First of all, Bella really enjoyed the experience. She loves being with people. We walked in and sat down next to Rose during the middle of a song. I stood Bella up on the floor in front of me and she immediately went to work charming everyone in the room with her happy grin. The babies were all under 1 year and ranged from the little girl crawling around and playing with Rose’s shoes to the babies who were blissfully enjoying their bottles.
Let’s get one thing straight, this program is for the moms (and a couple of dads) much more than for the babies.
But what I really wanted to write about whas the conversations afterward. Rose and I were among hte first out of the room (which they needed us to vacate so they could set up for the next program) and we sat down at a table just out of the door and chatted for a bit. Another mom soon joined us at the table with a cute 4 month old named Hannah (another of those old-fashioned girl’s names that is becoming so popular) and then another mom sat at the next table and another and then a couplpe of dads stood next to us.
Of course all the talk was about babies. What else did we have in common? But the perspectives from this random group of strangers were so alien to me. I mean I know there are people who think this way, but it still freezes me in my seat when I hear it: A dad asked if this was our only child. Of course it was. How many moms can go to a library just for babies thing if they have other, older kids? But then everyone chimed in that this would probably be the only one. Or maybe they might have just one more; but they weren’t sure. How sad. The best gift you can give a child, in my humble opinion, is siblings. Siblings are not just playmates to keep her company. They are the means by which she will learn so many of those important first lessons: sharing, playing fair, not hitting, dying to self, loving.
I’ve just spent the last half hour trying to recall where I read a commentary that seemed quite relevant to this train of thought… who’s blog was it on… finally I recalled it was an article in Lay Witness:
Wojtyla seems to indicate that the ideal minimum number of children for a family is at least three. . . [he] is certainly not saying that parents who have only one or two are not able to raise children well. But he does seem to suggest that having at least three children forms a more ideal environment for the children to be raised in a family. . .
At first glance, this number seems somewhat arbitrary, and he does not give much of an explanation for this point. However, in light of what he has said elsewhere about love, he might be drawing in part upon the theme of “the bond of the common good”—how love is meant to unite two persons around a common aim that they are striving toward together… This is clearly the case in marriage, in which two spouses are united around the common good of deepening hteir own union and serving any children they may have. But it may also be the case with the children themselves as they have the opportunity to strive together toward the common good of serving other siblings in the family.
For example, when my wife and I had our second child, it was fascinating to watch our firstborn, Madeleine, grow in love for her younger brother, Paul. She wanted to make him smile. She wanted to feed him. She wanted to serve him. And as Paul grew older, it was a joy to watch his own love for Madeleine develop and to see them playing with each other and serving each other. While, like most kids, they certainly had many “less-than-virtuous moments”in their relationship, Paul and Madeleine nevertheless were steadily growing in a personal relationship of love as siblings.
However, something significant changed in their relationship when our third child came along. Suddenly, Madeleine and Paul’s days were filled not simply with each one enjoying playing with the other. Now they were fascinated together with the new baby in the home. As sister and brother, Madeleine and Paul began to turn their attention not just to themselves but together toward their little sister, Teresa. Together they would sing songs to her. Together they wanted to feed her. Together they tried to make her laugh. Madeleine and Paul were learning to become not just playmates who enjoyed each other’s company, but parnters in serving a new life outside of themselves—their new baby sister. That could be one reason why Wojtyla says three is the ideal minimum number of children in a family: With at least three children, two can work together ti serve another, and thus their opportunities to grow in love, friendship, and virtue as a community are deepened even more.
(from “How Contraception Destroys Love” by Edward P. Sri in Lay Witness Sept/Oct 2006)
Of course I have all these high and lofty thoughts about why multiple children are a good in a family, but when it comes to the social situation, I am struck dumb. What do I say to these people who have made up their minds and who act as if their declarations are logical, natural, and somehow represent the ideal? To these people who are shocked whn I mention that my in-laws have six children and ask whether they are Mormon.
After the fact, I think: I could have acted shocked at their reaction: Really, you only want one? I want my daughter to have brothers and sisters, I so loved being one of four! But such smooth responses do not come easily to me.