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Are Big Families Contagious?

Updated: Sep 18, 2021

I remember as a young girl watching a Canadian mini-series about the famous Dionne quintuplets.

I was so fascinated by their story.

There was one scene where the parents were speaking to a large audience. The father took a step toward a woman in the crowd who raised her hands and warned him not to get too close, voicing her concerns that it could be contagious. She laughed afterwards, as did the whole audience, but I think there may be some merit to her comments, albeit on a different level.

My husband and I are the proud parents of 14 children.

Like other super-sized families, we’ve had to respond to numerous inquiries from the incredulous strangers who stand jaw-dropped as they count the occupants emerging from our mega-passenger van. Yes, they are all ours. Yes, we are Catholic. No, we don’t think we’re on direct orders from the pope. No, we are not related to rabbits, Catholic or otherwise. Do we know what causes it? Yes. Yes we do.

It’s contagious.

There is something magnetic about a large family. It’s hard to look away, but not in a train wreck sort of way (at least I hope not).

The truth is that, as children, both my husband and I were exposed to very large families. We simply weren’t warned of the risks.

When my husband was 12 years old, he travelled with his family to Ireland where he met many of his father’s relatives. One family had fourteen children.

A family that size has a way of absorbing visiting children.

He was swept up into a world of games, excitement, and adventure. Amongst the wide range of ages, he readily connected with several of his young cousins and benefited from the attention of the older siblings, who were the perfect age to push children to extreme heights on tire-swings hanging from tall trees. The joy and sense of camaraderie he experienced was almost tangible. We are pretty sure that that was his point of contagion.

For my part, I caught the “all-the-babies” bug by the time I hit the age of reason. Of course, everyone around me questioned my having any “reason” at all as I declared my intention to have 12 kids (or thereabouts). However, I now understand that it was inevitable. I was exposed to an amazing family from our church who had 11 children. They were fun, warm, confident and intriguing. They were quite the mix of personalities and traits. They could butt heads at times, but were secure in their love for each other, and held the strength of a devoted tribe. Their mother was easily one of the most joyful people I ever knew. If our capacity to love expands with each child we bear, she held the most abundant cup, and it was overflowing and pooling, and I lapped it up ... which was probably how I contracted whatever it is that makes people open to having a large family.

And now, an honest confession. We can’t stop the spread. We can’t even seem to slow it down or flatten the curve—that is my belly.

We may have infected a few other families, who have likely passed it onto others.

There is something magnetic about a large family.

It’s hard to look away, but not in a train wreck sort of way (at least I hope not). I believe it’s the spice of diverse personalities, unique but united in their effort to make a beautiful life together. Big families are beckons of light when the members embrace the natural gifts of large-family-living: plentiful opportunities for growth in patience, generosity, gratitude, and selflessness.

To function well, larger families require a team-player mentality from its members. Which, as it turns out, is a wonderful way to combat narcissism.

Generally, children from large families have a strong work ethic, they easily interact with a wide range of ages, and have an avid understanding that they are not the center of the universe—how could they be when they’ve witnessed parents and siblings drop everything to attend to the needs of the more vulnerable members. These are really good traits. I don’t think anyone would deny that our society is in desperate need of more selfless, giving members.

Where selfishness is stifled, love abounds.

This is not to say there won’t be members who have difficult personalities, or crosses that impact the whole family, but the blessing of a large family is that we face the challenges as a community, with members who lift and strengthen each other. The best large families foster a true spirit of unconditional love even when faced with trials.

There’s not a mask big enough to smother the witness of a large family, wholly dependent on God for graces, and trusting in His provision.

As I pull pizza crusts and asparagus ends out of my houseplants with a cross between a wince and a smile on my face, I admit that I wouldn’t have it any other way. There is more joy in this calling than I could ever have imagined. And if you look closely, you’ll see the evidence of this, as the most pronounced wrinkles on my face are laugh lines.

Just don’t get too close, or you might catch something.

Stay with us Lord! 

Mane Nobiscum Domine



Carissa Douglas is a Canadian author and illustrator, known especially for her Little Douglings brand—a series for kids in which a group of children is sent on a mission by God with the assistance of a Saint. Carissa is the mom of 14, and a passionate promoter of the culture of life and all things related to this: our awesome Catholic faith. While her kids are busy with school work and projects, she spends her downtime writing stories and illustrating. To follow the adventures of the Little Douglings, visit them here.

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