Saturday, September 27, 2014

In Defense of Big Families

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

The news that our family contains 7 people is met with of awe, nervous laughter, and/or horror. Sometimes even disdain. 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 want to know: why, oh why would you do such a thing to yourself? And did you do it on purpose?

Not my kids. But still super-cute.

If you are wondering why I have such a large family, I'd like to answer you with a question of my own: why not? 

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 can't conveniently fit in a restaurant booth hardly seems like a sound basis for family planning decisions.

For me personally, adding to my family is something I see as a noble, good, and worthwhile thing to do. It goes beyond being just a matter of personal preference. Whether you believe in God or just biology, it's pretty clear that baby-making is an intrinsic part of life, and I have obviously made it an integral part of mine.

I should probably preface this by saying that even though you've probably met a lot of members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints like me who have bigger-than-average families, my church has no official position on birth control or how many kids we should have. It just teaches that raising children is a privilege and a responsibility for able couples, and to put it simply: we like it.

That's how I feel, anyway. Other people might say they need a really good reason to have another baby; I've always felt like I would need a really good reason not to.

If I sought and received a prayerful confirmation from God that my family was complete, or if I lacked the emotional or physical health to handle more kids, or we couldn't afford another person in our family (although I raise my eyebrows pretty high at the common "wisdom" about how expensive kids are,) then that would be one thing.

But 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 my life.

When compared with an entire lifetime, the window of opportunity to be elbow-deep in the work of having and raising children is terribly narrow.

Whether I have babies until my body stops working or whether I run into a reason to stop having babies before that, sooner or later my childbearing years will be over.

Then I'll have time to pursue all the fabulous things I was missing while I was buried in a pile of dirty laundry.

But I know that when that day comes, I'll miss the fabulous things I have now: gummy baby smiles, kids who ask for the "ye-yoh crayon," and dance parties with people who bear an uncanny resemblance to short Stevie Wonders. I know that. Thinking about it makes me miss it already.

Most importantly, I wish you could see what I see when I watch my kids interacting with their siblings. They are figuratively and literally surrounded with chances to learn how to compromise, play fair, share with, help, and encourage each other.

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

To the 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 a decade can get old. 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, and when it comes right down to it the fact is that I can't imagine anything else I'd rather be doing right now.

Oh, and one more reason before you move on to finish your shopping: once all these dynamic little people are adults with families of their own, our holiday get-togethers are going to rock.

Big families are awesome, but you knew that already, didn't you? I just don't understand why people are so negative about large families! Here are all the reasons why I love my big family life and why I chose it. (Spoiler alert: I would choose it all over again if I went back in time!) #bigfamilies #largefamily #awesome #family #parenting #kids #unremarkablefiles

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Unremarkable Files


Anonymous said...

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

Jenny Evans said...

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

Shawnie said...

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."

Jenny Evans said...

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!

Anonymous said...

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.

Jenny Evans said...

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. :)

Unknown said...

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.

Unknown said...

I love babies, toddlers, kids and teens of all ages. Now all my six are grown, they continue to amaze me with their compassion, their love of each other and all the in-laws and kids. They all know how to get along each each other and anyone else. They are helpful and generous in times of need with each other and those around them. It is a real bonus to our society when good parents have big families.

Marie said...

Second of nine children and I love every single thing about this post. Preach it!

Anonymous said...

It is not YOUR family, it is part of society and if something happens to you or your husband (including unemployment) then is OUR problem. So don't be selfish.
We also have the financial and emotional means to provide for more than one kid but we don't do it because the world does not need more people contaminating it. How many nappies did you bought for all those kids??
Please teach your kids not to reproduce irresponsibly.

Jenny Evans said...

It doesn't have to be either/or: it's both my family and part of society! Which is great because that means my kid can befriend yours at school, or grow up to perform a life-saving surgery on your parent. I think children are fountains, not drains.

That's fine if we have different philosophies on what the world needs and doesn't need. Personally, I think it needs more kind people who respect each other and understand that their worldview isn't the only one there is. So I will reproduce responsibly by teaching that to every single child we have.