This could end up being a controversial post, but not intended to be. The average American household size is 2.5 persons with the average household having .90 children. Wow! When I looked up this statistic tonight, I was shocked by the number. The number of children per household has drastically fallen since I last checked about 10 years ago.
Not until I had children did I ever understand why people only had two children. In my dreamy world, I grew up wanting hundreds of children. Truly. I dreamed of a home full of children and babies. I didn’t understand the realities of motherhood at all. I didn’t know what it felt like to have morning sickness. I didn’t understand how pregnancy is hard for most people and very scary at times. I didn’t know what it felt like to be up all night for several weeks at a time with a new baby only to be woken in the morning by a very rested 2 and 3-year old. I never thought about those things. I didn’t know what the pain felt like to hover over a sick child worried to death. I didn’t know what it felt like to continually ponder a child’s future and formation. You see, I was confident and ignorant. Then, I had children.
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I had my first child and fell desperately in love. Like most mothers with their first, I was meticulous about everything. I made sure I read to him 40 hours a day, taught him baby sign language, made all his baby food, took him outside everyday, and read every parenting book to make sure that I wasn’t messing him up for life. Looking back though, I was very overwhelmed. You see, when a woman gets married and has children, the life you once knew has now completely changed. Your life is not your own anymore…forever. You are now responsible for entire human being. I remember thinking when he was sick for the first time, “If I don’t take him to the doctor, nobody will.” You have to make serious decisions about things like vaccinations, schooling options, medicated or unmedicated birth, allergies, parenting techniques (i.e. to spank or not to spank), sleeping troubles, temper tantrums, eating issues, etc., etc. There is no barometer in motherhood. You do not get a medal at the end of the day that says, “Well done, you handled that fit well” or “Well done, you chose wisely on the vaccination decision” or “Great diaper change!” So, for the first time in lives of most women you are faced with a scenario that makes most feel like they started preschool again only this time the textbooks are on the level of your post-doctorate.
It seems around the 2-year mark, most people venture out and have another child. BAM! ENTER… why most people never go beyond this point of having more than two children. Yes, I know, some say it is for other reasons i.e. financial, challenging pregnancies and even scary pregnancies. Although, when you get into deep conversation with a woman, you see the longing and the loneliness on her heart for more children. She may not even know it. For me, I had my first child whom I gave ALL MY ATTENTION. I then had another child WHOM I FELT AS THOUGH I HAD TO GIVE ALL MY ATTENTION. This truly was an impossible task. Who can do that? I remember when I would go anywhere I would make sure I had army of people to help. Truly. I admired mothers of large families and felt so inadequate next to them. I would be at the zoo with my two children and six of my sisters to hold each of their arms and legs and possibly breathe for them…if they needed that. Then, I would see mothers of ten children…GET THIS…BY THEMSELF AT THE ZOO…and actually smiling. When we lived in Oklahoma, I would pack enough toys for the eight hour drive so that they would have something new to look at every 2.3 minutes. It was ridiculous. At mass, we would bring a buffet so that not a moment would go by that HOUR that he wasn’t eating or looking at something. I would NEVER drive anywhere more than an hour by myself because HE MIGHT CRY OR SOMETHING and that just isn’t right.
It is the first time in motherhood you are experiencing a toddler and then also having a new baby. My mom always says that most babies become normal at their one year birthday. Meaning, I have seen it time and time again. You have this sweet, beautiful, innocent baby who does everything he is supposed to for his first year of life and then…something happens. They start developing opinions. How dare they start thinking for themselves? Suddenly, they throw fits in public, arch their back, lay on the floor, climb on everything, go fishing in the toilet, become a picky eater. They are a mess and you are mess. I remember one of my dear friends crying at her sons baby pictures because he had morphed into some sort of something his second year of life. Never before are you faced with constant decisions on how to handle the octopus that now lives in your home. On top of that, you have a new baby who decides that the middle of the night is his favorite hot spot. Side note, the toddler whom has been sleeping in the other room for 13 hours didn’t get the memo and still wakes up for party time at 6:00 AM. How come he didn’t know that you just fell asleep around 5:30 AM?
Really, who would do this again and again? You are so tired and overwhelmed that you know that God doesn’t want someone to exist in such a way. You will say, “I’m not being a good mom to the two I have, why would I have more?” “I can’t imagine feeling this way the rest of my life.” “I can use my talents in much more productive ways besides having more children.” “I was much more patient before I had children.” “I am of no use to anyone in such a state.” This little voice in your head is not from God. It is the devil trying to discourage you from THE MOST IMPORTANT WORK you will ever do.
You see, like every new job something begins to change after two children (some say three children, but most say two). You begin to settle into your new job. All your little fears and questions really aren’t present anymore. You start seeing trends with your children and know that usually “this too shall pass.” You begin to have a peaceful acceptance of your promotion and begin to look at it as such. How come I felt more overwhelmed with one than I do with six children? How come I wouldn’t think much about driving 8 hours by myself with all of my children, but a few short years ago, I wouldn’t have driven 30 minutes with one? How come I will drive to see my mom three hours away and each child will only bring one book to look at and be content the whole drive when in the past they had a toy for every 5 minutes and most trips were very hairy and stressful?
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YOU BEGIN TO CHANGE. You begin to see each child very differently. You begin to look at your oldest as not being five-years-old, but as only having 13 years left at home and that takes on a whole new perspective. You start cherishing their baby hood and know that most things are phases. You start realizing how fast it really is going and you start to slow down. You know that they will eventually sleep and even if they don’t, it suddenly and weirdly becomes “okay.” Why does that happen? When I just had Dominic and was getting up with him in the middle of the night, I truly was the most tired person in America. Really. I would take two naps a day because I thought I was so tired. You adjust. I don’t feel anymore tired now than I did with just one. You just keep going and God keeps you going. A very wise mother of nine told me, “The days are long and the years are short.” I want to change it to “Some days are long, but to me the years are way too short.” You begin to see things changing from one season to the next, and you start to change. You will say, “Just last summer, he loved to ride his bike outside, now he is more quiet and wants to stay inside while we go out.”
You see, these are the lessons in the school of motherhood. With each new child, you are promoted. God chips away at us and refines us and makes us beautiful. Why are mothers of large families edifying? Why do we want to be near them? Do not misunderstand my words that mothers of two children have nothing to teach us. That is not what I am saying. What I am saying that with any job, usually the person whom has been there the longest and has the most experience is pretty wise.
There are those who want children and can’t conceive. Are people not wise unless they have children and especially “lots” of them? No, not at all. Everybody has something to teach us. I am not here to pat myself on the back (I am still a work in much progress). I am here to encourage and simply say keep going. The world tells you to stop. My whole point is simply that if you are blessed with the gift of fertility, please let us see it as such. If for some reason, God decides not to give us anymore children, I pray that we use our lives to glorify Him in whatever avenue he chooses to take us down. I have many friends and family members whom have not been given children yet, but glorify God beautifully through their lives with their openness to adoption and other great works.
I write to encourage young and older mothers to keep going. One more life. One more soul. A whole new person. The possibilities in one person are breathtaking. I meet so many women who wished they would have had more children, but I’ve never met a woman who wished they didn’t have so many. God gave women the gift of fertility really for a few short years in the perspective of a lifetime. I pray that I treasure this gift and use it wisely.
My brother Dominic was born seventh in our family. Little did my parents know that a few 18 years later, he would be caring for my father during his last days on this earth. The scenes I saw with Dominic and my dad still make me cry. To see a young, strapping 18-year-old lift his crippled father into his wheel chair all the while giving him such beautiful dignity. I would see Dominic turn and cry so often. It was so moving. What a gift and privilege Dominic had to take care of him. John’s uncle Fran is the third youngest of twelve children. He is a physician and has spent many years doing mission work in Australia for the poorest of poor. He has repaired peoples lives with his gift of medicine. He has restored vision and hearing to hundreds. One life, his life, has changed many lives. I believe all work is important, but nothing is more important than bringing souls to this earth with the possibility of eternal existence with God forever.
I beg you to realize how privileged you are as a woman to even have children. Let us give God our whole beings without reserve and let Him write the story of our lives and the lives he chooses to bring. For some reason, God does not let us know the end of the story of our lives. So we must trust. As Mother Teresa said, “I want to be a pencil in his hand.”