The “Ideal” Family Size

our "ideal" family size, for now anyway
Prompted by this news article.

I’ve been closely following the RH bill debate in the Philippines for several months now. One of the biggest reasons proponents of the bill give for pushing for the bill is that the bill will legislate helping families achieve their ideal family size. I know. Doesn’t make sense, does it? Let me say that again. The bill will legislate helping families achieve their ideal family size. The bill also mentions that two children is ideal. Hm.

How a bill (or eventually a law, if passed) would do that, I have no idea. How exactly do they propose to do this? I can imagine the conversation now.

Family Planning Official: Good morning, sir, ma’am, what is your ideal family size?
Husband/Wife: Two children. Can you help us achieve that?
FPO: Certainly! We have these contraceptives available for free or at low cost. Take your pick.

Okay. So I don’t really have a clue how that conversation will go down. Do you? I have so many questions I don’t know where to begin.

Why would any country have to enact a law to help families achieve their ideal family size?
Isn’t this a decision that belongs to the married couple and the married couple ALONE?
Except in a communist country, I don’t see how the government could take this decision into their hands. And as far as I know, the Philippines isn’t a communist country. Maybe they’re headed that way. For their sake, I hope not, but stranger things have happened.

How exactly would they help these families ACHIEVE that ideal family size?
Are we talking counseling sessions here on how often to have or not have sex? Are we talking a supply of pills? Are we talking sterilization advice? Are we talking counseling sessions after every child to make sure the parents are “on the right track”? There are so many scenarios running through my head as to how this “achieving” would be accomplished. None of them sound remotely appealing to a married woman like me. I don’t relish the idea of ANYONE, much less the government, butting into a conversation my husband and I should be having IN PRIVATE.

And that word IDEAL. I shudder to think that any person, much less any government entity, would presume to speak to my husband and me about an IDEAL family size. Aren’t we getting too presumptuous here?

My husband and I have been married twenty-one years (thank You, Lord!) and to this day we don’t know what our ideal family size is. Was it when we had only two kids? Was it when we got to four? Is it ideal to stop now that we have five? Whether we plan to have more or not isn’t even an appropriate topic (I don’t think) for this blog. That’s just too private a matter to discuss in public. You’d have to be a VERY, VERY CLOSE, INTIMATE FRIEND to even know what my husband and I think about this.

THAT’S the element, I think, that’s missing in all this talk about ideal family size. So much about marriages, sex, and families have just been assumed to be a matter of public debate the last few years. We have lost so much in terms of privacy and respect and recognizing the autonomy of the individual. We think we can decide for others what’s ideal for them and what’s not. Who am I to tell my friend who has 12 kids, “Enough is enough”? Who am I to tell my friend who has 2, “You need to have more”? Don’t we have enough problems and decisions in our own lives, don’t we have enough on our plates? Why do we even feel it’s necessary to talk about what’s IDEAL for anyone?

It truly pains me to see this happening in my beloved country of birth. I honestly don’t see it leading anywhere that’s good or holy or beautiful. Even if they decide that ten kids is the “ideal family size”, there still would be something inherently wrong in making that pronouncement.

Only a husband and wife have the right to make this decision for themselves. And for the Catholic couple, this is something that’s strictly between them and their God. Neither you nor I, and certainly not legislators, have ANY RIGHT WHATSOEVER to influence this process of prayer and discernment and soul-searching. No one deserves this kind of patronizing, condescending attitude foisted upon them — that SOMEONE else knows better and that they’re not smart enough to figure it out for themselves. No level of intelligence, no economic situation warrants this kind of trespassing, rude interference in the affairs of the individual and the couple. The RH mantra, “Keep your rosaries out of our ovaries”, goes both ways. We don’t wish to impose Catholic morals on anyone. Neither do we want government’s concept of “ideal” foisted upon those who are most vulnerable.

And as a Catholic, it pains me to see that we can presume ourselves more knowledgeable than God when it comes to what’s ideal. I could never have known which child would be my most sensitive, or most loving, or most in need of care, or most in need of physical closeness. I could never have foreseen which child would bring me to my knees. And it’s not one child that will do that; it’s not just one season. Every child, for one reason or another, brings us closer to Him who designed all of these — the sizes of our families, their personalities, their quirks. That this subject would be tackled in the pages of a Filipino newspaper brings me an incredible sadness. God has His plans. It is not up to us to question, or insist that we know better. We don’t know better (though we’d like to think that we do). We trust, we follow, we grow in holiness as we learn to accept and obey. There is blessing in everything He touches. Even in the poorest of the poor, His hand is there, guiding, nurturing, bringing plans to fruition. I shudder to think of where we might drive ourselves if we continue to insist on grabbing the reins instead of sitting back and simply enjoying the ride.

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