When there were eight children in my family, I had a friend who was also one of eight. Then my mother had another baby. What do you think my friend did? She was so jealous of me that she didn’t talk to me for three months. Finally, she came to me and confessed her jealousy and apologized for letting it jeopardize our friendship.
I talked recently with a woman with nine children. She told me she wants more, because she loves kids and loves being pregnant. I looked around at the nine kids coming and going, shouting and dodging in and out of the fridge. They looked happy, yes, well fed, yes, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that this woman was concentrating more on the next unborn – heck, unconceived – baby than on the ones she already had.
When I was a kid, we heard about the Duggars and their TV show. Several of my siblings were upset that the Duggars had more kids than we did, and they urged mom to have more quickly so that we could “beat” the Duggars. As if it was a contest.
One of my friends growing up was one of only four children. She felt very left out when she looked at my family, and I wondered what was wrong with her parents that they only had four. She talked to her mom and told her that she wanted more brothers and sisters, and her mom said she should pray for more. More never came, and I secretly suspected my friend’s mother of using birth control. Having only four children seemed extremely selfish to me.
I myself determined that I wanted to have a large number of children, ideally more children than my mother. Somehow I felt that the more children I could have the holier and better that would mean I was.This is really not that surprising, given that at homeschool conferences and conventions I attended as a child it was not uncommon for the leaders to give a prize to the woman with the most children, having her stand up and be applauded before the entire group. I hoped that I would marry early, so as to maximize my fertility. Today, I feel like I am somehow deficient or inferior because I have only one child. Somewhere along the way my brain was trained to tie my worth as a woman to the number of children I would have. Ending thought patterns like this is not easy.
Now I know I come at this from the perspective of someone having grown up in the movement, and not as a mother who lived it. But I do have to wonder – is it actually about the children or is it just about the number?
Sometimes I think my parents didn’t see me as an individual with my own wants, talents, and desires, but rather as a blank slate to be shaped into what they wanted – a perfect daughter according to their specific definition. Did they see me as a person or just another number to raise up for the glory of God? Isn’t that what the Quiverfull ideal is about, anyway? Raising up as many strait and true arrows to shoot into the world for God as possible?
The problem with this whole ideology is that children are not trophies or collectors items. They are not simply blank slates waiting for their parents to write on them as they please. Rather, children are individual human beings with their own personalities and interests who need to be cared for and nourished and allowed to bloom. Every child needs individualized time and attention, and deserves to be loved for his or her own sake, quirks and differences and all. It seems to me that many Quiverfull families forget about this. The focus isn’t on meeting the needs of the children who already exist, but rather on expanding the family for the glory of God. The more children the better. The more children, the holier. But I have to ask, what about the children you already have? What about them and their needs? Why not invest in them? Because you know what? Children are not trophies. They’re children.