Growing up the eldest of nine, I was privy to plenty of comments about our family size. My mother, or course, bore the brunt of it: Are all these yours? Are you done yet? Don’t you know how this happens? As a child, I thought these were odd things to say, given how normal it all seemed to me. As an adult, I marvel at how well my mother handled it; I don’t know that I could be so self-possessed and polite.
A big family stood out back then almost as much as it does now, but I’ve learned — as someone who was childless until I hit my 40s — that both ends of the family-size spectrum garner comments from the peanut gallery.
If you’re married for more than a couple of years and have no children, perfect strangers want to know if and when you intend to bring one into the world. Once you have a child, everyone wants to know when you’re going to give him or her a sibling. After that sibling comes along — especially if it’s the opposite sex — your family is now considered complete; if it’s discovered that number three is on the way, the previous excitement about your baby news is pretty much gone (unless, perhaps, you’re clearly trying one more time to get that desired boy or girl). I remember my acupuncturist once telling me that his wife was pregnant with number three. I congratulated him on the great news, but he gave me a strange look and said, “Really? Everyone else I’ve told thinks we’re crazy.”
I’m not sure where this two-kid ideal came from. My best guess is that people recognize that the majority of adults want children, but kids require sacrifice and investment — so once you acquire a boy and a girl, you’ve hit it about right. Anything outside of that golden mean, though, and something’s either wrong with you or you’re solely to blame for global warming.
We all hold beliefs that affect our views about bringing children into the world, but it’s the tendency to voice these opinions and beliefs out loud to complete strangers that baffles me. I don’t know what’s behind anyone’s family size but my own. Some people have trouble conceiving, while others are fertile as the plains of Lebanon. (Are there fertile plains in Lebanon?) Some believe children are the greatest blessing in life; others believe they’ll be happier without kids. Some start families early; others start late. Some consider it responsible to limit their family size, while others avoid contraception for health, spiritual, or religious reasons. Regardless, in a society that claims tolerance as its chief virtue, it’s very strange that family size doesn’t warrant more open minds and closed mouths.
Growing up, having two kids seemed a little boring to me — conventional, commonplace. Now I have two children — which, of course, isn’t boring in the least — and though I never get comments about my family size per se, I have friends and family who struggle to remain polite when the same comments are hurled at them again and again about the number of kids they do or don’t have.
Whether your nest is empty or you’ve got an entire basketball team, I hope you’ll hold your head high. There are many things that matter in this life, but the size of your family is not one of them.
Have you ever experienced prejudice about your family size? Got any great responses to share? (This is definitely a topic that can warrant strong opinions, so let’s keep the conversation respectful.)
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