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Department: Parting Shot
Article originally appeared in
Yes, I have six siblings. No, my parents are not socially malformed zealots bent on subjecting women to "The Patriarchy" or engineering a global food crisis.
That should go without saying, shouldn't it? But no—having more than a few kids is weird, if not irresponsible, according to a society that has forgotten what sex is for. Parents of large families are often the objects not only of jokes and superior smiles, but even of outrage and derision. I'm not sure why this happens. Maybe it's a misplaced trust in outdated population research. Maybe it's an irrational fear of the unfamiliar. One thing is sure, though: parents don't deserve to be shamed for their family choices, least of all when those choices are children.
I'm not the only one who has noticed this tendency to deride parents for perpetuating the human race. Writing for The Federalist last year, Mollie Hemingway mocked the ignorance of what she calls "Fecundophobia":
Do we need some remedial courses in how babies are made? Treating the entirely expected procreation of children as something to be avoided at all costs—and an unspeakable atrocity if one has, say, three children already—would be weird even if our culture weren't obsessed with sex at all times, in all places, in every context, at every moment.
Our society isn't just obsessed with sex. It's also convinced of the inherent goodness of individual choices, so long as those choices are not influenced by, well, you know, religion. The evils of slut-shaming, gay-shaming and sex-worker-shaming are routinely denounced. The private decision of a husband and wife to bear children, on the other hand, might be the only sexual proclivity that can meet with public censure.
Shaming large families is more than hypocrisy. The American Feminist, a publication of Feminists for Life of America, recently ran an article by Susan Thomas claiming that the tendency has misogynistic undertones.
"Families with four or more children are scarce, causing people to gawk at the mother towing a line of little ones through a grocery store or restaurant," Thomas said. "Comments like 'Are they all yours?' 'Do they all have the same father?' 'You know what causes that, right?' and worse, shame the mother—telling her she is an anomaly, worthy of pity or contempt."
Writing as one who knows, let me clarify that it's not always that bad for the kids. I never experienced anything beyond sidelong glances and baffled expressions, which were natural enough, given the average family size in Frankfort, Kentucky.
My parents had a more difficult experience. Not because of our extended family, though—they were remarkably supportive. Oddly, opposition came from people who barely knew my parents. A near stranger once accosted my mother with, "Don't you know what causes that?" One of my father's coworkers blamed him (and by extension, his children) for her high health insurance premiums. Others intimated that it was all just a big mistake. "Was that an accident?" they asked.
I still remember the awkwardly serious speech Dad used to give us kids, even before we understood the mechanics of conception. "Your mom and I didn't have any 'accidents,'" he would say. "We wanted every single one of you."
That was a strange thing to hear as child. Of course we were wanted. Parents love their children, right? More disturbing was the implicit suggestion that someone, somewhere, thought my life—or my sister's, or my brother's—was superfluous.
This is the crux of the issue: Parents are not shamed for bearing children. They are shamed for bearing too many. In other words, they are shamed for daring to believe that children are more than a commodity to be prevented, altered, or eliminated at will.
Maybe that speaks more eloquently than some of us would care to admit. •
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