Monday, May 15, 2017

Q & A: What's It Like To Be the Oldest in a Family of 6 Kids?

With a 8 people living together in our small house, daily life is kind of like an ant farm. One of my favorite things to do as a mom is to just sit and watch.

Right now my two oldest are drawing and talking about a story one of them is writing while the baby is babbling and whacking their papers with a ladle.

The 9-year-old is in the basement working on a remote control car with his dad.

And the toddler and the preschooler are upstairs doing... actually, I have no idea what they're doing. (I just went to check, and they've tucked all the American Girl dolls in sleeping bags and the 5-year-old is currently tying a blindfold on the 3-year-old. I'm guessing it's their rendition of a sleep mask.)

Ten minutes from now, we'll all be rearranged, doing different things with different people. And it's fascinating to me to watch all these interactions and relationships within the family.

But when I write about our big family, I can only write from observation. Even when I write about how I think the kids benefit from having a lot of siblings, I can only write my perception of how they feel.

So I decided that it was time to ask my 13-year-old daughter what she thinks of being the oldest of 6 siblings.

I put her under strict instructions not to give me answers she thought I wanted to hear, but just to share her honest thoughts. And of course I wouldn't publish anything before she read and okayed it. (She didn't end up asking me to delete anything from our interview, but I would have if she'd wanted me to.)

Everybody has an opinion on whether having a big family is good or bad for the children, but what do the kids think? I decided to ask my oldest daughter what it’s like to be in a family with 5 brothers and sisters: the good, the bad, and the ugly. Here’s what she said about life with a lot of siblings. #family #siblings #bigfamily #largefamilies #kids #unremarkablefiles

Q: How would you describe our family?

A: There's a lot of craziness and yelling. Most of the time it's just "I don't know what to do so I'm just going to run around screaming" yelling, but it's also "yelling because you're mad for a stupid reason" yelling. 
The elementary-age kids fight with each other but the little kids don't and I don't, so I think it's an age thing. 
I really like playing with the little kids.

Q: What's it like having 5 younger siblings?

A: Normal. One thing I do notice when I walk into the houses of people that don't have a lot of siblings is "Wow, why is their house so weirdly quiet?"

Q: How do you get along with your siblings?

A: Pretty well. I mean, [the 11-year-old] and [the 9-year-old] are probably better friends with each other than I am with them, I don't play with them as much as they play with each other. But I'm friends with all of them. I don't really yell at them much or get mad that often so I don't think I have any bad relationships.

Q: What do you like to do with your siblings? 

A: I don't have a lot of time because of school stuff, but a lot of the time I'll just do what they're doing. Make-believe games and stuff like that.

Q: What do you like about sharing a room? What do you not like?

A: I like that we can talk to each other after lights-out even though we're not supposed to.  
I don't like that [the 5-year-old] likes the door wide open and the night light on and she also sleeps in the doorway sometimes, which is annoying because I have to sleep in complete darkness. 
Other than that, I don't really think about it that much.

Q: When is it hard to have 5 siblings?

A: When they're all having stupid arguments about nothing and they're all getting really mad and calling each other mean names, but if I tell them that's stupid then they'll say "You're stupid!" and "Hey, don't call people 'stupid'" and then keep calling each other stupid. 
[Author's note: apparently the kids view our house rule about not saying 'stupid' as more of a guideline than an actual rule.] 

Q: Any other times when it's hard?

A: Not really. I guess sometimes when you're trying to do things little kids will bug you but that's just a kid thing, nothing to do with big families.

Q: And when do you like having 5 siblings?

A: I like seeing the little kids grow up. 
There's a lot of games where it's easier to play with multiple people. We can have a game of tag or hide-and-seek and I don't think most families can do that. 
They're all different because of the different ages, so there's always someone you want to do something with.
As a mom of 6, I write a lot about why I like my big family, but what about my kids? Do they feel jealous of each other? Wish they had their own rooms? Want more time with mom? I decided to interview mine and find out.   {posted @ Unremarkable Files}
Not our family. I just thought it was funny that the only stock photo of 6 kids I could find was a Boy Scout troop in Thailand.

Q: How do people react when you say you have 5 siblings?

A: A lot of the time they'll just say "That's a lot of siblings." 
One time a kid was like, "I feel so bad for you." Kids that don't get along well with their siblings will say things like that, although maybe not that strong. 
Generally, they just seem shocked.

Q: Why do you think that is?

A: I think that a lot of kids don't get along well with their siblings, maybe partly because they wouldn't be friends anyway but maybe also because all you see in TV and books and stuff is siblings not liking each other. So they've just been kind of taught that that's what happens. 
And I think a lot of kids' parents are more lenient so they allow more fighting and stuff.

Q: What do you say when someone's like "Woah, that's a lot of siblings" or "Wow, I feel sorry for you?"

A: I'm like, "No, I like my siblings! My siblings are awesome. The little kids are really cute." I try to tell them it's positive. They don't really listen, but I say I like having 5 siblings.

Q: And then what do they say?

A: They're like "Still... I wouldn't want 5 siblings. My sister is evil." Or "my brother is insane" or whatever. I hear "my sister is evil" a lot. 
[We both laughed at that.]

Q: How many siblings do most of your friends have?

A: One.

Q: Do you think you get along with your siblings better than they get along with their siblings?

A: Sometimes. Some of them are really close. [My friend] V and [her sister] M are really close, they're like best friends. Some of my friends don't get along very well with their siblings.

Q: Have you ever heard of 'sibling rivalry'? What is that?

A: The theory that siblings fight with each other all the time.

Q: Do you think that's a real thing?

A: Well... to some extent. I mean, when you put a bunch of people in the same living space for a while they'll fight no matter who they are, but that's more of a matter of how often they see each other. I don't think there's anything about being siblings that makes 'sibling rivalry' happen.

Q: What do you think that people don't understand about big families?

A: They think that you're either fighting all the time or you don't like each other very much, or you just don't talk to each other all that much, I guess. Some of my friends, they don't not like their siblings but they're not friends with them either. 
They don't understand that the more siblings you have, the more normal it seems. It doesn't seem like that many.

A: If we didn't have a big family, if you had one or no siblings, what do you think we'd be able to do that we couldn't do now? What do you think you would miss?

A: I would probably want siblings. When my siblings find out things that I wouldn't have thought to do, I think that's cool. Like I wouldn't have found [my sister's] piano songs on my own or done Rubik's Cubes when [my brother] started obsessing about them. There would be things I wouldn't find out that I like if my siblings hadn't done it first. 
I guess I would spend more time just doing my own thing. I would miss having a little baby around all the time saying cute things and learning how to be a mom. I think having lots of siblings helps you become a better mom.

Q: Anything else?

A: I guess I wouldn't have the feeling of "Mwahaha, I have more siblings than you!" 
In school, we were discussing things as a preview for this book; Mrs. T asked questions and we had to stand in a different corner of the room depending on how strongly we agreed with them. 
One of them was "Siblings can be best friends." I was on the 'agree' side and most people were on the 'disagree' side, and I was like, "I have more evidence than all of you, because I have more siblings than all of you!"

As a mom of 6, I write a lot about why I like my big family, but what about my kids? Do they feel jealous of each other? Wish they had their own rooms? Want more time with mom? I decided to interview mine and find out.   {posted @ Unremarkable Files}

Q: Do you think there's an ideal number of siblings to have?

A: Not really. I think more than one, but it all depends on the parents and the siblings themselves and what the family is like. 
I mean, I like having siblings of a lot of ages and I think that's important that they be close in age because [my friend] A and her brother are 6 years apart and they like each other, but they're not very close.

Q: Do you personally feel like you wish you had more or less or is 6 kids good?

A: How many siblings I have is always good, and then I get another one and that's good, too. I can't really imagine having another sibling or not having one of my siblings. 
A baby isn't exactly like a sibling for a while, it's just a cute little baby and by the time the baby's grown up then we either have another one or I guess you'll be done having babies and I'll probably feel like that's the ideal number.

Q: Do you feel like you get enough of your parents' time or do you feel like they're too busy with everybody else?

A: No, I feel like I get enough time. 
I've always been confused by that because in books when there are a bunch of siblings they always say they don't get enough of their parents' time, but especially if you stay at home all day, the little kids take naps and there's plenty of time. 
There's always somebody doing something. You talk to all of us and still have time to go on your blog all the time. There are 24 hours in a day.

[I asked which books she was talking about, and she named some titles and said "I noticed that in books with a lot of siblings the parents aren't very important characters, which I thought was weird."]

So then I asked who the most important person in a big family is:

Without hesitation she replied, "Me."

That's my girl.

Q: Do you have anything else about big families that you'd like to add that I didn't ask you about?

A: If siblings are fighting that doesn't mean they don't like each other. That is a big misconception, I think. 
The other one is that siblings don't have to not like each other. However well you get along with your siblings is entirely up to you. 
Like, with siblings that don't get along with each other, I don't hear "I don't get along well with her." I hear "my sister is evil," so they blame it all on their sibling and not on themselves.

I have to be honest, in my interview with my daughter I didn't learn anything I didn't already know. Our family is loud. People are surprised by how many of us there are. Sometimes she gets annoyed with her siblings. Most of the time she's glad they're around. Being in a big family is part of who she is and she's proud of that.

I think it sounds like we're doing alright.

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Anonymous said...

This is amazing, great kids, great family! Seems you're doing WAY better than 'alright'! :) :)

Anna said...

I'm an only child so the whole sibling dynamic is totally foreign to me. Right now my two kids adore each other and I obviously hope that continues. I've been telling my husband about what you say about siblings not getting along because that's portrayed to them as normal. That's really stuck with me and I hope we never fall into that stereotype.

Rachel said...

Big families are fun! To me, the hardest part about being the oldest kid in a big family is that ultimately, I didn't end up getting to share a childhood with some of my youngest siblings--sharing childhood and growing up together is the 'norm' for the sibling experience, but only about the first four of us really felt like we grew up together. I moved away for college when Sarah was one and got married when she was three. The three youngest sisters had basically a completely different upbringing than I had, and now we all talk about our memories of growing up...but a lot of them are not shared memories. Compiling photos of Rebekah growing up for her high school graduation and nearly the only photos I'm in with her are when she was really little because after that I was gone. I'm so glad we got to move back closer to my parents and that I can be a part of seeing Sarah and MG grow up, but because of growing up myself, I missed a lot of years, and it's weird. There are times when I feel like a bit of an outsider in my own family--after I moved out, it was nearly 4 years before anyone else moved out, so there were about 4 years that they were all together except I wasn't. I graduated college at the same time my next two siblings arrived to start college together, so I was alone for college, but all of the rest of the siblings have done college together or overlapping. So to me, that's the toughest part of being the oldest in a big're a bit on the outside. Grown up before everybody else, not sharing in the same childhood memories and same family vacations as your own siblings. It's a strange feeling, but it's just necessary--someone has to grow up first, and I guess I grew up at a young age so that added to the 'outsider' feeling. My next sister just graduated college and is getting married in a few weeks, so after 6.5 years of marriage and 5 years of post-grad life, I'll have a sibling who's in a similar life-stage to me.
From a strategy perspective, I'd probably say it's best to be the youngest in a a big family, since Sarah gets a ton of older people who just think she's the most precious person ever and will try to make her every whim possible...but I have the oldest sister personality, no doubt. I was made to be the oldest, or being the oldest made me who I am, but either way, I wouldn't change a thing. They're my people, even if I didn't get to grow up together with them as much as I would have liked, or have life experiences around the same time.

The Lady Okie said...

I'm the oldest of 4, and there were times I really hated it. I felt like I needed to take on more than the others, be my mom's friend, and have more responsibility. I think I took on a lot of that myself vs. my parents actually putting that on me, though. And there are so many things I feel like I didn't get to do that the youngest child (my sister, 11 years younger than me) got to do way earlier than me! But now that we are all adults we are all pretty close and enjoy hanging out together! I think it's sad when families don't enjoy each other, but siblings aren't always going to get along all the time either. Just different dynamics and personalities.

PurpleSlob said...

Your daughter is a great girl!! Love her answers!

Jenny Evans said...

I really do believe that it's true - you can bet that when I'm screening books and movies for my kids I'm paying attention to the sibling/family dynamics portrayed as normal. Actually, Phillip told me a study about how kids internalize things in the media with frequent exposure, whether or not it's showed as normal, good, or bad behavior.

Jenny Evans said...

I have to admit I never thought about that particular aspect of having big families until about 5 years ago. My oldest said something about being sad not to see the littlest one grow up and I was like, "Oh my gosh! She's right!" Hopefully we'll still be close through email and Skype and whatever they'll have in 10 years... but the oldest and the youngest will still probably have more of an aunt/niece relationship than a traditional siblings-who-are-2-years-apart relationship.

Jenny Evans said...

I think having the older kids feel like they needed to parent the younger ones was the biggest worry I had when starting a big family. Maybe I swung too much the other way because now I'm like, "Um, you're 12 years old and you need to learn how to change a diaper if you want to get babysitting jobs, dear!" Now I have to actively remind myself to ask them to help the younger kids so they learn how to do it!

Meagan said...

Your daughter is so articulate and self-aware. Your family is clearly doing a great job. I was the middle of 5 kids and it was pretty miserable, well we all were because our family was just very dysfunctional and chaotic. Because of that I think we all would have said we hated having a big family. I liked being at friend's houses who had 1 or 2 kids because everything was so much more calm and quiet, and not as stressful. But that also likely has to do with the type of family mine was, because it was not a happy family, for more reasons than the number of us that there were. It probably would have been regardless, but more people= more yelling and chaos. If I do someday decide to have several children, I hope I can create a home more like yours for my kids to grow up in! I think a happy, loving family will be that way whether they have 1 kid or 10, and a dysfunctional family will be that way whether there is 1 kid or a whole bunch.