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?