Large Family Brings Challenges, Rewards

Author: Elizabeth Foss

"Large Family Brings Challenges, Rewards"

By Elizabeth Foss

As we celebrate Patrick's first birthday, I am reflecting upon what the third baby has meant to our family, the ways in which our lives have changed since he was born. I am not easily overwhelmed, but this year has been one big, overwhelming blur. More than any other, this baby has challenged me to grow. I puzzle over this fact because Patrick is really the easiest baby of my three. He is pure joy from morning until nighttime and never ceases to delight and amaze me. Nevertheless, only recently has life begun to come into focus again. I can see more clearly the lessons learned from the challenges presented. Recently, I met a five-year- old girl named Emily in the park who refined my vision in a poignant way.

She stooped down to play with Patrick, stroking the fine blond fuzz on his head. She cooed to him and held up leaves and sticks for him to examine. Christian, my three-year-old, wandered over to her.

"That's my baby," he said. "His name is Patrick."

"I don't have a baby," Emily replied.

I have a big boy, too," Christian said. "His name is Michael."

"I don't have a big brother either."

"Oh, you just have girls?"

"No. I don't have brothers. I don't have sisters. I just have me. I had some goldfish but they died."

"Well you can't borrow ours because I would miss my baby. Maybe your daddy could ask God to give you a baby."

I listened to the exchange and Emily tugged at my heart. Lest I leave you with the wrong impression, of all of us, Christian has had the most difficult year. He wanted a baby so much but he hadn't counted on sharing space on mommy's lap or waiting until Patrick had finished nursing before he got a story. Nevertheless, every night, without fail, he climbs in bed next to Patrick and says, "I like this baby, mommy. I want five babies."

Patrick is teaching Christian patience. He waits more willingly now and understands the needs of someone younger. Christian is teaching Michael compassion. He is quick to evaluate a situation and offer to read to Christian or get him some juice while I care for Patrick. They fight over who gets to entertain the baby.

The three of them are teaching me things that one or two never could. They are teaching me that no matter how efficient or organized I am, not everything is within my control. My husband and I can't be involved in every aspect of their lives. Strangely enough, we are learning to relax and observe more and to intervene less. We aren't their only teachers; they are learning daily from each other. It amazes me to hear them teach each other in the same words and tones that my husband and I use to teach them. As a dear friend told us, we have moved from a man-to-man defense to a zone. It has taken awhile to learn the new plays, but now the style suits us fine.

There are days when the tasks before me seem insurmountable, when I feel defeated before I begin. Those are the days when I need to pray incessantly. Three children have driven me to my knees, which is where I should have been all along.

In many ways, this baby has been the easiest. We are more experienced, more knowledgeable, and even a little wiser than we were with the first two. Beyond the obvious, there is a subtle dynamic working in our lives. It is the sense of family into which we have grown.

In , by Karol Wojtyla, drawing from his experience as a priest and bishop before he became John Paul II, writes, "The parents create the family as a complement to and extension of their love. To create a family means to create a community, since the family is a social unit or else it is not a family. To be a community it must have a certain size. This is most obvious in the context of education. For the family is an educational institution within the framework of which the personality of a new human being is formed. If it is to be correctly formed, it is very important that this human being should not be alone, but surrounded by a natural community. We are sometimes told that it is easier to bring up several children together than an only child, and also that two children are not a community -- they are only two children. It is the role of the parents to direct their children's upbringing, but under their direction the children educate themselves, because they develop within the framework of a community of children, a collective of siblings."

I don't know Emily's family, perhaps, like so many couples, her parents have suffered the heartbreak of infertility. I can't imagine a greater pain. Or perhaps theirs is a case where, for grave and serious reasons, they have discerned that it is best to limit the number of children they bear to one. Families who are in such situations are to be embraced and consoled within the greater community, the family of the Church.

I am ever an optimist though and I prefer to believe (and I really hope and pray) that Emily's earnest wish is her parents' too, and that her daddy will indeed ask God for a baby.

Foss is a freelance writer who lives in Springfield, Va.

This article appeared in the October 19, 1995 issue of "The Arlington Catholic Herald."

Courtesy of the "Arlington Catholic Herald" diocesan newspaper of the Arlington (VA) diocese. For subscription information, call 1-800-377-0511 or write 200 North Glebe Road, Suite 607 Arlington, VA 22203.