The basic outlines of the Church’s teaching on family life, in terms of what we must on no account do, are clear, but we need to beware of the more subtle ways our thinking has been warped by our contraceptive culture. This is a hugely complex topic and I want to look at just one aspect of it: the attitude to large families.
It has become a joke, albeit a boring one, that many people can’t see a family of more than three children without having a dig at the parents. My lifestyle does not expose me to much of this but I did get a “You should get a TV” from a stranger recently, which was intended as light-hearted. (Actually, I’d rather have the children.) Such comments can be particularly upsetting when they come from fellow Catholics. No less annoying is the counter-pressure occasionally found in those pockets of Catholic society where larger families are more common. It is such a stupid thing to ask mothers if they are going to have another baby. Who knows what has been going on? Just don’t do it.
These opposing remarks have something in common, which is the odd way they hold parents to account for having or not having children, and see a certain family size as the right one for everyone: whether is it two children, six, or none. This is obviously absurd in ignoring the particular circumstances of different families, above all biological factors which are of no concern to complete strangers. But it also puts an artificial limit to family size, whether the limit small or large.