It was edited by the former Catholic Herald editor, Peter Stanford, who succeeded in securing contributions from an eclectic group.
There was Cherie Booth, wife of former Prime Minister Tony Blair, who wrote that her attachment to Catholicism was partly rooted in a determination to deny her children lives of excessive ease. “I didn’t want them to be too comfortable,” she wrote. “I wanted them to have that little bit of grit in their lives that is there in Catholicism.”
Testimonials for large family life will not be available indefinitely.
The rugby league player Shaun Edwards talked candidly about his struggles with faith and how, in the week before he sat down to write his essay, he’d left church during Mass. He objected to the homily about the Iraq War being said by the priest.
There were wonderful insights from broadcasters like Dermot O’Leary and Edward Stourton. Wisdom and humour from Frank Cottrell-Boyce and Mel Giedroyc. The link between politics and faith, as explored by Bruce Kent and Patricia Scotland.
Sometimes there was overlap, but for the most part it was striking how Catholicism meant such different things to different people. And for the reader, perhaps sometimes plodding their own lonely Catholic way through life, there was the sense of reaffirmation that comes from realising you are far from being alone.
So many of us lay people are used to being on the back-foot in the workplace, with friends, even with family. But here was a comforting chorus of reasoning. The overall effect of the book was as if to say: don’t feel marginalised – these (reassuringly normal) people are here to remind you that Catholicism is still really quite mainstream.
It’s the literary equivalent of making politicians speak with a large audience of supporters behind them.
And I would love to see large families get the same treatment.
By which I mean? An anthology of essays by people who’ve grown-up in big families. Not all of them would present a picture of unalloyed joy. That’s sort of the point. Large families are often schools of hard knocks. But it’s rare to find the product of one who hasn’t got a good word to say about growing up with several siblings.
We could invite Sadiq Khan to offer up an essay. The London Mayor is one of eight children and one of five brothers. Did it make him more competitive? We can guess what Rachel Johnson (one of four and sister of Boris) would say about that.
The large family in the developed world is increasingly rare. In Britain, the majority family unit involves an only child and no siblings at all.
Does anyone have an email address for Jonathan Ross? I’d love to know whether he attributes his gift of the gab to birth order. He was the youngest of six. It’s said that younger children have to learn to avoid getting overlooked or bullied in big families by being funny or witty. Was that his experience? Don’t you learn to perform with the ever-present audience provided by large families? We could ask the actor and one-of-six Jude Akuwudike.
What about arty types? Isn’t it possible to get lost in a big family, escape the helicopter parenting that singletons endure, and find expression in music, literature or, indeed, sculpture. It’s a question for Anthony Gormley perhaps. He grew up as one of seven.
And so it goes on. The key point is that these testimonials for large family life will not be available indefinitely. The large family in the developed world is increasingly rare. In Britain, the majority family unit involves an only child and no siblings at all. So there is a sense in which such an anthology would be act of curation as much as persuasion.
But persuasive I believe it could be. People who grow up in large families often cite it as the most profoundly influential experience in their lives. For those who enjoyed the experience, how easy was it to repeat it for their own children, given the headwinds that now blow so hard against fecundity?
But the most important aspect of such an anthology might just be that it could help debunk one of the main reasons people have historically avoided having a large family – that it is the enemy of aspiration and material attainment. By presenting a line-up of essayists who attribute some of their success to growing up in a large family, we challenge the idea that, where family formation is concerned, less is more.
Colin Brazier is the author of Sticking Up For Siblings: Who’s Deciding the Size of Britain’s Families? (Civitas)
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