A colleague of mine from work was on sick leave recently. The staff notices just said ‘Sick – Family Responsibility’ so naturally we were not overly concerned. He is a father of six so we simply figured that one of the kids must have been ill. After a week, we started to ask questions. No one had heard anything from him and no one seemed to know what was going on. We are quite a close-knit staffroom, so this was unusual.
After another week, we had still heard nothing. Concerned questions began to be voiced at lunchtime about the possibility of something being really wrong. Was he sick – or worse still, had one of his little ones been struck down with some hideous illness?
No one seemed to know anything.
Our seemingly ill-fated colleague came back at the start of this week, looking quite pale and exhausted. Not wanting to pry, we gave him space. Given the secrecy shrouding his extended absence, we did not want to potentially upset him unnecessarily.
Yesterday afternoon he came to speak to a small group of us, kindly apologising for causing us concern. He had heard we had been asking after him and quietly and self-consciously confided the reason for his absence.
His wife had given birth to their seventh child.
We were stunned. We had absolutely no idea that she had even been pregnant. We asked him why he had not shared the news with us sooner.
He explained that over the past few years, he has received many negative comments from people about the size of his family. He decided, very early on this time, not to share his news. Frustrated with having to justify his own decision-making regarding the size of his family – a choice that is completely his and his wife’s to make – he refrained from sharing such a monumental event. As he explained this to us, I immediately felt empathetic. His silence resonated with me. I’ve been on the receiving end of such comments myself, based our decision to have a fifth child.
Here is a picture of our social media birth announcement we used to ‘drop the bombshell’ that we were expecting our youngest in 2017. Humour was how we chose to deal with our ‘admission’ as a means of shielding ourselves from potential criticism for having ‘yet another’ child.
I can completely understand why others wouldn’t want to have such a large family themselves, but what baffles me is why these people feel the need to shame others about our choices?
I love the chaos: I love the joy of creating these beautiful little people, with their own distinctive, delightful personalities, and seeing the relationship dynamics unfold between them.
What’s not to love? Each of my children has given my life an injection of joy unrivalled by any bank account balance, holiday, pet or gift you could ever bestow upon me. Yes it is expensive, yes it is loud, yes it is not for everyone.
But it is for us.
In speaking to fellow staff members about this issue, I am sad to say that we all agree that judgemental comments based on family planning decisions seem to be becoming more and more commonplace. Not only are these seemingly ‘benign’ remarks reserved for those choosing to have large families, but also towards those who choose to have no children, a single child, or even children of the same gender.
It seems anything short of the ‘Pigeon Pair’ is a sub-optimal outcome from a family planning perspective.
‘But aren’t you going to give your little one a sibling?’
‘How can you not want kids?’
‘Don’t you have enough on your plate?’
‘Two boys huh? Fingers crossed it’s third time lucky for a girl.’
‘You need to book yourself in for the snip!’
‘You guys don’t like watching TV then?’
‘Are you sure you are done this time?’
Unless you have been on the receiving end of some of these comments, you can’t possibly understand the degree to which you feel the need to justify your decision making:
‘I know, I know, I’m a glutton for punishment,’ or ‘Yeah I know, I’m crazy.’
It is actually just easier to make some kind of self-deprecating statement and move on, than actually try and bother explaining the reasons.
God forbid I snap and one day give someone a mouthful about it. Can you imagine the outcry : ‘Touchy! See, I told you she had too much on her plate!’
So to my colleague with seven kids, I take my hat off to you. Congratulations to you and your wife on having the courage and fortitude to welcome another life into this world. I wish you all the very best for your newest little man.