THE MYTHS OF SMALL FAMILIES


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?

About Sandra

(Blog Editor and Prose Board) recently moved back to California by way of north Texas, Baltimore and San Francisco. She loves sunlight, color, and intense dark chocolate. She devours cookbooks like novels and writes a bit at www.section89.com.

27 thoughts on “THE MYTHS OF SMALL FAMILIES

  1. Thank you for this post! I have two children and do not want to have more. Depression during and after pregnancy helped me to make that decision.

  2. My mother (who had 6 children) always said, “one child takes ALL your time, two children takes ALL your time, 6 children takes ALL your time…” It doesn’t matter how many you have, it takes all you have to raise them. Judging others’ decisions just wastes the time of everyone.

  3. I had 5 children and then 7 years after the last, had another little girl. My older ones have started to get married and leave the nest or go to work, and sometimes we only have 1 or 2 home for dinner. I kind of feel like I am experiencing both a large and a small family. I LOVE Jennefer’s mom’s quote! It is so true. Good luck to us all!!

  4. You couldn’t have said it better Jennefer. It is hard to raise children no matter how many you have. I had two children and then 6 years of infertility. I can sympathize with those who have two. I was shocked that complete strangers would judge me by the number of children I had. Then the Lord saw fit to add two more children to our family. In many ways it’s like having two kids all over again but with two very wonderful teenagers along for the ride.

  5. It’s hard not to spoil your kid when there is only one of them. Think about it. Christmas for one kid, Easter for one, it’s so easy to buy too much stuff. And it’s easier to go on vacation. My SIL has 4 kids who are always at each others throats, and she doesn’t even want to load up the minivan to drive to her moms house. And I have to say after spending time with kids and their siblings, I count myself lucky that my backseat contains one kid who isn’t whining that someone touched her or looked at her.

    I would also say that small families are quieter.

  6. I’m pregnant with #5 and often wonder if I’m absolutely crazy! Now when people ask my husband or I how many kids we want, we always say “TWO!”

  7. A foundational truth is there a difference between the gospel and “Mormon culture”. The gospel principle is “multiply and replenish the earth”. Mormon culture is “number of children, spirits getting sent to some non Gospel environment because you didn’t give them a body, etc”.
    I choose to follow the gospel instead of Mormon culture. My question to those who think Mormon culture is synonymous with the gospel: – what’s the magical number for determining the acceptable number of children in a family? If its 4, why not 5? If its 6, why not 7? If its 8, why not 9?
    See how ludicrous it becomes?

    Mormon culture gets caught up in using that culture decide how well someone else is living the gospel. Brigham Young said we should be so busy living the gospel that we don’t have time to judge how well our neighbor’s living it. I guess this is somewhat going off on a tangent, but the topic is a great reminder of experiences all of us had had, I’m sure, of being judges according to our family size.

  8. When people ask me how many children we have I say “we kept 3. (No – we didn’t give any away, but I don’t tell them that)

  9. I had a thought about the myth “small families have it easy”. What, exactly, is wrong with having it “easy” (whatever that means, really)? I think that in the church “struggling” gets glamorized somehow, and I think it is ridiculous. How is it better to have more kids than you can afford to clothe or feed? Why is it better to struggle to pay your bills every month? It doesn’t mean you have more faith, it means you have less money for emergencies and you have no savings for your own future/retirement, or means to help your kids go to college. I just don’t see the point of demonizing a small family because of this strange notion that having it “easy” is a bad thing somehow. I don’t mean to hijack the discussion, but I just wanted to say something about this. There is nothing unrighteous about actually being able to live within your means and having a mom and dad that are not stressed out and completely exhausted by large numbers of kids they have to parent and pay for.

  10. @Laurie- I would never say “easy,” but somethings are easier- and there is not a thing wrong with that. Though I not about to advise any one else’s family size. Yes, it is important to be able to care for and pay for the needs of your own children, how you do that is relative.

    Sometimes, no matter whether it is your first child or a subsequent one, when you feel a distinct impression to have that child you go on faith and a promise from God that all will work out okay, even if you don’t see the means available at the time.

    Yes, living within your means is a gospel principle as well as the smart thing to do, but I hesitate to say too much, sometimes we just don’t know the full story or a spiritual witness someone may be acting on to expand their family in a way that doesn’t seem to make sense from an outsider’s view.

    Thank you about your point about glamorizing struggling- that is an interesting concept.

  11. I love Jennefer’s comment!

    We started trying to have children when we had been married for two years, and had our first three years later. Then we started trying for #2 when he was a year old and he was five before we succeeded! So with two children, and at 35 years old, I’m pretty sure we’re done. I don’t think I can go through the emotional rollercoaster of wanting another child and dealing with fertility issues again. I’ve struggled a little bit with the perceived expectations of those around me, but I think I’m just slightly sensitive to people’s innocent comments. I generally remind them that I am 35 and have never gotten pregnant in less than three years and then they get it. I wish I didn’t feel like I have to defend our small family, but I’m as guilty as anyone else of feeling the societal pressure to “multiply.”

  12. @lynn – that is so funny!! I’m using that next time someone asks… We only have two kids, a girl and a boy. We always said we would keep going until we got a boy to carry on my husband’s name and then we could stop. When the boy came second, we stopped!

  13. Our family is smallish (3 kids) due to infertility. My oldest son was an only child for 4 years. Any time he misbehaved or acted selfish, my mom would say, “He needs a sibling.” My response was, “If he NEEDED a sibling, don’t you think Heavenly Father would give him one?” I really feel like we all get the human experiences we’re meant to have, either that or we can learn valuable lessons from any experience.

    When we were going to adoption education classes, our social worker made the observation that “there are worse things in life than having a small family”. Because of that statement, I regularly reflect on the blessings of having only three children. One that I especially appreciate is that we can give one-on-one time to each child at bedtime. I really love being able to do that. At the same time, I’d bristle to have someone say that having a small family is easier than having a large one. I’d say there are trade-offs. I’d love to have more children to delegate the chores to. Seriously, it would be nice to have more family members to share the workload around the house. I may have fewer children, but some of them have been particularly difficult to parent throughout the years. I just don’t think you can measure easy or hard; there are so many variables.

  14. I come from a large family (8 of us, with 6 step-siblings that came in the picture when about half were still at home). It was very loud and chaotic; my parents never had much one on one with any of us; it was a huge financial strain; and even after 35 years of living in a large family, getting together with the group is often completely overwhelming and stressful for me. And when you want to start calling family on the weekend, it takes the whole freaking day to go through everyone. While I love my family dearly and there are things I enjoy about being from a large family, I think it’s pretty telling that the among my siblings, none have had more than 3 kids. And that I don’t want kids at all.

  15. Wonderful post and comments!! Thank you! The link above to the handbook quote is perfect, as all direction from the church is. Everything inspired of the Lord is perfect.

    I think what it boils down to is that it really is nobody’s business. Someone I went to high school with had one child because she had a pregnancy-induced STROKE, of all things, and spent the end of her pregnancy and the first few months of her child’s life learning to walk, learning to feed herself again, etc. There is no reason on earth she should need to explain to anyone why she didn’t have more than one child. Depression during pregnancy is real, as are physical and emotional limitations. People are ridiculous when they think that one kind of limitation is “better” or more acceptable than another. It’s all NOBODY’S business. We do well to just take care of the beam in our own eyes!

  16. I have four kids that came in two sets: two girls 20 months apart, then a big gap, then two boys, two years apart. The comments I got from people during that big gap were astounding. I even got: “It must be so good to KNOW that you’re done. I mean, how would it be to know God only wanted you to have two children?” Oh my. I learned early on not to judge family size or spacing. None of my business. There are many reasons a family may choose what they do, and those reasons are surely none of my business.

  17. Excellent article! I noticed all the comments about a full quiver–something we need to remember is that everyone has a different sized quiver. Mine is a two-child quiver, and quite full. Others have different sized quivers, and what size a person’s quiver is is as individual as they are.

    Thanks for sharing.

  18. I’ve often thought that the parable of the talents can be applied to parenting. It’s not really about the *number* of children we have, but what we do with the children we are blessed with. If we are magnifying our calling as parents, we will be blessed.

  19. Meg, those thoughts are perfect! And I also love Jennefer’s mother’s comment. Absolutely true.

  20. I have four biological sisters and then my family usually had a foster sister (or two). Throw in my grandpa who lived with us for 13 years, and you have a full van. I love all my sisters and am grateful for all of them; I occassionally wish my two kids had more siblings. My husband grew up in a small(er) family than I did, and he was happy with two. As I value my marriage more than I value the need to be “right” or “righteous”, we stopped at two.
    I love Laurie’s comment about struggling being glamorized.

  21. God blessed me with only 1 child. I’d love to have more but I’m grateful for what I have. I have no need to explain myself or my family size to anyone and although I’ve been asked by friends in the ward if I was planning on having another, I just reply (friendly of course) – I guess if I’m meant to have another, I will.

  22. Here is a link to the church policies in the up-to-date handbook:
    https://www.lds.org/handbook/handbook-2-administering-the-church/selected-church-policies?lang=eng#214

    I don’t think it is substantially different, but worth reading from the current source.

    So many variables in deciding how many children to have and very personal decisions. I have my hands completely full trying to obtain personal revelation for myself (2 children, lost the 3rd, trying again) to judge any one else’s decisions.

    I am very curious to know how people define large and small families. A friend recently said, “4 is the new 6″ as in even in the LDS culture 4 is starting to be a big family. Maybe it depends on where you live, though. My husband was one of 7 (in 10 years)and I was one of 5 (in 7 years) and frankly I just don’t know how either of our moms survived.

  23. life and love gives us all different circumstances. I do not understand why a gospel sisiter would even be interested in the reasons for the number of children in my family. I do however, welcome all support in my motherly role.

  24. I admit that when my family of 5 children was younger, I sometimes looked at women with smaller families fantasizing at how much “spare” time they must have, even though I know they would not have felt they had extra time.

    One really fun part of having a larger family is that now they are grown, our gatherings are such a blast. The siblings reminisce and laugh, the grandchildren love being with their many cousins.

    I have a sister who has one child, and that child always loved being with her cousins since she didn’t have siblings. Now she herself has only one child, and that child has no cousins. I wonder what her adult life will be like without lots of family to enjoy.

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