The question of family size is serious, but without a clean-cut numerical answer. There are lots of opinions out there — many of them more than happy to make themselves known, whether you asked or not — and many factors to consider.
What does the Church — the Bride of Christ and purveyor of divine wisdom — have to say? How many kids are enough in her eyes? What is the magic number of children?
The Magisterium says…
There isn’t one.
She refuses to answer that question because her wisdom is much deeper than some one-size-fits-all numerical family formula.
Ancient holy families
A simple look back through Scripture — both Old and New Testaments — illustrates a wild variety of family sizes throughout Jewish and Christian history.
Jacob comes to mind first, with 12 sons (not to mention daughters, such as Dinah) who went on to become the founding 12 tribes of Israel. Big families can do great things!
Then, thousands of years later, the Holy Family itself was established with just three people in total: only one of them a child. That child is Emmanuel, the God-man. Tiny families can do great things!
Instead of a number, the Church offers a more personalized approach. She offers responsible parenthood.
Responsible parenthood is the action of making procreative decisions based on careful discernment with God and spouse — considering practical things (like finances) as well as spiritual things — to prayerfully determine His will for your family.
Responsible parenthood could mean trying to avoid…or trying to conceive…or even trying to whatever. Sometimes responsible parenthood means stretching our resources, and other times it means resting where we are. It just depends on God’s will for each of our families at the present time.
That, my friends, is the key to a “holy” family size. If we’re constantly striving to discern God’s will for our families and then we take active steps to follow that will, then our family sizes are the holiest they can be.
Tiny families are great.
Medium families are great.
Big families are great.
But the greatest family of all is that which faithfully follows God’s unique plan for it.
Easier said than discerned
But how do we gain such an understanding of God’s will?
Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI’s famous prophetic document on family planning, explains in paragraph 20:
“Indeed, [responsible parenthood] cannot be observed unless God comes to their help with the grace by which the goodwill of men is sustained and strengthened.”
So, we pray. God’s grace comes to those who ask for it, and prayer is how we petition our loving Father.
Responsible parenthood teaches us to learn to listen, and to do so with with a reasonable, open and generous heart to God’s call. This kind of listening, of course, is the same kind we should be doing in all things, always.
Generosity and prudence
Generosity isn’t always easy, though, especially when we’re also called to be prudent — that is, to make decisions cautiously, aware of their effects on the present and future. It may seem contrary to be both open and cautious at the same time, but the virtues of generosity and prudence actually work together. Of course, getting the balance right can be tricky, and it’s often a lifelong process.
In today’s culture, prudence is often confused with comfort and it’s important to note that they are far from the same. Prudence is always oriented toward the “other,” cautiously creating circumstances that will ultimately be best for others in the present and future, even if it involves some difficulty. Comfort, on the other hand, takes situations and conforms them to its own demands, usually focused on the self and how good or bad things feel.
In authentic love, comfort always takes a back seat to doing what’s truly best for other people. After all, as Pope Benedict XVI said, “You were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness!”
Like two hand applying opposite force on potter’s clay, generosity and prudence — when each is given the proper strength — work together to shape saints and their families into beautiful images of God’s grace.
Pope Saint John Paul II explained the balance of prudence and generosity well when he said,
“It is certainly less serious to deny…children certain comforts or material advantages than to deprive them of the presence of brothers and sisters, who could help them to grow in humanity and to realize the beauty of life at all its ages and in all its variety.”
Responsible parenthood requires and builds prayer. It requires and builds communication. It requires and builds selfless love. It requires and builds holy families.
— Forest Hempen
Marketing and Communications Associate