“I thought you were smarter than that.” “No more!” These are two comments I received from childhood friends whom I saw after many years at a recent wake. They were dumbfounded at the news that I have six children.
As many TCT readers, some whose broods double mine, know only too well, these are among the more polite comments that parents of many children receive from incredulous, jocular, or often hostile people. In this recent encounter, at least these two did not punch below the belt, as the snarkier reactions do. Of that genre, the least personal is the oft-wielded, “Don’t you have a T.V.?”
Our society no longer tolerates derogatory comments about a person’s appearance or ethnicity. It’s not considered acceptable, for the most part, to ridicule a person for his religion, although religion itself is targeted by “enlightened” intellectuals and media personalities. Anti-Catholicism was once dubbed “the last acceptable prejudice.” But prejudiced acts, from derogatory comments to vandalizing statues, are met by legions of defenders, institutional and individual, who will stick up for the faith. At least detractors cannot be anti-Catholic and escape completely unscathed.
Likewise, today we are forbidden from commenting on another’s “lifestyle choice” – or at least certain ones. The supermarket cashier will say nothing to the patron with multiple piercings, tattoos, ripped clothes, and dyed purple hair. Social media platforms will suspend accounts should a user post negative comments about a “lifestyle choice,” even if public admission of that choice was unimaginable just a few years ago.
But when it comes to the “lifestyle choice” of having a large family, personal and social censorship vanishes. After the supermarket cashier allows the “punk rocker” to pass, why must he ask me, “Are they all yours?” as he sees me approach with my children? Do social media platforms exercise vigilance in defense of those ridiculed for having large families? From strangers to local acquaintances, it seems people cannot restrain themselves from making a comment about large families. “They have – like – six kids,” I heard the orthodontist whisper to his new assistant just last week, as if that fact is somehow related to fixing my son’s teeth.
Sometimes, even well-meaning, church-going folks contribute to the denigration of large families. I have heard some variation of “You have your hands full” on a monthly basis for years. More than once after Mass a person has raised his finger to count my children in my presence, as if he could not comprehend what he saw.
Worst of all, though, are the occasional nasty insults my teenage sons receive from their peers about their parents. Their comments cannot be repeated for polite audiences, though they can easily be imagined.
Such cheap shots coming from all sides lead me to this conclusion: animus towards large families is the last acceptable prejudice in America.
Parents of large families know too well that they are outliers in a society that has commodified children instead of seeing them as the purpose of married life. In the Culture of Death, small families are the expectation. After all, many people are now encouraged to think: Who wants to parent little kids for years on end? Doing so would cut into dad’s leisure time and mom’s career.
And now, with climate ideology at a feverish pitch, will small families become not just the norm, but a requirement? Climate experts preach that reducing the number of children born is the most effective way to cut back on carbon emissions. It’s a short leap from ridiculing parents for having many children to pressuring them not to.
The Culture of Death and climate ideology have been dangerously successful in their mission: worldwide there is a population dearth, with governments in Europe and Asia paying families to have more children. By “more” they mean one, two, or, at most, three – as opposed to none. These efforts are not affirmation of the good of children, however, but to ward off the consequences of population collapse. No nation on earth fosters what was once understood as a “typical Irish Catholic family.”
In such a world, large families will remain a prime target. They are signs of contradiction: testaments of life, love, and sacrifice within a culture that has chosen death, apathy, and selfishness. The reflex reactions at the sight of multiple children clearly indicates a guilty conscience.
Since today love for God is the primary motive for Catholic parents choosing to have many children, we find the choice that God presented Israel being realized anew in our secular, de-Christianized age:
I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse; therefore choose life, that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying his voice, and clinging to him; for that means life to you. (Dt 30:19-20)
There may never be the equivalent of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights to defend large families from discrimination. That’s fine – we don’t look for earthly protectors. That large families are the last acceptable prejudice speaks more of the persecutors than the persecuted, who know what they are in for. “Because he clings to me in love, I will deliver him; I will protect him, because he knows my name.” (Ps 91:14)
Parents of large families may grow tired of the jabs and jeers, but will endure them with patience, because they seek God’s approbation, not society’s. We have the promise of our Lord that social exclusion brings heavenly inclusion. Ironically, with inclusion being avant-garde in today’s enlightened circles, large families are taking the hard path to get ahead: “Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven.” (Matt 5:11-12)
*Image: The family of Joseph P. Kennedy Sr. in the 1930s [Bachrach/Getty photo]
You may also enjoy:
The Catechism of the Catholic Church The Gift of the Child
George J. Marlin’s The Decline of Working-Class Catholic Families