WHY SO MANY?
“Are those all your children?” At the doctor’s office or the zoo, in grocery aisles or church parking lots, for years I’ve heard this question in every tone from amazement to alarm. Even with only a slight majority of my twelve in tow, I catch heads turning and traffic stopping.
We never want for conversation. Our numbers stimulate the curiosity of even the most socially cautious, who want to know how many we have, if we’re Catholic or Mormon, whether they’re all our own, if we’ve figured out where they came from, and when we’ll be finished having them.
The loudest question usually remains unspoken: Why?
Why, in these days of sensible family planning would parents allow themselves to become so seriously outnumbered? Why, when so many worry about the cost of providing for a few would we assume the financial burden of raising so many? Why, in spite of conventional wisdom concerning mutual fulfillment within marriage would we put parenting first?
When my husband Tripp and I came to Christ thirteen years ago, like many latecomers to the Kingdom we were filled with the zeal that makes us fearless, in the world’s eyes foolish, for the Lord. But where others might have penetrated jungles or climbed mountains to honor the great commission, we opted to fulfill it in the comfort of our home. We figured with five children, we already had a healthy start.
Since we started our walk with the Lord by racing straight through the Bible, we immediately found enormous encouragement: Be fruitful and multiply, God said it Himself! And we reasoned if God had wanted us to aim for only two children, He probably would have told us to add. Multiplying sounded like a more serious proposition. But we figured that if this was what He wanted, He must have a plan to keep food on their plates and shoes on their feet.
Then there was Psalm 127:4-5, which told us our children were like arrows, and parents with a quiver full would never be ashamed.
I held onto that verse and was not ashamed when other believers questioned the wisdom of our ever-expanding tribe. Zero Population Growth fanatics have nothing over Christian zealots who put us through this third degree: “But what about your ministry? What about your spiritual gifts? How can the Lord use you when you’re so busy raising children?”
Then I’d wonder about Susannah Wesley, mother of nineteen, including John (#15) and Charles (#17). Or Mrs. Edwards, mother of Jonathan (last of eleven), or Mrs. Finney, mother of Charles (seventh). Did those megamoms have well-meaning mentors like mine?
As the first Christians in either of our family lines, Tripp and I drew inspiration from families we met who had served the Lord for generations. We sensed something missing in latecomers like us, something that our children and our children’s children would eventually come to possess. We saw our family as a turning point, a chance to claim new territory for Christ. So wasn’t it wise to stake as much ground as possible?
As baby followed baby, we found being fruitful to be the easy part. More demanding was allowing God to shape us into the Christian parents He wanted us to be. It meant running a pretty serious race, always pushing ourselves to know our Bible better and to live our faith more fully.
Key to our enjoyment of it all has been this: Tripp and I never saw parenthood as being in conflict with our marital fulfillment. Though this flies in the face of pop (even Christian-pop) psychology, we can’t help but note that for countless cultures and centuries, date nights were not a critical element in marriage. Far from threatening the thrill of our marriage, our children have given it excitement and meaning. But we were seriously committed, like anyone who chooses to fulfill the great commission.
Yes, our harvest field is our family. But not everyone who asks would understand. And so, when asked, I often simplify. I focus on the most self-centered reason of all why we have so many children.
It’s because we’ve found that in our feelings for them, we come as close as we can to God’s feeling for us.
Whether they’ve learned to turn a somersault, brought the hose in to water the dining room, scored a touchdown, warmed the bench all season, captured the lead in the play, started stammering again, made straight A’s, or been caught cheating, they’ve taught us this incredible lesson: how to love unconditionally.
Simply stated, we’re just plain crazy about them!
BARBARA CURTIS, ©
Waterford, Virginia, USA