stable was open.
Then there are the fears that the earth lacks sufficient food and energy for a growing population. This fear is also misplaced because it fails to account for human invention and ingenuity. If all humans today lived as hunter gatherers, it is quite true that such a lifestyle would be unsustainable. But we developed and improved through the use of reason. Humans became farmers and learned to live in one place by utilizing, but not over-using, its resources. Economists recognize that time and time again, we humans invent new things that support our growing numbers and encourage us to flourish. Yes, there are places where food is scarce. But this calls those of us with more to charity and aid of our fellows precisely because we do have enough for everyone, not because we don’t.
Humans are meant to flourish on earth and then return to their Heavenly Father. Even Peter Singer, the infamous utilitarian philosopher at Princeton, thinks that it is good for humanity to exist. Man is good. Children are good. The earth is good, too, and it is more than possible to promote both human good and the good of the earth, which supports us.
Bad Reason#4: It’s selfish to have children (at all) because of the sacrifices that one’s colleagues will have to make for moms (and sometimes dads) when they don’t hold their own in the office if a child’s needs come up or when one is born.
Now this one is really odd. Most progressive circles nowadays are more than happy to call for increased maternity leave, paternity leave and flexible scheduling in general to help accommodate families so that women will enter and remain in the workplace.
Additionally, employers and colleagues are generally very understanding of extenuating personal circumstances ranging from sickness, serious sickness, childbirth, death of a loved one, etc.
Saddest of all, this comment belies a real lack of thought about the end or purpose of work as such. As Catholic Social Teaching instructs us, the end of business and economics is to serve the flourishing of man, not the other way around.
“Businesses should be characterized by their capacity to serve the common good of society [which is the development of individuals to attain their highest end, holiness] through the production of goods and services” (Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, para. 338).
This is hardly a controversial statement. The idea of business for business’ sake or for profit alone is clearly an abuse. Work, the production of goods and services and the like are simply another part of life, all of which is supposed to be ordered to the good of society. A workplace that fails to recognize the human character of its workers and the human end of its work is a place that has fallen short.
Still, Big Families are Not Required
By all means, the Catholic Church does not teach that all married couples must have high numbers of children. Having children depends on God, prayer, natural fertility and abstinence. There are many legitimate reasons for couples to practice Natural Family Planning in order to avoid pregnancy. The Church simply teaches that children are gifts (not burdens), and that children are the natural fruit of the marital act. If a couple prayerfully decides to avoid more children for the time being (or sometimes indefinitely), they are to abstain from the marital act during times of fertility.
So though there are good reasons that a couple may want or need to keep their family smaller, the ones listed above are myths and stereotypes that are not good reasons.
Stephanie Pacheco has a B.A. in Religious Studies from the University of Virginia and an M.A. in Theology from Christendom College. She is a stay-at-home mom who writes for online media, blogs at theoress.wordpress.com, and lives with her husband, toddler and baby on-the-way.