There is an occasionally spoken assumption among Catholics that if a family is small and claims to be Catholic, they’re most likely contracepting and really aren’t that Catholic. Catholic families are supposed to be big. Catholic moms are supposed to drive twelve-passenger vans, or at least a minivan. They are supposed to be pregnant every year or two, giving birth to child after child, year after year. They are supposed to fill their homes with lots of joy, laughter, love, and little bodies. That’s what a good Catholic family is supposed to look like.
We wanted a big family. My husband and I always envisioned having four kids, maybe more. We bought our house with the intention of filling it with children. But some of our rooms are still empty. We are still a family of four, despite a year and a half of trying for another child. We want to look like a “good Catholic family,” but we don’t. I know we don’t, and I can feel the judgmental looks from time to time. I can see the glances that slide from my face to my stomach when I tell people that my youngest child is nearly three. I can hear the judgmental tone when strangers ask me if I just have the two, or when number three will be coming along. Every time it happens, it’s like a stab in the heart.
When you live in an area where the average family size is nine, it’s easy to feel less worthy because of your small family. You know what people think. You know what you used to think back in your naive days, before you knew that you’d struggle to conceive. I used to assume that small families were small by choice. I assumed that they were using NFP to prevent pregnancy, or that they were using contraception to keep their number of children down. It never even occurred to me that their little family might not have been their choice.
In truth, there are plenty of reasons why families might be small. They might not be able to conceive, or else they might struggle to carry pregnancies to term. The children they do have might have been adopted, and they could only afford to adopt one or two. There might be medical issues at play, or else financial or mental ones. Not every small family is contracepting, and most of the reasons why a family might be small will be invisible. When people look at me, they see a healthy young woman with two (mostly) healthy children. My kids are well-dressed, well-fed, and well-behaved. There are no outward signs that we’re struggling to conceive. But we are.
So next time you feel tempted to judge a small Catholic family, pause for a moment before you do. You can never know why a family might be small. You can never know how badly they might be suffering. You can never know how they have struggled and overcome and come to terms with their beautiful little family. You can never know if your comment, or your look, might be enough to make them remember that their small family was not their original dream. You can never know what is on another person’s heart, which is why I beg you not to judge my little family. We’d really appreciate it.