This post is in conjunction to Shelah’s post, The Myths of Big Families.
I grew up in a family with five kids. Large by non-LDS standards, but still medium sized to those in the church. Since my mom comes from nine and my father from six, and I had several aunts and uncles that had eight of their own, I hardly thought my families numbers were overly abundant. Growing up I saw friends and neighbors that came from families of only two kids and a few only children, and I couldn’t fathom what their lives were really like. Did they get everything they wanted? What was it like to never ever share time on the computer, a bathroom, clothes or a car? What did their parents do with all the free time (since one or two kids is a piece of cake)? And since we learned at church that families were central to God’s plan and that children were a blessing, I wondered if their family experience really could feel as full as the one I grew up in. I thought that maybe they might not feel the same since they weren’t crowding nearly so many people around the table. I even confess to looking at couples that had one kid that was 3 or 4 and wondering why they weren’t having another – didn’t they want their child to have a sibling?
And then the tables turned. After my husband and I had had one child, I knew I was in absolutely no rush to have any more. I realized that even if he was my only child, my heart would feel full, I was so glad to have him. Then I knew we should have another, and it took a really long time. And suddenly we were the couple with a three or four year old, and no second child. And people started asking us questions.
Now I have that second child, and she’s four and half and we haven’t given her a sibling and some people look at my little family and wonder the same things I did looking back at families that look strikingly like my now does. Time to do some mythbusting.
Since my family is still young, I pulled in some help from Blue, who also has two children, who are older than mine, so she’s a bit more seasoned to help respond to these common myths.
Children from small families are spoiled or selfish because they don’t have siblings to necessitate sharing.
Sandra: If my kids are spoiled and selfish it’s not just because they come from a small family. Yes, it is true that my kids don’t share a room, but they do share a bathroom, plenty of toys, and their parents’ attention. So, yes and no. Spoiled, I try to avoid it, but selfish, I think that just comes naturally to all kids. But then I catch my daughter share a treat or tot spontaneously, I think that there may still be hope in the world. I can’t speak for only children, but I get the sense that you can try your best to teach a child lessons that are important no matter their sibling count, there are plenty of places to learn.
Blue: I agree with Sandra that if my kids are spoiled, it’s not because they lack more siblings. Everyone has to learn these lessons no matter what your family size. Some kids in large families are spoiled, and some only children aren’t…it’s partly their nature, partly their parenting, partly their environment and their exposure to the broader world. Teaching them to love others and fostering a sense of gratitude is requisite for all of us. When they start comparing and feeling entitled, I remind them to “compare down instead of up”. Don’t look at what you don’t have compared to others. Look at all you DO have that others don’t. There’s a good reason that not coveting is one of the ten commandments. It’s a struggle for all of us, and we need that reminder.
Kids from small families miss out by not having the sibling experience they would have in a larger family.
Sandra: Maybe. It is true that I could move on to another sibling if one wasn’t the playmate I wanted at the time, and pillow fights were more deadly with more swinging feather-filled pillow cases. But I can’t be sad over what they can’t miss; they don’t know otherwise. Right now, I have two kids, four years apart, that play together, fight together, and act a lot like I did with my family, but on a smaller scale. Yes, I am sure that sometimes they would love to have a sibling closer to their age to play with, but I appreciate that they aren’t quite at the same level and still play together everyday.
Blue: I have a girl and a boy. Did I wish they could each have a sister and a brother? Of course! I have two brothers and two sisters, and honestly, I can’t imagine my life without my sisters. Though we were not close growing up, as adults they are two of my favorite people. But since my kids only have each other, I’ve worked hard to help them learn to be friends, and hope someday they feel about each other the way I feel about them. I have reminded them that if they marry someday, my daughter will give her brother a brother-in-law, and he will supply her with a sister-in-law. So most likely, I’ll end up with four kids eventually. Which thing makes me happy.
In the church, those with small families are made to feel guilty for their family size.
Sandra: Sometimes yes. I cannot count how many people have asked expectantly if I when I would have more kids, or remark now, you’re not done are you? When I only had my son I got peppered constantly by a few people about how soon we were having another. I’ve attended a few church meetings where I was reminded that having children was a responsibility and I should take faith and not restrict the number so tightly. I felt a bit stung, but I know that ultimately that choice rest squarely with me, my husband and God. But sometimes I have to remind myself that it is okay, and no one’s business but ours. No one really knows how we got to that choice about our family size or if it was a choice at all.
Blue: I was a teen when Ezra Taft Benson was the prophet. His talks about family certainly imprinted on my mind. Quotes such as the following absolutely instilled guilt in me for not having a larger family, even though I wanted one: “I know the special blessings of a large and happy family, for my dear parents had a quiver full of children (Psalm 127:5). Being the oldest of eleven children, I saw the principles of unselfishness, mutual cooperation, loyalty to each other, and a host of other virtues developed in a large and wonderful family with my noble mother as the queen of that home.” While I didn’t feel the guilt some people experience who wanted a small family, in the past couple years as I’ve accepted the fact that this is my family. I’ve also felt guilt that we are able to enjoy some aspects of life that wouldn’t be possible if we had a larger family. I don’t think Heavenly Father wants us to feel guilt though, even if our quiver is empty or has few arrows in it.
If you have a small family, you must have story or reason why.
Sandra: Yes and no. I initially thought I would have 3 or 4. I never saw myself as capable as my own parents to wrap my mind around more than that. Then when I was pregnant with my first and struggled through the pregnancy, sick and a bit depressed and not myself, that number dropped again. I couldn’t think of getting pregnant again, of feeling that way or putting that strain on my husband before we were both ready again. He was ready before I was to start trying for a second. Together my husband and the spirit worked me up to what I expected to be another long and trying pregancy; but even when I had come to terms with the prospect, we had to wait. It took a year and half of waiting until I finally became pregnant with my daughter. That pregnancy was as trying as I had anticipated, and during the course of it and I announced that we were done riding this roller coaster. I loved my kids, adored them from the moment I ceased being pregnant and held them in my arms, but knew I wasn’t the right vessel to produce a dozen of them. And while now it has been long enough since that last pregnancy that I can think about maybe going through the process one more time, it still hasn’t happened for us. It has been a couple of years, and still nothing. I haven’t felt impressed to pursue additional measures and had my answer to just be a peace for now. So, here we are, very happy with our family full and rich with “just” two kids. Does everyone have a saga, no. Many of my other friends have shared with me that they just had their small family and knew it was as it should be, and left it there.
Blue: I don’t believe anyone should have to defend or explain their family size, yet so often as members we end up doing so…on both ends of the spectrum. A cousin who is my age has twelve children. They get questions all the time. A stalwart family in our area has “only” one child…who is sixteen now. It’s almost impossible to imagine that they decided they only wanted one child, but what if they did? It’s just not something we need to worry about or judge.
Those who have small families aren’t as committed to the gospel since they aren’t really “multiplying and replenishing.”
Sandra: Not a chance. I’ve known way too many fine faithful families with the right number of kids to still fit into a sub-compact car to believe that. Plus, it helps a lot that we have a member of the first presidency with only two children, and a prophet with just three. And no one has remarked on their lack of commitment. I know of several couples that got started on their big families early in marriage not because of their commitment to the gospel, but because they didn’t quite understand the fine points of birth control. Kids are a good thing, but not necessarily an indicator of faithfulness.
Blue: I have met people with large families who seemed to feel superior, or that they were just a little more righteous, than people who chose to have small families. The fact that I took solace in our prophet “only” having three children is indicative of the existence of this myth. Perhaps it was a foreshadow, because I had some college classes with the youngest Monson kid (who wasn’t a kid) and when I found out he only had two siblings, I was somewhat comforted. I had sometimes told guys I wanted fourteen kids…which thing worked at scaring them off (backfired one day when a guy I wasn’t interested in thought he’d found his soulmate. As the oldest of thirteen, he wanted a really big family but hadn’t met anyone else who shared his same vision.) I had no idea at that time that my family would consist of two children. As a church we need to stop judging each other, especially in matters such as this. As Sweet Brown said, “Ain’t nobody got time for that!”
Small families have it easy.
Sandra: You may have caught me there. It’s true I only had to potty-train two kids. Laundry doesn’t pile up as fast. I can hold both of my kids hands when darting across busy intersections or through large crowds. Tag teaming with my husband and eating out are far less intense than if we were the Duggars. We still have all the challenges and work of having young kids, but probably more flexibility with our small numbers.
Blue: No doubt we aren’t as stretched as we would be with even one more child. We can all fit in one hotel room. We don’t need a minivan (but I’m grateful we have one anyway for carpool purposes). Going anywhere and doing anything is less complex and less costly. So if by “easy” you mean life is less expensive and demands on time are less…in my case, you’d be right. But I have friends with small families for whom that isn’t true. Medical issues or other concerns sap time and money from them and add complexity to their lives that many “big” families don’t deal with. And I also know people with large families who “have it easy” because financially and otherwise, they aren’t as strapped. They have the means to hire help to do a lot of the work that needs doing, and they have “easy” kids…free from medical/behavioral/social struggles that some smaller families deal with. So this is another case-by-case myth.
Sandra: I echo Blue on that thought, some kids have their own challenges and so do some parents- you never can tell what is a full load for one person as opposed to another. And I no matter who you are and what you are doing, your plate can feel full to you.
Those without “a full quiver” of children can’t have the same kind of happiness as those who do.
Sandra: Not true. I don’t feel like the love I feel for my little family is at all diminished or expanded by the number of chairs occupied around our table. When I had my second child my heart packed her in along with my son. Like Sarah, Hannah, Rachel and Rebekah who only had small families, you love the ones you have and your joy is full, rather than emptied by thinking about what you don’t. You love the children you have, you love the family you create whether through birth or adoption because they are yours no matter how many or few you have. I am happy now with my two, and if I have more still, I will be happy then; not because I have more, but because they would be mine and I would love them just as I love the ones I have now.
Blue: What can I say more? Sandra summed it up perfectly.
What’s your experience or your common beliefs about small families?