Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Is It a Good Idea for a Couple to Have 19 Kids?

I originally posted the entry that appears below with the title "Is It a Good Idea for a Couple to Have 18 Kids?" on February 2, 2009.

I'm reposting it today in response to this week's People magazine cover:

Seven weeks ago, the now famous Duggar family welcomed the birth of their 18th child.

The next day, a college friend of mine asked me what my take was on said birth.

My short answer: God bless 'em.

I wanted to write more than just this, but hadn't the time.

Now, however, I do.

It seems to me that the question really being asked here—not just by my friend, I suspect, but also countless others—is:

Is it a good idea for a couple to have 18 kids?

This, to my mind, is the wrong to question to ask (or, at least the wrong question to ask first).

Rather, the question to ask is:

Is a given married couple following God's will?

This question can be answered only by 3 people:

1. God
2. Husband
3. Wife

Well, five, really, since God is actually Three Persons, but I digress.

I have exactly no competence to diagnose whether a given married couple (be they the Duggars, or the parents of a guy I used to work with—who had 21 children—or the couple I see at the park who have one child) is following God's will in determining how many children they should have.

Heck, I have enough trouble discerning if I'm following God's will, much less trying to figure out if other people are.

On the contrary, acting in good faith, I can only assume that they are.

Of course, when it comes to morally licit options for planning a family, contraception is right out. (**Shameless plug follows**
And, as it happens, I was recently asked by Sunnyday, one of my e-friends in the Philippines, to speak to the question, "Will contraceptive use make parents more responsible?" in a Filipino parenting magazine. I did so here [PDF].)

Another point to make is that the Duggars endorse the Quiverfull movement (sometimes colloquially referred to as "providentialism"), which teaches that natural family planning is, for all intents and purposes, tantamount to contraception. On its face, such a notion is untenable.

But again, for a given married couple, the decision of whether they could or should use NFP to space pregnancies is up to them to determine—with God's help, natch.

On this topic, a Catholic friend of mine told me not long ago that in the course of an online discussion with other Catholic women about NFP, someone tried to convince the group that it was necessary for a couple to get their bishop's permission before they could use NFP.

When my friend told me that, I had a sudden urge to run to the nearest wall and start banging my head against it in sheer frustration that there could be such profound misunderstanding of what the Church really teaches about when a couple can use NFP.

Christopher West speaks to this topic more extensively in an article entitled "God, Sex, and Babies: What the Church Really Teaches about Responsible Parenthood". And, the uber-intelligent Dr. Janet Smith offers a lengthier, more scholarly treatment of this issue in an essay entitled "Moral Use of Natural Family Planning" [PDF].

All this is to say that while QuiverFull is based on a false belief (i.e., that natural family planning is incompatible with God's will), it is also most emphatically not true to say that a given couple who elects not to "use" NFP within their own marriage is acting irresponsibly by foregoing consultation of charts and thermometers—and by so doing, end up giving birth to 18, or 21, or [insert number here] children.

So, once again, my three word comment on the Duggars' welcoming their 18th child:

God bless 'em.

And indeed, He has.


Angela said...


This mama is really glad you found time to write this lengthier version of a response, and, that she had time to read it.

Fondly wishing I had ten (10) more children than I do. ;-]

katrine said...

I think one of the great lines Jim Bob Duggar recently said when asked this very thing was that "people look at debt as a gift and childbearing and rearing as a burden. We look at debt as a burden and children as a gift" I love the show and watch it often.