I'm noticing something disturbing going on in the conversations about responsible parenthood.
Apparently, some people seem to think that discussing the Church's teaching on the subject at all, mentioning that the Church expects us to provide food, clothing, shelter, and education for each of our children, and raising the questions of prudent considerations when families face various difficulties whether physical, mental, emotional or financial, is the same thing as looking down our noses at all those people having babies.
This saddens me.
I've stressed over and over again that to talk about this subject does not mean judging others. Two women, both with five children, both facing the same financial problems, may reach two completely different decisions about seeking to add baby number six to the family, and that's nobody's business to judge but their own, in conjunction with their husbands and, if necessary, their spiritual advisers. Like all prudential decisions we're supposed to communicate, pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit, make our decision, and then be at peace in the knowledge that we have sought God's will and done our best to determine it and to carry it out. The rest is just details.
But those details can be interesting and informative--not our personal details, which are, again, nobody's business but our own, but general principles by which we can seek to know God's will and to serve Him.
If we read a book about how wonderful a devotion to the daily rosary is, is the author judging everyone who doesn't pray the rosary daily?
If a priest preaches a homily about the Precepts of the Church, and mentions some ways that we can fulfill the fifth one (contributing to the support of the Church), is he demanding that every single person in the congregation give a certain percent of their incomes, and judging those who can't do so?
If a conference speaker talks about the joys of homeschooling, and how beneficial this is for Catholic families and the spiritual lives of the children, is every person there who does not homeschool being judged for not making this choice in their lives?
Circumstances, opportunities, graces, calls and our ability to respond to these will all vary widely from person to person, couple to couple and family to family. But we don't get very far if we clamp down and refuse to discuss things like prayer life, tithing, methods of educating our children and the like because we are afraid that somewhere in the details of these things lurks a general statement that some person or group of people are likely to take as a personal insult.
The Church is pretty clear about our duties in regards to responsible parenthood, as far as the general principles go. The details can be important for each family to consider carefully, but no one is expecting or demanding that all families everywhere must make identical choices all of the time, or face the scorn of the smaller families on the one hand or the scoffing of the larger families on the other. Frankly, the considerations about prudence rarely have anything to do with family size: a family of four may not be able to put food on the table, while a family of twelve may be comparatively wealthy and be able to afford an Ivy-league education for each child. But not one of us is absolved from the duty to consider what we owe our children--we promise when we marry to take seriously our obligation toward our eventual children, and that means learning about and understanding what the Church has said and written about both the blessings and the responsibilities of parenthood.