Zipping down the path toward marriage after a few months of dating, my future wife pulled me aside one sunny afternoon and asked how many children I thought would be ideal for our family.
“Three,” I said.
A playful smile engulfed her face.
“That’s a good start,” she replied.
As always, Treasa knew what she was talking about.
Counting our firstborn, Georgie, who was stillborn six weeks before his due date, this year’s June arrival of our youngest daughter brought the number of children in our family to six – twice what I had projected.
Here with us in this world are three girls, ages 5, 3 and 6 months, and 2-year-old twin boys.
The thought of caring for five young children, three of whom are still in diapers, undoubtedly sends chills down the spines of many. I see it in the polite but bemused faces we encounter on outings with our brood.
“You have your hands full” is the ubiquitous commentary on our lives.
In many ways, it is a challenge.
Our small townhouse seems forever cluttered with toys, books and stuffed animals. We have financial pressures that go with having a big family and inevitable tantrums to deal with. And if someone decides to make an Olympic sport of wrestling squirmy children into car seats, we’re medal contenders.
Despite all that, our little ones have brought immeasurable joy. I have no greater pleasure than getting tackled by giggling toddlers or watching them gleefully race around our home on hand-me-down tricycles.
Balancing multiple children on my lap for bedtime stories or whirling around the kitchen during early-morning dance sessions are equally fun.
This December, we will have the thrill of hanging another Christmas stocking on our crowded fireplace mantel and again experiencing the excitement of the season through the eyes of our children.
There’s something enchanting (and daunting) about taking a pack of children to pick a Christmas tree. There’s also a sense of gratitude that comes with the privilege of adding “baby’s first Christmas” ornaments on just the right branches.
We know we’re in the minority when it comes to family size, even among Catholics.
The Pew Research Center found in a 2015 study that just 14 percent of mothers who had reached the end of their childbearing years had four or more children – down dramatically from 40 percent in 1976. Then, 11 percent had only one child. Today, that figure is 22 percent.
The Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate found in a 2015 study that just 1 percent of Catholic parents ages 25 to 45 have five children. Less than 1 percent have six, and less than 1 percent have seven or more.
There are many legitimate factors that influence how many children a family is able to raise, if any at all. There’s certainly no such thing as a “perfect family size,” and there’s great value in respecting the diversity of family sizes in our community.
As we make those decisions, however, it helps to be open to the gift of life and, as St. John Paul II reminded us, to be unafraid. What better time than Christmas to reflect on the Polish pontiff’s description of a child as a “gift” to his or her brothers, sisters, parents and entire family?
One of the classic syndicated comic strips, “The Family Circus,” shows a mother carrying groceries while her four children tag along. A woman asks how she divides her love among four children.
“I don’t divide it,” Mommy says, “I multiply it.”
Email George Matysek at gmatysek@CatholicReview.org