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I Didn’t Have My Children to Make the Polar Bears Weep

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Once upon a time when my husband and I announced our fifth child was on the way, a friend asked if we knew what caused that. (We now have nine kids).

I told him I suspected it had something to do with my practice of washing my underwear with my husband’s.

I regretted the snarky comeback immediately, but I know why I unleashed my frustration.

The misconceptions, prejudices, and near-constant scrutiny of our choice to have a large family is tiresome and often grounded in ignorance. Only slack-jawed rubes from the sticks, religious zealots, or those taking advantage of the government and natural resources have large families, right? Sometimes, people who see our family assume all of the above. I’m thinking we should start carrying banjos and moonshine jugs around, just to complete the effect.

The questions are relentless:

Are you Mormon/Catholic? Do you take government assistance? Are you rich/What does your husband do? Don’t you know the world’s population is out of control? What do you drive? Do you homeschool? Can you remember all their names? Are they all yours? Do they all have the same father?

We’ve been audibly counted in various languages. One time, when we went to Boulder’s Pearl Street Mall, we were the freaks on the corner, garnering more stares than the dude with dreadlocks eating fire off flaming arrows. I almost took off my youngest son’s hat to pass around for spare change.

I don’t mind answering most questions. At this point, I am used to not being able to take our children to buy groceries without being stopped multiple times. But I hate how defensive I can get regarding my family when the questions turn hostile. I love every one of my children and it’s terrible to feel I must defend their very existence on our planet. Some people believe only our first two children have the “right” to be here.

So I find myself breathlessly bragging that on trash day, we have the one of the least amounts on our street—usually one rolling can for eight people. We recycle everything recyclable. We re-use the re-usable. We don’t jet around the world on vacations. In fact, we are respectful of every morsel of food, drop of water, gallon of gas.

The footprints we leave may be a few more than yours.

But they won’t be any deeper.

We are happy to announce our seventh baby is on the way. We anticipate he or she will bring far more to the world than will take from the world.

The greatest resource is human.

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  • comment avatar Bethany July 9, 2008

    Beautifully written! And I’m glad you have every one of them! If we start running out of oxygen or something, I’ll share my portion with you all! πŸ˜›

    I think your family is beautiful and I’m so happy and excited about the new one growing in you! I think you are very blessed!

    And if you want to celebrate by buying a gas-guzzling SUV, you go right ahead. You have my blessing.

  • comment avatar Beck July 9, 2008

    When we get asked “Do you know what causes that?” – which happens FREQUENTLY – my husband always answers “Yes. Do you need some pointers?”.

  • comment avatar Tonyia July 9, 2008

    Well said!

    I only have one myself, but my husband and I both come from large families and it’s wonderful. Congrats on the newest addition!

  • comment avatar Shayne July 9, 2008

    It would take everything in me not to thump those people on the head! I can’t imagine why perfect strangers would think that you somehow were interested in their rude and useless commentary on the size of your family. Though they must be related to all of the equally rude people who commented on the size of my belly when I was pregnant!

    This post is beautifully written. I love how you seem to have such great perspective on the things in life that would just irritate me to no end.

  • comment avatar Rachel Chip July 9, 2008

    Your comment might have been snarky, but it made me giggle!
    I come from a family of four kids and LOVED it, I hope and pray that I can have a large family of my own someday, too.

  • comment avatar Heidi July 9, 2008

    What on earth is wrong with people? Even if they’re thinking such horrible thoughts, what is it that causes them to say it aloud?

  • comment avatar Kelly @ Love Well July 9, 2008

    I think your comeback was entirely appropriate. I believe even Miss Manners would approve. She’s said several times in her column that the best response to an inappropriate question is a clipped, short response which clearly communicates, “This is none of your business. End of discussion.”

    So happy for you and your family! You are blessed indeed!

  • comment avatar Melissa July 9, 2008

    That’s as bad as people asking a childless couple, “So, when are you going to start having kids?” As though it were as easy as going to the 7-11 and buying a slurpee. And as if it’s any of their business.

  • comment avatar Kim July 9, 2008

    I have fallen in love with being a mommy and my son! I have a big family and that’s why I love Thanksgiving. Congrats on your new expected bundle of love!

  • comment avatar Joanne July 9, 2008

    Congratulations Gretchen! Well said. I marvel at the rudeness of people. But I’ve been equally amazed at how little trash my large family generated compared to my neighbors who have 1 and 2 children.

  • comment avatar Beth - total mom haircut July 9, 2008

    Wow, I can’t believe some of the things that people have the gall to ask you. It sounds like you take it all in stride. I can see how some snark could come out every once in a while. Some of those comments are just ignorant and down right rude. Go you and your big family.

    Whenever I have a really hard day with my two boys, I think to myself, “you can do this – think of Gretchen!” and I press on:)


  • comment avatar child's play July 9, 2008

    I frequently travel around with my 4 neices & nephews, which makes 7 kids total including my 3. Sometimes I feel like we’re a walking circus act with the looks we get.

    I’ve found people are the most hostile in grocery stores. ??? Maybe because we clog up the aisles?

    Whatever. I think it’s great! Congratulations!

  • comment avatar Carol July 9, 2008

    I have the opposite problem. I feel that I have to defend that I’ve chosen not to have any children of my own. While people don’t think you should have more than two, they also believe you should have at least one! I think that raising my stepdaughter is enough for me but apparently everyone else believes I am wrong.

    Tell all those people who question your big family that there is a girl in Texas who chose not to have kids so you are justified in having more than two! πŸ˜‰

  • comment avatar Veronica @ Toddled Dredge July 9, 2008

    I snarkily suggest that since my children will be paying the complainer’s medicare bills, maybe they should muster up some gratitude.

  • comment avatar Tonggu Momma @ Our Little Tongginator July 9, 2008

    As an adoptive parent, I face a similar situation. I’m so sick of people questioning the manner in which we chose to build our family. What gives them the right?!?! The number of children you have, the age spacing, how those children came to be part of your family — they all fall into the MYOB category, in my opinion. Congrats on being a momma to ALL of your children (oh, and my sister has four — two boys, two girls).

  • comment avatar Jeanne July 9, 2008

    As my parents 7th child, I want to extend my congratulations to you. I have been blessed with 3 children and even at that number have been confronted with rude comments. Dont dwell on the ignorance of others. Rejoice in your happy family!

  • comment avatar Anonymous July 9, 2008

    Awesome post!! Great job.

    Mary, mom to many

  • comment avatar edj July 9, 2008

    Oh why are people so rude?
    I got called a “breeder” once when I was pg with my first. I laughed it off, but I was annoyed. I only have 3, and since 2 are twins I only had 2 pregnancies, so basically everyone is happy with me. πŸ™‚ (I would have had 3 anyway) But I can’t believe how people feel it is their business to make such personal comments on other people’s personal choices.
    Mary at Owlhaven had an article done on her at CNN, and I couldn’t believe how many people left comments being super-critical of her.
    I’m sorry you have to put up with this.

  • comment avatar Amy July 9, 2008

    I honestly wonder why people feel it’s ok to ask perfect strangers some of the most personal questions!! We have ourt 3 boys and I can’t go anywhere with them with out being asked if they are all mine. ALL? Since when is 3 kids to many? And the looks of pity I get sometimes? I had these children because I WANTED them. Because I LOVE them. I don’t need pity for that!

    Ooooo boy – I didn’t realize I had that pent up in me lol!

  • comment avatar Rocks In My Dryer July 9, 2008

    Next time ask the ranters to tell you which one of your kids shouldn’t be here.

    You tell ’em, sister.

  • comment avatar Jamie ( July 9, 2008

    It seems that the unbelievably the rude people you have encountered should spend less time worrying about whether or not your family has “too many children,” and more time making an effort to improve their bad manners.

  • comment avatar Carolyn July 9, 2008

    Conversely when you have only one child, as I do, people look at you in pity and ask why only 1. Not that it is anyone’s business why people make the choice (or have it chosen for them) as to why they have 1 or 7 children.

  • comment avatar Heidi Ahrens July 9, 2008

    Thank you for that post. I only have one child and am thinking : Do I stop here? Do we have more?

    Reading your post makes me think go for a big family just to show them.

  • comment avatar Jenny July 10, 2008

    Just know you are so not alone! My 6th is about to turn 1 and I think I’ve heard it all. My response to almost all questions now is “Why would you want to know THAT?” It shuts them up. The worst I’ve heard was a male aquaintence in line at the little league snack bar said, “You’re done now right? I sure hope so!” I looked right at him and said, “Why do you care?” He sputtered something about knowing how much work his 2 are….

  • comment avatar Jess July 10, 2008

    I agree with you all that children are a blessing, and many children are a HUGE blessing. I have three of my own. I don’t agree with people making rude comments or evil eyes. I have been on the receiving end of those myself.

    All that to say, I do understand a bit about where these people’s feelings come from. Many of them, as I am, are a little freaked out about the general sustainability of life as we know it in America. The kind of life where it is possible to live fairly well and have many children to enjoy and support.

    Unfortunately, in many ways, our lifestyles are made possible by companies that pay pennies a day to other families in other countries who also want to love and enjoy large families, but who are eking out life on next to nothing. We should all be (and it sounds like you are) taking measures to limit our consumerism, our waste, and the impact our habits have on the greater world.

    Many people where I live, in Madison WI, are not just making small changes, they are making HUGE changes – like adopting children from other countries even though they could have their own, only buying local food, and severely limiting the amount of money they pass on to corporations and companies that have negligent and wasteful practices. We JUST got a SuperWalmart in town, after years and years of protest.

    So, anyway, when people are scared, they blame, and criticize, and give dirty looks and make mean comments. I really think fear is more the issue, and we have a remedy for quite a lot of those fears. We have a hope they probably don’t have in an eternity free from these types of concerns.

  • comment avatar Jane July 12, 2008

    Congratulations to you!
    We are also expecting our seventh and have heard all those same ignorant comments before. My favorite response to, “How do you DO it?” is a calmly stated, “Seven (or however many) WELL-BEHAVED children are much easier than one or two un-disciplined ones.” We have had doctors ask us, even, BEFORE a pregnancy, “You already have so many, why would you WANT another?” As if to imply that a parent’s love diminishes with each baby.
    May God Bless you and yours abundantly.

  • comment avatar Laura V. July 12, 2008

    Hi, I’ve never visited here before (just found you thru a link on someone else’s blog!), but I wanted to add my congrats on your newest addition! I also wanted to say horray for you! We are expecting #3 in 2 months time and I’ve been asked some of those same questions, seriously, it’s only THREE, so far……. Children are to be cherished and so many people just do not understand that. They are such a blessing! I actually wrote a post very similar to your a few months ago. my blog is

  • comment avatar Laura V. July 12, 2008

    PS – I live in Colorado Springs!

  • comment avatar CarolinaMama July 12, 2008

    Well said. Just a short time ago, I was one of five and I don’t remember my parents ever being quizzed like this. We get quizzed a lot about our twins. Or why we consider more children. Congratulations on the 7th!

  • comment avatar Fuschia July 12, 2008

    As a mama to five girls I hear you, sister!
    My husband has started answering the “Do you know what causes that?” question with, “Yep. We just like it!!”
    I was recently forced to defend our choice to not immunize our kids *gasp* to a doctor *more gasping*. What I wanted to do was to push his buttons about the 101 ways WE sacrifice to give OUR kids an exceptional home life, and force HIM to defend the choices HE has made regarding HIS family!!
    But…I didn’t πŸ˜‰ Freedom is a double-edged sword!

  • comment avatar suburbancorrespondent July 12, 2008

    Bravo! I like that.

    And, if someone asks you if you know what causes that, the proper response is “No! What?”

  • comment avatar suburbancorrespondent July 12, 2008

    Whoops! Meant to add my URL to that comment (you guys don’t have a space for it). I blog at The More, The Messier.

  • comment avatar Amy July 12, 2008

    When someone makes insensitive comments about your family, remember that there are lots of us who don’t make comments because we wish our families could look a bit more like yours…we just don’t say anything. I think larger families are just fantastic. You are so blessed to have one. I think sometimes people assume I have one child by choice, but that’s not the case. We hope he won’t be an only child for much longer!

  • comment avatar Anonymous July 12, 2008

    Great post and congrats on the new baby.

    I have a friend that has 7 girls…all girls. That usually garners some sort of remark from people. My favorite comebacks that they use:

    Are you Mormon/Catholic?
    Her response: Nope, just passionate Protestants!

    Her husband’s response to:
    How do you live with SO MANY girls/women?
    His response: I just begin every sentence with “I’m sorry”!


  • comment avatar Jenni July 12, 2008

    Love it, Gretchen. LOVE IT. Would you believe that our family of 13 puts out ONE trash barrel every trash day, too? Far less than our 2-kid family neighbors. Love the “more footprints but not any deeper” line.

  • comment avatar Jenni July 12, 2008

    Oops I see that I was invited to share my blog link too…

  • comment avatar chickadee July 12, 2008

    great post! your last line is right on.

  • comment avatar Anna July 12, 2008

    Well, we *are* some of those things, and it’s still okay!

  • comment avatar Runningamuck July 12, 2008

    We get the same comments over our four children. And as hard as I try, I still feel my mama bear hackles rise everytime. If we were using government money to raise our children, then it would be everyone’s business how many children we had and if we were having any more. But we don’t, so it’s not. =0) My husband would go work 3 fast food jobs to support our family rather than take any government welfare.

    Great post!! Thanks for pointing out what we forget is obvious to us that have more than 2 children but is completely unknown to the majority of those that don’t.

  • comment avatar Anonymous July 12, 2008

    Recently after the tragedies in China, the Chinese government announced that they may lift the 2 child limit since many people had lost a child. I think of the Chinese and how they have suffered, left children on the side of the road in hope of someone finding them. They would give anything to have the freedom to have more children. We take that freedom for granted.

    THANK YOU for reminding us all of the value of a human. We are, in fact, the only creatures made in HIS image.

  • comment avatar learning patience July 12, 2008

    Found this post at Rocks In My Dryer, and I just love it! Might even link here myself. I have been getting crazy looks and comments all summer. I’m growing a bit weary of it, and pray that I can keep my tongue next time someone says something out of place…though I’m totally going to remember your snarky comment and laugh!

  • comment avatar Tamara Cosby July 12, 2008

    I am a mother of four children and my husband and myself would like to adopt two more. I LOVE having a large family and can’t wait to expand ours!!!!

  • comment avatar Mozi Esme July 12, 2008

    Congratulations! New life is always a miracle and a blessing! My sister has 7 kids, and they always seem to be having a blast . . .

  • comment avatar AprilMay July 12, 2008

    Great post! We have three boys and are thinking of trying for a fourth; however, I know a lot of people will assume (and probably open their big mouths about it) that we are “trying” for a girl rather than just wanting a large family! I’ll have to start thinking of comebacks now…

  • comment avatar Marlene July 13, 2008

    I am from a family with five children. I’m the youngest. All I can tell you is that it is wonderful having a big family. My Mom got those questions back then and she laughed and said, “I love children.” No one really had a reply to that.

    Enjoy your children and beautiful family.


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  • comment avatar Cibbit July 13, 2008

    Amen! I love your last comment, “The greatest Resource is Human.” I think that sometimes people concerned with saving the planet, despite good intentions forget that.

    My sister just had her fifth child and although I am not sure that I have the patience to have more than three, I am in awe of her and I love each of my nieces and nephew.
    By the way, my mother is the youngest of five.

  • comment avatar Grateful for Grace July 13, 2008

    You go, girl! We just had our sixth and I totally understand and love your comment- “it’s terrible to feel I have to defend their existence on this planet”. Sigh. So sad, really, that so many people feel this way. My kiddos are da’ bomb!
    Congrats on #7’s impending arrival!

  • comment avatar Suzanne B. July 13, 2008

    Thank you! I couldn’t have ever said it better myself. Being a single mom of six, NOT on government assistance, driving a truck and having some amazingly smart and well behaved children, I HATE the questions.

    The worst was a bus driver at my job asked, “You aren’t having any more, right?” When I shrugged he said, “No you aren’t. This isn’t the world you want kids in. You will stop now”.


    I was pregnant and it made me want to have more right then! How dare you tell me how many kids I can/can not have.

    I too get the question “Don’t you know what causes that?” all the time.. My answer…

    “Yes, and I’m obviously pretty good at it”

    Snarky or not, I’m tired of people thinking they are being “witty” with that statement.

  • comment avatar respino July 14, 2008

    I think you put it rather nicely. I am pregnant with our fourth and I get stares in the stores. I live in Lithuania where 2 kids is the max in most families. I think this is mostly due to low income. Every once in a while we see families of three or four.

    I used to think it was our responsibility to limit the family size. Now, I think children are a blessing and a heritage from the Lord. “Blessed is he whose quiver is full”. As far as I am concerned family size should be up to the Lord. If the world runs out of oxygen…well, then we will happily meet our maker with all our children by our side.

  • comment avatar Antique Mommy July 14, 2008

    Oh the unending questions.

    And you know what? They are just as bad if you choose not to have children – what’s wrong with you? Do you not like children? Are you evil and heartless? Or if you choose to only have one child – What’s wrong with you? Don’t you know your child will be lonely. Or if you choose not to adopt. What’s wrong with you? Don’t you know that there are children who need all that you could offer. How could you be so heartless?

    It never ceases to amaze me the assumptions and judgments friends and strangers will make on my/your life.

  • comment avatar Rhen @yestheyareallmine July 14, 2008

    I read your post and felt as if I had written it! We are planning on having a 7th and when someone finds out about it they are blown away. Why?
    Our family also creates far less garbage than most families half our size, we don’t take any handouts, my husband works hard for his family and we are not mormon or catholic.
    It is always nice to meet more larger than average families!

  • comment avatar darci July 14, 2008

    hey that’s GREAT! congratulations. what a well written piece. can you believe we got the ‘do you know how that happens’ or even better ‘was this PLANNED?’ when i was preggers with our third. people…congrats!

  • comment avatar Anonymous July 14, 2008

    Awesome! That is wonderful! Congratulations! (I have 8.)

  • comment avatar Holly July 14, 2008

    Didn’t mean for that above comment to be anonymous!


  • comment avatar Jennifer July 16, 2008

    Congratulations! I’m glad I read your post. I just found out two days ago we will be having a 4th. I was filled with fear of being pregnant again (hard pregnancies) but as soon as I saw the + I was filled with complete peace and love for this little tiny new being. I know I am going to be having many comments and questions asked of me. oh well…

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  • comment avatar Anonymous July 21, 2010

    I am struggling with the idea of even bringing one child into this world. There are so many unwanted children, did you ever consider adopting? You may be a ‘green’ as possible, but I still think it’s selfish to keep producing children when the world is over populated and over it’s carrying capacity.

  • comment avatar Rhonda January 11, 2011

    Great post. You’ll never make all the people happy all the time, so it was great to see that your focus remains on doing what’s right by you and your family.

    It’s maddening that you have to field so many questions about your life’s choices, because IMHO it’s our families that bring the most joy and fulfillment to our lives. I would not sacrifice that to merely appease other people. Keep your head up!

  • comment avatar Jenny July 15, 2014

    The only real cure for selfishness is to become the caretaker and nurturer of another person. Parenting, while not the only way, is a surefire fast track to cure selfishness. How much sweeter would life be if more people embraced the great joy of bringing new life into the world instead of fretting about how short, nasty, and brutish this life is? Bravo to you and your husband. We’re on #3 and just starting to get the comments. Let ’em come. I know when my 6 siblings and I sit around our parent’s backyard enjoying each other as adults, not a single one of us wishes there were fewer faces. I know too many adults who do, however, long for siblings.

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