Wednesday, October 30, 2019

7 Things People Don't Understand about Big Familes

I have 6 children, and over the years I've fielded my fair share of curious inquiries, raised eyebrows, and occasional shocked silence about it.

Most people aren't straight-up rude. But it's clear many of them share some common misunderstandings about big families, and today I'd like to set the record straight.

Big Family Fact #1: The Kids Don't Come All At Once

Some people assume I had 6 kids because I possess some magical quality that makes parenting super-easy for me. I wish that were true, but no. I've always been at my max as far as parenting goes.

Fortunately for me, a basket full of 6 children wasn't delivered to my doorstep when I became a mom. The kids came one at a time, as kids usually do, and I figured it out as I went.

Think of it like this: if n is the number of children you can handle, when you have a big family all you have to do is + 1. You do that once, then twice, then three or more times, and that's it. That's the secret.

(And remember, that also means anything less than n is comparatively easy. Even though I was once completely overwhelmed by the daily care and feeding of two tiny humans, today if 4 of my 6 children are out of the house it feels like I'm vacationing at an all-inclusive resort in Cancun.)

Big Family Fact #2: The Kids Are Not All the Same Age

When people hear "six kids" and I see the look in their eyes, I think they're picturing me at home with 6 toddlers or trying to buckle 6 kids in their carseats every time we run errands.

But in reality, the older ones are independent and helpful while the younger ones are affectionate and cute and able to lift the moods of everyone in the family.

If you've spent much time with children, you'll know that every age and stage has parts that are really hard and parts that are absolutely delightful. So it makes sense that big families mean both more hard work and more delight.

I really don't think having a large family is harder, it's just more. Of everything.

Big Family Fact #3: The Younger Kids Learn From the Older Ones. Mostly Good Things.

Once I went to a botanical garden with a friend who had one toddler, and she couldn't believe how well he was staying with us. "If it was just me and my husband," she kept saying, "we'd be chasing him all over the place. But he sees all your kids walking away and he's like, 'Oh! The bus is leaving!' and runs after them."

That kind of thing happens all the time. For better or for worse, I feel like the kids have a bigger impact on each other than Phillip and I sometimes do.

The younger kids are always watching the older ones, and more often than not they're learning good things. Not always, mind you, but I think it's a net positive. So in some ways, having a large family actually makes the younger kids a little easier to raise.

Big Family Fact #4: Kids Aren't Exponentially Harder (Or More Expensive)

One comment I get all the time is "Wow, six kids?! I can barely handle my one/two..."

I get why people might assume 6 kids are three times harder than 2, or six times harder than 1, but it doesn't actually work that way. In some ways it's harder (I do more multitasking and have to balance very different sets of needs) but in other ways it's easier (I have babysitters and drivers, and the kids can play together while I'm occupied.)

That's actually the same reason I hate the USDA child cost calculator, which assumes I'm buying a new crib, a complete wardrobe, a bigger house, and a larger car with the birth of each child. Like hard work, new family members add expenses to the family  but not exponentially.

Big Family Fact #5: There's No "Typical" Big Family Mom

Oddly enough, the other comment I get most is: "Really? You don't look like you have six kids!"

I'm not sure if that means they think I look too skinny or too happy or what, but let me tell you there are all kinds of big family moms. We don't "look" like anything.

I know a lot of women with 5+ kids. Some are super-organized and some are dumpster fires. Some planned all their kids and some didn't. Some are ridiculously wealthy and some aren't. As far as I know, there's not a typical big family mom.

Big Family Fact #6: There Are Lots of Ways to Spend Time Together

Sometimes people talk as if you can only create good family relationships with weekly parent-child "dates" to Super Fun World for bowling and mediocre pizza. But I disagree.

Not only do I think time together can be just as meaningful when siblings or the whole family is around, I also believe that what really counts is the sum of the ordinary interactions we have with each other.

There may be two or three kids sharing my lap when we read bedtime stories, but it doesn't mean we don't have fun and create positive moments together every day.

Big Family Fact #7: It's Not Hard to Tell My Kids Apart

Really, it's not. It's hard for you to conceptualize when you see all 6 of my kids piling out of my van in the parking lot, but I know each one of them as well as you know your children.

Most of the time, I forget we're a big family by most people's standards, and when I see another group of 8 people walking around I think, "Oh my gosh, do we really look that huge?"

I may accidentally call my kids by the wrong name 75% of the time, but that's not exactly a problem unique to big families. I know because I grew up with one brother and a dog, and I learned to respond to their names as well as my own.

—   —   —   

Do these 7 actual, true facts about having a large family seem obvious to me? Yes.

But based on the comments and wrinkled-up noses I've gotten when I tell people I have 6 kids, I think they still need to be said.

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Unknown said...

So very well said! I am very glad my six came one at a time. Although at one point I really wanted twins. The Lord is sometimes very wise in answering our prayers. The benefits of being in a large family are so many. They learn to share, to play games, to help each other, to celebrate each other's successes, to get along.

Anonymous said...

This was a good reminder to me, I have 6 kids, but everyone I know has 2, 3, or 4 and I catch myself thinking, "they don't understand my life because they only have x number of kids". Really I should remember that whatever number we have is probably pushing us and a large family is just more. More work yes, but also more love. Thanks again for helping me keep things in a positive perspective.

PurpleSlob said...

Jenny, thanks for schooling me on big families!

AnneMarie said...

I completely agree with these! I'm the second oldest of six kids, and I've known many, many other big families (some much bigger than my family of origin) over the years and can attest to all these things. Having only one child is exhausting, and I've found that life is still exhausting with two kids, but they entertain each other and help each other, so it's actually easier in many ways-and like I saw with my siblings growing up, if God sends us more kids (of staggering ages) then hopefully this type of sibling cooperation will continue to happen! :)

Kimberly said...

I think for most people (myself included), the definition of "big family" is "any family that has more kids than you do."

And you're right--in some ways, having multiple children is easier because they help, entertain, and teach each other (mostly good things).

NFox said...

Mine came 3, then 2 then 1 and 1, so it was a bit wild but fun!