If I hear it one more time I might scream, or laugh hysterically in the face of a well-meaning friend. Neither of which would be good.

“It” is this: Once you have three children, you can have more and not really even notice.

Huh? I think whenever I hear this or a similar statement. Are you crazy? Are you stoned?

I have seven children. I am crazy. And some days, usually around 4 p.m., I wish I could get stoned.

(Okay, not really.)

(Yes, really.)

But the purpose of this post is not to complain about the difficulties of having a large family. I have many children by choice and I will not whine about how hard it is–at least, not in public. No, the purpose of this post is to highlight a common, wildly inaccurate public perception about having a large family.

Not that it’s wholly inaccurate–if it were, people would never say it. In a limited sense, having three kids really does “break” a mom. With one child, she has to figure out how to meet her own wants and needs while never failing to provide for her child’s, and how to forgive herself when she does fail. And she will fail, because a child’s needs are great, and a child’s wants are an endless chasm. With two, she has to figure out how to divide her mother-self among two fierce competitors. With three, she has to accept that she’ll never cover all the bases–ever.

That’s the breaking point which spawns the misconception, I think. Yes, a mother of three is well-acquainted with chaos, both literal and figurative. In order to survive, she must embrace it–or at least used to it. So it makes some sense to say that adding more chaos to existing chaos is easier than making the initial jump.

But let’s think for a minute about what it means to add a fourth, or fifth, or sixth child to a family. This isn’t just addition; it’s exponential expansion. The family organism doesn’t just increase by one person, it increases by five or six or seven relationships. It’s much more than another place setting at the table (Scoot over, everyone! There’s plenty of room!) or a bedroom tacked on to the house. It’s a clearly perceptible presence in every room, a thick layer of being that widely increases the girth of the family sphere and changes everything within it.

Of course, this is true no matter how many children a family includes. Every time a baby comes along, the family is reinvented and redefined–and while the reinventions that come with the first or second or third child are indeed huge, so are those which follow. So let’s not perpetuate the myth. Let’s not discredit the enormous ongoing adjustment process that grips large families. Let’s instead acknowledge that (in a healthy family, at least) a new child, whether she’s the first or the tenth, will always be noticed.

(see? no whining!)

January 3, 2009


  1. Ginger

    January 4, 2009

    Can we also ask people to stop saying, “Wow, you have your hand full!”

    • Shalissa

      March 11, 2009

      Yes, I hear this 40 times per shopping trip. My stock answer is “it’s worth it.” That way, I can bear a one-sentence testimony even if my kids are screaming or fighting or whatever.

  2. Bekah

    January 4, 2009

    This is giving me a headache… it reminds me why I didn’t have a third child like everyone in Northern Virginia seems to!

  3. b.

    January 4, 2009

    I’ve thought about this…a lot.
    And I’m sorry, but you DO have your hands full! I don’t say that out loud to big family moms, but I think it.
    I have 3 kids, I would have had more if I could (the three came to us through adoption).
    Through the years I’ve watched my friends and sisters in law (sometimes with envy) and have decided that the Lord knows me well. All those personalities, needs, and unique spirits to develop…in my inadequacy, I think I would have been a blubbering pool of failure and guilt. My dear friends and sisters who have big families are heroic to me (whether they care to be or not).
    The Lord knows us and He has a plan. This truth is becoming clearer and clearer to me everyday.

  4. Karen

    January 4, 2009

    Yes you will notice. Family structure changes with each added child.
    Before I had each baby I could not know what my life would be like after the birth. I could only try to imagine the changes. And always amazing to me is how after that baby is born, she is so much part of the family that it is hard to remember what it was like before she arrived. How I can’t imagine my life without her (or him!).
    Ginger- I agree!

  5. cheryl

    January 4, 2009

    When I had my fourth child, I assumed it would be exactly what everyone had said (after three…), and I learned they were very, very wrong.

    So far, for me, one was the hardest (by far). Two was the easiest. Three was a toughie, but not as hard as one (I’m guessing it’s the whole newness to being a mother that made the first so hard; she was actually an angel of a baby). And four? Harder than three; easier than one. It’s weird.

    We’re hoping for five, and I have absolutely no delusions about how “easy” or “hard” it will be. It will be what it will be, and we’ll be grateful for the new person (just like we were with the others). But it’s not like preschool (or scout camp? or a Primary class?) where “adding one more won’t make a difference.” Who came up with this idea?

    Good post. 🙂

  6. Maralise

    January 4, 2009

    Ok. So, now I’m reconsidering considering a third. I was counting on that myth, dang it. 😉

  7. Mommom

    January 4, 2009

    I think having a good relationship with the Lord is part of making the decision to have another.

    As for us – my ability to mentally deal with the chaos created by 3, and make that leap, is why we only have 3. That’s not to say that we took that decision completely away from the Lord either. But I knew, and my husband knew that was it 🙂

    I’m a little afraid to tell a friend who is getting ready to have her 4th that the myth isn’t true though. She’s a great mom – FABULOUS mom – who doesn’t give herself nearly enough credit sometimes. It gives her a little comfort to think that if she can handle 3 then she can handle 4.

    So I guess my question is, what would be a good thing to say to a mom of 3 who is nervous about having her 4th that wouldn’t trivialize what is the reality?

  8. Kathryn Soper

    January 4, 2009

    What a great question, Mommom.

    I think a the vast majority of women with 3 children will do just fine with 4. The point is this: they won’t do fine because 4 is really no different than three. They’ll do fine because they will rise to the occasion, just as they did the first three times. Whatever capacity, determination, devotion, humility, and and skill that has brought her this far will continue to serve her well, even as her life increases in complexity. She’ll take those same tools and use them in a new situation.

    The error comes from assuming it’s the same situation.

  9. Justine

    January 4, 2009

    Honestly, for me anyway, it isn’t really the number of children I have, it’s just the first year of any new child’s life that’s truly painful/difficult. That first year of a newborn’s life is just HARD, no two ways about it. So, no matter how many other children you have, I think I’ve got to acknowledge and accept that year 1 is going to push me. It seems that by the beginning of year 2, we’re settling into the transition the new person has brought.

  10. Tiffany W.

    January 4, 2009

    Funny, I thought having numbers 3 and 4 were much easier to cope with than number 1 and 2. And this was in spite of suffering with a serious chronic illness. At least they were for me. Because my picture of motherhood finally looked like what I had always imagined, baby on the hip, feeding kids for breakfast, getting children ready for school, etc.
    I was also thinking that I loved the baby period. It’s the toddler period that drove me crazy. So I guess we all have our challenges. If I had the choice, I’d have lots of babies, let them spend two years of toddlerhood with their grandparents and then send them back to me around 3 1/2.

    • Shalissa

      March 11, 2009

      I totally, totally agree with this comment!

  11. elizabeth-w

    January 4, 2009

    Ginger, I think it is said (at least from my perspective) from sheer awe. As a total underachiever with only two children, I simply can’t imagine keeping it all straight. A good friend of mine who just had her 10th baby was sustained to be the RS presidency today. She’s only been put into Nursery two weeks before and was so looking forward to the ‘break’.

    Kathryn, I love your point about the dynamic of the relationships changing. And just out of curiosity, what would be a number in which you (Ginger/others with larger families) would think to yourself, or possibly say out loud, “Gee you’ve got your hands full”?

  12. Jennie

    January 4, 2009

    Kathy, I totally agree that mothers will rise to the occasion just like they have in the past. But I have to say that I barely noticed #4. She was such a breeze. To me the more important thing is the child’s personality. My #3 was a difficult, unpleasant baby but #4 was so easy in comparison.

    Here in Texas when I tell people that I have six kids they always say the same thing: “well, God bless you” in a really sincere, loving way. It’s such a charming response, I think, since I most certainly hope that God will bless me.

    What mother doesn’t have her hands full?

  13. Michelle L.

    January 4, 2009

    Ah, I love this Queen K. I’ve discussed that exact concept– exponential growth– with my husband and a few friends. Like you, I am hesitant to talk about it much because I immediately slide into whining.

    But perhaps we mothers of many should murmur a little more just to shatter the myth? ‘Cause 6 kids is hard. Unreal hard. Twice as hard as 4.

    One factor is the sheer endurance that more children require. Many of my friends that have two, three and four are already out of the preschool stages. I’ve been doing it for 17 years, and yeah, it’s wearing.

    That said– I absolutely adore my half-dozen and the intense energy and creativity in my household. I’d have one more if I thought I’d live through the pregnancy.

    “Let’s not discredit the enormous ongoing adjustment process that grips large families.” Bless you.

    In addition to the birth of a new child, the family adjusts each time a child enters a new phase. And in a large family that is ALL THE TIME.

  14. jendoop

    January 4, 2009

    This concept was expressed to me once in this way- “Once you’re outnumbered it’s all the same.” I understand this differently now, having four children, as everyone expressed well. Also, the family continues to reinvent itself as the children grow and change, even if you don’t add more children to the family.

    In the Northeast I’m asked if the children are all mine then get a large eyed indignant stare with the non-verbal communication that my family are now using up all the earthly resources that they were counting on for retirement.

  15. m&m

    January 4, 2009

    I got something like this when I was pregnant with #3 (our surprise baby that I still didn’t think I was ready for — three children under three scared me spitless!)

    “If you can have three, you can have ten.”

    That was my well-meaning visiting teacher. I think this was still when I was sick and scared. Gee, thanks.

    Guess what? Sure, three was hard. Hubby and I were outnumbered. I had to sometimes let one child cry while I did triage on needs.

    But it was having my third that helped me really embrace motherhood and understand the value of that role all the more.

    I also find the comments interesting — that each woman experiences ‘hard’ elements of motherhood in different ways at at different points in family growth.

    (BTW, Kathy, I thought of you today as I sat behind a beautiful mother of 7, who was handling church alone (hubby in bishopric) with grace. It was awesome, too, to watch how the children helped each other. I think there are things that large families learn and experience that are pretty amazing. I have often wished that my children could have the experience of having younger siblings that they can actually remember helping with! 🙂 )

  16. Gabrielle

    January 4, 2009

    I’m second of 9 children (11, actually, but two died in childhood), and when I had my first, a set of twins, I expressed amazement to my mom that she was able to survive so many children.
    She told me that it *did* actually get easier as the oldest children grew. And it is true: I did a whole lot of babysitting growing up. Many nights I was on baby duty, putting the youngest one to sleep (got lots of practice in the endless pacing of a darkened living room). In Sacrament meetings, us older kids were frequently sent out with a disruptive baby or toddler. My sisters and I helped make lunches, cook dinners, fold laundry, and all of those endless tasks that can wear a mother down.
    Now, maybe my mom was just saying that so she wouldn’t frighten her daughters off from having lots of kids. That may be. But I do know that at least by the time I was aware of my mother as a separate human being (early teenagehood), she certainly was able to immediately incorporate that new baby into the machine of our family life.
    But when all is said and done, I think the factors that may ultimately matter more than the sheer number of children, are the children’s innate temperaments, the mother’s innate temperament, and, maybe most importantly, her expectations for motherhood in general. My satisfaction as a mother immeasurably increased as I came to give up on closely-held ideals of “personal space,” and “me time.”
    That being said, of COURSE each child is noticed. Why have them if you’re not going to notice them? 🙂

  17. JES

    January 4, 2009

    Spacing btwn children and the ages of the others also matter when you add a new one. Mommom, my #4 was the easiest. He was such a joy, almost felt like having our first again, except we knew more and therefore it was all less crazy. I really think it was b/c the others were a little older. We had our first 3, each 22 months apart, so when #3 was born, #1 was less than 4. We waited an extra year to have #4, so the others were older and more able to play together downstairs for awhile while my husband sat and snuggled together with the baby upstairs. Hmmm, maybe it also made a difference to have a house with a basement instead of an apartment. 🙂 Baby #5 has tipped us over the limit. My guess is that it’s b/c the older ones are now involved in outside activities – piano, sports, clubs, etc which require more scheduling. Also, older kids are easier physically (no more changing diapers, washing bottles, getting up at night, etc) which helps a lot, but they are emotionally more difficult, especially as they start heading in to the teenage years.

  18. Sage

    January 4, 2009

    Love this discussion, as I’m expecting number five. Like Jennie in Texas, here in New York I usually get a sincere “God bless you” when I tell them how many I have. Because of unintentional spacing, #4 has been the easiest and most delightful (experience and built-in babysitters help). My mom often said the “after 3 it doesn’t matter” quote. But I did feel neglected as the sixth child. But that might have happened if there’d only been two kids. Such is life. I’m trying hard to really notice each child’s needs-and it is a challenge, but that’s what I’m here for.

  19. Zina

    January 5, 2009

    I was one for whom adding baby #4 really was the easiest yet — and I think, as others have said, spacing played a role, since my older two were old enough to change diapers and help in other ways. (I didn’t know they were old enough to change diapers until I decided to give it a try, and it was a thrill that they turned out to be able!) But, while adding a *baby* was easy (relatively — the first few months are *always* grueling) now, as my older two are starting to have lots of homework and activities and school projects, I’m really relating to what Michelle said about enduring. While there are some things about parenting I love, being a chauffeur and keeping up with scheduling are something I’m always in a hurry to get DONE with, so it’s daunting to realize that with my younger two we haven’t even hit that stage yet, and meanwhile my older two still have all of junior high and high school ahead of them. I’m either going to have to learn to love being a chauffeur/scheduler, or put all my kids in an unschool-style homeschool and forbid them any activities. (That would be somewhat similar to how I grew up, and isn’t really what I want to do if I can help it.)

    Gabrielle, it’s always fun to meet another in the 2nd-of-nine club.

    I’m expecting #5 in a couple of months and fearing labor (knowing what’s coming doesn’t help, and anyway every labor’s different,) and *really* looking forward to the baby stage (which is yes grueling but also very rewarding to me,) and somewhat dreading the long haul. My dream has long been to have yet two more children after this one, but I’ll take it one at a time and only have more as long as I’m still surviving and staying relatively sane.

  20. Zina

    January 5, 2009

    Jendoop, that kind of thinking drives me CRAZY. They don’t realize that *human* resources are as necessary as any, and somebody’s going to have to be paying into Social Security for them, caring for them when they’re disabled, etc.

  21. lee

    January 5, 2009

    My little joke about this subject is that mothers of two are at a “highschool level” mothers of 3-5 are at a “college level” and mothers with six or more have a Phd in the subject!

    Does a highschool student or a college student understand what it is to get a Phd? Yes and no. But when I’m shopping for motherhood advice, I tend to look for the Phd’s.

    Now nobody get bent out of shape about this, I know, I know, some mothers of ten are horrid and some mothers of two are glorious. I said its a joke but like most jokes, there’s a grain of truth. Experience matters, and people like Kathy are just going to know some stuff the rest of us don’t. (yet -ha ha)

  22. jendoop

    January 5, 2009

    Zina, I try to remind myself that one day those people will be laying in the emergency room desperate for a great doctor and one of my wonderful children will be there to save them.

    The last part of this discussion has brought up an issue for me. We are friends with a family where the parents are from large families (9 and 11). Both of our families now have four children. In their family the kids help with younger siblings ie- the oldest son takes the baby out to the foyer, the other kids change diapers when their mom is right there, Mom goes to the grocery store after school so the older kids can babysit and she can go alone.

    Being friends with the mother of this family she often encourages me to do these same things but I feel very uncomfortable with it. It was the decision of my husband and I to have these children so we should take responsibility for them as much as possible, not shouldering our children with the burdens of caring for their siblings. I want my children to listen to and learn from sacrament meeting, not wrestle with a sibling in the foyer. My children should have time to be children, not responsible for another person in their free time. I do have my oldest change a diaper now and then but not when I am capable of doing it myself. If we had more children and things were beyond me I could understand it. But with only (ha ha) four I don’t see the necessity of it.

    If my friend weren’t urging me to do these things and others like them I’d be happy to let each of our families make their own choices and not think another thing about it. It is hard to communcate to my friend how I feel without being offensive, so I haven’t. I’m curious how others see this issue. Maybe what I see as an added burden to children actually has benefits I don’t see.

    I also had a roomate in college who was the oldest in a large family (13 I think), she loathed it and now has no children and has distanced herself from the church. She felt like she already had a family to raise, her siblings. This has probably influenced my thinking.

    Just to be clear, I am not attacking large families.

  23. Tiffany W.

    January 5, 2009

    I think Jendoop made an excellent point. Yes, having older children is great, but they still need to have a childhood and life. Having a babysitter is great, but the older children shouldn’t be expected to do it all the time.

  24. christine

    January 5, 2009

    The exponential growth is absolutely spot on! Just to reiterate, I think the spacing plays a huge role in the numbers game. We have 5 children. For me, the first was hard but I expected it to be hard! I had been dreaming of it my whole life. The 2nd almost did me in. No more “romantical visions” of my life as a grown-up, just backbreaking, mindbending work and very little sleep (2 years apart). It was so hard for me to get used to caring for 2 little ones who needed me all the time! Took a break and then had number 3 (4 years later) It was so much fun. THe “big” kids were old enough to play together and still enjoy the baby. I felt like I had all the fun of enjoying the “newness” of motherhood but with lots of experience and far less fear. Went crazy and had #4 20 months later (it’s all the same right? NOT) and had the same experience with raising 2 little ones who both needed me all the time, plus the demands of the older ones and their new activities. I almost lost it and now realize that I was dealing with some serious post-partum depression that I wasn’t treated for. So, for me, 2 and 4 were the hardest. 3 was the easiest. We waited 5 years and had our little caboose. 5 definitely turns you from a big family into a HUGE family. I do depend a lot on my older kids but I think we all have to give and take. They had some benefits of uninterrupted time that my little guy simply doesn’t have. I wouldn’t trade my family but I don’t try to pretend that it has been easy either. My best advice is that each stage is hard, whether it’s lack of experience, overwhelming numbers, special needs but YOU CAN DO IT!

  25. mmiles

    January 5, 2009

    great post–and true, true, true

  26. Zina

    January 5, 2009

    jendoop, personally I think it’s very very very very good for older kids to get to care for littler ones — excellent for creating real self-confidence, as well as for developing love between kids and giving them a chance to “love one another, and serve one another” (that’s from Mosiah somewhere.) I think the idea of a carefree childhood is a fairly modern one and to me a little odd, and NOT good for kids’ self-esteem or development of life skills. That said, as a 2nd-of-nine first girl in a pretty dysfunctional family, I did WAY too much and it was pretty boundless; I rarely knew when I would have free time and had few outlets. Even so it was still better for me in the long run (I like to think) than having not had enough responsibility, but wasn’t not what I’d want to do with my older ones. So I do try to set limits to what I ask of my older kids, and try to balance it against their still having free time. I’ve never ever had them take kids out of Sacrament Meeting (it wouldn’t even have occurred to me)(oh except I just remembered I do let my 8-year-old take the 4-year-old to the bathroom sometimes — 8-year-old is happy to get a break from the meeting and I wouldn’t be) and for the most part when I am around I don’t expect them to do any parenting — but I do still expect them to “help out” including doing some of the childcare. (I would call “parenting” things like making decisions about what’s needed to be done, or disciplining, and “childcare” more of routine things like helping a younger sibling get a coat on, or changing a diaper.) I’m always struggling to find a good balance, but, as I said, I don’t feel guilt about what I do ask of them.

    P.S. I realize it may have sounded like I think you don’t make your kids do chores, which I didn’t mean — I just personally feel very comfortable with some of my kids’ chores involving helping with childcare.

    That said, your choices are your own, and I can see how your friend’s expecting you to do things her way could get annoying. (I’m sorry I don’t have any ideas right now for how to respond to her — I think I’m in need of a midwinter nap.)

  27. Zina

    January 5, 2009

    I mean (somewhere in the middle there) “wasn’t what I’d want to do with my older kids” not “wasn’t not.”

  28. eljee

    January 5, 2009

    lee wrote: My little joke about this subject is that mothers of two are at a “highschool level” mothers of 3-5 are at a “college level” and mothers with six or more have a Phd in the subject!

    I’ve been thinking about this all afternoon, and I have to say I do not agree at all. Experience in mothering is about so much more than the number of children one has. Each person’s mothering situation is so completely unique. Obviously, the experience of rearing and juggling a large family is one type of parenting experience, but it is not inherently harder, better, or of some higher class than mothering fewer children. There are so many factors to include, such as parenting children with special needs, parenting rebellious children, parenting adopted children, and on and on and on with so many combinations of unique situations that any individual mother might face. Each of these things might give a mother valuable experience that can’t be measured in quantity.

    Motherhood is a journey, but not a race. Each mother is on her own carefully-crafted path designed to give her exactly the experience she needs. I think comparisons just don’t work.

  29. eljee

    January 5, 2009

    Sorry, I messed up the quoting and italics above. Hopefully everyone can sort out the original quote and my comments.

  30. Jennie

    January 5, 2009

    I don’t think that Lee meant that mothers of more children are necessarily better. But I do think mothers of many have a lot more experience and can definitely give more tips. By the time you have five or seven (or more) kids, you have seen A LOT of stuff.

  31. eljee

    January 5, 2009

    But when you use terms like “high school”, “college”, and “PHD”, that’s sure what it sounds like.

    When I’m looking for advice from other moms, the size of their families is the last thing on my list of qualifications. First is whether their parenting style matches mine, and second is whether their situation with family and children is close to what mine is, which in my case is going to favor a small family with adopted children. Third is whether they have a child who has already been through a stage mine is going through (if it’s an issue of development).

  32. shed

    January 5, 2009

    I agree with eljee. Your experience is so much more than the number of kids you have. And it’s not just whether you’ve *seen* a lot of stuff, but how you’ve dealt with it. For example, if I were looking for advice on what to do about a child who developed a rash, I’d call my mom–not because she has 8 children, but because she was a nurse for over 30 years. For ideas on teaching gospel principles in the home, I’d call brother A (father of 4); for ideas on healthy snacks, one of my sisters (who have at most 2); on planning for a child’s financial future, brother B (father to 3); for fun art projects, brother C (father to none but wicked creative), and so on.

    (BTW, this is meant in a supportive-to-eljee kind of tone, not a snotty-and-argumentative-with-jennie one.)

  33. Mommom

    January 5, 2009

    I would agree with eljee that you can’t generalize any experience, whether it has to do with motherhood or otherwise. As I see it, that’s what Kathryn’s original post was about. A generalized statement.

    I don’t know what it’s like to be a mother to more than 3 children. I can imagine. I am oldest of 6. I can definitely imagine. But being the oldest isn’t being the Mom by a long shot, not in my situation, no matter how many responsibilities I had to care for my siblings.

    But I do understand having to prioritize events. I know what it means to need to pick and choose things because there are multiple items on one night. I know about open houses where they’re all in the same school and you, just you (because Dad is at sea), need to somehow cover all of them. That’s not even counting being SO thrilled when the last one was done with diapers and you didn’t have to buy them anymore. And a lot more of the basic every day things.

    I also know about some things that many don’t but can sympathize with because they too can understand the base emotions. After having one of those children survive cancer, I’m so glad not everyone needs to walk my path. Some have walked that road, and some have walked roads that have more pain, sorrow or frustration.

    We are richer for our shared and varying experiences. And something so rich as motherhood can’t be reduced to any generalization.

    Thanks for your answer Kathryn to my question. I think it fits more than just the answer to how somehow will cope with the next child.

  34. JKS

    January 5, 2009

    My experience. Easiest #4, then #3, then #1 and hardest was #2. Perhaps spacing helped because after #2 we waited longer between.

    I have four kids. 11, 9, almost 5 & baby. Even before the baby my kids had chores.
    I think it is extremely important for children to be given responsibility appropriate to their age. This is how they can feel capable.
    It is also important that they contribute to the family.
    It is also important that they not think their parents are their slaves.
    That said, I agree! I never ask my kids to do things when I can do them! Its just that I can’t always do them. And there are plenty of things that they just have to do as their responsibility.
    On our chore chart, my almost 5 year old has a turn too (she wants to be a big kid). So, needless to say I always unload and load the dishes when it is her week. But I see nothing wrong with my older kids having turns. They make the dishes too.
    I refuse to make my daughter “raise” her baby brother!!! However, I have heard many an older sister claim that she did that. I have to wonder though, how many invisible things did her mom actually do that “big sister” didn’t notice? Will my daughter claim to have riased her brother because she fed him a bottle while I made dinner?
    That said, my daughter adores the baby and is always wanting to play with him, get him from his nap, etc.

  35. meggle

    January 5, 2009

    I want you all to be my best friends. I haven’t had time to read all the comments (just finished FHE and got 5 kids to bed), but after I read the original post, all I could think was yes, yes, yes! You nailed it Kathryn. (I actually got to this post from a link in something else you wrote)- I wish I knew you in real life. The fact that while the growth in a family is linear, the changes are exponential has struck me as fascinating (and not a little bit depressing) for a long time. Do I tell potential mothers of more how it REALLY is? Well, I think I soften it a bit. I think it’s like childbirth itself- we tend not to give up the really gritty details in favor of letting others experience it themselves. I agree that as mothers we all have our hands full. “God bless you” is a beautiful response to a large family. Or you can say, as a little old man said to me a few years ago as I stumbled out of the doctor’s office with my brood: “What a beautiful family”. It brought tears to my eyes.

  36. m&m

    January 5, 2009

    “What a beautiful family”

    I’m going to use that more often.

    I’m still just so interested in how different everyone’s experience has been! (My #2 was easiest by far. #1 was hardest, interestingly. While having three in diapers was crazy (and wasn’t our plan), the return on investment came fast. I actually LOVE having my kids so close.)

    And I don’t know how to say this without it coming out wrong, but I just want say yea to those who choose to have children in faith. For myriad reasons, we can’t all have “large” families (wherever that cutoff is), but I love hearing about so many of you who do. I personally think that is something that we need to celebrate. We all indeed have our hands full, so I’m not trying to minimize those of us who may not have as many as we had wanted or expected or whatever. But it DOES take faith to have children, for lots of reasons.

    I hope you know what I mean. There are plenty of forces and attitudes in our culture (that, imo, have crept some into the Church) that want to discourage the idea of large families, or having children when it may not always “make sense” or “be convenient.” I just go back to a comment that was made at the Worldwide Leadership Broadcast last year — something along the lines that having children is something that takes faith.

    I am just inspired by the faith of women here.

  37. Kathryn Soper

    January 6, 2009

    Thanks for all these comments. This is one of those topics that can quickly hit a downward spiral into side-taking, so I’m glad everyone has been considerate.

    I can understand going to a mom of many for advice simply because the law of averages makes her more likely to have experienced the particular situation you’re facing. I can also understand that she’s not necessarily the person most capable of empathizing and offering wisdom. In fact, I handle some situations differently than I would if I had fewer children, so my advice to a mom of two might not work well. But I also might be able to say, “I’ve tried this, this, and this. What do you think might work for you?”

    Mommom is right–the generalizations don’t work here either.

    As for the school analogy, I think it fits in some ways and doesn’t fit in others. It’s kinda silly to imply that more children make you a better mother, but it’s also kinda silly to claim that having a large family doesn’t give you more experience overall. It just does. This is value-neutral experience, though–it can’t automatically make you a better mom, person, whatever. It’s just experience. What a mom makes of it is up to her, no matter how many children she has.

    I’ve gotta echo Meggle’s little story about lines from strangers. I roll my eyes at the “hands full” remarks, although I understand why people are compelled to say such things–it’s like the other day when I walked past a guy who had to be over seven feet tall, and I had to restrain myself from approaching him and saying, “wow, you’re really tall!” But I do appreciate people who say thoughtful things that aren’t merely pointing out the obvious.

    elizabeth w, I think (but don’t say) “hands full” kind of comments whenever I see a woman with a baby, a toddler, and a preschooler. I agree with the many who have said that spacing matters just as much or more than overall numbers. Mine came every two years, and it was HARD. But I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

    I love Michelle L’s comment about how redefinition comes in the wake of every new phase–not just every new baby. So true! No wonder it’s constantly shifting sands around here.

    I’ve also gotta say that my first baby was the hardest, too. But only for the first couple of months. Once I survived my entire world turning inside out, having one baby was a breeze, and very enjoyable–that’s why I had a second one so quickly. Then came a very tough adjustment process. Baby plus young toddler equals hard.

    Justine’s right about how adding a newborn is never easy, although as Jennie said personality can make a big difference. For me, the more children I’ve had, the longer it takes to get back into the groove. My youngest turned 3 this fall and I’m just barely starting to feel sane again.

    I love what Martha Sears says to people who criticize her for having such a large family in an allegedly overpopulated, needy world. She says, “The world needs my children.” I can only hope that holds true for my family! (m&m, my husband had to come off the stand on Sunday to police my boys after I had to leave the chapel–so much for sibling helpers!)

  38. Kimberly Smith

    January 6, 2009

    I live on the east coast and get the “look” from people when they figure out I have 6 sons. I’m going to frequently remind myself what Martha Sears says!! “The world needs my children.”

  39. Clarice

    January 7, 2009

    Interesting conversation. I think it depends on the person and where you are at in life. Having my first was easy. The second one, a little more work, but it was a learning experience for me. Having a third made things a little more complicated. Took a little break and had the 4th. This one was pretty easy, all things considered. The oldest could help out. But now that I have my 5th, while my responsibilities are less because I have the older kids to help out, I still feel stretched a little too much, trying to fulfill everyone’s needs. As the kids get older, they need a different kind of attention, which you can’t give all that they deserve when you are still trying to take care of little ones. So, I definitely understand ANY persons decision to stop at 2 or 3.

    As for the education comparison, well, I feel like even if I have a PHD in some areas, I still have to go back to school and keep learning new things. Kind of like getting a major in a different field. There’s always things to learn, and sometimes we didn’t learn it right the first time (maybe a low GPA, lol) so we get to try to do better the next time.

  40. Catherine Finn

    January 12, 2009

    I’m afraid to go from 2 to 3. My mom had nine but she never had Nolan! 😛

  41. Carina

    January 12, 2009

    I love this discussion. After having my first I remember telling my husband, “So THIS is why people have ten kids!”

    Since I’ve met some of you mothers of more, I have to say, you are all some of the most accomplished and wonderful women I’ve ever encountered! Maybe I should have a good dozen if it will make me more like you.

  42. Kay

    January 13, 2009

    I find this is fascinating stuff. I have 3 children aged 8, 10 and 12 and would have loved to have had more. A larger family was always our plan but we don’t always get what we want or expect for lots of reasons. Every child should make a difference to our lives other wise why have them if you won’t notice them. I envy mothers who have larger families. We should all be grateful for what we have and supportive to others in their choices and hope that they will ehlp, support and love us with our families too. Who do I look to for support? Friends that think like me. My closest friends have 2, 4, and 6 children of differing ages. Number is not really the issue it’s what we do with what we have. I hope this doesn’t sound too preachy!

  43. Rachelle

    January 14, 2009

    My parents had six kids and my Dad made this over used comment himself one day. I told my Mom and she laughed, knowingly. I am not sure if it was sarcastic laugh or disbelief. But she sure knew the truth.

  44. Kay

    January 15, 2009

    Most children are great, some are just downright difficult. I would have loved a large family and my biggest guilt trip in this church is that I only have 3. My first child just about killed me emotionally and mentally. Having her convinced me that I am the worst mother in the world. She certainly made a difference to my life! In my dreams I am the perfect mother of 6 educated, kind, polite, beautiful, good children. In reality I am the mother of 3 and falling apart.

  45. Paula

    January 18, 2009

    I am the second of six children. When motherhood came for me it came quickly. Our oldest two are 8 months apart (thanks to both adoption and infertility treatments). Changing my own boys’ diapers felt like deja vu because I had diapered my siblings years earlier. I never minded taking care of the younger bunch, but I could have used more individualized attention from my folks, especially in my teen years. I now have four children and wonder if I’ll have any more. And how. Do I go through another pregnancy or adopt? My oldest’s adoption went so perfectly I almost hate to tempt fate. On the other hand, between pregnancy and taking care of an infant I felt like I lost two years of my life having our fourth. I am sad that I wasn’t able to be the parent I needed to be because my health was stressed and then my attention was directed at the baby. Looking back at my childhood I know I would have loved having parents who were more available to me when I needed them; something my mom probably doesn’t know, unless she reads Segullah comments.

    I realize motherhood is all about sacrifice, and *I* am willing to make the sacrifice. But am I willing to sacrifice the quality of life for my four children to have a fifth child?

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