Monday, February 09, 2009

NYT on Large Families

My friend Meagan Francis was in the New York Times yesterday on a story on society's fascination -- and often hostility toward -- large families. She's only got four (soon to be five), but she wrote a book about large families so she's an expert.
The comments, naturally, are largely nasty.
Most of the folks quoted about their big families say that eyebrows start to raise after they pass three kids. But I must say that I have faced a lot of surprising reactions about our decision to have merely a third. A lot of people have told me I am brave, which really makes me wonder if they heard me right. We're having a kid, not landing a jet in the Hudson. (Speaking of which, I have a new post up on that travel blog asking whether you'd be willing to brave USAir's customer service in order for a chance to fly with Sully.)
One of my friends, the mother of four, said that when you have two, "you have a lovely family." With three, you're told, "You have your hands full." (I've been told this plenty of times with just two, but my two are a handful, aren't they?) With four, you get, "Are they ALL yours?"
Really, people, it's nobody's business how many children you have, and I don't think it's nice to question people's family-planning decisionmaking any more than it would be nice to say, "Really? Do you need two cars?" Or "Did you really think those pants were a good idea?"
You might say that people who have more kids are using up too much of the resources, but come on, really? For one thing, we're all using up too much of the resources, simply on the basis of our American lifestyle. I think anyone who wants to lecture others about their consumption had better have a zero carbon footprint themselves. Is it selfish to put 12 children through the public schools instead of two? Well, the schools are there to train the citizens of the future, not to provide the parents with some kind of super funtime. And it doesn't really make sense to worry about how many of those future citizens have the same parents.
And then there is the big picture. So many Americans choose not to reproduce these days, that our population would not be growing were it not for immigration. Cultures that fail to maintain a population of younger people end up getting top-heavy.
Octuplets on purpose, by the way? Still crazy.


Sara said...

Well said. It's no one's damn business how many kids we want to (or don't want to) have.

Oddly enough, I am facing pressure to have a third child before my second has even had a chance to be born yet, and it makes me crazy. I happen to feel like two kids is enough for me. Doesn't mean I think it's a bad idea to have more than two...everyone's situation is different.

And heck yeah, I'd face ANYONE'S customer service to fly with Sully.

Kori said...

I don't think you can really win with any parenting choices. I'd feel worse for these families if I didn't think that everyone got their fair share of invasive, insensitive, unnecessary commentary. Having only one child, I'm always asked if I want more. I hear parents of children that are all the same gender asked if they would have preferred one of the other sex (this actually happened to my husband a few months ago, and he was flabbergasted.)

I'm not saying this isn't obnoxious, I'm just saying it seems to be universally obnoxious, and I'm guessing it is because, on the whole, we just don't know what to say to each other to pass the time.

Of course, you know me---I'll just keep encouraging you to have babies so I can love 'em up!

Carrie said...

No Kori, I know what you're really up to: You are fulfilling your procreatic duty to the Virgin Mary by coercing me to make more of God's children! While you sit back and relax! Oh, I'm onto you.

Kori said...

Bwah ha ha ha ha....Hail Mary, Full of Grace...

Notta Wallflower said...

It's funny because a lot of people have tried to talk us into having another. Really, I don't want any more. Apparently, there's such a thing as "too few". /sigh

Becky said...

I guess people are always going to say inappropriate things, no matter what.

But around here (suburban Atlanta), I've noticed kind of a different attitude--large families are almost a status symbol, it seems. Two is still the norm, but three is common, and my friend and I joke that "four is the new two." Seems like lots of well-off families have four and more. I kind of thought it was because high-achieving women were choosing to stay home with their kids, so they decided to really go to town and have lots of kids while they were at it.