Reader question: how to deal with negative attitudes toward big families (and a cool name!)

This doesn’t have to do with names, but it does come from one of you readers, and it does have to do with big families, and our little community here has a higher-than-average proportion of big families when it comes to most other places online, and I’ve not seen a kinder virtual community anywhere.

So: a mama and devoted reader, who’s expecting her third baby, writes,

Many of your consultations and readers (as well as yourself!) seem to have larger families (4+). How does everyone deal with society’s negativity towards it? How do you maybe evangelize the Catholic way of thinking, openness to life, the idea that there is value and benefit in larger families? Granted we are not ALL called to have large families, it is a personal matter you settle with God. But still, what do you say to help others understand or turn the news from ‘oh ANOTHER one’ to ‘yippy!’

I was so sad to read this! I know having to deal with this is a reality the more children a couple welcomes into their family, but it’s so sad to me when a mama experiences it for the first time. This particular reader has been told (regarding what name they’ll give the baby), “If you’re smart, you’ll call it ‘Quits.'” (Hardy har.) She’s been given eye rolls when she mentions friends having their fourth or fifth baby, and facial expressions and tones of voice that convey to her that the person she’s speaking to doesn’t approve when she discusses things like possibly getting a bigger vehicle.

I told her that for myself, I just try to remember that there are a lot of people who truly don’t understand our mindset and world view — they’ve been so affected by what they see around them, and most people don’t come into contact with big families on a regular basis. And I always try to be joyful! I mean, obviously I’m not always joyful — my poor kids will tell you I’m impatient and have a bad temper! — but in general I am, because I know that our life is full of blessings, not least of which are the children. So I try to convey that to others, whether at the grocery store or school or church or whatever. But not in a beat-them-over-the-head or holier-than-thou way either, you know? Just in general, trying to *not* confirm whatever negative preconceived ideas they have about having a lot of kids. If it’s a situation where I’m chatting with someone, I love to tell the latest funny or cute or sweet stories about my boys — in my experience, people tend to love those kinds of things. Especially funny stories! Laughter is the best medicine after all. 😀

How about all of you? What suggestions or words of wisdom or moral support do you have to offer this mom, and all others who deal with this kind of thing?

(Also, just to end on a namey note, I came across the name of an Italian Dominican theologian from long ago [1580-1660; he’s not a saint or a blessed, just a cool guy], and it’s been rolling around in my head for days because I’m so taken with it: Xantes Mariales!)



51 thoughts on “Reader question: how to deal with negative attitudes toward big families (and a cool name!)

  1. Just prepare yourself . . . . it will always come. My husband and I made it known that we are open to life from the beginning. After 4 most of the comments subsided. I do get upset for my children’s sake when strangers make rude comments around them. I always like to have a snaky response ready.

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  2. I don’t have children and I am nowhere near having children (on here because I love the Faith and I love names) but I simply just don’t get this. Just mind your own business is at the heart of it for me. Why other people care SO much about what other people do boggles my mind! As long as the children are taken care of mind, spirit, and body, there’s no reason to pass judgment.

    My mom had to deal with some judgement when she was having me and I’m only her third (and last baby). People were like “really, another? you already have two.” Meanwhile a) three kids really isn’t that many and b) how does someone having another have any impact on your life?

    Couldn’t we all just be kinder to one another?

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  3. It may be where I live, but we rarely hear any truly negative remarks. Rarely. People view us (8 kids and one on the way) as a fascinating oddity most of the time and they do stare, but not rudely. Nearly every comment we receive is a positive one and how blessed or lucky we are.

    FWIW: I don’t consider “Are y’all done yet?” or “Got your hands full!” negative comments. I just answer honestly…”Done? Not sure,” or “Yes! I do keep busy!”

    Comments like: “Dontcha know what causes that?” are met with the response of (by my husband): “Yes, and we’re damn good at it!” or “Y’all need a TV!” with the response of (again, by the husband): “If you prefer TV, then you must be doing something wrong.” 😀

    But truly negative, angry remarks? Very, very rare. I can count them on one hand.

    But I will say this: It is my “policy” that when we are all out in public, we (parents) make sure to make eye contact with people, SMILE, SMILE, SMILE, and speak when spoken to. Smiling is the big one. I don’t want people to look at us as though we are heavily burdened or as though our lives are filled with chaos and commotion and unhappiness and the drudgery of unruly children. I want people to see JOY.

    Does that mean I’m always joyful? HECK. NO. But in public we really strive for that because I believe people will react differently and be more kind with their words if they see a whole huge family smiling and laughing and exuding joy and making this all seem wonderful and simple. (Such deception! Ha!)

    I remember clearly two times when we did receive negative comments – I was angry with the kids and yelling at one of them. And of course someone will comment then – you’ve left yourself wide open for judgment.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I love all this Kym! Your husband’s responses are perfect! 😀 I do the same as you — smile, speak kindly, etc. I remember one lady at church (at church!) saw me with all my boys and said with a sneer, “Are they all yours?” She was probably the only person I’ve ever encountered who seemed to have a truly nasty bite behind her words … I smiled and said, “Yes! They’re such good boys” and she softened right away — I’m still not sure why (I know a lot of women her age [old] who have bad memories and experiences of motherhood and overbearing husbands, etc, and I wondered if that was it and when she saw that I don’t feel that way, she backed down?).


      • The rudest people I’ve ever encountered in public about our family size we’re old ladies. I think we all still imagine those who are “old” to be from a previous generation. The current batch of old folks were of childbearing age in the 60’s. Remember the pill hit the market in the early 60’s.

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      • Oh, and by far the rudest things ever said to me about my children have all been at church. And usually during Holy Week. But again, I’m sure spoken from their own place of woundedness.

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      • I have to agree with Grace’s insight. I only have two children and am expecting the third but the hardest comments that I’ve heard have come from older women at church. They seem to have unrealistic expectations for children at church, silent babies and toddlers, perfectly still preschoolers. These children are the future of the faith. We should get some credit for wrestling them into nice clothes on a Sunday morning and getting them to behave a nice as reasonably possible during mass. They’re learning and taking it all in. The faith cannot continue without these kids.

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      • Yes! Maybe stemming from expectations they had put on them when they were young mothers? Or maybe they didn’t bring their children at all — I received an email once from an older man at church who told me he and his wife didn’t bring their kids to Mass until they were old enough to sit still, and that my husband and I should do the same!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Other Colleen, YES!!! I keep thinking, it must have something to do with things like: being too ashamed to bring their own children to Mass back in the day, or adult children who are fallen away leaving them with guilt and regret, or perhaps never having had children of their own, etc. I could go on and on about some of the astonishing comments we’ve gotten, including someone coming INTO THE CRY ROOM and asking us to keep our crying toddler quiet bc the sound was carrying a little into the Church (this was Good Friday). I continue to take my babies and children of all ages to EVERY Triduum service, and our children and those of one other family in our parish (our good friends) are the only children at Easter Vigil usually, but I don’t care. How will they learn the faith if they don’t get to experience it? Catholicism is physical, not just cerebral.

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      • Someone once told me, “Kids at church are like birds in the forest.” It would not be natural to not hear their little chirps.

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  4. It seems like a positive attitude and responding rude/nosy comments as if the person meant them as compliments (with a big smile) goes a long way toward making your children feel loved, the offender wonder if they might be wrong, and help the parents not to feel bitter at another’s lack of charity.

    I honestly think that most people don’t intend to be as rude as they seem. They just presume that everyone feels that kids are a burden to be endured rather than a blessing to be cherished. They were probably treated as burdens themselves.

    Of course, there may be people who are opposed to human life as a general principle because “humans are destroying the planet”, but how do they know that my kids won’t be the ones to save it? 🙂

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  5. We have 5, and when we only had 3 I started getting “WOW, you have your hands full” — and my kids NOW can answer the comment for me. “Yes! With good things!” The kids know that they ARE good things, and it’s acknowledging their goodness along with what I’m sure looks overwhelming to people who are not around young children a lot.

    I have answered the “do you know what causes that?” before with “We LIKE what causes that!” and gotten good natured smiles.

    But wow, to have eye rolls about vehicle choices? And “Quits”–REALLY?? We have some friends and family who have made some comments that only in retrospect were explained: the impression was that I wasn’t being given a break and was not being good to myself, and so rather than saying that they were worried for me, a lighter comment/material judgement happened instead. It made me realize that some sharing of when I got to relax or do something for myself (a book I liked from the library, even if I had to renew it 3x, a bubble bath, a nail polish color, an ice cream date etc)

    Sometimes, if the commenter is a stranger in the grocery store who seems to want to engage with the crazy lady with a gaggle of children, I am able to share that, yes, all 5 are mine, after being told that I likely would have trouble having babies. It immediately gives the conversation a sense of such blessing/gratefulness. I know not all ladies who have large families were told such things as me, so it’d be a lie to tell that exact thing to someone, but likely we all know of or know someone who struggles to conceive. I find that showing gratefulness for the family that I have and sharing that I know so many who fervently pray for my particular brand of chaos really grants some perspective that can lower the temperature of an interaction.

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    • I love all of this! “sharing that I know so many who fervently pray for my particular brand of chaos really grants some perspective that can lower the temperature of an interaction” — yes! I also think you’re spot on about family and friends worrying about you and not knowing how else to say it than with a quip. Such a good point!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Others will feel differently than I do about this—and perhaps different situations and different encounters can be handled in different ways—but I prefer NOT to handle these comments by returning with a snarky/sarcastic/joking remark. It is definitely hard not to feel on the defensive when it seems like your family and/or parenting are being critiqued or even attacked.

    Remember this: judgment usually comes from a person’s own insecurity and woundedness. You’ll notice (in yourself and others) that when a person feels confident about their own life/background/choices, he or she is more likely to simply observe and accept those of others. When we judge, it’s coming out of our own pain. When possible, it’s better for everyone if you can meet such a person where they are. Obviously, this may not always be possible, such as in a grocery store, but I urge people to err on the side of encountering the person in their vulnerability if you can. It’s not always easy to know how to do so. But EVERYONE is simply aching to be loved, heard, and accepted.

    Like Kate, I try to say how blessed I am by my crew, how delightful and unique they each are, etc. I think just remember, as the baptized, we are the hands of Christ in the world. Even if we are criticized (or worse) as he was, simply by being in the world and being a witness for family, openness to life and the meaning of sexuality, and the true blessing of children, we are bringing Christ to the parched desert of our contemporary society. Because nearly everyone we meet—especially for someone like me, who lives in a very liberal urban area—is totally secular, they are hungering and thirsting for Truth without even knowing where to find it.

    Be joyful and have hope, mamas. Do not be afraid! Christ is with you!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Most of the comments that I have gotten of this nature have (sadly) come from close/immediate family members. I think that makes it feel much more biting, rather than a slight sting that you can brush off (like grocery store comments/looks). I had one bluntly tell me it was irresponsible [to have 4+]. Therefore, I am grateful to see the story above, about how some friends/family made (unknowingly misguided) comments that were actually out of concern. I also agree with comment above, ‘3 is really not that many’.

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    • My MIL has said similar, and it’s to the point that my husband dreads telling her whenever there’s a new baby on the way. Her comments are always off the cuff, and she always softens to the prospect eventually. But that first remark is always the hardest.

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    • I grew up hearing rude comments from my aunts and uncles. Some of them, were said directly to us kids, rather than us just overhearing them. Those are the ones that do hurt the most, but I think that they might not have experienced a joyful attitude about children (even though I have lots of aunts and uncles) when they were growing up and the whole concept was foreign to them. As an adult, I feel like we are still kind of foreign and odd to them, but they are a little more accepting of us now and even kind of respect us, in their own way. I don’t get any comments from them about how many kids I have. I think that they just expect it now.

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  8. I don’t have a big family (yet), but I love all your comments!
    The truth is, when I think about having (only) 2 children, it seems so… boring.

    I think some of these comments must come from people who wanted to have more children, but felt that they couldn’t afford it. And from people that don’t know any large families. Maybe it helps to remind them of some examples of big families with good associations attached: like the Weasleys from Harry Potter 🙂

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  9. It makes me so happy to read all of the love and positivity here and the shared experiences. There are so many ways that modern society can make us feel alone and it’s nice to have our community here.

    We’ve been inspired by two families that we know, one with 6 kids from 4 to 14 years old and another with 8 kids from 7 to 25 years old (all adopted from foster homes). These families just exude joy. Their homes are chaotic and noisy but the happiness is so obvious. Their kids always include my kids in play when we visit, even though my kids are younger, because they’re just so used to playing with their siblings, what’s another couple of kids to add to the mix? Families like this help us to see the joy that comes from a happy family.

    We’ve held onto the belief that the family is a holy thing. Why else would Jesus come to this world through a family first? It’s just such an amazing thing to build a family with someone when it’s all based on love.

    We’re expecting #3 in about 6 weeks. We’ve started to get comments too, although none too hurtful. A lot of people have asked if we’re done after this or if we’ll try for a fourth. I don’t know how to answer that question at all. I want to feel the joy and excitement of this one and not feel like I’m taking my blessings for granted. I can’t possibly know what will happen in the future and nothing is guaranteed. I say that we’re open to it but will wait to see what God brings.

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  10. We just welcomed our 4th, and what I found hardest was the “is this your last?” and related questions that I got while I was pregnant, and even during labour! My answer to those questions was “as of this moment, yes”. I sometimes followed up with a caveat along the lines of “we’ll see what the future holds” with a general explanation that I enjoy our children, and they are pretty cute. For general comments asking “how many do you want / or plan / or intend to have?” I usually say “one at a time”.

    To be honest, given people’s objections to “rosaries on their ovaries” I am amazed at how free people – even strangers – are to inquire into *my* reproductive chioces, putting me completely on the spot. Maybe I should be more willing to evangelize people on Catholic teaching, NFP, etc. Maybe I should have a few good jokes like one poster’s husband (I admire his humour!!). But, I feel like these things – children, family size, fertility tracking through NFP – are private between a husband and wife, and so I have a strong belief that it’s not anyone’s business even if we choose to have 19 kids and adopt 7 more for fun. I think it’s presumptious of people to ask.

    As you can tell, I don’t have a lot of patience for those questions. I do commend everyone on here who has better responses and more patience than I do, and I’m going to think about whether I need to change my persective. 🙂

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      • Thanks Grace. Maybe I need a good rosary joke to respond in the future. Q: “how many kids do you plan to have?” Me: “one for each decade” *bewildered look from other person* Me: “I keep my rosary near my ovaries.” haha – works for up to 5. I might use that if we have another.

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    • This is such a great comment Vanessa! I know not everyone feels the way I do, but when people ask me if we’re done, I usually say “I hope not” — which I think I’ll still be saying when I’m 85! Haha!

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      • MEEEE TOOOOOO, Kate!!!!

        After John (who’s nearly four), we would often be asked if we were “done”, etc. (not so much lately, I guess because our youngest is four and I have a lot of gray hair, so people must just assume we’re “done”), and my response was always, “We are open to having more.” If you are Christian or especially Catholic, this would be interpreted like, “We are open to God’s will” or “We are ‘open to life’.” If you are secular, that can be interpreted as, “We haven’t made a final decision.” So that seemed to work for me. I haven’t been asked in probably two years, though.

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  11. After I had my 2nd, I had a boy and a girl. So I got a lot of “oh, so you’re done, right?” 99.9% of the time, the other person didn’t mean to be rude or intrusive. So I’d say, “eh, we figure we’ll quit when we get an ugly one.” Then we can share a laugh, and I don’t have to answer an impertinent question. My other favorite, used with certain family members, is “Are you kidding? I’ve finally found something I’m good at!”

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