Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Yes, I Have Five Kids. No, I'm Not Neglecting Any of Them.

Yes, I have Five Kids and No, I'm Not Neglecting Any of Them -- You can't tell if the kids in a family get enough love and attention just by counting heads. So why do so many strangers who meet my big family think they can?  {posted @ Unremarkable Files}
"Wow, you have four brothers and sisters? That must be hard for you to have a new baby in the house again," a well-meaning lady in her fifties once commented to my daughter.

Knowing what response was expected of her and not liking to contradict adults, my 9-year-old lowered her head and quietly said, "Actually, I like having babies because they're cute."

"Oh!" the woman sputtered, surprised at her answer. "Well... that's good, I suppose. You certainly have enough of them!"

I have 5 children, and that makes us an object of interest to pretty much everyone. Some of the comments we get are positive, but under many of them there's an underlying assumption.

People are thinking that our kids are somehow not getting their needs met.

That because we have 5 children, we must not have time for each of them.

It's part of a larger double standard for big families. If you don't have a large family you probably have no idea what I'm talking about, but if you have a bunch of kids I don't even have to tell you what I mean.

If you have two kids and one has yogurt smeared on her face and throws a tantrum in the produce aisle, she's just being a kid. Yet if the yogurt-covered tantrum has four or five siblings standing by, strangers will be much harsher judges. "Aha!" they will say knowingly, "Those people have too many children to handle!"

If a mother works full-time outside the house and has two kids, no one bats an eye. But if a mother like me stays home with her 5 kids, strangers assume they're all starved for love and attention  despite the fact that I spend all day, every day with them.

There's something about big families that makes many people unwilling to assume the best, and all too ready to assume the worst.

How about another story?

Nobody expected our fifth baby to have trouble when he was born 3 weeks early, but he spent weeks struggling in the NICU to breathe on his own. Once he mastered that, eating and gaining weight was another challenge. He started working with a physical therapist from Early Intervention at 6 months, and required an outpatient surgery at 9 months.

He continues to make progress, but is usually several months behind in hitting his milestones. When other kids his age were crawling from point A to point B (and some overachieving babies were even walking,) he was lying on his back and using his feet to push himself around.

"Is he still getting physical therapy?" a casual acquaintance asked, watching him scoot across the floor.

"Yes. He's coming along slowly. Verrrrrrry slowly," I laughed.

"Well, you do have 5 kids, so it's not like you have a lot of time to work with him."

I was a little shocked and didn't really know what to say. Why was this person I hardly knew suggesting that I didn't have time to love my son and nurture his development?

Obviously life is busy in a family of 7, but is it so different in a family of 3 or 4? I'm not sure that people with one or two children feel like they're rolling in leisure time, either.

Many parents I know have to juggle working part-time, or even full-time, with the needs of their kids. I don't know how they do that. But they can and do raise happy, well-adjusted children.

So I don't see why it's so hard to imagine that the parents of 5 (or 10 or 15, for that matter) can't do the same. We all have demands on our time.

I know people who grew up in small families feeling that their parents were too busy for them, and others who grew up feeling very loved in their big family. What I'm getting at is, you can't tell what kind of family someone has just by doing a head count.

That particular conversation is over, and I'm sure that woman never gave a second thought to her offhand comment.

But if I could go back in time, this is what I would've said to her:

I think I know where you're coming from. After all, when we all pile out of our van at the grocery store it reminds you of a clown car.

To you, my family looks like a nameless, faceless horde of children in the parking lot.

But don't assume it looks like that to me.

I know and love each of my children. I pray for them by name. Seeing every one of them achieve their full potential is the most important thing I'll ever do in this lifetime.

I see each one of them so individually that, to be honest, I'm sometimes a little taken aback when I look at a picture of our family all in a group and realize: That is a lot of people!

I don't see a big mass of kids when I look at our family in real life. I just don't.

I may not have time to do elaborate crafts at home or be president of the PTA, but my kids don't care about those things, anyway. What matters to them is that I enjoy being with them, that I care to know all about them, and that I love them.

And love, unlike a pie, doesn't mean that the more people at the table, the smaller the slice.

I'm not a perfect mom, but I wouldn't be that if I'd stopped at one or two children, either. I'm just a good mom. And I'm enough for my kids.

Every single one of them.

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Trisha said...

Thank you for this! As I struggled with wanting 5-6 kids and possibly only being able to have the one I already have I see these big families (which I see big as more than like 7, 5 is nothing!) I am so envious of all the fun in their house. As #4 of 6 I loved it.
We got all the attention we needed and it was a fabulous upbringing!

Jenny said...

I never understood why people think moms of big families don't have time or care about their kids. That's one reason they had that many kids, they love them.

I also never knew why people thought anything more than 2 kids was a big family. I grew up with 4 kids in my family, thought it was normal and loves having siblings. It would be a very lonely childhood with no siblings and no one to play with.

Jenny Evans said...

I don't think 5 is all that many, but judging by the reactions of most strangers I must be mistaken.

It stinks when life doesn't turn out how we wanted, but I'm sure you have an awesome family regardless of how big it is.

Jenny Evans said...

I think the best answer I ever heard someone give to "Why do Mormons have so many kids?" is "Because they want them!" Not all Mormons have a lot of kids obviously, but still.

Unknown said...

Thank you. THANK YOU. As a mom to six kids, I have experienced this countless times. And I recently was attempting to articulate that very idea of being judged (or your children's behavior, rather) through the filter of "too many"- it seems there's an unspoken expectation that if our kids act up, it's not b/c they're kids, but b/c there are "so many" to manage. An excellent post!!

Anonymous said...

I've never wanted a large family, but children are a blessing from the Lord. America has strayed so far from the truth, up is down and white is black.

Handsfullmom said...

Well said!

Amanda said...

I only have 2 children, but may soon have child #3 if our adoption goes through. I have struggled with the thought of whether I could really give enough time to each child. I struggled with it when pregnant with my second child too. It has turned out fine going from 1 to 2 and it will be fine going from 2 to 3 also. I have found that people who assume that children in big families don't get enough attention often don't consider that those children don't need the same kind of attention. My kids are different ages and need different things at different times. Now, if you have 7 2-yr olds at the same time you might be in a bit of a predicament! Purely from a logistical standpoint - not a love one. I am also encouraged by families like yours and like some families in my church who do have many kids. I figure - if they can do that, I can do this! So thanks for sharing your life : ).

Queen Mom Jen said...

That is a terrible story about the comment concerning your son! I always wonder how people think you can't care for a big family the same as you would say 2 children. You just become a better time manager. Thank you for writing this.

Kendall said...

Although we haven't many kids yet, I know that we'll be just as pressed for time as any other family with more children in our lives. I also know though, that each of our children will be loved, encouraged, taught, and supported no matter what.

I can't imagine what life will really be like if we are blessed with 4, but then again I couldn't have imagined my life today before Baby Boy was born, or for that matter life once our second is born. :)

Jenny Evans said...

My kids are usually very well-behaved (okay, moderately well-behaved) in public, and I always wonder how much is because I'm hyper-sensitive to the fact that we "need" to behave better in public than smaller families for that very reason!

Jenny Evans said...

I think part of people's shocked reactions to hearing that we have 5 kids is that they're thinking of 5 toddlers. But really it's all a complex mechanism of everybody helping everybody else, with everyone having different capabilities and needs. And... you can definitely do this!

Jenny Evans said...

I'm sure it was just an offhand comment, but that's precisely why it bugged me: she didn't even stop to think, "Wait, why am I saying this? What am I actually saying?"

Jenny Evans said...

Funny how that happens, every single time. They're born and you wonder afterward how you ever got along without them.

mumturnedmom said...

Even just having three kids I get the odd raised eyebrow about how hard it must be to keep track of them all! And, there are moments when I think, I don't have enough hands, literally :) But, most of the time I just think, wow, how lucky I am and how amazing it is that your arms/heart/time just expands to hold them all.

Crystal said...

My third didn't talk forever and I was just sure it was all my fault because I was so busy dealing with the naughtiness of #1 during her early life. She is fine now and I have come to realize each of them is just made in their own special way. Most people put too much stock in nurture rather than nature! Now #7 won't walk, and maybe it is because she spends too much time in the carseat, but I know having this big family provides her with more love than an baby has ever had!

Jenny Evans said...

Never discount the love a kid gets from all her siblings, that's for sure! She may be late to walk, but she'll do it eventually and when she does, she'll also have 6 siblings she wouldn't trade for the world.

Erin said...

I'm shocked but not shocked anymore by commentary - I've heard comments about having two kids and they sarcastically mention "when's the next?" just assuming we have no interest in a third.

Jenny Evans said...

Their loss!

Unknown said...

With six in our family, we always said that love is not like a cookie, broken into smaller pieces, but love is like a candle which can always share light with more and more. We raised them mostly in Oregon, where 1 or 2 were the expected numbers. And they are all college educated, creative, good, loving people who love each other and their parents, who are always ready to help the people around them.

Tammy M said...

While I have NO idea how you don't own a cape and have your own superhero comic (I'm an only child, so I don't have big-family experience), we get the inverse reaction about our choice to only have one child. She's 16 and people (even some family members) still ask us if we'll have more! We made the conscious choice to only have our one daughter, and we are the Three Musketeers and couldn't imagine/desire it any other way! So while I can't comprehend the dynamics of having as many kids as you do, I certainly understand the stigmas surrounding our number of children and support any mom who loves and cares for her child(ren). That's the only thing that matters! :)

Shari said...

Most (if not ALL) of the negative comments about large families are made by people who didn't stop to think first. My biggest peeve is when I hear someone say something like, "He needs to stay off her." As if a stranger (or even a close friend) has ANY business having an opinion about a couple's intimacy or the results thereof. What would be the reaction if the reverse happened? A parent of a large family observes a couple with 0, 1, or 2 kids and says, "Y'all aren't having enough sex, are you?" My guess is that a comment like that wouldn't go over well at all. The large-family parent would be shamed to no end for saying such an insensitive and personal thing. But I often see onlookers agreeing with the first -- that couples with lots of kids should stop having sex.

Unknown said...

Thank you so much for this encouraging post! I am one of four girls who have always received more than our fair share of love and affection. When I say to people that I intend to have about 6 little ones when the time comes, I always get comments about how I'll change my mind because I won't be able to handle it. I think that's very sad and that it ought to be looked upon with support any time a well cared for, well behaved child is around, whether it's one of twenty or an only child.

AuntSue said...

In our family of six kids, we taught them that love is not like a cookie, smaller pieces for everyone. But love is like a candle flame, we can always share the light with more candles, and still have a bright flame of love.