Why Do Catholics Have So Many Kids?

Jenny Uebbing

"Wow, you've sure got your hands full."

No matter how many times I hear this and no matter how well intentioned the speaker, it always rubs me the wrong way. And I’m guessing, with baby number four just starting to make him or herself known when I make the wrong wardrobe choice in the morning, I’m going to start getting it a whole lot more frequently.

One time in the grocery store I did actually lift my hands from the cart loaded down with toddlers and held them up in the air whilst the baby dangled from the carrier across my midsection and loudly announced that "NOT RIGHT NOW I DON'T!" which sent the kindly fifty-something woman sharing the bread aisle with me scooting backward, nervously laughing out of confusion and fear.

But yes, I suppose my hands are full. I just feel like I'm in some kind of bizarre, narrative-driven ABC family drama when complete strangers announce it to me over and over again. Can you imagine yelling to a man walking his dog down the street "wow, you must pick up crap all day long!" or maybe suggesting to a person in a wheelchair "Man, I bet your arms are always tired!”

Maybe true, but is it helpful? And are you telling that person something complimentary or useful with your unoriginal commentary on their daily existence.

Moving on.

Catholics do, in fact, tend to have larger than average families, though that number is sadly diminishing, at least among the variety who don't actually practice what the Church preaches.

(This is emphatically NOT a jab at smaller Catholic families who are for whatever reason unable to have children. Nope, not at all.)

But why do we have more children than the average family? Ding ding ding, I'll take patriarchal oppression and denied access to contraception for a thousand, Alex.

Oh, wait, nope, that's actually not the reason. Want to know the real reason Catholics have more kids?

Come close.

Closer.

Okay, are you ready for this?


It's because we like them.

Like we actually full on appreciate small humans and think the world would be a better place with more of them around. Isn't that bizarre?

And it's also because we practice realistic sex: sex as it actually exists in reality, in nature, in all it's messy and impressive and inscrutable design.

Because in reality, sex is where babies come from, when everything is in proper working order.

Did you get that? Catholics have more babies because babies are sometimes the result of having sex. And since we believe that sex is good, true, beautiful, and perfectly designed by a God who loves us and wants us to be happy, we accept it on His terms, embracing the mystery and honestly, sometimes, the suffering inherent in our fertility.

Now, just a little PSA as an aside, because I'm kind of embarrassed by this as a female member of the species but did you know that you can't actually get pregnant save for a small (or large, in my case) window each month during a woman's cycle? Apparently something close to 90% of adult women have no idea how their bodies actually work in this capacity, and that saddens me. And, it seems a little bit the opposite of empowered and independent and free choice-y. But I digress.

Back to the babies. Oh, those babies. See, the reason we keep having them isn't, contrary to popular belief, because we haven't figured out what causes that, or because we don't have a television. The reason they keep showing up is because, frankly, they're kind of the best thing about being human, and having them is an incredible privilege and it's hard as hell and yes, self denial and self obliteration on a daily basis but ... it's so worth it.

And since we're not supposed to be using contraception, we actually have to discuss the possibility during seasons of fertility (i.e. months where the woman has a regular cycle) of whether or not it would be prudent to have another child at this juncture. And then, if the mutually discerned and prayed for answer is “go for it,” then we go for it.

But seriously, do you know what kind of freedom that can bring into a marriage? And how selfless you have the potential to become become when you have to be to ask these kinds of questions over and over again? And yes, you realize how incredibly incapable you are of handling yet another little responsibility bearing your last name, but then they get here and you can't imagine having said "no," and slowly your grinchy little heart begins to grow and you actually become a better, more productive, and - please God - holier member of the human race.

It's a wild ride. And it's not a "one and done" or "two and through" momentary phase of marriage. For some couples, depending upon the age at which they said "I do, "it's a decades-long discernment process. And through it we grow, we stretch, and we discover we are capable of so much more than the world would have us believe. And that our waistlines are, too.

But seriously, we're just in it for the sweet retirement party. And for the moment when we can whip out our iPhone 27s in the grocery store and torture innocent bystanders with holograms of our 8 children and 34 grandchildren because finally, our hands are empty and we can work the keypad in peace.

Topics: Church teaching , Contraception , Natural Family Planning , Parenting

Jenny Uebbing is the content director of our marriage and family life channel, where her blog Mama Needs Coffee will be permanently hosted. She lives in Denver, CO with her family, where she writes and speaks on Church teachings on marriage, contraception, NFP and bioethics.


View all articles by Jenny Uebbing

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