I know what happened. You went on Facebook last week and saw all the Catholic moms posting Simcha Fisher’s excellent essay “To the Mother With Only One Child.” You clicked on it. You thought it was beautiful.
You appreciated the sympathetic words of the mother of nine children writing to a new mother. My child number nine is on the way, and I know I appreciated it.
But then you read more, and it scared you to death. I know the part that got you.
First Simcha said, “My husband had become a father, and I adored him for it,” and your heart did a fist pump with its left ventricle.
But then she said, “My husband got to leave the house every day, and sleep every night. He got to go to the bathroom alone. I hated him for it,” and the same left ventricle went limp.
I know what is on your heart. You are the fresh, young, uncertain new patriarch in the “married NFP Catholic” circle at your parish. That’s the circle where the families have three to four times as many children as their peers, and half as many wage-earners.
Realize, of course, that not everyone is blessed with an enormous family. Pope Benedict XVI’s parents weren’t. Fulton Sheen’s parents weren’t. The great saints of our age, Blessed Mother Teresa and Blessed John Paul II, came from small families. Jesus too.
But right now you expect you will have a large family, and you see your future all around you.
The large-family dads all drive ginormous church-bus vans that could crush your Kia without noticing. They spend $100 every time they fill up. And what with Blue Knights, Little Flowers, soccer, dance, daily Mass and play-dates, those dads have to fill up a lot.
The large-family dads in your new circle seem to have a quiet command of their children that you can’t even imagine. At church, your kids twist, shriek, and then scramble toward the altar like they are possessed by a demon that hates the Mass and compels them to disrupt it. But the children of those large-family dads seem to always be looking up at him in awe and then standing a little straighter, and acting even more reverent than they already were.
The large-family dads in your new circle also all have impressive jobs. They are contractors organizing complicated projects, VPs of sales in industries you are only dimly aware of, managers of men and shapers of the world who get paid handsomely for their efforts. You’re still the new guy where you work, and it’s a place where you feel self-conscious and awkward, where you think you have nothing in common with people your age, and where you keep trying fruitlessly to find a foothold in the upper echelons of the company where you will have to be in order to feed your growing family.
In the past, you had your new young wife to comfort you and buck you up when you felt overwhelmed. But now that she’s a mom, she’s the one who is overwhelmed.
You love that she allows you to sleep when the baby wakes up, because you have to go to work. But every once in a while she wonders aloud if you shouldn’t be getting up, too … and then you have to spend a week exhausted at work before she lets you sleep again.
You appreciate how hard she works; you really do. But every once in a while you think, “My gosh, if this woman is this freaked out by only one child, how is she ever going to play at the multi-kid level?”
And then you realize: I will never have my wife to myself again. She will always be a mother. Especially, but not only, if she keeps having children. There will always be someone who whines more than you demanding her attention, someone more helpless than you demanding her time.
And here’s something you might not have thought of: If you ever do have nine children, you can’t look forward to a child-free house ever because the grandchildren will likely show up before all your own kids move away.
Nonetheless, I’m here to tell you: It gets better.
I know it’s hard to imagine how it will happen, but if you work hard and hang in there, it’s practically automatic that you will advance in your career.
And those dads of large families are not Jedi-masters of discipline. They are men who have been pushed to their limits and have snapped, and whose children do not want to see them snap again.
If you are so blessed as to become the father of many children, you will find yourself somehow amassing the monthly resources necessary to fill all your refrigerators and freezers with milk, orange juice, bread, eggs, corn and chicken. You will find that your wife will learn to relax and accept the imperfections of life, including the imperfections of you.
And one day you, too, will be the NFP patriarch at Mass surrounded by his adoring child subjects as his queen, with an ironic smirk, hands him the screaming child who will be his only companion at the back of the church until it is time to load the giant van and burn more gas to get home.
So, dear father with only one child, don’t be anxious. She loves you. Be attentive. Be understanding. Work hard and God himself will help you find some way to bankroll this operation.
Tom Hoopes is writer in residence at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kan., where he teaches in the Journalism and Mass Communications department and edits the college’s Catholic identity speech digest, The Gregorian.