a slightly different set of thoughts

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I'm on an email list for discussion of the Theology of the Body. Every so often, one of the list members has an idea that is a little off topic but worth discussing. What follows is one such, and I welcome your thoughts on this topic. It was triggered by a discussion of the various attitudes attributed to Boomers and Gen-X.
It seems to me that these little abbreviated families that everyone's having serve to separate the generations to a dangerous degree. The larger family (especially generations of larger families) spread out the generations, offering a much richer experience of human life at its various stages.
What I think it most troubling, with only 2.1 or 2.3 children per family, just about half the kids have no experience of having both a brother and a sister. Half the boys can't really understand the words of the lover in the Song of Songs, "My sister, my bride," and the other half have no access to what it means to care for "the least of my brothers" literally, and thus less analogically.
The sister thing alone is perilous. How much less will a young man value
chastity when he has no sister! I'm only scratching the surface here, of course. The effect of sisterless brothers could be pondered at length, and it's flip-side, the brotherless sister.
Personally, I want each of my kids to be able to say he or she has "brothers and sister," which immediately tells you there are at least five kids in the family. We have six, but only two boys, thus "brother and sisters" for the boys. Hoping for another boy to rectify the situation. But we've had four girls in a row . . .
And of course every boy needs a brother and every girl needs a sister. That almost goes without saying, and you won't find many parents -- at least not many fathers with brothers or mothers with sisters -- to disagree. Yet they still have "their two" and then "quit."
That word "quit" is kind of interesting. In a sense they are quitting, quitting the job of bringing life into the world. But "quitting" suggests a cessation of activity, while in fact they continue the "activity" of begetting life while performing other activities that undermine its natural direction -- actually more "work" rather than less, at least as far as the baby-making function is concerned (surgery, barriers, drugs).
On the other side are the NFP couples who say "quit" when they mean "quit worrying about having another baby" or "quit charting." The work -- the drudgery -- is in postponing pregnancy, a job well worth quitting, when circumstances allow.
Well . . . I do go on. This is why I don't have a blog of my own. I'd never get anything else done.

Eric J. Scheidler | eric@12myths.org | TOTB List Moderator
"God speaks to us primarily in our hearts."
-- John Henry Newman

my comments: In a culture with generally large and connected families, cousins take the place of siblings for those few families unable to have more than one or two children. Also, the attitude is very different towards the smaller families.


While the overall statement is true the blame does not necessarily lie with the parents. While many parents would like to have more than 2.3 children they are unable to do so for other reasons. The enormous costs of a good education and all the many other expenses we've convinced ourselves that we need are some of these.
If we are to continue in this direction the ability to have more than one child will be a privelage restricted only to the wealthy.
On a side note and completely irrelevant. I have one day off during the week, this is it. I was wondering, how come I pay so much for cable and STILL have to watch commercials? Isn't the idea of cable is that I am prepaying them so that they don't have to have sponsors? more unnecessary expenses.

joe - the phrasing you use is telling - "the many other expenses we've convinced ourselves that we need" . I'm the oldest of 6 kids. Two of us have Master's degrees (me and my sister the speech therapist). We both got those degrees with minimal help from our parents, and while we were also raising children of our own. 2 of us have only HS diplomas (my brothers) - one owns his own business, the other is a very successful builder and horse trainer). Two other sisters have some college, and they both are doing reasonably.
Of my 5 adult kids, only one has a 4 year degree, but they are all doing OK. It comes down to expectations and abilities. A person with reasonable abilities and the will to work can often find the way to do what is needed. Maybe he or she will be a little older and more serious about the college experience or whatever.
Yes, education is expensive. But often it is luxuries, not basics, that are seen as the reason to limit family size. When my oldest got to college, she was aghast to learn that most of her classmates had never had to share a room, do their own laundry, or any of the stuff that members of a large family take for granted. When my sons moved out into shared households with other guys, they soon learned that they were the only ones who knew how to cook meals or wash dishes.

I was talking about how I mix up the names of my two already, and my mother said that her mother would go down the whole line of daughters (she had 5 girls and 4 boys) to get the right name. So I commented matter of factly that I'd never know what it was like to have all those siblings, and my mother apologized (though it was not by choice that she had "only" three children.) I found it interesting that she thought it worth apologizing for. I guess I've absorbed that attitude though.

Good thoughts, Alicia. I've often said that one of the best gifts parents can give their children is a bunch of brothers and sisters. At the same time they are giving aunts, uncles, and cousins to their grandchildren -- all of which will be so very important later in life.

In a word: Rubbish!

I was raised without a father. Now, you can all boo hoo about how tough my life must have been without one, but it is the only reality I know. Am I worse off for it? Doubtful. (Trust me on this - I know my family background better than you do.) When well intentioned people ask if I found it difficult to grow up with only one parent, I shrug and say, "gee, I dunno, what's it like to grow up with two?"

I was also raised without benefit of either brother or sister. Again, this is the only reality I know. Not long ago someone asked me if I missed not having a sibling. My response was, "how can I miss something I've never known."

C'mon folks, there is no rule cast in cosmic stone that says a large family is better, more vibrant, more illustrative of what life should be like, more thought provoking, more emotive...dare I say it - a better Catholic family. I know people with three or four siblings that don't know the meaning of the words "duty", "honor" or "country." I know only children who have given the last full measure of their devotion to those concepts.

True, I never had to share a room. My kids don't share rooms. But how is it that I've somehow missed out on the greater essence of life as a result? Sheesh!

"How much less will a young man value chastity if he has no sister?" Said young man will value it so far as his parents teach him. I've known as many guys that would sell their sisters into slavery as would defend them to the death.

As with everything else in life there are trade-offs. Small families have certain advantages too, and the children from such families have abilities that those from large families wouldn't recognize. I won't point them out as I don't want to come off sounding as condescending as Eric does in his e-mail.

Be careful people. You're on the verge of committing sociology. Everyone should step back from the brink before it's too late...

I've noticed in my family and other larger families around me that it makes a difference to have the generations so close together. My littlest brother is only 8yrs older than my daughter, the first grandchild. So I have always been around small children growing up, and if we lived closer to my parents, my younger siblings could be around small children too, in their interaction with my kids. Then you can see that babies aren't something scary or alien, and neither are they just live dolls. You can see breastfeeding in action, and get used to it happening around you. You realize birth is a natural event, not a medical condition.

This kind of first-hand knowledge of other ages and generations can also happen through a close community, I think. But family is, ideally, such a community and then some. And I think such first-hand knowledge does have a special value--perhaps it can be done without, but it cannot be replaced.


Mark-I don't think the idea was to criticize the single mother who does a great job of bringing up one child. I think the idea was to celebrate large families, propound some of their benefits and virtues. I do think that people who deliberately limit themselves to only two or three children are really missing something.
And people who have those small families are in the ascendancy, consider themselves the norm, and let everyone else know it. Most parents of as few as four children have experienced spontaneous remarks such as "Haven't you figured out yet what causes it?" or...as I was once asked by a grocery store cashier, when pregnant with my fourth "Why don't you get yourself fixed so this doesn't keep happening to you?" I stuttered.. "but..but...but I WANT all my children."

So I am sorry if you felt that you and your background was being attacked or belittled by this essay. Of course there are different kinds and sizes of good families. And of course the large ones have their problems too, and when inadequate people face those problems, everything isn't always wonderful.

But, since we are rare now, and often looked down upon, please let those of us with large families speak of the virtues of large families, and encourage each other, and especially those who are still having their children and feel the pressure against it the most strongly.

Susan F. Peterson...mother of 9, grandmother of 7 so far. My oldest grandchild is less than two years younger than my youngest child...when my daughter had to be out, I sometimes nursed both of them together!

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This page contains a single entry by alicia published on September 18, 2004 6:31 AM.

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