When I was a child, when strangers found out how many siblings I had they invariably seemed to want to know how many kids I wanted to have when I grew up. And so they would ask me. They were shocked with the response: “As many as I can have!” or “More than my mom!” or “At least eight but not more than twenty!” For some reason I think these interested adults expected me to say “none!” or “just one!” It was like they thought I would feel so overwhelmed by so many siblings that I wouldn’t want anything like that myself, and they were always taken aback by my responses.
What they didn’t realize is that for those influenced by the Quiverfull movement, having a large family is not a lifestyle choice, it’s a mission.
As a teenager, I saw my worth in terms of the number of children I would have. The more children I had, the better I’d look, the godlier I’d be, the more effective I’d be in furthering God’s kingdom. I looked forward to the challenge of raising numerous children, of balancing everything and being the perfect wife, mother, and homemaker. I was disappointed when I turned eighteen and hadn’t had any suitors, because I knew that the sooner I started having children the more I’d be able to have.
My parents didn’t tell me to link my worth to the number of children I would have, and I’m sure they would actually have spoken out against it and called it pride and told me to find my worth in God, not in my works. I didn’t learn to attach my worth to the number of children I would have because my parents were telling me to, but rather because I was surrounded by a community that heaped the most praise on those mothers who had large numbers of children and because the magazines and books I read offered the same message: The more children you had, the more you were to be praised. My parents never told me this explicitly, but it’s the message I ended up getting nonetheless.
But then I left my parents’ beliefs. And you know what? I still linked my worth to the number of children I would have. This wasn’t something I could just stop doing; it was something that was ingrained into my brain. Even after I became an atheist, still I linked my worth to the number of kids I would have. I’ve been doing better with this lately, but it’s a thought pattern that dies hard. Today, I want at least two children and no more than four. Four is twice the average, so I’m still not sure I’ve kicked this, and I don’t plan to have more than two unless I’m sure I’m doing it for the right reasons.
When I look forward and see a life with only two children, I see emptiness. I see space and time that feels like it needs filling. When I realize that they would both be out of the house before I was fifty, I see decades of blank. Why? Because I still have trouble picturing what I would do with my life without ten children to care for and raise. I still have trouble picturing how I would fill all that empty time, or those empty rooms. I still feel like I would be living in a void, rejecting a “blessing” I could be receiving if only I had six, eight, or ten children. And yes, I feel selfish for wanting only a few kids.
But then I have to remind myself of two things. First, having more space and time means I will be able to invest more in the children I do have, and second, that extra space and time is ready and waiting to be filled with other things, things that aren’t necessarily selfish. I could write a book. I could work at a soup kitchen. I could reach out to my neighbors, entertain, and work to create a sense of community. I could work for a program for troubled children. I could take in foster kids. I could start a club for preteen girls in need of constructive guidance. The possibilities are endless.
That empty space and time isn’t a void, it’s an opportunity.