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For Your Marriage

Josh and Stacey Noem have been married for almost 20 years and have three children in middle school and high school. They blog about parenting and their adventures as a family.

How Many Children Should We Have?

Folks sometimes ask us if we are “done” having children.

I think it started soon after we had Simon-Peter, our second. Although then it was phrased a bit differently. They would ask, “Will you have more?” And we would respond, “Probably, yes.”

Implicitly, I think society doesn’t expect folks today to want more than three children, because when we had Lucy 16 months later, the question morphed to “Do you think you are done?”

“Done” is a funny choice of words. Parents know you are never “done” having children. Even when your children are grown you aren’t “done” being a parent. I passed an old timer on the street in a small South Dakota town yesterday while walking with all three of our children. He said (as older parents sometimes do) “enjoy them, this time goes by so quickly.” He then continued saying that his oldest son was almost forty. He sure didn’t think of himself as “done.”

So, are we “done”? Joshua and I always felt called to a family of three or four children. At this point we have three children with us, and one that we lost to miscarriage – in that light I suppose you could say that we are a family of three or four children currently. Right about where we felt God called us to be.

When folks ask us the question now we usually respond with something to the effect that we aren’t sure if we are “done;” we would happily welcome another child if we found ourselves pregnant. Basically, we have packed away the baby gear in storage but we haven’t gotten rid of any of it for good.

One of Joshua’s sisters and her husband felt they were done after having their two sons. They were confident they didn’t intend to have any more children. (They gave all their baby gear right away). Then, this past December she told us she was expecting. Far from being tentative or chagrinned about sharing their news with those of us who knew they had thought they were “done” having children, she was excited.

She acknowledged the situation saying that they had not planned to grow their family anymore but that they had the resources, the time, the space, etc…and were very happily anticipating their next child. She finished playfully saying, “But if God is saying God wants us to have another child, I feel comfortable saying to God that I want to have a girl this time.”

It makes me smile every time I remember that conversation with her. She has no fear.

When we work in marriage preparation it is completely unpredictable to know which couples will choose to use NFP or which couples will use some artificial form of birth control. It doesn’t follow that a very devout Catholic couple will go the NFP route or that less religiously committed couples will use contraception. The only trait the NFP couples have in common is that they don’t seem to have a “fear of getting pregnant.” They have some sense of freedom in handing over a portion of the control in their lives. That isn’t to say that you have no agency or control when using NFP. I would argue vehemently to the contrary–that you have every bit as much control over your fertility using NFP as if you used the pill. After all, if someone on the pill didn’t take it, it wouldn’t work. Likewise with NFP, if you don’t follow the rules, it won’t work.

Trusting in God and giving up some aspect of control really is part of the counter-cultural witness we are called to as Catholic married couples. Our society is all about control and being able to know and decide about our lives with CERTAINTY. Many couples want to determine with certainty how many children they have.

Certainty is not something that I have regarding the size of our family. I am not certain that we are “done” having children and I wonder about it from time to time. I do know that we don’t feel called to have more children now. And, I know that we actively discern God’s will for our lives in an ongoing way. Taken together while I may not be CERTAIN, I am CONFIDENT. I am confident that we are right where God wants us to be for now; and while that doesn’t necessarily afford me a sense of control, it does make me feel free.