Thursday, August 15, 2013

On Big Families

A question I get fairly often is "How do you do it?", "it" meaning raising 4 kids.  The question tends to come from two different kinds of people: other young moms who only have one or two kids and feel like they're overwhelmed or drowning (to whom I say "Hang in there! It gets better! It gets easier--or at least a different kind of hard."); and people who have no children, or only one or two, and can't understand why I would even want lots of kids. I was raised in a family of five kids (where we often had "extras" in the form of foster kids, semi-adopted friends, or cousins), so it took me some time to adjust to the mindset that, by today's standards, we have a "big family".  Four doesn't feel that big (ask me if I still feel that way when they're all teenagers).  When I mention that we might want to have one or two more when I'm done with school, people sometimes look at me as though I've just declared that nuclear war really wouldn't be so bad.

From a parenting perspective, I certainly understand the appeal of having only one or two kids.  There are so many things that would be easier, especially from a financial and logistical standpoint.  Our kids certainly don't have as many things or participate in quite as many activities as kids from smaller families.  Of course, since they have three playmates at home, they don't usually miss the stuff or the structured activities, either.  I don't mean to imply that parents of small families are selfish--people and circumstances are different, and each couple must decide what is right for them, and I don't know anyone that makes such decisions lightly.

But from a kid's perspective, even an adult kid, I can't imagine life without a big family.  When I was pregnant with Keira, I got one of those more-bewildered-than-admiring "I don't know how you do it"s, from an only child who only raised two children, and it instantly clicked for me why the big family was so appealing to me (or at least one of the reasons): "I loved growing up with so many people who loved me all in one house, and as an adult my siblings have been my favorite people and the greatest support system, and I'm grateful that my parents gave that to me, so hopefully we're giving that to our kids, too."  I was the youngest of the five, so maybe as the baby I'm biased toward big families because mine took such great care of me.  It was not easy for my parents to provide for all of us, but I am more deeply grateful with each passing year that my parents made the sacrifices necessary to raise a big family and to help us build good relationships with each other as we grew.  As an adult it is easy to recognize that, aside from my life itself and their love, the greatest gifts my parents have given me are my brothers and sisters.

When my kids have driven me near the breaking point of sanity with their fighting or bickering, I remind myself that.  I remind myself that, on the whole, they spend much more time happily playing than they do arguing or competing.  I'm sure my siblings and I had times when we bickered, fought, picked.  But that isn't what I remember.  I remember Christa hauling us to the lake and softball practices with her friends;  I remember Gwen helping me learn to read, and organizing games and dance parties; I remember my big brother bringing me a corsage that perfectly coordinated with my dress one year when I went to prom stag.  I remember my twin brother being my security blanket whenever I had to interact with the big, scary world, and always being an example of generosity, especially in the way he treated me.  I learned most of the best things I know about how to treat people and how to build and strengthen relationships from my brothers and sisters.  (And let's face it, the hardest parts of living with lots of other people teach you to buck up, be resilient and get over yourself).

I once had a childless woman tell me that I didn't know what I was missing.  Hogwash.  A successful career, financial ease, movie nights, nice dinners, traveling and actually being able to stay awake long enough to finish a good book are all fun--sometimes even rewarding--but in and of themselves they hold no real, lasting joy for me.  Yes, you childless souls know you're missing sleepless nights and financial and time restrictions and messy fingers all over your new clothes.  But you really can't conceive of the joy you are missing.  Each child brings immeasurable, and indescribable, joy to their parents.  As you add more kids, the increase in joy is more exponential than arithmetic: each child brings as much joy to their parents as the last, but it isn't merely doubled, because that child brings so much joy to each of those who came before as well.  No joy can really compare with that of seeing your children's love for each other in action.

And then when you start adding aunts and uncles and cousins to the mix. . . .

1 comment:

Kaytee Postma said...

LOL Nuclear war!! That line made me laugh out loud!