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The Perfect Family

It all started when my wife got pregnant within a month after we were married.  What I mean by “it all started” were the questions we got from friends, relatives, and even strangers.  Questions like: “Was it an accident?” or “Why didn’t you wait a few years before having your first child?” or “How long have you been married?”  Then of course there was the 2-part question.  First part: “When’s your due date?”  Second part: “Oh, so when did you get married?” Then a pause to do the math to figure out when the pregnancy occurred – before or after the wedding.

When Georgette became pregnant with our third child, the questions and negative comments (from friends, relatives and strangers) came at us at an accelerated pace.   In fact, we heard more negative comments with our third pregnancy than with any of the six other pregnancies.  All throughout the pregnancy we were asked: “Why are you having another baby when you already have the perfect family”? We were asked that same exact question at least three dozen times during the pregnancy.

At first I was stunned by the question and wondered what was meant by the reference to “the perfect family.”  To me, a perfect family included lots of children.  The more the better.  But then again, I grew up in a family of 17 children (9 boys, 8 girls).

It didn’t take me long to realize what most peoples’ definition of a perfect family was: a boy and a girl.  That’s what Georgette and I had when she became pregnant with our third child – the perfect family – a boy and a girl.

Initially I was offended by the question.  First of all, it was none of anyone’s business how many children we had.  I wasn’t asking anyone for financial assistance and the people who asked the question had no right to imply that my wife and I were reckless or stupid for having more children.  In fact, many of the people who asked the question went on to ask the standard follow-up question: “Was it planned?”

After getting over being offended by the questions, I started having some fun with the interrogators.  One response I started giving to the perfect family question was: “If we limited the size of our family to only two children, one would probably end up moving to the east coast and the other one would end up on the west coast.  Then no one would be around to take care of me and Georgette when we’re old.  By having as many children as possible, we increase the odds that at least one of our children will be here to take care of us in our old age.”

As the years and pregnancies passed by, my responses to the idiotic questions became bolder and more obnoxious.

After we had 4 children, I teased Georgette about how we had to have at least one more child.  My reasoning was that if my parents had stopped after 4 children, I never would have been born (I was their fifth child).  After Georgette got pregnant, I decided that I had to celebrate the birth of our fifth child (Mary Rose) in a different way.  The day Mary was born, instead of handing out those crappy little candy cigars, I stopped at Walgreens on University Street and bought all of the Hershey’s chocolate candy bars (with almonds) that the store had in stock.  Then I went to the courthouse and handed the candy bars out to everyone I saw – judges, lawyers, courthouse employees, strangers – everyone.

When I ran out of candy bars, I got in my car and drove to the Walgreens on Main Street and bought out the store’s entire inventory of Hershey’s candy bars.  Then I returned to the courthouse and passed them out.

One of the courthouse employees I gave a candy bar to asked me how many children I had.  I told her 5 children.  After she got over the shock at the number of children, she asked me how many of the 5 were boys and how many were girls.  I told her I had 1 boy and 4 girls.  Her face lit up and she said, “Oh, you finally got your boy!”  I explained to her that our boy was the oldest of the 5 children.  She immediately became confused and puzzled by the fact that we would continue bringing children into the world after we had our boy and our girl.

One Catholic judge that I announced the good news to immediately tore open the wrapper on the candy bar.  While he was stuffing the candy into his mouth, he asked me how many children I had.  When I told him I had 5 children he almost choked on his mouthful of chocolate.  His response: “I have two children and I can’t even handle that!”

Another Catholic judge asked me the question I got asked most often: “Are you done yet?”  My response: “No judge, my parents had 17 children.  My wife and I got started later than them, so I figure we’ll probably only be able to have half that many.”  He didn’t know what to say, but the look on his face said it all: “Is this guy for real or is he just messing with me?”

That day I passed out over 9 dozen candy bars.  Although most of people congratulated me and shared in my joy, not one of them said anything like: “Wow, what a blessing.  God has really been good to you!” I don’t think the thought even crossed their minds.  Many of them viewed my “large family” as a burden – something to be avoided at all costs.

Unfortunately, in our culture the majority of people (including Catholics) are conditioned to view pregnancy as a disease or, at most, a necessary evil to the creation of “the perfect family.” For most young couples, the sequence of events is: get married, buy house, buy cars, work two jobs to pay for house and cars, spend time together, go on vacations, and when convenient, have 2 children (or maybe 3 if the first two don’t make up a “perfect family”).

During the time I was growing up, the one comment I heard most around the house was: “Children are a blessing!” That was my mom’s favorite saying.  And I believed her.  Psychiatrists tell us that most of our belief systems are formed when we are children by the conditioning we receive from the people who have authority and influence over us – our parents, relatives, teachers, coaches, etc.  Fortunately for me, I was conditioned to believe that “children are a blessing.”  It never occurred to me that I should limit the size of my family to only “two blessings.”  In fact, my mom always reminded us that every time she got pregnant, God showered special graces upon our family.

Georgette and I know from our own experience that my mom was right about this.  With each child we welcomed into the world, we were granted special graces from God.

I decided a long time ago that since people felt comfortable in asking me insulting questions (and making negative comments about the size of my family), I was going to return the favor and offer my opinions.  That’s why I boldly offer my own free and unsolicited advice to young fathers and mothers who show me by their words and actions that they have “bought into” the belief system that after they have their boy and their girl they should, for no apparent reason other than what has been subconsciously drummed into their heads, decide to forego all future “blessings.”  Over the years, there have actually been some couples who have listened to me by welcoming new blessings into their lives (thereby ruining their “perfect family”).  Most Catholics have no idea how rewarding their lives could be if they would simply follow the teachings of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church that was founded by the Son of God.

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5 Responses to “The Perfect Family”

  1. Anne Kennedy Says:

    I wanted to stop you after Mass today and thank you for this article, but unfortunately I couldn’t find you. I was tempted to stop you and say something when you came back to get ready for the offertory. I was back there with my little girl. We have five children and have experienced the sort of criticism you’ve described here. However, you are exactly right. Children are a blessing! We are constantly amazed at how each of our children are delightful and gifted in his/her own unique, God-given way. Our lives are so much richer for having them. I’ve always felt that people who artificially limit the size of their family are missing out on so many of the blessing that God wants to give to them. Sure, having a large family is not always easy, but the benefits FAR outweigh the inconveniences! Thank you for speaking your mind and living your faith.

  2. Sister Roberta Houlihan, CSJ Says:

    Dear Harry and Georgette – I like Anne Kennedy’s comment above. As a Vowed Sister, my only way of having children has been by spiritually adopting them – not only each of the unborn,[Bishop Sheen’s prayer, which I’ve expanded to include Spiritual Baptism] but also each child and teen I’ve worked with through my counseling and other teaching years – total of 59, up to retirment in ’06. I still say Bishop Sheen’s prayer each day. Blessings from Sister Roberta

  3. Harry Says:

    Anne, thanks for your comment and support. Make sure to introducte yourself to me next time you see me at Mass.

  4. Mary McKean Says:

    Way to go, Harry. I love this article. When pregnant with the last six of our eight kids, complete strangers approached and asked me if I didn’t know what caused that. I always responded, “Sure…why do you think I have so many?”
    God sends a couple the children they need to get to heaven. Each one is custom made. You failed to mention that your wife was very sick with each pregnancy. Heroic virtue like hers is what this sad world needs. Thank you.
    Mary McKean

  5. Harry Says:

    Mary, good to hear from you. For mothers like you and Georgette, each new child opens up a whole new reservoir of love that was previously untapped. The capacity to love is greatly expanded with each new child. I feel sorry for parents who have not experienced what we have been blessed to experience. Yes, there’s pain and frustration along the way, but for the people who are open to God’s will and rely upon Him for guidance, the pain and frustration is dwarfed by the love and joy that comes from having a large family. God bless you and your family.

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