Whenever my family goes out in public, we get attention. We’re not your typical American family, for one simple reason. My husband and I have four children, so for a lot of people we’re a walking freak show.
Families our size are rare these days, and people tend to think the parents are either religious freaks, welfare queens, or irresponsible people who need to get sterilized. Having “too many” children is frowned upon, and large families are frequently the subject of a wide variety of opinions, judgment, mockery, and scorn.
Evidently, having “too” many kids means that everything about your life is now open season for other people. If I take my kids out anywhere, there will always be at least one comment from people who seem to think that they’re qualified to remark upon my family size. Some of these comments are simply irritating, albeit harmless. “You must have your hands full!” someone will say. Or they’ll inform me “You’re one busy lady!” While it’s usually funny to them, I’ve heard those comments approximately 257 times before.
Even better than these people are the ones who feel entitled to comment on my sex life. “You need to get a television!” or “Man, don’t you have a hobby?” Still other people think that it’s acceptable to lecture me on birth control and sterilization, or how we “need” to not have any more children. They also seem to think it’s appropriate to ask deeply personal questions. “Were they all planned? When are you going to get fixed? You don’t want any more, right?” As if the answers to these questions are anyone’s business but our own.
Please Stop, You’re Making Me Nervous
This started when we had our third child, a girl. We had two boys first, so when we got our girl, we were informed by virtually everyone we knew that this was a good thing, because now we had the perfect family, and could stop. When we got pregnant with our fourth, not many people said congratulations.
By then, it was just another opportunity for people to give us their opinion on family size. I can’t even count how many times people have laughed and asked if we knew what causes that. (Remember, once we had our girl we should have stopped.) Now we have two boys and two girls, we get plenty of assurances that we have the “perfect” family, and therefore, should really make sure not to ever get pregnant again.
We aren’t the only ones who have experienced such behavior. Plenty of people have spoken out about having to put up with rude and inappropriate comments because of their family size. The Washington Post, for example, featured non-religious large families earlier this year.
“We hear, ‘Oh, you should stay away from your wife.’ ‘Don’t you know how they’re made?’” one mom said. Another mom agreed, adding, “We get a lot of ‘Do you have a TV?’ or ‘Do you know what causes that?’” Another mom spoke to Babble about her large family, including people’s negative attitudes. Jessica Roberts is a cancer survivor who thought she would never be able to have children, but defied the odds and now has six children. She likewise acknowledged how people always seem to have something to say.
“I think I’ve just been surprised how many times people stare or stop us while we’re out,” she said. “Everyone seems to want to say something to bring to our attention that we have a lot of little kids. Because of their tone, I think they assume we are miserable because the world often thinks of children as a burden.” Even The New York Times has reported on the negative attitudes towards large families, pointing out that politicians in both the British and American governments have tried to discourage people from having lots of children.
The Stigma Is Real
A Pew research study backed up what any mother of a large family could tell you: people aren’t as accepting of large families now as they used to be. Since the 1970s, the number of parents who have four or more children has greatly decreased, dropping from 36 percent of women to 12 percent of women. Two-child families have climbed from 22 to 35 percent. Even three-child families have dropped.
The study found that more has changed than just the number of children Americans are having. Societal attitudes towards families have changed as well. Now, almost half of all Americans believe that two children is the ideal number to have. This was a huge increase from years past, skyrocketing from under 20 percent of Americans to 48 percent. Gallup likewise found similar attitudes on the “ideal” family size, with most respondents saying two was the best number of children to have. The antagonism isn’t just imagined.
What caused this shift in attitude? In theory, no one should care how many (or how few) children another person has. I don’t ask anyone to pay for my children. My husband and I raise them ourselves, and they’re healthy, happy, and well-behaved. Yet we are still the subject of never-ending judgment, simply because I have four.
I can’t imagine someone walking up to a parent with two children and asking if they know how to have sex, if they’re going to get off of birth control anytime soon, or if they regretted their vasectomy. I couldn’t imagine saying something like that because one, it’s rude, and two, it’s none of my business. But hey, all bets are off when you have “too many” children.
Yes, Birth Control Deserves Some Blame
So what changed? Pew mentions the birth control pill becoming available in the 1960s, as well as women working out of the home more often. I would add the nationwide legalization of abortion in 1973 with Roe v. Wade. As Roberts pointed out, people tend to assume that if you have a lot of kids, you’re exhausted, miserable, and stressed out all the time.
Children are seen as a burden to be endured, not a blessing, and now they’re something you can schedule and arrange at your convenience. If you don’t want kids right now and you have an accidental pregnancy, our abortion-friendly culture makes it perfectly acceptable to abort your baby for any reason at all, no questions asked.
You can delay having children for years. And that’s fine—none of this is to say it’s necessarily wrong for people to use birth control if they don’t think they are ready to have children. But it would be foolish to argue that the advent of birth control had no effect on societal attitudes towards children and families. As the decades passed, Americans had fewer children, and that means that we outliers, the parents who have “too many,” are fair game for stares and rude comments. It’s about time that stopped.
I’ve thought a lot about if and when I would have another child. I know that if we do have a fifth baby, we’ll get more cruel comments than congratulations. The next time I take my children somewhere, at least one person will have something to say about a pregnancy when it becomes visible.
So, on behalf of child-plentiful families everywhere, let me just take the chance to answer your questions now. Yes, my hands are full, I’m very busy, and I know what causes that. I have a TV in my bedroom, and I have plenty of hobbies. No, you can’t know our plans for birth control, sterilization, whether my children were planned, or any details whatsoever on my sex life. Stop asking people such insanely personal, inappropriate questions.
And if you see a mom out one day with a lot of children and are considering saying something, here’s a suggestion: Tell her she has a beautiful family, and leave it at that.