Earlier generations of Americans certainly took the “be fruitful and multiply” scripture very seriously. It was not uncommon for families to have well over ten children in one household. My own great-grandmother had twelve children; however none of her children reached that number of their own. Today, large families are public spectacles—Jon & Kate Plus Eight, The Duggar Family, “Octomom.” Families with more than four children are uncommon and sometimes scoffed at especially if the family is not considered to be “well to do.” It’s almost as if large families are reserved for Catholics, poor people, religious zealots, and people from Third World Countries. I once made an off-color remark to my mother-in-law about her parents not fully comprehending the concept of birth control. Without missing a beat she simply replied that the more children there were, the more hands there were to work. That was a surprisingly logical rebuttal to my sarcastic remark.
Since industrialization and the demise of the family farm there doesn’t seem much need for these excessive numbers of children. According to History.com, “The average number of children born to a woman in the U.S., for example, fell from 7.0 in 1800 to 2.0 by the early 1990s. Consequently, the number of years separating the births of the youngest and oldest children has declined.” I often wonder if this is by design. Most new “middle income” homes feature three bedrooms. Is this because most families only have two children or do families only have two children because that is what most housing supports? We also cannot ignore the role of media in this equation. Commercials and advertisements featuring families typically only include two children. Holiday destinations that feature “family packages” only include two adults and two children. So is our society telling us that couples should only have two children?
As far back as 1920 controversial author and pioneer of women’s reproductive rights, Margaret Sanger claimed “THE MOST serious evil of our times is that of encouraging the bringing into the world of large families. The most immoral practice of the day is breeding too many children” (Woman and the New Race, 1920). Catholic forums are filled with mothers who vent their frustration with perfect strangers who often make rude and inappropriate comments about the number of children they have. I have never been so brazen as to actually criticize a woman who has chosen to have more than three or four children; however, they are definitely the subject of ridicule within my social circles.
Regardless of a family’s financial status having more than three children is deemed a bit tacky by my peers. I think in part this is because children have evolved from being helpful farmhands to being the most adorable fashion accessories. You can observe mothers with their children in tow (usually two) boutique shopping; the younger of the two being in a $900 Bugaboo ® stroller and the other walking along side. These children are extensions of the modern fashionista mothers. These moms are perfectly coiffed, manicured, and sporting True Religion jeans and Jimmy Choos. They have their Starbucks reusable cups and Louis Vuitton handbags. The children are often as fashionable as their moms in their Lucky Jeans ® and t-shirts and latest designer shoes. I observe these moms lunching at the most posh sandwich shops that specialize in organic and natural foods. These children are no more or less loved than any other children but they do seem to enjoy certain perks.
Humans have been inspired to procreate since the dawn of time; and even though the reasoning behind this urge may have changed the result is still the same—children are inevitable.