What’s in a Family’s Size?

Size Doesn't MatterWhen Dan and I were engaged, I dreamed of us having four children. I thought it would be the perfect family-all even. Of course, I dreamed that we’d have two boys and two girls. I like things to be even.

When I got pregnant with Ethan, things came screaming to reality. More like puking to reality. I get sick when I’m pregnant. Very, very sick. I was sickest with Ethan, where I had to have a PICC line and home IV therapy. I lost around 25 pounds with each pregnancy. A good diet, if you forget about the vomiting┬ápart.

Then when it came to labor and delivery, it was no picnic for me either. I didn’t dilate–with Zach I had contractions two minutes apart and was barely two centimeters. I had three c-sections. Pregnancy and delivery were such a problem for me that when we found out Emma was going to be a girl, we (more like I, but I like to include Dan in this…) decided we should have a more permanent method of birth control. It was a good thing we did, too, because as my doctor was sewing me up after having Emma she recommended that I not have any more children, due to extensive scar tissue.

That was fine for me. I’d much rather have the baby than the pregnancy. The thing is, when Emma was born, our family felt so complete. I had thought I was done after having Zach, but there still seemed to be a hole in the family. Emma filled that hole. I believe that it was God’s plan for us to have three children.

It’s beautiful how God has designed families. Some families are perfect with only one child. In some instances, that’s all the parents are able to have. Some are perfect with two, three–some are perfect with eight or more children! That’s the beauty in how God created the family. He created each one unique, with its own special personalities. I don’t believe that there’s any right size to a family. I don’t think it’s wrong to have an only child, and I don’t think it’s wrong to have a big family with tons of kids.

God gives us discernment — and free will, for that matter — to choose how big our family is. Am I saying it’s right to have an abortion if you have two children, and have a surprise “oops” pregnancy? NO!!! All life is God-given and is to be respected. Those “oops” happen, and I think that’s just God’s way of showing that He’s the ultimate planner.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.”

Jeremiah 29:11

I love that verse. We are here on earth, carrying out God’s plans. He’s known since he knit me in my mother’s womb where I would be in life. He knew I’d be a mother of three. It was all in His plan. God doesn’t love us less because we have three children instead of eight. He loves us the same. Size doesn’t matter.

By Esther Burns

Photo Credit: “Happy Family” by Brad Hammonds licensed under CC BY 2.0

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Comments

What’s in a Family’s Size? — 13 Comments

  1. Thank you Esther for this post. My husband and I have two children and we are grandparents to four wonderful grandchildren. As you say, ‘some families are perfect with one child’ or many more. However, I am fully aware that this is a contentious subject within the LCMS. In recent years, I’ve heard some younger pastors and laypeople say that ANY practice of birth control is not ‘God-pleasing’. That seems to be a bit extreme to me.

    In Christ,
    Diane

  2. Thank you, Esther, for your article. It is helpful to all sides of this
    question for God’s children to remember that we are free of the Law through Christ’s fulfillment of it for our Justification. If a couple wishes to make it their calling to have many children, and IF the woman is fit, not just physically, but also otherwise, to bear and mother many children, fine. Christian couples who are not blessed with those talents should not feel the judgement of their sisters and brothers in the Faith, recalling that there are many ways to serve and glorify God. I read expressions of exhaustion, depression, anxiety, and inadequacy in many posts of mothers of many children. While it is pure joy for some, and it is apparent that those women, with the help of their husbands are doing a good job of parenting, as well as just having babies, it appears as if it is a sad, oppressive burden to others, from which they feel there is no end. Being co-creators with God is a wonderful thing, an important thing, but not the only thing.
    Blessed are the peacemakers!

  3. Thank you for that article. This has been an on-going disagreement with my husband and I. I am an only child and want a larger family, while he, being the practical one, would rather have a smaller for financial reasons. People have told me off for taking birth control, while others have raised their eyebrows at wanting to have a larger family. Your article gave me so much peace.

  4. God certainly does not love us based on our family size. This is true and very comforting. But there are some unfortunate flaws in your understanding of “God’s plan” for families, I won’t address all of those, but I did want to point out a couple issues we should be mindful of.

    It takes living by faith to allow God to send (and take) as many babies as He wills. To suggest as Barbara has that it is “talent” diminishes the work God does in these families and frankly is a bit insulting. I don’t think any of us with “a lot of kids” would claim to have a particular talent for having them or raising them or to somehow be stronger, more fit or better at it in any way.

    Sure it is hard, very hard, but again that’s where faith comes in and a lot of seeing God work and love in and through us, His weak and frail children. I also don’t think any of us would trust ourselves to decide when our family “felt complete” and to therefore take control of procreation. I’ve known too many women who felt they were done, felt God had already “perfectly designed their family”, took permanent action to prevent more children and to their heartbreaking regret decided too late that perhaps their family wasn’t as “complete” as they had thought. To play God based on emotion is very dangerous.

    It may not look like much fun to you, it isn’t always. Some mothers have a terrible time at it. There may seem to be better and easier ways to be “co-creators” with God, but there are women and men who have been convinced otherwise by God’s Word. This is not an emotional decision, please don’t suggest otherwise.

    Also to state that we can “choose how big our family is” is a bit insensitive to those who have never been given the gift of a child by God. We don’t get to create life, even if our family feels too small.

    All that to say I just think we should take a little more care when throwing around these justifications for not having more children.

  5. We certainly weren’t “playing God” when we chose to permanently prevent more pregnancies. I was told that I was medically unable to have any more children, and, in fact, that I would be in danger if I were to do so. I would much rather be around for my children on earth than lose my life because of another pregnancy.

    I didn’t say we “chose” our family size–I said God gave us DISCERNMENT. In the same way that God gave us DISCERNMENT that we shouldn’t have any other children, God gives those that are childless the DISCERNMENT to pursue adoption, or he gives them the peace of not having any children. The whole point of my post is that GOD has a plan. And it is NOT our right to JUDGE other people based on the decisions they have made.

    It is not your right at all to judge me based on my post. If you don’t like what I’ve written, I’m sorry. God has given us free will to disagree. But judging me–that’s not your job at all.

  6. Essie,

    I am not judging your decision not to have more kids, and I base this on the reality that another child may have killed you and left your children without a mother.

    That being said I am deeply troubled by this post. You see I hope the slippery slope. Katrina took your post as a justification for preventing children based on financial considerations. Did God give her the discernment to stop at one child? Or did the devil, the world, and her sinful flesh? The fact is that we know God’s will not by our free will, but by his Word. And practicing birth control for financial reasons is not revealed as a good thing by God. He tells us not to worry about our body, what we will put on or what we will eat. That’s his will. And our wills are to be taken captive to his.

    Your talk of free will and discernment, then, has apparently led Katrina to think that our will when it comes to family size does not need to be taken captive to God’s will. In fact, your post seems to suggest that we know God’s will not simply by his Word but by our own emotions and circumstances.

    Again, I’m not judging the heart wrenching decision of a mother facing life and death choices. In that case it is a matter of wrestling with God’s command to be a mother and God’s command to multiply. And that is indeed a terrible burden to face. What I am saying is that we don’t choose by our free will to have a small or large family. At least not if we want to be Christians and crucify our will, taking it captive to God’s as it is revealed in Scripture.

    Thank you.

  7. The premise of this post is that we have free will. We do not. Our will is bound in baptism to the will of Christ and that will is to serve and love our neighbor unconditionally. Lady reason must be left at the door in order that Christ’s voice may be heard. This has nothing to do with family size but rather had everything to do with a passive reception of Christ’s will. To better understand this, read Bondage of the Will by lurker Luther.

  8. Essie, I’m sorry if I was harsh I meant to caution you out of concern for you and for the other women who have read your post. Elizabeth did well pointing out the dangers of what you’ve written here.

    I strongly disagree with most of the things you hail in your post, but I am NOT judging you. I can’t judge you, I’m not God. I can be critical of your arguments without judging you.

    I’m very sorry you have had such a terrible time with your pregnancies. I sympathize with you, I really do. Your story and those like yours is one of the reasons I started a series on my blog about these deep struggles, to begin having a conversation about the terrors and grief that comes with God’s gift of procreation.

    We women would do well to just be honest about our fears and if we don’t want more babies just be honest about that instead of trying to make the choices and steps we take to prevent more babies sound better than what they are. There is no good way to prevent children, that’s just the hard truth. God made male and female, He created them to HAVE to be married and in that marital union He works His creative act of making babies. That we can know for sure is His plan.

    It’s a very serious thing to imply otherwise. This topic is not simply one some in the LCMS are just being contentious about. The family and God’s procreative act through husband and wife is a fundamental issue. If we’re not clear and careful here we can fall off a very treacherous cliff as we see happening today with divorce, abortion and gay marriage. It’s not one we can afford to sacrifice to the gods of relativism and enthusiasm (emotions).

    And in the true desire to continue a dialogue on this very emotional issue, here is another thing I’ve been wrestling with. The only thing we all seem to agree on across the board regarding preventing children is if and when it means the mother might die. For obvious reasons this one seems like an easy out. But should it be? If God would choose for our death to come in baring a child are we at liberty to say “no” to that?

    Here is what Luther thought:

    “And even if [women] bear themselves weary—or ultimately bear themselves out—that does not hurt. Let them bear themselves out. This is the purpose for which they exist.”

    These words were spoken at a time when childbirth was commonly a matter of life and death for the mother. I can only pray for such trust and faith. I will be the first to say that I don’t know if I could willingly go to my death in that way, but I think we as Christians should stop and think about why we seem to fear this kind of death the most. Do we not trust God to provide for the children we would leave behind? Just some more thoughts to consider.

  9. We’re called to serve actual neighbors, not to sacrifice their care for a hypothetical neighbor. A hypothetical future child is not your neighbor, the children you have now are.

    Also, it’s strange that Luther was always “a man of his time” when it came to science or Jews, but not when it came to his many unfortunate remarks about women.

  10. Leaving aside what I suspect may be a rather dubious interpretation of Gen 1:28 as command rather than blessing, I’m honestly wondering where the line is for some folks regarding birth control. I sense that for many people, artificial means are clearly out. But what about NFP and other “natural” methods? If those are OK, then why aren’t barrier methods OK (just to leave chemical methods out of it)? If they aren’t OK, then to what extent do you have to remain open to procreation at all times? Does that mean intercourse during infertile times is out? If you know you’re in an infertile time and have intercourse, is that birth control? Obviously, not that infertile periods are necessarily 100 percent infertile. What if your spouse is interested and you have a headache and pass. Is that birth control? Do intentions matter? Like, if one couple decides to have intercourse only during infertile periods with the intention of not getting pregnant, but another couple does the same thing through accident or without intent, is one birth control and another not? In the same vein, how do you know when certain types of planning violate “having faith” and trusting God? Is any type of insurance out? Lutherans used to oppose it on that ground. Anyhow, I’m genuinely curious to know what some of the commenters and/or post author think about the specifics of birth control usage.

  11. Bethany, I too am curious about those questions, as well as the flip-side questions. At what point does wanting to have kids become an idol in itself? What if a couple only has sex during every possible fertile period whether they want to or not, because they have to maximize the chances of getting pregnant? What if they have no success, are they required to use ethical medical help to assist them in getting pregnant or risk neglecting their duty to “be fruitful”?

    I fear that in the rightful reaction against our cultural aversion to children, that we fall off the other side of the horse and idolize our children. The answer is somewhere in the middle. We are open to multiplying (preferably not by a decimal like 0.5), but we do not idolize multiplying. We are not without reason to make decisions for our lives, and that includes our families, size and all.

  12. Thank you for this post, I know it takes a lot to share so personally. This is a very hard topic to discuss for many reasons, our culture liberal view over the sanctity of life are of no help. As a consequence of the fall there is pain in child bearing. Hence pain in discussing it and in the many decisions parents have to make. We do well to struggle together alongside of each other rather than nitpick. We are all sinners, redeemed in Chist together. We can not conclusively say there is a perfect family size, but God works for the good of our families. It is a blessing that while pregnancy and delivery were hash and took a gigantic physical toll on your body God blessed you with three children and contentment.
    When it comes to make the desicion of how large or small of a family we find great tension. Desicion’s don’t always work out the same way for everyone. There are points of the issue that deal with things about God that are hidden from us. I think it is helpful to keep that in mind. Allison makes a good point that our will is bound to Christ in our baptism. In this light we strive to use our God given faithfully, knowing yet we are still sinners, as we strive to these decisions prayerfully and in a way that would glorify God.
    As a church body we should highly value life and strive to protect it.. Because Christ shed his blood for it: So we choose life. But that doesn’t mean we have to have a qualifying number of kids. There are several reasons why a family may choose to remain small. And to a point finances can possibly play a part in the contemplation.
    Birth control should never be used recklessly. And should not be forced upon someone at the risk of burdening their consincence. Nor should a woman be scorned for using medical birth control or permanent birth control if it is done in a way that does not devalue life.
    Government or cultural agendas should never place limits or standards on family size. Strong healthy families are an important building block for a thriving socity. But a family that is small should not be looked down up, but nurtured and supported.
    I have a lot more I could say, and some of it very personal. I may share later on in the comments if I feel it may be helpful in fleshing out of the discussion further.
    This is a good discussion to have but I pray that as it continues here or anywhere it may be done in a way that is edifying as sisters in Christ.

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