By: Dr. Gregory Popcak
Katelyn called our radio program with a problem, “I’ve been married for a couple months and my husband and I would love to have a large family. Recently, I told this to a friend of mine who grew up in a big family (10 kids!) and she discouraged me, saying that she never felt like there was enough love to go around. I was really surprised! My husband and I are just starting out and we want to do the right thing. How do we know what size family God wants us to have? How can we do our part to make sure that there is always enough love to go around?”
Katelyn’s questions are wise ones. While every family is confronted with the question of God’s will and family size, the newlywed has a special challenge. The marital routines and rituals around prayer and communication that are established in the early years of the relationship become the basis for the big decisions that will effect many years to come. How can a couple establish rituals and routines that will foster the healthy discernment, prayerful communication, and generosity that will not only help them ascertain God’s will for all the decisions in their lives but also help them fulfill their mission to be a “community of love”? (quote taken from John Paul II’s important document on the role of the Christian Family, written in 1981, entitled, Familiaris Consortio) While there are no doubt many ways to respond to this question, the following tips are meant to be a place for couples young and old to begin.
1. Pray Together
The number of couples who do not pray together constantly surprises me. Many husbands and wives pray separately, but it seems they rarely pray as a couple. Often I will hear spouses say that prayer is “too personal” to be shared and they feel “awkward” praying openly in each other’s presence. While I am sensitive to the fact that prayer is a deeply intimate and personal exercise, I am mystified by the attitude of couples who think nothing of sharing their bodies with each other but remain unwilling to share their souls. The couple who wants to know God’s will about anything, and most of all about family size, has to begin by sincerely seeking to live a holy life, and that begins with prayer. Each day, take a few minutes to praise God for his blessings and to ask for his help with daily struggles. Then spend a few moments asking him to help you both be open to life, and sensitive to the needs of each person he brings into your family–beginning with each other. Being open to life is not a numbers game. It has to be founded on a desire to celebrate a deep and godly love among the people that are already part of the family; the kind of love that then grows and longs to add new members to the family that the other family members can then love and nurture. Only God can teach us to celebrate this kind of love and he can only teach us if we take time as a couple to sit at his feet and learn.
2. Practice Generosity
In every family, but especially with newlyweds, it is important to establish those loving patterns that help sensitize you to each other’s needs. By doing this, couples and families can make sure that each member’s emotional, spiritual, and relational needs are always met no matter how big the family gets. Start each day by asking each other, “What can I do today to make your life easier or more pleasant?” Resist the temptation to give too easy answers when this question is asked of you. Think hard about your day and ask yourself when you might need that extra hug, that prayer, that call of encouragement from work or from home, or any other thing that would buoy you up and help you feel grateful for the support of your mate. Then, resolve to do those things for each other throughout the day. Later on, when you have children, begin asking this question of each of them, and as the kids get older have them also ask you what they can do to contribute to making your day more pleasant in return. The goal is to create a family that is on the lookout for the needs of each other and is sensitive and responsive to those needs. Families who do not cultivate habits like this simple ritual often quickly become a group of individuals living under the same roof and not the loving community that God calls them to be.
3. Be Open to Every Stage of Life
Being open to life means more than being open to conceiving a child. Catholics speak of something called “integral procreation.” That means a willingness to say, “yes” not just to life itself, but also to providing the love, attention, and moral guidance that the new life will need to become a faithful and fully formed citizen of the kingdom of God. Each month as you and your spouse pray about family size, ask yourselves, “Would we be able, at this time, to respond well to the needs for love, attention, nurturance and guidance that another little person has?” If the answer is “yes” then it may very well be time to add another member to your community of love. If the answer is “no” then the next question you should ask yourself is, “And what do we have to do, then, to get ourselves ready?” In this way, you are constantly being attentive to both the importance of being open to having more children and the importance of giving everyone in the family (including mom and dad) the loving attention they deserve as children of God. In short, by regularly communicating with God and each other, and cultivating habits that lead to a generous sensitivity to the needs for love and attention each family member has from the earliest stages of you life as a couple, you will be able to create with God’s help, the large and loving family your heart desires.