The Deacon's Bench

That’s the premise of this intriguing piece from the New York Times — and they make a pretty persuasive argument:

The comment from the photographer at Sears was typical. “Are these all yours?” she asked, surveying Kim Gunnip’s 12 children.

“No,” Mrs. Gunnip replied, “I picked some up at the food court.”

But it was harder to find a retort for the man in line at the supermarket, who said within earshot of her youngest children, “You must have a great sex life.”

Now her family, like other larger families, as they call themselves, is facing endless news coverage of the octuplets born in California and a new round of scorn, slack jaws and stupid jokes.

Back when the average woman had more than three children, big families were the Kennedys of Hickory Hill and Hyannis Port, “Cheaper by the Dozen,” the Cosbys or “Eight is Enough” — lovable tumbles of offspring as all-American in their scrapes as in their smiles.

But as families have shrunk, and parents helicopter over broods tinier yet more precious, a vanload of children has taken on more of a freak show factor. The families know the stereotypes: they’re polygamists, religious zealots, reality-show hopefuls or Québécois in it for the per-child government bonus. And isn’t there something a little obsessive about Angelina Jolie’s quest for her own World Cup soccer team?

“Look at the three shows on TLC that have bigger families,” said Meagan Francis, the 31-year-old author of “Table for Eight,” which stems from her experience raising four children (she is expecting her fifth next month). “One is about religious fundamentalists, one has sextuplets, the other is a family of little people,” she said, referring to, respectively, the Duggars of “17 Kids and Counting,” “Jon and Kate Plus Eight” and “Little People, Big World,” about two dwarfs raising four children, three of average stature, on a pumpkin farm in Oregon.

“You get the feeling,” Ms. Francis added, “that anybody who has more than three kids is either doing it for bizarre reasons or there’s a medical anomaly.”

In the last several days, the British government’s environmental adviser declared it “irresponsible” to have more than two children. And Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House, asserted that including contraception in the stimulus package could reduce government spending. Ms. Pelosi, herself the mother of five, was arguing against unwanted pregnancies, not families who choose to have big broods. But no matter — larger families see the attacks piling up.

On Internet forums and blogs, like and, the mothers defend themselves against the accusations that they can’t possibly give each child enough love or that they are hogging the earth’s scarce resources. They resist, and resent, efforts to lump them with the Duggars, the Jon and Kates and the octuplets.

Many mothers, in fact, shared the revulsion and the ethical questions about the in vitro fertilization that led to the birth of the eight babies by the unwed and unemployed California mother. Yet they also say that the reaction to her turned harsh only when it was revealed that she had six additional children. Octuplets were amazing; 14 is gross.

Referring to a news show correspondent who seemed “disgusted” by the story, one mother on wrote, “I wanted to bounce her judgmental little head off a wall.”

Ms. Francis, the founder of, said, “I can’t imagine having 14 children, but I do think it’s possible to raise 14 and do a great job.”

She continued: “People feel like they have some say or some ownership over your kids or the way kids are being raised. It’s this symbol of who you are and your values.”

There’s much more at the Times link. Check it out.

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