In Praise of Large Families
About the Guest
How many children does it take to make a large family? Four? Six? Eight? Dennis Rainey talks with Leslie Leyland Fields, author of the book "Surprise Child," about the benefits of a large family. Leslie, a mother of six, tells how her big family has enlarged her heart and changed her in ways she didn't think possible when she was single.
How many children does it take to make a large family? Four? Six? Eight?
In Praise of Large Families
Bob: I love the title of this. It says, "The Case for Kids: A Defense of the Large Family by a Six-Time 'Breeder.'"
Leslie: Mm-hm, that's me—okay, the "Breeder" is in quotation marks. You have to know that.
Bob: But you had people kind of refer to you with disparaging comments like that; right?
Leslie: Yes, right; that's right.
Dennis: And in your class, one day, you actually had one student refer to herself as a non-breeder?
Leslie: Yes, and that's when I decided I had to write this article.
Bob: Tell me about that classroom. In what context does the student say, "I'm a non-breeder"?
Leslie: Well, it was the first day of class in a writing class. I typically go around the room, and we start to get to know one another. "What's your name, where do you work, what do you do?" There were several women before her. They had said, "I'm a mom, I have two kids, I work here, and I do this." By the time it came to this woman, she described herself as, "Hi, I'm Rosa. I've been a truck driver, a commercial fisherwoman, and I'm not a breeder."
The class went dead quiet. Everyone is looking at me with big eyes because everyone knows I have five children, at that point. You could have bottled that silence and sold it to noisy places. [Laughter]
Bob: She was saying it with a chip on her shoulder?
Leslie: Oh, absolutely.
Dennis: And your administrator—when you told him you were pregnant with, what, number six—had a real bad comment to make, at that point?
Leslie: Oh, yes; oh, yes. He just kind of laughed, you know, out the side of his mouth, and said, "What? This is your—what, ninth or tenth?"
Bob: Yes. So, what's the genesis, do you think, of this hostility toward children, or big families, or people like us in this room who have had five or six kids? Why are people so upset about it?
Leslie: I think there are a number of reasons. One is that there is sort of a general assumption that people who have large families are uneducated, and are sort of backward, and having lots of children simply because they don't know any better.
I think there's a lot of attention and a lot of awareness—sensitivity, now, to, of course, environmental issues. I think those are important issues that we need to attend to; but the fears of over-population, I think, are a very major part of that.
Dennis: I think the further our nation drifts from Christianity, the less we are going to view children from a biblical viewpoint—that children are valuable; that lots of children in a family can be a blessing and were intended, by God, to be a blessing; and that children represent the future—they represent our legacy—they represent the spiritual leadership of the nation for the next generation.
In fact, we don't need to look very far to see where this has led Europe. Europe is in a declining population where the replacement—the number of children who are being born in many European countries is actually less than what it takes to sustain that nation. You have to ask the question, “How will that country exist, long-haul?”
Throughout history, Christianity has been used to bring a right perspective about children—not only protecting children—but also valuing them for who they are.
Bob: They are a blessing—they are an inheritance from the Lord. I mean, the Scriptures never look at children as a liability. You can't find scriptural support for there being a liability to children, and having many is considered a blessing of God. Yet, when you are pregnant with your third, or your fourth, or your fifth, or your sixth—especially in a culture that has been influenced heavily by feminism—you had to feel some of the sting that you had violated your womanhood.
Leslie: Oh, absolutely. I had violated a number of social contracts. In an academic environment, of course, you don't have a lot of children. Often, I go to conferences, and I speak, and I travel to academic conferences. I will be the only woman, on the whole floor of the dorm—I'll be, oftentimes, the only woman who has more than one child or more than two children. Many women will not have children or maybe they have one.
Bob: And have you felt scorn toward you for a long period of time about that or was it—did it get to five or six before you started feeling the scorn?
Leslie: No, you know, I have to say I've never felt scorned because once I get to know someone, and they get to know me—when we're at that point in the conversation when they find out how many children I have, there is sort of a mutual respect. I think there's great curiosity.
I remember one time at a conference, when I had four children. I became friends with a woman who was a poet. I found out later, over dinner, she was a lesbian. She found out, over dinner, that I had four children. She asked me, just in the most genuine way possible, she asked, "Why do you have four children? Why do you have so many children?" It wasn't a judgment; it was, like, “Explain this to me.”
Dennis: “I don't understand.”
Bob: “Help me understand;” yes.
Leslie: “I don't understand. Help me understand this.” My response, at the time—you know, I had never thought this through to actually have a response—but I think God gave me the words to say. I said something like, "I love it when we sit down to eat. We hold hands around the table, and the circle is wide." She nodded. She understood what that meant about love, and fellowship, and about the strength in numbers. As a woman who lived alone—who was alone—I'm sure that that was something that she probably longed for and was trying to find in another way.
Dennis: You wrote, in the article that we've mentioned, that—called "The Case for Kids"—that there are movements afloat called "Child-Free" and "Only One Child". When we don't begin to value children for what they are—a gift from God—I think it really leads—can lead a nation or a society to all kinds of abnormalities when it comes to their valuing children; don't you think?
Leslie: Oh, absolutely. If we look at our own lives and look at who we were before we had children and look at who we are now—the transformation that occurs through the process of having children—you know, in some ways, our lives feel as though they shrink because it requires so much energy and so much of yourself. You know, it's just this daily sort of pouring out of yourself to your children. In some ways, it feels like the boundaries—the horizons of your life shrink; but in many other ways, you are so expanded. You are not a single person anymore. There are eight of you. You are this larger, deeper, wiser person because of having children.
Dennis: There may be some shrinking boundaries; but there is an enlarged heart, no doubt about it. [Laughter]
Bob: I’m thinking about two scenes that stick out for me in the movie, It’s a Wonderful Life—my all-time favorite movie; right? Jimmy Stewart’s had a lousy day. He’s at the end of his rope. He comes home, and there are four kids around the house. One’s practicing the piano, and another one is following him around, asking him questions. There’s a point where he looks at his wife and he says, “Why did we have all these kids, anyway?” It is just that moment of frustration.
Mary Ann and I have had those moments in our marriage where we’ve looked at each other and said, “Why did we have all these kids anyway?” We just recite the line from the movie. We do it really to just inject some humor into an otherwise tense situation and remind ourselves that, “God is in the midst of all of this and that these are a gift from God.”
But I also remember this—I remember hearing John MacArthur, a number of years ago, talk about the difference in the family dynamic when there is one child versus five kids. He said if there is one child in the home, the day begins with Mom coming into the child's bedroom, and sitting down on the bed, and rubbing the child's back and saying, "It's time to wake up, Sweetheart. What do you want Mommy to make you for breakfast today;" you know? He said, “When there are five kids, you're sitting around the table. You look at what you've got for dinner and you go, "I don't like this." The kid next to you goes, "Good!" and starts eating off your plate. [Laughter] Or you come down. There are five bags of lunch to take to school. You go, "Which one is mine?" They say, "It doesn't matter. Just take one."
Bob: Now, obviously, parents can raise a single child to be a giving, generous person; but, boy, there is something about the dynamic of having four or five brothers and sisters—where you have to learn what selflessness and sharing looks like.
Leslie: Right, it is a school of hard knocks, you know, for everyone; but what a wonderful school that is. In our family, we have an extra benefit; and that is we commercial fish in the summers. My kids all work together out in the ocean. You know, they run their own skiffs; and they—one is the skipper, and one is the crew.
You look at what my kids have learned by working together, by being together—all the give and take that goes on—and this whole blend of personalities, and quirks, and eccentricities, and strengths—and it all—in one sense, I'm sure an outsider looks in and they see chaos. But you know what? It all does make a kind of sense. We are all learning from each other—even through the thick, the thin, the good, the bad—the whole mass it is—we are all being shaped and formed into who—the kind of person—God wants us to be.
Dennis: Toffler wrote in his book called The Third Wave that one of the problems for teenage rebellion or causes of teenage rebellion was that children don't feel needed anymore. Your children are needed; they're valued; they are appreciated for how they help the family succeed in the family endeavor. Years ago, Bob, that would have happened on a farm. In your case, it happens on the ocean.
Dennis: But children really are valuable, and I have a confession to make. I don't think I've ever admitted this on the broadcast, Bob; but years ago, when we started FamilyLife, I rejected any photograph that had a husband and a wife with one child or two children.
Bob: You're saying if there was going to be something in a brochure or something representing FamilyLife—you didn't want the standard Photoshop® picture.
Dennis: I felt like the Christian community had—hook, line, and sinker—swallowed the bait of the culture of the world's view of children—“Two and no more.” The Bible speaks of children being a blessing, “Blessed is he whose quiver is full of children."
When I chose pictures, they didn't all have to have six or, you know, seven or eight. I’m not saying that; and we're not saying, here on this broadcast, that every person is being called by God to have a large or big family; but we do think we need to all take a step back and say, "What's your perspective of what God thinks about children and what should you think about them?"
When I got married to Barbara, I'd really never thought about children. I didn't even think about how many we'd have. I didn't really like children. When we started having them, I realized how much—as you've said, Leslie—they cause you to have to die to self—and how with each child, there is more of self that has to yield to God and submit to Him so that you can love, and you can lead, and you can nurture, and you can pour your life into them.
I'd have to say, “Barbara and I have a lot of accomplishments. There is no greater privilege than being called ‘Daddy". None! I think, as we've chosen those pictures, Bob, that's what we're trying to convey.
You got some negative fan mail, so to speak?
Bob: Hate mail—
Dennis: People didn't care for what you said in this article about having a large family. They thought you were saying everybody should have a large family. That's not what we're saying here. Why do you think people reacted so against your article?
Leslie: Well, you know, I did get my very first piece of hate mail from this article. It was a very angry, vitriolic letter—and the woman—she actually misread the article and thought that I was—yes, that I was saying every family should have six children—every family should be like me. I would never make that argument because I don't think you can support that argument from Scripture even.
But it was clear to me—as I read the article—and that she's calling me names, that she didn't have children. This was a place of great hurt in her life. So, I think that's really key—when someone attacks you for this position, it's really easy to just sort of respond back in kind; but sometimes, people are not understanding what we're saying. Sometimes, people are coming from a place of great hurt in their own lives. We need to be compassionate and, I think, respond from compassion and kindness.
Bob: I've gotten to a point where, whenever I'm introducing myself and talking about my family, I'll say Mary Ann and I have been married for this number of years. I'll say we only had five children and just kind of go on, matter-of-factly—but I'm just slipping in this, "We only had five children." You'll hear a little snicker, out in the audience; and I'm not trying to suggest, either, that we need to have a dozen; right? But I am trying to say—I know that sounds absurd, but you know what? There is a great joy. I mean, if God should bless you with that—if that's what He calls you to—here is what you'll miss. You'll miss—
Dennis: You can't even begin to get into the list!
Leslie: I know it!
Bob: If you have a lot of kids, you'll miss more meals out at restaurants because you just can't afford it. You'll miss your kids having the nicest shoes—the nicest athletic shoes because you can't buy $100-a-pair shoes for six kids; right? You'll miss a lot of economic benefit that you might otherwise accrue—some vacations that you go on that you stay in the Super 8® instead of in a nicer hotel, or you find somebody who can put you up—right? —because you just can't afford—
But what you gain is relationship. At the end of the day, when you sit down and say, "Okay, here's the pros and here's the cons," —the tennis shoes? Come on! The relationships, the love, the family, and the joy—I mean, that's what you want in your retirement and your old age; isn't it?
Dennis: Last summer we had our family get-together.
Bob: This is your children, their spouses, and your grandchildren.
Dennis: And our grandchildren. And the next time we get together—
Bob: You'll have to rent an island.
Dennis: Well, truthfully, how do you get that many people together? But you know what? The place we stayed had some pinball machines, some little basketball goals, card games going on. That was so much life taking place in the lives of those children and grandchildren. One of the great times we were together was Cousins Camp—where we got all the cousins. I mean, it was all those ages three and older. We went on a wildflower-gathering trip, we got finger paints, we sat around, and Papa told a continuing story—one of my favorites. You know? —what fun to celebrate these great moments.
I'm going to encourage our listeners to go to FamilyLife.com. There is a link on our website to this article at Christianity Today. In closing, Leslie, I want to read your last paragraph because it really is worth stating—how you conclude your article.
You say: "Perhaps we need to hope that some of those in charge, some of those upon whom we will be dependent, will have been raised in large families. We will need to hope that these providers, caregivers, and government leaders can resist our culture's obsession with self and remember their families' lessons of tolerance and sympathy extended to all, especially those less able than themselves, knowing that, above all, the universe is not theirs alone."
Well stated. Thanks for writing this article, and thanks for being obedient to fulfill God's call in your life and having six children.
Leslie: It's been a joy.
Bob: I just want to be careful to make sure that our listeners understand what we’re saying and what we’re not saying here. We’re not saying that we know how many children every family ought to have, or that you ought to have as many children as you possibly can. We’re just saying children are a blessing, and we ought to have that mindset when it comes to our children. When it comes to being husbands and wives, we ought to see our children as a blessing rather than a liability or a limitation. I think that’s clear.
In fact, if folks would like to read the article you wrote, we’ve got a link to it on our website at FamilyLifeToday.com. I’m just going to mention the title of the article again. It’s called “The Case for Kids: A Defense of the Large Family by a Six-Time ‘Breeder’.” Again, go to FamilyLifeToday.com to link to that article written by Leslie Fields—at FamilyLifeToday.com.
Let me just say, we’ve also got a book I want to encourage those of you who are younger married couples—you’ve been married a couple of years—you haven’t started your family yet—I want to challenge you to read a book by Candice Watters called Start Your Family. It’s a book where she makes a case, and I think a solid case, for why young couples should step out and start having kids.
Again, you can find out more about that book when you go to FamilyLifeToday.com, as well; or you can call to order a copy from us: 1-800-FL-TODAY is our number. That’s 1-800-FL-TODAY. Let me just say this is not a book that I would encourage mothers and fathers to give to their adult children as a Christmas gift. Don’t give them a copy of the book Start Your Family. Just let them find that one on their own; okay? —alright.
I want to read to you an email we got from a listener, not long ago—a listener in Arizona—who said:
You guys have ministered to me a lot over the last six months. We have two children; and I have been in a sort of survival mode for the last several months—many days just making sure everybody is fed, loved, diapers changed. Then, I plop into bed, at the first opportunity, and get as much sleep as possible.
When our son was just a few weeks old, I found your program on the radio; and it’s been a great blessing. In fact, recently, my local radio station accidentally played another program in your time slot; and I immediately called the program manager, almost in a panic, thinking you might have discontinued airing your program. FamilyLife Today is my bread and butter—constant encouragement and input every weekday. You guys keep me going.
I just thought you’d want to know that there are some young moms out here who almost panic at the thought of not having your program on the station every day. You are making a difference.
Well, I tell you, we had to smile when we got that email—just the picture it conjured up, in our minds, about what’s going on in a lot of homes—but it also sobered us a little bit because, in recent days, FamilyLife Today has seen a decline in donations from radio listeners. As a result, we are having to make some tough decisions about things to slow down on, things to stop, some things we’re going to have to discontinue or set aside for a while.
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We hope you can join us back again tomorrow. Author and speaker Jim Keller is going to be with us. We’re going to talk about an upside down marriage. He says that’s a good thing. So, it may be different than what you’re thinking about when you think about an upside down marriage. We’ll talk it about it tomorrow. Hope you can tune in for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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