Why do people feel they have a right to pass judgment on family size?

Hilaria Baldwin’s pregnancy announcement attracted much commentary

Hilaria Baldwin and Alec Baldwin are expecting their seventh child together. Photograph: Getty Images

Let it be said first that I personally don’t care what people consider to be a socially acceptable number of children. Have none, one, seven, 27, whatever number suits you, presuming of course you’re fortunate enough to be able to choose that is.

"Life is like a box of chocolates," Forrest Gump once quoted his mammy as saying. "You never know what you're gonna get."

And she was right, the unexpected can throw plans, including family size, into disarray. Choice doesn’t always come into it – infertility, pregnancy and baby loss, traumatic experiences, changed perspectives, or life just taking a different road to the one anticipated can mean we find ourselves in a different family to the one we envisaged. Other times we find ourselves exactly where we’d hoped to be – and that may or may not include having children.

Still despite this, it came as no surprise to see that Hilaria Baldwin's recent announcement that she was expecting her seventh child with husband Alec Baldwin attracted plenty of negative commentary as many social media virtue signallers questioned whether this baby news – clearly seen as a positive by the parents to be – was in fact irresponsible and environmentally unfriendly.


There are many things people consider when deciding on family size, but I’ve yet to meet a person in real life who genuinely factored climate change into their deliberations. Harry and Meghan may claim to have – but I wonder if they gave such due consideration to their lavish lifestyles and clocked-up air miles.

While I’ve had many gorgeous, positive, and complimentary comments passed to me about having a larger than typical family in this day and age, there’s been a fair few clangers of comments made too. I say clangers, because I like to give people the benefit of the doubt, and presume that they weren’t trying to be hurtful or offensive. But I have no doubt that I am in socially unacceptable numbers territory.

Not least because people shy away from inviting rent-a-crowd over. There’s also the fact that people want to know the reason for so many children. If I reply to a question about gender split (which is one girl and six boys) the presumption is that I kept having children until I had a daughter – my girl is my firstborn. So it must be for religious reasons others decide – it’s not. Then there was the time during school that my daughter was taught, uneducated women tend to have larger families – I won’t even dignify that one with a response. But that people feel they have a right to pass judgment on family size is baffling and it’s not just larger families who are subject to it.

I asked on social media if people felt there was such a thing as a “socially acceptable number of children”. People with and without children replied. “Yes” was the overwhelming response with two suggested as that number, irrespective of the number of children the respondents had. Three was possibly teetering of the edge of acceptability. “Anything above four is seen as mad”, one woman replied, a comment echoed by a mother-to-be of four who felt herself viewed by others as getting into “extreme” parenting territory.

“That number is more than zero,” replied a woman to my question. “It seems zero means that there is something wrong with you, if you are a woman”.

“I had three children very fast, one after the other and was called a slut by work colleagues,” one mum explained. “I always wanted a big family but there is judgment out there. I stopped at four after two miscarriages,” she added.

Another mother, who had been through five rounds of IVF and has one son, said she “always faces criticism for having an only child. Minimum of two is acceptable.”

“In my work having more than two maternity leaves would definitely damage your career,” was the reply of another parent.

“I have four, last two twins. Someone actually commiserated with my on my last pregnancy,” one mum answered.

“I have five and feel like the old woman who lived in the shoe with the reactions I get,” said one mum of five, while another with the same amount of children said she is “shunned regularly” and gets “nasty comments constantly. It’s crazy!”

“I have seven and people seem to have plenty of opinions on that,” a fellow mother of seven added.

Though hundreds of parents got in touch, not one reply was from a father saying that he felt judged for the size of his family.

So to Hilaria, as she celebrates the happy news, congratulations! Seven is fabulous. Through sheer good luck, I like to focus on the contribution I’ve made to the impending pension crisis - though it didn’t factor in my family size considerations either.