The Big Family Backlash: Is Having A Dozen Kids Selfish?

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Super-sized families have been getting more attention than ever. From reality television shows, tabloid news coverage and even a special on Nightline. But the Duggars, Bates, and Sulemons have also inspired some serious anger in those that believe large families are fundamentally wrong. Just take a look at the comments made on ABC’s article about the Bates family.

majestikmoose says, “This disgusts me to a point that I almost cried. I know several women who have had hysterectomies for medical reasons unrelated to childbirth and are now barren and without children. There are a number of children in orphanages who, for whatever reason, do not have “parents.” I cannot understand, let alone condone, this narcissism…”

cdr246 says, “On behalf of the real world, Sorry to say, but i hope that this is her last attempted birth. Why would you bring so many to this crap storm. You are no better than the mothers of Somali pirate babies that are starving now. SELFISH!! why couldn’t you have taken in some needy kids instead? forget the money problems you put on society, the toll you take on the planet is huge, God won’t forgive u, u are going to kill millions early. Good Job!”

ftk65 says, “I feel that any family having over two(2) children should NOT get any tax deductions for the additional children. The world is overpopulated as it is. These people should be ashamed of the burden that they are putting on our world. Have they never heard of birth control. Just more people to pollute the world.”

All in all, there were 193 comments on the piece so far. Though some of them were supportive, these were not the only disparaging remarks among the bunch, and they weren’t the most mean-spirited either. As someone who supports a woman’s right to decide what happens in her own uterus, I feel pretty strongly that any woman should be able to have as many children as she likes. I think that if you don’t want to have any children, that’s your right. And if you want to have 18, it’s still your right. Women should be in charge of their own reproduction, even if that woman’s choice is to leave it up to her faith.

Obviously, we were not always so hard on large families. They used to be much more common than they are now. Even after people needed children to work on a farm and earn their keep, lack of contraception, conservative values and more supportive communities led many couples to have more children. While I’m one of three kids, two of my grandparents had siblings in the double digits. Even if families weren’t enormous, they still might have had five or six children without anyone commenting on the issue at all. Fast forward to the new millennium and its a whole different story.

Most of the big family criticism falls into three categories. Here’s a brief outline of each.

  • Why can’t you adopt? There are millions of children in need of homes. Why would someone choose to have ten children naturally when they can adopt ten children who need a loving family? As I’ve said before, adoption and choosing to have a child are not the same. Adoption is a wonderful process and it should be encouraged and supported, but every woman has a right to bear her own children. Adoption is not a simple process where a family wants a baby and they go pick one up from an orphanage. It costs thousands of dollars and has its own unique set of issues. The two are not interchangeable. So I think its unfair to chastise a woman for having her own baby instead of adopting. Would you say the same to a woman only have one child? Would you tell the childless that they are selfish for not adopting a baby? We should all strive to help those who are most vulnerable. We can do that through volunteer work, donations and simple awareness. But a woman who has a child should not feel guilty because she decided to have her own instead of adopting.
  • You can’t possibly take care of that many kids. In large families, it’s almost inevitable that the older children will help with chores, cooking and raising their younger siblings. Many people think that this is unfair to the older kids who get saddled with responsibility for their siblings and don’t get to be kids themselves. Often, people paint the picture of women like Michelle Duggar sitting around, being pregnant and her daughters doing all of the work. I can understand this criticism, because I believe that each child needs individual love and attention, and it’s difficult to provide when the ratio of adult to children is so low. But at the same time, these children are being raised in a different culture than I’m used to. Helping their family and working in their home is part of their culture. It’s a belief that gets passed down through generations, some people choose to continue this tradition and others do not. On farms across the country, children are still expected to help with chores. I’ve never heard anyone criticize an Amish family who stays out of the spotlight but expects their children to wake up before dawn and complete a couple hours work before school. It teaches a responsibility and dedication to one’s family that many of us would do better to emulate.
  • You’re ruining the environment, one baby at a time. Or you’re a financial drain on the rest of the country. This is where the word “overpopulation” will be thrown around. Overpopulation has been a concern for the past 200 years. The science on whether we will deplete all of our natural resources sometime in the near future is obviously complex. Search online and you can find numerous studies to defend each point of view. I will say, it’s funny that telling someone else how to reproduce is the newest way to go green. Instead of altering our own lifestyles, it’s much easier to point out what others are doing wrong. And families like the Duggars and Bates’s, which seem to have pretty strong financials, don’t receive any government assistance and have less debt than the average American family, yet they are still seen as a drain on the country’s resources. The fact is that even with a small amount of parents choosing to have large families, the birth rate in the US is still at an all time low. And its been declining for the past 12 years.

China forces families to have a single child and the world is appalled. Yet when a family in the United States exercises their right to have a large family, we chastise them for selfishness. Maybe these people are selfish, but I don’t think its because they have a large amount of children. They are following their beliefs and they are raising responsible and happy kids. I believe that every woman has a right to choose when, how and if she wants to have children, and that applies to both ends of the spectrum.

(Photo: The Gil & Kelly Bates Family Website)