Saturday, September 27, 2014

In Defense of Big Families

A woman was admiring two of my children one afternoon as they were attempting to knock over the mannequins waiting patiently beside me in line at JC Penney. She was so shocked upon learning I had 3 more at home that she was literally unable to speak.

Usually the news that our family contains 7 people is met with a combination of awe, nervous laughter, and/or horror. Sometimes disdain, even. There are the occasional nice old ladies who simply smile and say 'you have a beautiful family,' but they only come around a few times a year.

Everywhere I go, inquiring minds often want to know: why, oh why would you do such a thing to yourself? And did you do it on purpose?

In Defense of Big Families -- if you've ever looked at a family with lots of kids and not been able to understand why they would choose that life for themselves, maybe this will help explain  {posted @ Unremarkable Files}

To those who are wondering why I have such a large family, I'd like to pose a question in response: why not? Really, I'm not even being cheeky here.

If Phillip and I are able to provide for these kids physically, emotionally, and spiritually — and if our mental and physical health can handle more children — then why limit our family size? And if we did, what arbitrary number should we base it on?

The fact that more than 4 people cannot conveniently fit in a restaurant booth hardly seems like a sound basis for family planning decisions.

Having children is the natural thing for men and women to do. Even if you don't believe in God's commandment to "multiply and replenish the earth" (Genesis 1: 28,) biology makes it pretty clear that baby-making is an intrinsic part of life.

**I should probably preface what I'm going to say next by making it clear that the church I belong to (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) believes that childbearing is a blessing and an obligation for able couples, but the Church has no official position on birth control or the number of children a couple should have. I speak for myself and not for my church at large here.

For me personally, I believe that big families are more than just a morally neutral matter of personal preference. Adding to your family is a good and noble thing which I see as my default position, unless I have a good reason not to do so.

Seeking and receiving a prayerful confirmation from God that your family is complete is a good reason.

Lacking the emotional or physical health to handle another child might be a good reason.

Not being able to financially provide for another child might also be a good reason, although I have issues with the commonly accepted belief that children are expensive.

Barring any of those reasons, I just don't see why anyone would want to rush out of this messy, beautiful, chaotic, and brief phase of their life. When compared with the span of a human lifetime, the window of opportunity to be elbow-deep in the work of having and raising children is terribly narrow.

Whether I like it or not, soon my childbearing years will be over. I'll have time to pursue travel and career and all the other fabulous things I was missing while I was buried in a pile of dirty laundry.

But I will enjoy this stage while I still can.

In Defense of Big Families -- if you've ever looked at a family with lots of kids and not been able to understand why they would choose that life for themselves, maybe this will help explain  {posted @ Unremarkable Files}
Keep in mind, I'm not necessarily relishing every single second as it is happening. Phillip is no stranger to bi-weekly "it's 5:30 pm and you'd better be on your way home right now because I cannot stand these people whining at me for one more SECOND" phone calls.

But the joy of motherhood comes in moments. When I allow myself to live in those moments, I'm better able to coast through the times when we're late for church and no one can find their shoes and then someone calls downstairs to inform me that the hamster is not in her cage.

Having a big family is good for my kids, too.  It teaches them all sorts of life lessons that they'd be hard-pressed to learn any other way. Every day in our house is an experiment in social navigation. Kids are surrounded by chances to learn how to compromise, play fair, share, and work together. They learn to help and love each other.

What lucky kids, I often think as I see them playing together, to have an entire network of people who love them unconditionally.

One of my favorite parts of big family life is the individual relationships. When each parent has a relationship with each child, and each child has a relationship with each sibling, that equals a lot of relationships. It's like an ant farm up in here watching the complexity of each one evolve as time goes by.

Most importantly, our kids are learning by necessity that life isn't all about them. 

I could only handle 1 or maybe 2 complete freeloaders. My children know by experience that work is a part of life, we need to clean up after ourselves, and in our own way we're all responsible for contributing to the good of the family.

Dear strangers in the grocery store who can't comprehend why I would choose this life for myself: I get what you're saying. Changing diapers for more than a decade can make you yearn for a change of scenery occasionally. It's hard to make mothering your life's work.

Of course I wish sometimes that people would stop breaking my stuff, wetting their beds, and stuffing grapes in the printer. But an easier life isn't necessarily a better life, especially because an easy life doesn't force you to refine your character. When it comes right down to it, I can't imagine anything else I'd rather be doing right now.

Also, our family get-togethers at holidays are going to rock once all these dynamic little people are adults.

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  1. The more the merrier and soon they will be all grown up. Then think of all those wonderful grandchildren :)

  2. I've been looking forward to grandkids since my daughter was born!


  3. I like how you expressed this. As a mother of 8, I often struggle to know how to express the joys of a large family, while also being true to the realities. For the quick comment by strangers in the store, I usually just smile and say, "they are a blessing."

    1. That's more or less what I say too, although I'm not sure how convincing it is when they're all hanging off the sides of the cart like a merry band of pirates making a ruckus in the grocery store!

  4. I'm the oldest of a family of nine and you are absolutely correct. We're all grown up now with kids of our own (and grandkids) and our family reunions are the most fun. There is no one I would rather spend time with than my sisters and brothers. Like raising puppies, the chewing, biting, housebreaking stage is short and the pleasures are long.

    1. I have often (in my head, anyway) compared having babies/toddlers to having puppies for exactly those reasons! And came to the same conclusion, which is why I've had 5 babies but we don't have a dog. :)

  5. My six children grew up to be best friends (I sometimes worried about that) They all know how to feed babies and toddlers, read stories, change diapers and share. They know how to clean up after themselves, clean a bathroom, clean a kitchen and clean up a mess. They help each other with emergency money needs, moral support, moving, advice and encouragement. They love each other, each others'spouses and children. They know how to get along with just about anybody. They vote, recycle, pay taxes and most go to church and pay tithing. They also support various charities they believe in. They help out their friends, neighbors and strangers. In short, they are good people, they are excellent human beings, and they learned much of that because they grew up in a larger family.