‘Five children?’ How to respond to comments about the size of our family

People often ask if I get strange looks or comments about our family size when I’m out and about with our five children. We rarely do.

Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock

Maybe I don’t notice them, and when I’m out I either have only a couple of children with me, or our family is part of a larger crowd of extended family or friends and so our number isn’t obvious.

But when we do get comments they tend to be extreme. I was unprepared for the response when I took our five plus one of their friends to our local takeaway the other day.

The owner recognised and greeted me and, noticing the children checking out the drinks and ice cream refrigerators, asked which ones were with me.

When I replied that all of them were he stared at them and back at me with obvious shock. I tried to help him out by pointing out our friend with us, but his face remained blank. I don’t know what he was thinking, but he sure took an uncomfortable length of time to think it.

Finally, he nodded with a serious expression in the direction of the doorway. “You know, there’s a doctors’ surgery across the road. You need to go there.”

“Oh, really?” I smiled at him, ignoring my embarrassed older child who was pulling gently on my arm, willing us to get away.

“Do you think they’ll help me have another five?” After another awkward pause while I held my gaze and my breath, he finally broke out in a smile. “You know what? I’m the eldest of seven. And I have four kids!”

Now I was surprised. Why on earth had he seemed so confronted by my five then?

“That’s awesome! How old are they?”

There was one daughter working in the kitchen with him, whom he called out to say ‘hello’, and the youngest is still in primary school.

Then my new friend began telling me about the tensions between himself and his sisters.

I couldn’t help but wonder if our order was ready, but tried to follow his conversation which had a hint of confession.

I’m sure if my kids hadn’t been milling around impatiently and I hadn’t been pointedly getting my payment ready he would have revealed more and maybe asked more. I’m sure we’ll hear more of his thoughts on large family life next time we get a hankering for the best hot chips in our suburb.

We ended on such a friendly note, but I can’t help but wonder how else that conversation might have gone if I had been in a different mood, sad, or tired, or defensive.

When we married, Peter and I knew that part of our vocation was to be a witness to married life, to love and responsibility, and if asked, our spirituality.

I’m sure we never realised just how public our witness would end up being, how we would always be on display because of these beautiful and highly visible children God has given us.

With a larger-than-average family, especially in our culture, it’s not possible to hide our faith under a bushel.

We need to be prepared to explain the reasons for it at a moment’s notice. We also need to live it fully, freely, and joyfully. Yesterday we met up with some dear old friends, celebrated Mass together and shared a picnic lunch.

In his homily our friend Fr Greg Homeming OCD asked us, as mature Christians, to be Christ in our increasingly polarised world, to love each person we meet and to allow wounded souls to touch us.

I don’t know if I’m quite up to that call to radical, Pauline, identification with Christ, but I agree that it is Christ we are called to both bring, and meet, in our everyday conversations, especially in those encounters where we meet shock, confusion, bitterness and jarringly different perspectives.