How Many Kids = a Big Family?
Some folks think we have a large family. Yet compared to the folks in my church and community when I was growing up, our family size is average or small. So who decides, anyhow?
I have cousins who had a dozen or more kids.
You know what? When those kids get together now, they have the most fun remembering their childhood. When they have family meetings to plan for elder care for parents or to plan a funeral, there are plenty of them to help carry the load (and disagree about things, I’m sure).
Some of these cousins didn’t wear shoes in the summer (not even to church) because there wasn’t enough money. However, they didn’t lack for playmates and there were plenty of siblings to help with chores, yard work, and the laundry produced by all those children.
Not a single one of them would trade a sibling now for more money or shoes when they were growing up. I think they’ve all but forgotten about being shoeless in the summer. They recognize that having less than many of their friends “grew them up” to a maturity they probably wouldn’t have developed had everything been handed to them.
Dave and I come from what folks consider large families. He’s the second of eight, and I am next to the youngest of six girls with nine older half-siblings. So while it’s true that some siblings view a large family differently than Dave or I do, we experienced and saw the blessings and benefits of a family who worked and played together. Neither of us would trade our family size – dysfunctions and all. (Oh yes. What family doesn’t have its dysfunctions?)!
A cousin (from a family of four) told one of my siblings a few years back, “I used to feel sorry for your family because you were poorer than the rest of us. But now I’m the only one of my siblings left, and you all still have each other. You have so much fun together. Now I am the one who is jealous of you.”
Yep. What goes around comes around.
There’s a whole lot more to a lot of kids than meets the checkbook.
Folks look at large families, and all they can think about is the bills they’d have to pay with that number of kids and the work involved in maintaining a household of that size.
I can’t for the life of me figure out why they can’t understand the wealth of inspiration, creativity, support, and camaraderie there is with a larger family. Of course, if you’ve never experienced it, how would you know what you’re missing?
If we had to do it over again, we’d still have our half dozen – or more. We know that the bennies outweigh the fits. (Get it? Ben-e-fit).
Here are a few reasons Dave and I think it’s a blessing to have a larger family.
Children learn responsibility, service, and work ethic.
Older children learn to be responsible for younger ones. A child who needs to read a story for homework can read to a younger child. Our kids would rather have been responsible for keeping the baby happy than cleaning a bathroom, and they learned to do it well. They knew if the baby got too fussy, they’d be doing manual labor while another child got to entertain the baby.
Children learn about service when they are folding laundry that is not of their own making, cleaning bathrooms of toothpaste not splattered by them, and sweeping floors frequently because there’s always someone spilling food or tracking in dirt. Service is a good practice.
When our kids were young, their participation in the Livestock Show was a family event. Everybody pitched in to care for the animals, to train them, and later get them ready for the show. It didn’t matter which animal(s) you were showing or how old you were; you were expected to pitch in and help feed, water, and train the animals. Kids from small families miss out on many experiences working together in such a way. It’s inevitable. The smaller the family size, the less need and, consequently, less opportunity for shared responsibility.
(There is no parenting law that says parents are obligated to pay for their children’s education, vehicles, or housing.) In both of our families and with our own children, young people learned to earn income for college, the purchase of a vehicle, and other needs and wants. When there are more kids than money, they will find a way to fund what they want. All of us are less wasteful of money if it is what we ourselves have earned. Kids apply themselves more when it’s their money.
Children learn to share.
They share rooms ( sometimes beds), and sometimes they share dressers. At one point, we had four boys in one bedroom (two sets of bunk beds) and not a lot of dresser space. Our daughters shared a bed and a room, and while they disliked it, it was good for them. They learned to share space with each other.
My room and my space breeds selfishness, entitlement, independence, and can even lead to isolation. While it’s true that teenagers like to have their own space, the resulting opportunity to isolate themselves from everyone else in their own world is not often profitable. Give a teen a room of his own and he can hibernate all day and all night. Put him in a room with other siblings and he has to relate to others in the family.
Sharing comes more readily if we need to do it from little up. Recently an aunt told me that when her three sons were teenagers, her oldest son wanted a room of his own. They had an extra room, but she told her son that it was good for all of them to be together, and it was good for him to share. Now a great-grandmother, she has wisdom from which we all can learn.
“We never did let him have a room of his own. And I wouldn’t do it any differently now,” she told me.
Children learn problem-solving.
There’s something to be said for allowing each other privacy (not snooping in someone else’s drawers). There’s something to be said for having a part of a room where you can have “your stuff.”
Yet the house is a home for a family. It’s not about an individual; it’s about the group as a whole. Working out space and sharing a bathroom helps kids learn conflict resolution.
Little wonder then that some college students have difficulty adjusting to sharing a dorm room (and a bathroom) with someone else if they’ve never needed to share in their own home. Small wonder that they’d rather live off-campus in an apartment where they can be the master of their own lives in a way they can’t if they’re in a dorm. Don’t get me wrong; I don’t think there’s anything wrong with living off campus. The reason behind that choice is my point of concern.
The more kids in the family, the more potential there is for conflict and rivalry. Likewise, the greater the opportunity to learn about solving problems in life.
Children learn to play together.
The more kids there are, the greater the potential for creativity and fun because so many more minds are working out ideas! Whether it’s table games, playing softball in the front yard, or climbing trees, more kids equal more fun. There might only be one sled or one bat, but they learn to share with each other and enjoy watching their siblings have fun.
Boredom is a minimum when there are playmates. In one place we lived, neighbor kids liked playing at our house. One of the boys told his mom that it was always more fun at the Slabach’s house than anywhere else. There was a reason for that: the kids had plenty of playmates and imagination (partly because we didn’t have a TV and they had to make up their own entertainment).
In a recent interview with the McCaughey septuplets, the siblings agreed, hands down that the best thing about their family was not being alone and always having someone with whom to talk and play.
Children learn to work at managing rivalry (or they should).
When there’s a new baby, the former baby learns to share. Younger children learn to share their parents’ attention with older siblings. Sometimes older kids need to give up their personal wants if there’s a need or a schedule change involving younger kids. As children work and play together, there is competition and rivalry. That’s normal and natural. Learning to work through those problems prepares them for life.
Children experience comradery.
There is a part of belonging to each other, working together, playing together, competing, rivaling, and being part of a group of kids in a family that gives one an experience of comradery. There’s something about the stories you can tell from your childhood that gives a special bond. It’s just you and your siblings, and no one else knows because they weren’t there. Children from one-child homes don’t have any of that. A family of just two kids experiences it some, but not nearly to the degree that other larger families do. It’s true. There’s a greater support system if there are more siblings to cheer and applaud, to console and defend.
Children are a gift of the Lord. . . . Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are the children of one’s youth. How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them. (Psalm 127:3-5).
God does not always give parents the opportunity to have a “quiver full”. Infertility and miscarriages are common, and not being able to bear children is not a curse from God. There are other parents who choose to view children as a liability and a hindrance to the time and the money they want for their own pursuits. If these “pursuits” are not a call from God, then is choosing what they want not selfishness?
Parents who recognize that they can shape and sharpen arrows for the Kingdom of God are blessed. They can know the joy of helping their kids learn life lessons within the laboratory of their home. These parents find the joy and fulfillment of raising kids who know how to communicate, share, serve, and work together.
This clan of parents is united in their declaration that the satisfaction of launching a group of mature youngsters into the real world far outweighs the sacrifice of extra stuff and financial status.
And the family memories and stories from the home life in those families? They’re to die for!