Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Large Families: The Reality!

On hundred years ago families looked a lot different than they do today. There was usually a mom and a dad, and typically several children. Having 5 kids was on the smaller size. In today’s western society, however, the typical family generally consists of 4: two parents and two children. Sometimes you see more, sometimes you see less, but this “size 4” family size seems to be the most widely accepted by the rest of the public.

The question I have, is why? Why does everyone seem to think small families are the only acceptable form of families, and that large families are somehow detrimental to all individuals involved, leaving everyone destined to live a life of doom and regret?

In the following post I would like to look at the joys of large families, and the reality of what it actually looks like. I in no way am trying to say that large families are better than small families, since God chooses each family one member at a time, but I would like to try and diminish some of the myths that go along with big families. I have interviewed 2 young ladies who grew up in a family of 10, a mother who raised 7 children, and myself, currently raising 5 children with the anticipation of more.

Why don’t we start and get some of the stereotypical things out of the way first, some of the “challenges” of raising large families. The one I struggle with the most, as do several mothers of large families that I know, would be laundry. Laundry is like that magical beast that cannot be beaten. No sooner have I conquered the giant mound, taunting me from the top of the stairs, does a new mound stand waiting for me, ready to strike. So long as I have young children still at home I am pretty sure I will continually loose the laundry battle.  Household chores can be another challenge, although not as bad as you might think. A supportive and helpful husband, paired with daily chores for each child, keep most things in check. Do I have a sparkling, catalogue ready house? No. Often there are days where I clean up the entire house 3 times over, and it still resembles the aftermath of a bomb, but at the end of the days everything is put away, bathrooms are kept clean, and kitchens are wiped and clear of clutter. Come to my house at 10pm at night and we will be ready to entertain :)  Another challenge for some families, although not all, is finances. With 5 kids and counting, food bills can get a bit high, clothing is grown out of quickly, extra-curricular sports add up, and a simple night at the movies with the entire family can cost upwards of $100. I would consider these 3 of our biggest challenges of such a large family and perhaps a few more tantrums than the average home, but overall these would be our biggies.

I have heard comments before, countless number of times, that raising large families somehow leaves the children at a disadvantage. I would like to argue that it instead simply changes our priorities. Can we go to Disneyland every single year? Or take our kids out to dinner every single week? Or buy them every single item their hearts desire? No, of course not. If that is what is important to you, then perhaps a large family would be considered detrimental.

With large families, you instead have to change your priorities to what is important. I somehow don’t think my children are going to grow up lacking in character or happiness because they didn’t get to go to Disneyland 15 times. We try and do family camping trips instead, often with family friends. As one of the young ladies I interviewed remarked,

“When we went on family vacations we would do stuff like go camping, we would never go on big trips out of the country or anything. But truthfully I have a lot of great memories from those trips so I don’t remember ever feeling like I was missing out.”

For us family restaurant visits are kept to once every one or two months and hand-me-downs are an essential. Our younger kids look forward to the hand-me-downs, eager to wear their big brother’s cool clothes, and restaurant visits become a special and treasured outing, not to be taken for granted. The mother to 7 children that I interviewed put it this way:

“We've had to make choices about what's important to us, and what we felt like we could afford to spend our time/money on, so maybe they've been less involved in team sports or music lessons than the typical North American kids, because those activities weren't a priority to us.  But, then again, I'd say that the kids who are constantly scheduled and chauffeured from activity to activity are missing out on just being home and playing with other kids.

We also make a priority of one-on-one time with each child. Some days that might mean a specific child gets to go to the store with mommy or daddy, or perhaps help Dad do a special task in the yard. Other days it might mean a fun trip to the ice-cream store. We also spend individual time each and every night praying with each child, reading books, and tucking them into bed. Bed-times are staggered most evenings, allowing important time with each child. Snuggles are done on levels, with a child snuggling on either side, and one child on top of your lap in the middle. No child in our home is ever left out and gets constant attention.  Another one of my family participant’s states:

 “My parents spent time with us by helping with our homework each night, always made sure that we had a good day, and sometimes mom or dad would take us out one at a time on bike rides for quality time. Mom and Dad also loved taking us on camping trips in the summer time; it was an awesome family bonding time.”

The most common comment I received from the ladies I interviewed, was how valuable large families were to them, and how they always had a best friend nearby. Family became more than just family to these kids, they became friends. Laughter is a guarantee every single day and support is always a question away.

"There's never a dull moment! Sometimes "family rate" means a great deal for us! It's never lonely or boring. Our kids learn great social skills, from getting to know (and get along with) all of their siblings, with all of their different personalities."

 Of everyone I interviewed, they all said they would either have a large family all over again, or themselves grow up and have a large family as well. Clearly the benefits far outweigh the negatives, and as you can see a large family, while challenging, is still a family more than capable of all the same love and attention smaller families have too. I would like to leave you with some positive attributes to large families that I complied from several other blogs. Enjoy!

 Happy situations are more festive, more people to comfort you in times of need

 Children become better equipped to handle social situations after experiencing many different personalities from siblings

 There’s never a shortage of something funny to tell someone. Many people go through their day without a single funny thing that happens to them. I have at least a 25 percent chance of funny just by getting out of bed every day.

There is always someone to help me out. Even when the hubs is at work at night, I have at least one extra pair of arms to help clean up, chase, or even hold someone down when necessary.

Leftovers in my house are almost nonexistent.

In the middle of winter, little people climb into bed with me keep me warm.

My house never feels empty.

I always have an excuse to watch cartoons.

Even their normal squabbles and spats, when refereed by parents, teach them lessons of fairness, sharing, splitting differences, letting others off the hook, forgiving and forgetting. This fortifies their moral standards, their lifelong conscience. (Friction, though irksome and tedious at times, has its uses; it rounds off rough edges, forms a smooth, resilient surface.)

Since their parents take care of their needs but cannot satisfy their whims (through lack of money and time), children learn the difference between wants and needs. They learn to wait for what they want, or to work and earn it themselves. Thus they are spared the corruptive influence of instant gratification. They internalize the virtues of patience and honorable ambition. They grow to become self-reliant self-starters.

Through interactions with their siblings, children more deeply understand gender differences. From their sisters, boys understand and appreciate femininity; from their brothers, girls understand and appreciate what's common among males. All the children are thus better prepared for marriage.

One of the mysteries of a large family is the startling differences siblings display in temperaments and talents and interests. By dealing with these differences among their siblings, children learn to get along with anyone. Having to share a bedroom and bathroom and space at the table prepares the children superbly for marriage and for life.

Older children play with the youngest ones, and thus form a bond of affection with them. Younger children receive love and learning from several older people, not just their parents. So older children are pulled out of their egos, and younger ones are surrounded by love.

Each child journeys through life enjoying the support of his grown-up brothers and sisters. No matter what befalls them in life, your children will never be alone. Indeed, the finest gift parents can give their children, the gift lasting a lifetime, is their brothers and sisters.

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