Large families, once the norm among all classes, are now extraordinarily rare. So it is significant that the authors of two recent books on marriage and family life that I have blogged about both have six children. They are Harry and Kate Benson, who are Anglicans, and Jennifer Fulwiler and her husband Joe, who are Catholic converts in the US.
It seems that having a strong Christian faith and thus believing in the sacramental indissolubility of marriage sometimes gives couples the confidence to have lots of children. They have discovered the secret, hidden from their more cautious or conventional contemporaries that larger families can generate more joie de vivre and happiness rather than merely more stress and bigger bills.
Having been very amused by Jennifer Fulwiler’s upbeat account of her often crazy family life, I asked her a few questions: for a start, what does she consider the principal joys of having a big family? She tells me that as an only child married to another only child, “I see the beauty in families of all sizes. But since it is so different from my own background, I’m constantly amazed by how much fun it is to have six kids. With eight people in our house, it feels like every day is a party. There is always something going on – it’s a very lively environment!”
What advice would she give to other couples who think they simply can’t afford another baby? Jennifer is unhesitating in her response: “It always works out. Always. I learned this from the wonderful immigrant families at my parish. Many of their parents and grandparents had children back in their home countries under conditions of dire poverty, and they firmly believe that babies are always blessings and that you can always find room for one more.”
Fulwiler is part of a growing community of home-schooling families. What are her reasons for such a radical decision? She tells me with enthusiasm that she and her husband “love the flexibility of schedule that comes with it. I recently did a nine-city book tour of the eastern US to celebrate the release of my latest book, One Beautiful Dream, and we took all six kids with us! It was a wonderful educational experience for them and home-schooling allows us to do that kind of thing.”
Finally, given that she is a convert to the Church, I am curious to know about her favourite devotions and saints. Jennifer responds readily, “We both love the Liturgy of the Hours and try to pray Vespers as a family as often as possible. After we converted I found out that I have a distant cousin who is a Benedictine monk and an iconographer. This got me interested in icons and that has been a wonderful addition to my prayer-life.”
She reflects, “Like many people in our part of the world [Austin, Texas], we have a devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe and we are constantly inspired by St Benedict and his Rule.”