Children, by numbers

My pregnant friend and her husband, a very young-looking 30-year old couple, wanted to buy an SUV. They had all but signed the contract when the dealer told them “It’ll come in handy once the kid comes…” The man raised an eyebrow and informed him “Well, actually we already have three… this is our fourth one…”

The vendor laughed, assuming it was a joke (it wasn’t). “You’d have to be crazy!” he exclaimed. “Actually, my state of mental health is no concern of yours. What is, is that you’ve just lost a sale…” and with that they walked out of the showroom.

Is it anybody’s business how many children we have, how far apart they are spaced – and, above all, whether they were planned and how much, on average, we spend upon each per day?

Over the years, I have met all kinds of people – including those who have a child when the latest one of their siblings’ children would otherwise bring the number of nephews and nieces in that family to outnumber theirs.

There are those couples who have one child so that they would have “done their duty”; those who are open to life without bragging about it, as well as those who do; those who would have liked to have children, but had fertility problems; and those who wish they had never had any.

Just for fun, I contacted friends and friends of friends who have “large” families – taking the adjective to mean four children or more. I asked them whether they had ever had to face comments from people about the number of children they had – and I was somewhat amused to realise that there appears to be a script to be followed, even by perfect strangers, when they decide to meddle in other people’s affairs, albeit the questions are not always in the same order.

I tend not to reply to questions that ought never to have been asked. Yet multi-offspring parents tend to be more laid back and thick-skinned than the rest of us – perhaps because they have to be. So they have a draft reply to most questions at the ready, even if sometimes they have to doctor it a little, according to circumstances obtaining.

It seems that replying to a question with another is one of the tactics they use as often as the occasion warrants it.

Are they all yours? I think so – but I don’t really recognise that one. But wait! I think I left home with only six of them. Let’s ask them, shall we?

Are you in the Neo-catechumenal Community? Why? Do they have buy-two-get-one free there?

Have you ever heard of birth control? Yes, and I don’t like it. Do you?

Is this your second family? No, it’s just the logical continuation of my birth family.

Do you realise you are depleting the earth’s resources? I suggest you read up on how much greener large families are than small ones. Don’t you realise we reduce, reuse and recycle as a matter of course?

Were you actually trying? / Was it planned? Do you want me to explain NFP?

You must be very rich / you must have a slew of baby-sitters. Oh, it’s an in-house thing.

How do you feed them? They are old enough to feed themselves.

You must spend a fortune on them. Well, actually they are my fortune.

Do you have enough beds for them? They sleep in shifts or on the floor.

Are you trying for a world record? Do you think I should try?

Cynicism apart, some of the people who ask weird, intrusive questions may be genuinely interested in the set-up of a large family, especially if they would never have experienced it first-hand.

In a family where it is considered “normal” to have one child who is then showered with all the attention and worldly goods possible, it may be hard to imagine the possibility of anyone willingly wearing hand-me-downs and going without lessons in ballroom dancing and piano.

However, I am annoyed that people with less children than oneself point out (without knowing anything about you or the children themselves), how three/four/five children “are bound to suffer” when it comes to education, and how they will probably have to leave school ‘early’ to earn their keep.

Some people will also assume that you will “make” the children leave the house once they are eighteen years old, just so that their younger siblings “will not be stifled any more”.

This is not because values are any ‘better’ or ‘worse’ in either scenario, but simply because points of view differ.

No one has the right to make assumptions, or judgements, about anyone else. And the sooner we all realise this, the better it will be for all of us.

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