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A Family of Eight: Yes, They Are All Ours

gerencser children 2023

My partner, Polly, and I have six children, ages 44, 42, 39, 34, 32, and 30. Our oldest son was a “mistake,” the result of two naive, immature, ignorant young Christian adults lacking comprehensive sex education. Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) sex education is simple and direct: don’t do “it” until you are married, and then only in the missionary position for the purposes of procreation. We decided to go the spermicidal foam route, not knowing it had a high failure rate. Six weeks after we married, Polly informed me she was pregnant. Six weeks before our first anniversary, little Jason was born.

The rest of our children were planned. Polly was what you would call a fertile myrtle. I could look at her and she would get pregnant. Polly breastfed all six of our children, another, somewhat ineffective, birth control method. Our first three children were born over the span of five years. Better birth control methods kept Polly from getting pregnant again, so we thought that three children would be all for us.

Five years later, after immersing ourselves in Evangelical Calvinism and adopting an absolute position on the sovereignty of God, we decided to have more children — as many as God would give us. We believed that it was God who opened and closed the womb, and Polly would not become pregnant unless it was the will of God.

Over the space of the next five years, we had three more children. During the delivery of our youngest son, Polly’s obstetrician told her that she should stop having children; that further pregnancies could kill her. This left us with a dilemma: should we ignore the doctor and trust God, or should we abandon our belief in the sovereignty of God and follow the doctor’s advice? After pondering life as a widowed father with six young children, we decided to obey man, and not God. While we felt guilty for being hypocritical and not standing firm on our convictions, we knew that we made the right decision. God didn’t seem to care one way or the other. 🙂

One day in the mid-1990s, we went to the mall with our children — all eight of us. Our children behaved well in public. When we walked through stores, we walked in a single file line, always to the right, avoiding getting in the way of others. One day, I noticed a clerk out of the corner of my eye counting how many people were in our family. One little, two little, three little Gerencsers . . . I went over to her and said, “Eight. There are eight of us. 🙂

Another time, a loan officer at a finance company asked me how many people were in our family. I replied, “Eight,” to which she stupidly responded, “Don’t you guys know how to use birth control?” I retorted that we had all of our children on purpose, just as God intended.

I am occasionally asked if we had to do it all over again would we have a large family? While we love our children (and sixteen grandchildren) and thoroughly enjoy our relationships with them and their families, if we had to do it all over again we would have stopped after having two or three children. This doesn’t mean we didn’t want our younger children, but it does mean we recognize the financial difficulties we had raising such a large family on poverty wages. Sure, we survived and our children have turned into productive, educated adults, but life was harder than it needed to be not only for Polly and me, but also for our children.

Hopefully, we all live and learn. We make decisions based on what we know at the time. We truly thought that God would meet our needs; that he would never leave us nor forsake us; that he would never leave his children destitute, begging for bread. Instead, we found that God was nowhere to be found; that we were on our own. By then, we had six children, and to some degree have spent most of our lives digging out of a financial hole we dug for ourselves as young adults.

No regrets, just the realization that different choices might have had different outcomes. I say “might.” Who is to say what might have happened if we had chosen a path with two or three children instead of six. Do you have a large family? Why did you have so many children? If you had to do it all over again, would you still have a large family?

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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  1. Avatar

    I had five girls although I currently have four. My fourth daughter was a VLBW premie who died at the age of 11 months due chronic lung disease of prematurity . Then we had a fifth daughter. She would not be here except that our fourth baby died. I sometime think of them as 4 A and 4B. My girls have not made the choice to have such big families, not the 4 is exactly huge. My oldest built her family through adoption and has two girls adopted from China, my second has three, my middle has one and my youngest is childless. She and her boyfriend have 3 cats and 2 dogs.

    My family of origin was quite often the biggest family on Mother’s Day at our Southern Baptist Church. I was the youngest of four. Mom had her tubes tied after I was born because she was told that further children would be unlikely to survive. I had severe RH disease and was the color of a paper bag when I was born.

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    Tammy Schoch

    I often think about my great grandma, born in 1888, one of 15 children. She had about 10 kids, and her daughter (my grandma) had 7 kids. My mom had 4. I had 3. And my 3 kids have a total of 2 between them all. I don’t know how my female ancestors survived. No electricity or indoor water. Outhouses. I can’t imagine what their life was like. Now I’m off track and haven’t answered your questions …

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    I have 2 kids and I grew up in a family of 2 kids. My dad on the other hand was the youngest of 7 and a twin. When he was born his oldest sibling was 20 and helped deliver him and his brother. Neither of his parents went beyond 4th grade and they were poverty income. Dad graduated from HS in ’63 and they had only put a hand pump in the kitchen in about ’57 or ’58. He helped put it in. If I remember right they were still using an outhouse most of the time he was in HS. His grandmother also lived with them. None of his siblings had more than 1 kid if they had any. He’s the only one that had 2. I don’t think his parents were educated enough about how to prevent babies and based on what I’ve been told grandma wasn’t exactly thrilled with kids, let alone 7 of them so I would imagine if ahe had to do it again, she wouldn’t. They all said she was mean and their grandmother was even worse. It also didn’t help grandpa worked for the railroad and was gone a lot. Dad got one pair of shoes and a few sets of clothes a year and they matched his twin. Going to the doctor or dentist was only for emergencies. Nearly all of them grew up and had dysfunctional marriages/multiple marriages. None of them has a college education nor obtained well paying jobs except maybe one, who became a meat cutter (he retired from that job) after he got back from the Korean War serving in the Navy. Whilst in the Navy he had to send most of his paycheck home. If he didn’t grandma would call the red cross to get hold of him and guilt him into it. I would imagine that experience was what kept most of them from having few, if any kids. We, ourselves talked about having a 3rd but it’s just too expensive and there just isn’t enough of a support system in our culture now to help (back then, Dad’s family had other extended family close by and the neighbors and everything…they all helped each other if needed. That’s difficult to find now.) . Plus, who wants to live hand to mouth and be miserable if you don’t have to? Life is hard enough as it is without intentionally complicating it. We didn’t exactly grow up secure. We weren’t my grandparents level of poverty but we certainly lived paycheck to paycheck. I don’t want that for myself or my kids.

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    Great photo! My husband and I decided before we got married that we wanted 2 kids and would talk after 2 about a 3rd. We had 2, talked, and decided NO on a 3rd. It was a good decision for us because financially we have been able to support their actives, education, and needs with some extra. We feel that the 2 of us were better able to handle the emotional needs of 2 kids and that having more kids would have further split our focus to the detriment of all. I was essentially an only child with attention from several adults (mom, grandparents, great-grandmother, stepdad), and when my half-brother was born when I was 12, there were enough adults around that it didn’t bother me. My biological dad was out of my life when I was little. He started a new family of 6 kids whom he abused, and they lived in poverty.

    My husband came from a larger family. His father was the oldest of 11 (technically 12 because one died as an infant), and it depends on which of his siblings you talk to about whether that was a good life. My FIL thought it was great, but many of his younger siblings didn’t think the same. Many of them spoke of inattention from their parents. My mother-in-law was from a family if 5 or 6 kids, and there was neglect from an alcoholic mother and absent father. My husband was one of 3 (there would have been 7 but one baby died in childbirth and there were 3 miscarriages). My husband speaks of absent parents always working while he and his brothers were alone a lot – or at friends’ homes or roaming the neighborhood. Even when parents were home they’d often lock the kids out of the house. Neither of us wanted the inattention or neglect for our own kids. We watched my husband’s older brother have 4 kids with his 1st wife, and it was a home of fights and financial instability. My sister-in-law was very attentive to the kids – she was a stay at home mom with an elementary education degree – and my brother-in-law worked multiple jobs and was rarely home. He cheated on his wife, and they divorced. The kids are all adults now, and they talk about how hard it was living just above poverty. They love their mom and are fiercely loyal, but their dad…..not so much. My brother-in-law had another kid with a girlfriend, and she has spent the last 12 years fighting to keep her daughter from him, but that’s another story. My brother-in-law wanted to have a bunch of kids, but he couldn’t even afford the 5 he had, and they dont think too highly of him. My husband and the younger brother have 2 kids each.

    My father-in-law who is one of 11? 3 of his siblings had 4-6 kids (those siblings were among the wealthiest), he had 3, and the rest had 0-2 kids. Many of the Millennials of my husband’s generation aren’t planning to have kids OR get married.

    My father’s 6 other kids? The oldest (not me) has 4 kids (one adopted and 3 hers), and the others have 0-1. Most of them didn’t want big families either.

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    MJ Lisbeth

    I am one of four children. Our family was one of the smaller families in my Roman Catholic parish and school. During the mid1960s-early 1970s, we were still living as if Vatican II and second-wave feminism hadn’t happened: One of my schoolmates was one of 14 children.

    I have never had children for a number of reasons, and given that I’m a transgender woman of a certain age, I can’t and wouldn’t. One of my siblings—who believes in a supreme being but is non-religious—has one son, who has a daughter.
    My other two siblings, who attend church (one mainly because of the spouse and in-laws), each have a son and daughter.
    It will be interesting to see how many kids they have—and whether they attend church.

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