The myths of big families

There was a girl in my grade in elementary school whose family had FIVE kids. When I first met her, I remember saying, “Whoa,” like Sarah had just moved in from outer space instead of Shelton, Connecticut, the town to our north. When Sarah was absent for several days in a row, I figured her mom was too busy to send her to school because she had a big family. When her jeans got holes in the knees, I figured they must have been her older sister’s. When her hair was messy, it was because her parents were too busy to help her brush it. I made a lot of assumptions about Sarah’s family when I was a little girl.

When I was a teenager, I joined the LDS Church, and suddenly all these other big families I’d never noticed in my town and my surrounding towns started coming out of the woodwork. For the next several years, I sat in the chapel during sacrament meeting, and observed how parents with five, six, and fourteen kids did it. I came to a lot of conclusions. One of which was that I wasn’t ever going to do something as nuts as having half a dozen kids.

Now that we’re about a month away from welcoming our sixth child into the family, I’ve been eating my words. And I finally feel like I need to confront my eighteen-year-old self and do some mythbusting:

Large families set out with a master plan to “populate and replenish.” Or conversely, that they don’t know “how that happens.”

There are some couples who say they want a big family and actually have that big family. My brother and his wife had their first child a year and a month after their wedding, then had five more in regular intervals of approximately 21 months, until they had six, when they announced that they were done. But there are other couples who desperately want big families but aren’t able to have them for multitudes of reasons. There are families where the mom had two, and the dad had three, then they found each other and had another one. And then there are couples like us, where my husband wanted two. When we had those two, I lobbied hard for another, and another, and I thought we were done. Then, five and six years later, we were blessed with two beautiful additions through adoption, which is not something I’d ever considered until the moment we started the adoption process.

Moms of large families are either totally relaxed or total drill sergeants.

I used to tell people that I couldn’t have more than four kids because I was neither organized enough nor relaxed enough. I knew moms of six who ran their houses like military boot camps, and others where the kids were basically left to fend for themselves. But as we’ve had more and more children, I’ve discovered that I am both a whip cracker and a lazy bum, all rolled into one. I can let lots of things slide (piano practice, cute hairdos, balanced meals, bedtimes for the big kids) except the things that I’m a total maniac about (keeping the house picked up, doing well in school, bedtimes for the little kids).

People who have a lot of kids are religious fanatics.

I used to tell myself that I couldn’t have more than four because I didn’t want people to think I was a Republican. When we’re at parties for my husband’s office, people regularly come up to me and say, “You have six kids? You don’t look like someone who has six kids. You can’t possibly.” Like I should be wearing an ankle-length denim jumper and big, puffy bangs. Or maybe a straightjacket. But this is a post about dispelling stereotypes, not reinforcing them. Suffice it to say, we are just as bad at temple attendance, Family Home Evening, scripture study, etc… as we were four kids ago. Worse, probably.

Kids from big families are overworked and not given the opportunities that kids in “normal” families get.

A few years ago, I was an adviser to the Laurels. I remember preparing for a lesson where the main story was about a girl who was the oldest kid in a large family, and her mother was busy and stressed, and the girl had something she wanted to do that would have conflicted with helping her mother. And the gist of the message was that the girl needed to get over herself and help her mom. I remember closing the book, getting online, and finding another story– I was not going to give that message to the YW in my ward. But I struggle with it as a mom. My oldest daughter is very responsible and likes to help out– her (just slightly) older brother has Asperger’s, and watching babies doesn’t come naturally to him. I do worry that I’m guilty of relying on Annie for help, especially more than I do on her brothers. But as far as opportunities go? My kids get plenty. Annie takes dance three nights a week, has viola and piano lessons, babysits, and gets together with friends all the time. That said, I am much more likely to pull the plug on activities that aren’t working out– like the dinnertime guitar lessons for which my oldest never, ever practiced.

Mothers of large families spend all day behind the wheel of their Suburbans and Honda Odysseys.

This one is actually true.

That there isn’t enough money, attention, or love to go around.

Kids cost a lot– it’s true. And mine don’t go to private school or have ski passes like many of my husband’s colleagues’ kids do. The Lands’ End double-knee climber jeans I bought for my oldest got passed to my younger son, then to his three boy cousins, and might eventually come back to our last boy if I ask for them. You make do.

Anyone who has had more than one child has had the panic that they might not love the second child as much as the first. And then when that second child came into the family they realized how stupid they had been for worrying. It’s the same way with the fourth, fifth, and sixth kids. And not only do you love those kids, but they also have brothers and sisters to love on them. And to pay attention to them when Mom and Dad are giving someone else their own time. Yes, the one-on-one time might be when I’m driving them somewhere, or brushing their hair after a bath, but we figure out when to squeeze it in.

Big families aren’t for everyone, but they’re really not all that different from any other family. Just louder. And messier. And a whole lot of fun.

What are the myths of big families you’ve heard? Have they played out in your experience?

 

 

About Shelah

(Editor-in-Chief) lives in Salt Lake City with her husband and six kids. She has a BA in English Teaching from BYU, an MA in American Culture Studies from Washington University in St. Louis, and an MFA in Creative Writing at BYU. Her work has been published in Dialogue, the Mormon Women Project, Irreantum, BYU Studies, and Segullah. When she’s not writing or wrangling, she can often be found running through the city in the pre-dawn darkness.

45 thoughts on “The myths of big families

  1. I had the opposite experience. I grew up LDS in a family of six kids and big families were the norm. Now I have two kids (and I’m done, for various reasons), and I feel like in LDS culture there are some myths about small families that could also be dispelled. The primary one being that moms with one or two kids aren’t busy. We are. It’s just a different kind of busy. I remember a friend being surprised when her second youngest went to kindergarten that she now had to spend time playing with the child still at home!

    Sorry, I just had to get that off my chest! Back to the topic of big family myths now.

  2. I hear you on that, Roo! I started grad school when #3 started kindergarten, and #4 ended up going to full-day preschool. So when we brought home #5 this spring, it was a shock to my system– I hadn’t had one at home for a decade, and I had forgotten how much work it took to entertain one child!

  3. Also, I think it would be really fun to have a guest post on just that subject– myths about “small” families in LDS culture. Anyone up for the task?

  4. I’m much like you and feel like a whip-cracker and a lazy bum at the same time. I also get the “You don’t look like you have 7 kids.” comment all the time. And I wonder, “What SHOULD I look like?!” I even had a lady at the grocery store tell me, “You look too normal to have 7 kids.” Um, ok. I get similiar comments when they see my tidy house (another similiarity on needing a clean house) – “Wow, it’s really clean.” Again, WHAT were you expecting?!

  5. I only know my experience anecdotally- as the youngest of 5, I loved my family size and my parents did a great job. My husband, however, has a different story: his mom kept having kids because she felt like it was her ticket to the celestial kingdom, but she had a nervous breakdown after kid number and kept popping out babies but stopped actually parenting them. He was the 7th of 8; and was raised by Mario Brothers and freezer pizza. He’ll reminisce about his childhood with his older siblings and they’ll be shocked by how different his childhood was, they remember actively engaged parents, while the younger kids were left very much on their own and not allowed to participate in anything that caused more work for mom (like Boy Scouts, sports, having friends over).
    I can understand any mom could have snapped and there were obviously pre-existing problems that were brought out, but without a doubt, she continued having kids solely because she felt religiously obligated to.

    Good thing, too, I guess, otherwise my husband wouldn’t exist, and somehow (miraculously) he turned out pretty great. His other siblings… well, it’s not a happy story.

  6. I feel like I get two types of negative responses to my five children–which to me is not that huge of a family since my husband and I have 17 siblings between us. But, we’ve never lived anywhere near Mormonland, so large families without denim jumpers are actually unusual.
    #1 response is that I’ve been incredibly selfish to have five children–that our family is using way too much of the Earths/Nations/States/City/school districts resources. But, according to my mother, times have changed for the better. She says that in the 70′s people would regularly come up to her in the grocery store when she had multiple children with her and tell her how world hunger/blight/disease was all caused by her procreation choices.
    #2 response is that people feel incredibly sorry for me. I get pity ALL THE TIME. When really, raising five kids is at least as pleasant as many other life choices I could have made–say working at a hog confinement facility (I’m in the Midwest–we have plenty of those around here).

    Also–for those of you who feel like there are negative preconceptions about small families in the church–don’t worry–they are just as prevalent about large families. I am amazed by how many times I’ve heard someone say (not about me) “I can’t believe she’s already having another baby” or “How will she handle a baby when her other children are so wild?” A few weeks before I had my 4th child another LDS mother said to me “I always wanted four children, but I knew I could be an excellent mother to three and that I’d be a rotten mother to four.” I know she was talking about herself and not me, but still. If large families cannot be accepted in LDS culture, where can they be accepted?

  7. oh, the comments and stares my stair step children got from the two-is-enough European crowd. They don’t remember those negative reactions because they were too buzy living life with their sibs.

  8. I have three and want four, but like your friend, Amos, I’m pretty sure that four would do me in. I feel torn on having another for a lot of reasons, but I think I can finally say that religious obligation is not one of them. Growing up in a very typical LDS, six-kids family, I heard a lot about how my purpose in life is to have lots of babies and I was left entirely unprepared for any other kind of life. I know now that that’s not true, but it took a decade away from home to let go of it as a factor in our family decisions.

    I do know my mom put up with a lot of attitude from people when she took us all out. I remember being embarassed when she walked into my school class pregnant with her last, and my classmates erupted into whispers about how she was having MORE kids?? But I can’t say she relied on me as the oldest too much. Expectations were high, but they applied to my own life not responsibility for my siblings. I actually feel guilty for how little I ever helped out as a teenager. I was in my own selfish world. That said, I also didn’t ask for much as I knew she had no money or time to give me anything extra.

  9. 2 experiemces: my husband came from a family of 7 children who had a non-nurturing mother. But Mormon Culture at that time with its silly myths was a factor for her I’m sure. As a result, he was adamant that he would not live in an environment like that again and would never consider even 4 children. – he was maxed at 3.

    So with. 3 children, I was told many years ago by a member of my ward that I was going to hell for only having that many.

    Since I felt my husband’s feelings had equal merit with my own, I decided I would rather be held accountable for not having more children than be accountable for having more than BOTH my husband and I could nurture, emotionally invest in and love without limits. He loved being home, which he never did growing up.

    Individual circumstances all the way around for each of us.

  10. your perspective and the comments have been excellent.

    having eight children has been the joy of my life.

    when someone would make a comment about the drain children are on this world…expensive to educate etc..this would happen mostly in the mission field. i would reply that it will take good boys and girls to pay taxes to that we can retire and that good boys will travel and bleed on foreign soil for freedom… a blessing offered to people who opted out of having families…etc.

    yes…i have lived my dream and feel greatly blessed.

    ccc

  11. I had 5 kids by the time my oldest was 10 or 11. As she got older, I worried that I was asking too much of her. My wise mother reminded me that it was good for children to have more responsibilities as they grew older! I think balance is the key. And I think making our own well-thought-out decisions about family size (where possible) followed by prayer for confirmation is important as well.

  12. You’re going to be judged inside and outside the church whether your family is large or small. You might as well do what you know is right for your own family, grow a thick skin, and get on with the business of doing the best job you know how and asking the Lord for the grace to make up where you fall short.

    That’s what I keep telling myself (and someday, I think I may get there!)

  13. I am the oldest of nine. I have three. One time when I felt overwhelmed with my own kids I asked my mom how she managed. She said “well, we had you first.” I know she thought it was a funny answer but it hit me. I then understood why I really had planned on two. I did help (a lot) raise my siblings. My husband is from a family with four kids. He always wanted four, I wanted two. We had three. That third tipped the scale to crazy town for me. I knew that was our limit.
    Of my siblings, two don’t ever want kids (overpopulation ya know), two have 3, two have 4. Waiting to see how it ends up.

  14. I feel like it is more that people make assumptions than judgements. Shelah mentioned a number of assumptions she made about large families – assumptions that turned out not to be true when she had a large family of her own. Of course there are the occasionally judgers out there, but generally I think that even people who make clueless remarks are well-intentioned enough. That is my experience in the church from a small family perspective anyway. I’ve heard plenty of clueless remarks, but I’ve never felt judged for my family size.

  15. My dear friend just had her 8th. It’s funny, because when I first met her, they had six kids and I was all “woah!” because I only had three at the time and had little experience with big families. (I only have 2 siblings)

    They make it work, and I’m regularly impressed with how they consistently spend time with each child and devote their energy as parents to raise their children. My friend once told me that she imagines herself as a conduit for Heavenly Father’s love to reach her children, and I try to emulate that with my own, smaller family.

    We’re hoping to have another, bringing the total to five, but I don’t know if we’ll stop there. One kid at a time.

    I still worry about the last point you made – not enough love/time/attention to go around. I feel like I slip up on paying attention to my children on a consistent basis. My thoughts are caught up in my own concerns too often. I have a bad temper that has improved over the years but I fear it has imprinted itself on my eldest far too deeply. I worry constantly that I’m not good enough. We have enough money to go around, and all the kids are involved in different activities, but I don’t know if they get enough of mother and father. Sigh.

  16. Great post and comments. I’m the 6th of 8. My husband, 2nd of 4, and I wanted 4 to 6 kids. We had fertility issues, but still managed to have 5 kids! I had one in college and one in diapers at the same time due to this.

    I actually love telling people I have 5 kids. I live in NY so it is fairly uncommon, but our Catholic friends help it not be unheard of. The most common response is “God bless you!”

    I am not as good a mother as I’d like, but working on it. It is soul stretching and an adventure!

  17. I grew up the oldest of a very large family, and I would never wish my experiences on anyone.
    Indentured servant? Check
    No money? Check
    No time with parents? Check
    I also had a father with an untreated mental illness and a mother who had physical limitations and who was more or less neglectful. While I love each of my siblings and wouldn’t wish one away, I do wonder what my life would have been like had they had a more “normal” number, or had more advantageous circumstances.
    I’m happy for those who have had positive experiences with large families, but I would never in a million years put myself in that position again.

  18. For those of us who have the good fortune to live in a city with public transportation, that part about the hours behind the wheel of the minivan is not true.

    The year our oldest daughter turned 13 we did spend quite a bit of time driving her to and from her classmates’ bar mitzvahs. Other than that, she and her four siblings got around on the subway, from their early teens until they left home for college.

    So it’s only life in the benighted suburbs that condemns one to all those hours in the car.

  19. I used to tell people that we beleived in family planning. We wanted a large family and we got it. The children are apaced 2 to 3 years apart.

  20. Here’s a myth which I’d like confirmed or dispelled: families of large families eat only preprocessed foods because out-of-the-can and out-of-the-box are easier and can be cheaper than fresher alternatives.

  21. I have 6 boys. I hear, “You don’t look like you have that many kids” all the time. I really wonder if I’m “suppose” to be over weight and wearing mom jeans. What is the image in their head? As an LDS famiy on the east coast we always get comments when we are out as a family. “Are all of those yours?” One time when I was pregnant in a store parking lot with 2 of my younger kids. Someone threw a condom at me. That was the worst thing. I have had strangers tell me I was selfish to leave such a large carbon foot print. Whatever…

  22. In response to J, I guess it varies for each family. Some women are naturally disposed to cook fresh foods for their family and shop accordingly to make that happen. While others don’t. As a mother to 5, and one who likes to cook to boot, I always thought it was way more expensive to buy processed food versus fresh and healthy. For example, a frozen dinner that serves four is pretty hefty in price and when you are talking about a large family, then you have to double or triple that. I could prepare the same meal for much less and it would be better.

    I grew up in a family of 8 girls. We were all expected to help out, but my parents were engaged with us. And while I had chores and responsibilities, my parents were very clear about their own responsibilities, which meant actually raising their children.

    I think the experience of big families run the gamut. Some people do really well and are able to delegate appropriately and provide for their families. Others don’t do a good job.

    I think a lot of people believe that big families consume more. For my family, the opposite has been true. We recycle more and tend to be better about not wasting food and resources, simply because our money has to stretch farther. And I’m pretty sure that my 5 kids don’t have more toys than families with 2 children.

    But again, I think that totally depends on parenting style and economic management.

  23. I am the second of five and currently planning my own fifth child. I think you’re spot on about all the myths you’ve described, especially the last one about not having enough to go around. I also worry about not enough time and resources to give my kids the life they could have had in a smaller family, but I’m usually comforted by two things.

    First, I think a family is the best place to learn about service, sacrifice, and charity. You can practice self-control and cooperation in a place where forgiveness and love are practically a requirement.

    Second, all you can do (as was stated above) is try your best and trust God to take up the rest. That’s what the atonement is for, after all. For making up for the human in all of us.

    I occasionally felt neglected as a child because my parents both worked and we were on our own sometimes for food and activites, but overall my parents’ main focus was us, their children. They supported us in every after-school activity/sport/class that we wanted. We went on 2-3 family vacations every year. I grew up with the belief that family was the most important thing and now my siblings (and their spouses) are my best friends. I realize that there are many circumstances in which big families don’t work out, but I love my big family and I want that experience for my kids too.

    In reference to the big-families-eat preprocessed-foods myth, I can tell you that our goal is to eat good, homemade food, but some nights are so jam-packed with meetings and apopintments that a frozen pizza or Hamburger Helper is all we can manage! It feels like we have to wedge dinner in whenever we can.

  24. I am last of 4, married to 2 of 5. Wife wanted 4, but I wanted 6. Accidentally(?) compromised and had 5. Now that I’m much older, am thrilled that grandkids are starting to come into our lives. That is one nice advantage of having a larger number of kids – the odds of having more grandchildren is increased.

  25. I listened to Julie Beck recently on the BYU channel (from an older talk) say that it is rare for the woman who wants a large family to be able to have one. She either has health problems or fertility issues, etc. And then she says there is the woman who wants a smaller family but often she is the one without the health issues or fertility problems.So she says it’s the rarity for it all to work out like the woman wants. I never thought of it that way but looking around and reflecting in my own life, yes, it does seem to be true. I would have LOVED to have had more than 4 but I was so blessed to have 4.

  26. I’m 2nd of 8, my wife is 4th of 4, and we have 5. When I’m asked why we have 5 children, I quote Bill Cosby and say “because we didn’t want 6!”

    I feel that being in a large family (2 adopted when I was an older teen) was very good for me. It was also quite a surprise.

    My parents divorced when I was 10. My father remarried when I was 12, and until then I was an only child. I was also spoiled, rude, inconsiderate and very selfish. On their wedding day, I became the 2nd of 5 soon to be 6, including a brother and sister who are handicapped. It took a little longer to get rid of the rudeness, but the other problems I had were stripped away pretty quickly. I learned how to get along with just about anyone, and to eat just about anything (mom wasn’t a great cook).

    It also fell to me to be the handyman. Mom wouldn’t ask Dad to do much of that because he was working so hard to provide for us. So I learned to figure out some way to make it work, whatever was broken. Mom still has a Formica topped breakfast bar I made when I was 16. I’d do it a lot differently if I made one today, but it’s held up for over 30 years almost exactly the way it was originally completed.

    Having a large family has its challenges, but the rewards, to me anyway, far outweigh any “hardship” I may feel.

    For those who feel judged because of the size of their family, small or large, remember it is on one’s business how many children you have. That decision rests solely between you and the Lord.

  27. I love the comments about myths about small families. Pretty much any judgment we make on each other is usually wrong and always hurtful. I love the quotes that say the number of children you have is a private decision between the couple and the Lord.

    I grew up one of eight. We lived in the San Francisco Bay Area, and we were an anomaly. The largest LDS families in our area that we knew were only up to six kids, so 5-6 kids always seemed mid-sized to me. (But of course many childhood perceptions seem silly now!) I only met one other family in our area when I was growing up that had the same family size as we did, and they were Catholic (and awesome, by the way).

    So people were always “wowed” and overwhelmed by our family. In our all schools and doctors’ offices we just kept trooping through, year after year. I felt like everyone thought we were strange and/or crazy, but at the same time I couldn’t imagine my life without any of my siblings.

    We lived in a 3-bedroom house (and my parents still do). It was squished. I had one drawer and one shelf to myself, and that was about it. When I was young and dramatic (probably about 5-7), I would hide in the closet just to get away from everyone (and their teasing and squabbles). When I was a teenager I kept looking forward to my sister moving on to college so I could have her top bunk and my own bed for the first time since I was six (my just-younger sister and I shared the bottom bunk double mattress). But when my older sister did grow up, our youngest brother (3 years old at the time) sobbed ALL the way back across Nevada when we left her in Rexburg, and for months I kept turning to “my” bed to ask her a question, briefly forgetting and then thoroughly mourning that she was gone. It was like she died.

    I used to think of the piano bench as my only refuge in the house (I was the only one who never gave it up). There could be quarreling and TV and Legos and homework going on all around me, but I could escape through my music and feel calm, peaceful, and free.

    My siblings and I can laugh that we’ve never had our own rooms because we had each other growing up, then roommates, then spouses, but I wouldn’t want to go back and change things any other way. We didn’t have very much money as a large family in a very expensive area and with often unforeseen volatile employment, but we turned out homemade and homegrown, which I would never want to change.

    Now as a mother of two, I just can’t imagine how my parents did it, and I appreciate them more and more and more every day for everything–so many things–I took for granted about their love, care, and sacrifice for us.

    I just wanted to share my experience, not just advocate large families. Families come in all shapes and sizes (and every other variation!). I think we have great examples in the scriptures of righteous (and not-so) in the scriptures of families of all kinds. I know that no matter what the answer is for our family or your family–and whether you decide it or it’s beyond your control–it can be a perfect plan for your family as long as we seek and follow the Lord’s will, guidance, and comfort.

    I love looking at the lives of the living apostles. They all have different family sizes and stories. There’s a quote by Sister Holland in the marriage institute manual about crying bitter tears that she could only have four children. The Scotts only had two biological children (I think that number is right) who both died young, and adopted the rest (I think five more!). We all know that they’re on the right track with our Father’s plan, even though all of their families are different.

    Choices and agency are hard, but so beautiful.

  28. Great Job, Shelah! My favorite book growing up was “Cheaper by the Dozen,” and I really, truly wanted a large family….which, after several years of infertility, and then three children, and the last pregnancy being horrible and more pain than I’m thinking I might be able to stand again… yeah, no giant happy family for this pain bound woman. BUT…the family I’ve got is doing pretty good.

    My Big Family myth? When I was a kid we lived near one big family, one of seven kids, four which were adopted. The adopted children in the family, though we didn’t know it yet, all had FAS, and the mother was undiagnosed with difficult emotional disorders. At the time, I just figured something was wrong, and thought all large families were disorderly, angry, yelling family, and all of them were a mistake…. and I was wrong. Then I married int a large family, my husband being the oldest of seven… all of whom have their own adventures, but seeing the difference in a family where the gospel is taught strongly, but not “enforced…” made all of the difference. Where the older kids helped with the younger ones from love, not from duty. Where nobody stole and lied all the time… it was a huge difference. I realized that the family I had seen as a child was just… one broken family, doing the best they could with a very different life than what they had expected. Not indicative of all large families, or even of their later lives! Now I know several large and ultra large families…. some which work wonderfully, some which struggle along, and ALL of whom I have nothing but love and admiration for!

  29. One thing I think is interesting that hasn’t really been addressed yet is that the “big Mormon family” has definitely gotten smaller. I am from a family of 10 children, which was definitely a big family when I was growing up. You don’t see that much anymore, I think the new “big” family is 5-6 kids, and the new Mormon normal is 3-4.

    I am always interested to see how many children people have when they came from a big family. Sometimes you can see that coming from a big family was a good experience, and where possible the children go on to have their own big families. Sometimes you can see that the children feel in some way damaged by being in a big family and they have only a few.

    My husband and I thought we were never going to be able to have the big family we wanted, and then child #4 turned out to be triplets. (Instant big family.) We were living in the south, and what was interesting was how people reacted. I am not trying to be racist at all, but overwhelmingly, white people reacted badly to our news of triplets & the size that our family was going to be. But african-americans were really lovely about it–they all told me how blessed I was. It was a difficult time and I really appreciated that!

  30. I think you’re totally right, Cindy, about the new Mormon normal. My sister and I were just talking the other day about how “4 is the new 6″ when it comes to the families we see in our ward as adults compared to what it was like growing up. I would be really interested in anyone’s opinion why that is…I think it’s a complex answer, the world is different now!

    I grew up in a family of 6 kids. That never seemed very big to me, just average, because there were lots of bigger families in our ward. (It wasn’t Utah.) In fact, I remember feeling bad for my best friend growing up because she had a “small” family (4) and I thought it must have been “so boring.” As the mother of two littles now, I just laugh at my 12 year old self!

    My husband is the 2nd of 9 and I marvel at his parents sacrifice and devotion to their family. They are truly incredible, and it took me a long time being a part of that family before I stopped being intimidated by his angel mother.

    Enjoying this discussion!

  31. One more story….
    Last fall I was at my daughter’s parent teacher conferences. They were in the gym at the high school–every teacher had a table and parents waited in lines to speak to them.
    I sat with my daughter’s English teacher. The teacher said “Your daughter is very quiet. I think I understand though–she’s told me about her background.”
    My daughter is shy, but has a pretty good life I think–she loves school, she is a great pianist, she has lots of good friends–but now I’m wondering what in the world my daughter confided to her teacher?
    I guess I was looking confused because the teacher looked around to make sure no one was listening, leaned close, lowered her voice and said “She’s told me about how she comes from a large family and that must be why she is quiet.”
    Our whole family has been laughing about that. It’s made me wonder what in the world that teacher thinks about large families (five children in this case)? Maybe she thinks that each child is only allowed to speak every fifth day? Or that I would be ashamed if another parent overheard that I have five children?

  32. I think one of the myths is that any personality trait a child has MUST be because of the family size (like Amos says). My kids (I have 9) are all early movers. Most walk by 9 or 10 months. I’m convinced its genes, but everyone around me says things like, “Just wanted to keep up with all those older siblings, I’m sure.” Right. And the reasons my first few kids did it too?

    I hate the “not enough love to go around” or “older siblings must be raising the younger” and “you must be supermom” ones too.

  33. I came from a small family, 4 kids, my husband is from a family of six boys. He wanted 5-6 kids, I thought 3-4, and we were eventually blessed with one. She is seven now, and it is obvious no others are coming. So we get to deal with all the fun comments that come along with having an only, after the ten years of infertility and all those great comments.

    That being said, I have an aunt and uncle who had 9 kids, possibly more as no one is quite sure of their names. We used to dread family events because this giant musical family would show up and perform for hours. It probably wasn’t hours, but it dragged. One once broke into song a Chuck-a-Rama.

    Most of my cousins have gone on to have fairly large families. I actually was in a birth class with one of them, and when I asked another cousin if they had the baby yet, she said “I have 30 nieces and nephews, I can’t keep track of who is pregnant or not!” And my aunt and uncle are now completely overwhelmed at the amount of grandchildren they have.

  34. I just wrote on our blog about the process of deciding that two children made our family complete, and how hard that was for me to come to trems with.

    I always wanted a “large” (5 kids) family, but that’s not what has happened for us, and it’s been so healing to let go of all the misconceptions that come with choosing to have a “small” family.

    It was fun to read a bit about the other side of the coin. Thanks for sharing!

  35. I’m the oldest of 7 children. As I was growing up, I didn’t realize how lucky I was to have that experience. (Selfish teenagers aren’t prone to being grateful.) But now that I’m a mother and have been able to have only two children, I see with new eyes all that I gained and learned by having 6 siblings. I feel guilty almost daily that I haven’t been able to provide that to my two children.

    Having been in a large family, and now having a small one, I’ve heard the comments made about both large and small families. And I have to say… the comments made about the small family stings a bit more. Maybe that’s because I’m the responsible party now. My brother-in-law accused me of being a “wimp” for only having two children. A woman in my ward said, “If you hadn’t put off marriage you would have been able to have more kids. You’re regretting that now, aren’t you?” I didn’t put off marriage… she didn’t know me or my story. She was just making assumptions based on what it all looked like to her.

    The reality is: no one has the right to make comments about something as sacred and personal as another person’s eternal family. I have two kids, but that’s not by choice. I would have welcomed double that number. Infertility is a common problem, and comments about what a small family another person has are just hurtful. No one really knows what goes on in another person’s life.

    I would love to read a piece about myths of small families. I hope someone writes that.

  36. Laurel, I’m sorry that anyone has said such insensitive and hurtful things to you. You are right that no one has the right to make comments about another person’s family. I’m like you – grew up in a large family, now have 2 kids, and would have welcomed more. I have also felt sad that my kids won’t grow up with lots of siblings and that their kids won’t have lots of cousins like they do. But I would also like to say to you that there are all kinds of ways to grow up, and I don’t think that your two kids or any child that is an only child is missing out on anything. I can see good things about being an only child or having just one sibling. I have applied 1 Nephi 3:7 to my situation. If I was meant to have more kids, the Lord would have sent more. If I’m meant to have just two, then the Lord will provide a way for me to raise those two and no blessings will be denied to them due to a lack of siblings. My kids are happy. They don’t tell me they wish they had a bigger family. I don’t feel guilty about not having more kids, because it wasn’t a choice that I made.

    I hope that you can feel the Lord’s love for you and your children and know that your family is just as it should be. Blessings to you and all of us with our few, many, or no children! We’re all just doing the best we can!

  37. Roo–thank you for your kind words. That means a lot to me. I do need to let go of this guilt. Because you’re right… there are all kinds of ways to grow up. I just wish my kids didn’t sense that there could be more to our family. I have a son and a daughter; and they’ve both said to me, “I wish I had a sister to play with.” Or, “I wish I had a brother to play with.” That’s what really upsets me. But you’re right… God sent to us the family we were meant to have. And I need to recognize His hand in our family. Thank you, again, for your sweet words!

  38. My number is 2 of 10, and I recognize many of the “problems” described by other posters about large families. I went away to college at 17 and didn’t look back, coming home only briefly a couple times a year.

    By the time I had graduated, traveled abroad, served a mission, and finally married, my resolve had softened, and when my first pregnancy ended at 3 months, I gave the whole “family size” thing to the Lord to decide for me – any number, or none at all, I would trust him to bless me with what I needed.

    My first child was born when I was 25, and my 8th when I was 39. I don’t know if the Lord has any more reserved or not, but I’ve been very happy with what I’ve been given. AND, I have grown in ways I never imagined.

    My theory, based on informal observation is that often women who have the strongest desire to have children are prevented by infertility or other issues outside their control (medical mistakes, no spouse, etc.) I now figure I needed to have a large family so I would stay in Mommy Mode long enough to learn what I was supposed to from the experience. I also home-school, and that has saved me because I have plenty of time to spend with my children each day and don’t have the competing demands of the school bus schedule and nightly homework fights. Without that flexibility, I don’t know if I would enjoy my large family as much.

    By the way, my mother told my it gets easier after 3 kids. In my case, she was right.

  39. A few years ago I realized that, at least for me, the Lord was more willing to judge the desires of my heart than the number of children I produced. I think it’s like that scripture in King Benjamin’s talk where he talks about those who pass by the beggar because they have nothing to give, but know that if they could they would. I didn’t want to have kids before getting married; I didn’t have a lot of experience with them and wasn’t sure I wanted to be a mother. I’ve only had three and will only have that many for various reasons, but now I feel like I’ve had a change of heart. I love children and I love parenting. At least for me, I know that this is enough and that the Lord is OK with that. He knows I love my children and that I value family and motherhood, and that those qualities are not contingent on the number of children I have.

  40. Growing up Catholic, I knew a lot of large families and have kind of a fascination with large families. I have one brother and one sister so I don’t have firsthand experience. Thanks for doing some myth busting.

  41. Shelah, I understand your “surprise” at being mom to 6, since you and I have created our families of 6 kids in very similar ways, something neither of us planned. I’m just glad we can all count on God to do our family planning for us if we let him, however that turns out. Watch out: adoption is addicting — you may end up with 8 or 10 before you’re done!

  42. I think the underlying factor in having a well-adjusted happy family, no matter what the size, is loving (and at least somewhat well-adjusted) parents. I grew up in a big family, and had a very unhappy childhood, not because there was very little money to go around, but because my mother was very young when she started having kids; her immaturity and mental illness translated into difficult and abusive childhoods for her 6 children. I’m also sure that our LDS culture was the main reason that she kept having children when it was so apparent that she was not able to handle parenting. I never didn’t want a big family, I just wanted a happy one, regardless of size. I’ve had my share of comments about having 5 children (in a non-LDS area), but most of them in a lighthearted or teasing way, very few of the “don’t you think you’ve had enough” variety, though those comments do hurt when they come my way.

  43. WARNING: Stream of consciousness comment coming up: I have ten children (oldest is a senior in high school, youngest is almost six months old) and I consider that we are a VERY normal family–we love each other but get annoyed by each other sometimes. We go through cycles of having the kids pretty involved in extra-curricular stuff to taking a break to have more down time. We keep our house clean (I happen to be an excellent delegater so I don’t end up doing all of it), but at least once a day it looks like a bomb went off. My husband and I are careful with how we use our time–most of our focus right now is on keeping everybody and everything running but it is worth it to us. Our kids are healthy physically and mentally and I get compliments ALL the time about them. I joke it’s b/c of all the blood, sweat and tears I’ve poured into this project. We have been truly blessed to be able to do this. It is not for everyone–for a variety of reasons. I hope my children will forgive our shortcomings and focus on the good things they have received from us, but ultimately that will be their decision. I think dysfunctional LARGE families are more noticeable b/c they ARE so big. There are LOTS of really dysfunctional small families that fly more under the radar simply b/c there are fewer people involved. I think about Lehi and Sariah’s family and how sad it would have been if they had stopped with Laman and Lemuel. I sometimes hear people blame Sariah for the way her first two children turned out. I usually jump up and reply that if you are going to blame her for those two,then you’d better give her credit for the last four as well. I guess what I am trying to say is that every family should do the best with what they have been given and seek inspiration. Ten children (or two or three) is NOT a one-size fits all solution.

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