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The Terrors of the Minivan! Why Popular Culture Wages War Against Large Families

I’m one of Them. I’m a mom who has more than two children. Every day I climb behind the wheel of a minivan, load my kids into the back and drive to places that I need to be because I’m the mother of four kids and if I’m not dropping off at a violin lesson I’m picking up from a sleepover or swim practice or, perhaps, as a refreshing change of pace, taking a trip to the emergency room.  Parents like me are the butt of jokes and the subject of ridicule in popular culture.  Paul Nardizzi nails the minivan angst in this clip from Comedy Central.

Written from the point of view of the depressed father, we’re treated to images of a hideously unattractive mother and hordes of screaming children driving in an aquarium-like minivan.  I found it terribly offensive, right after I finished laughing myself into hiccups.

The minivan symbolizes a family too large to fit into a sedan, and that means more than two children.  Large families are ridiculed in our society, made the object of punch-lines and stereotypes, and sometimes that ridicule spills over into malevolence and hatred. Don’t think so? Let’s take a look.

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Meet the Duggars, star of the reality television series 19 Kids and Counting.  Now this picture is pretty funny, I have to admit. But the jokes quickly slide into outright animosity. Large families like the Duggars are victims of  a peculiar cultural rot known as “fertility shaming.”

In an article titled “Fertility Shaming, It’s a Vagina, Not a Clown Car,” author Mollie Hemingway relates:

 There was a truly bizarre column in the New York Times built entirely around the fact that each of the candidates for the Republican nomination for president had between two and seven children. The horror! Oh the humanity! The columnist referred to people having two or more children as “über-fertility.” You know things are scary when you have to bring out the German.

I encountered fertility shaming for the first time years ago when I entered a store with three children in tow and one on the way. A woman stared at me with a sneer on her face and after I checked my blouse for a grape jelly handprint or something else offensive, I realized she was offended at my number of children. She glared at my children and then my belly with a look of revulsion and turned away, shaking her head.

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Sarah Palin, former governor of Alaska and Republican vice presidential candidate in 2008, is famously despised by the elite left because of her choice to have a large family and to keep her Down’s Syndrome son Trig instead of aborting him. Her good looks and her masculine husband may have been a thorn in the side of the leftists, but their hatred is most vitriolic when discussing her large family and Trig.

Why is this bias problematic? Underneath the ridicule of the minivan lifestyle is a current of intolerance toward large families, and a culture that doesn’t regard big families with approval and affection is a culture in decline.Let’s look at our past. Up until the 1920s, large families were normal and unremarkable.

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Here's the Andes family, circa 1920, with nine children. Up until the '20s, contraceptives were not widely available. Children were valued. Every child began to earn their keep on the farm or in the city when they were old enough to work. Infant and child mortality was gruesome, so limiting a family might mean ending up with no offspring at all.

When Pearl Harbor was bombed by the Japanese in 1942, our country went to war, and so did our sons and daughters.  The iconic tale of sacrifice embodied by the five sons of Katherine and Thomas Sullivan who were killed on a single day in action in the Pacific Theatre has been memorialized in film as The Fighting Sullivans. The story also inspired the Oscar-winning movie Saving Private Ryan. The large size of Katherine’s family didn’t cause her to be ridiculed. Instead, Katherine Sullivan was memorialized as the symbol of the American mother.

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After World War Two our fighting men and women came home and started the business of having babies, lots of them.  The population growth between 1945 and 1951 is known as the Baby Boom, and popular culture followed suit. Cheaper by the Dozen, by Frank B. Gilbreth Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey, a story about the dozen children of the Gibreth family, was a huge hit when it was published in 1948. The movie that followed was a box office smash, ending up in the top twenty films of 1950. Yours, Mine and Ours was another family hit, starring Lucille Ball and Henry Fonda as widowers with large families who marry and blend their families. Ball received a nomination for a Golden Globe for her role.

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So what happened to our affection for and embrace of large families? Curiously enough, the same year of Yours, Mine and Ours, 1968, a terrible (and terribly wrong) book was published called The Population Bomb, by Paul Ehrlich.

The alarmist claim of an exhausted, overpopulated earth struck a chord and the book became a best-seller.  To this day people believe in overpopulation. You might find yourself scoffing at the idea that the number of people on this planet is not a problem. Generations have been raised on the “fact” of overpopulation, when the reality is exactly the opposite.  This little gem of a video explodes the population myth in less than two minutes:

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The damage the overpopulation lie has wrought is terrible. Without reproduction a culture simply ends. Japan, for example, might already be beyond the ability to save itself. Here's a chilling quote from "Japan's Demographic Nightmare," by John Traphagen:

Many rural towns have elderly populations well over 30% and one of the increasingly common scenes along rural roadways is the empty house once occupied by an elderly couple or single elder, and in the past by a three-generation family.

American’s demographic rates are dismal, but not that horrible. We’re still having babies, as a wholesome and thriving culture should. From "Fertility Forecast: Baby Bust is over; births will rise" by Cathy Payne:

The total fertility rate in the USA is predicted to rise from a 25-year low of 1.89 children per woman in 2012 to 1.90 in 2013, according to the U.S. Fertility Forecast report released today by Demographic Intelligence.

However, having less than two children per family is just not enough. The replacement rate is 2.1 children and we’re not there. From "America's Baby Bust" by Jonathan V. Last:

Forget the debt ceiling. Forget the fiscal cliff, the sequestration cliff and the entitlement cliff. Those are all just symptoms. What America really faces is a demographic cliff: The root cause of most of our problems is our declining fertility rate.

For our very survival, the cultural disdain for large families must end. The myth of overpopulation must be fought. Couples with four or more children are happier, more stable, and more devoted to each other than those with smaller numbers of offspring. Large families are good for our culture and good for our future.

So the next time you see a mom shepherding her flock of children into the store in front of you, smile at her instead of glaring at her.  She’s not polluting the planet. Her children are a blessing to the world.  Congratulate the father-to-be for his fourth or fifth child instead of asking him if he’s crazy. And if you are wondering if you should have that additional child, go ahead. Join us.

You, too, could find yourself loving the minivan life.