It’s happened to all of us with young children.
We’re in the store or the library or on the sidewalk waiting for the walk light with our children when a well-meaning stranger takes a look at our morning hair, mismatched clothes, and pint-sized companions and says: You’ve sure got your hands full!
Thanks for the reminder.
I have three children, 5 years and younger. And in today’s America, that is considered a “large family.” A few years ago, I read a news story about a pretty significant reduction in birth rates over the past 50 years, but I didn’t need anyone to tell me that families are shrinking in size. One child is nice; two children is good; maybe have three if you’re feeling brave.
I’ve heard a lot of reasons for limiting family size–everything from ecological (“The world is ending! We need to stop procreating!”) to economic (“Kids are too expensive.”) and personal (“I hated my sister; I want my daughter to enjoy being an only child.”) reasons. But, even if the trends for post-Boomers were leaning toward having fewer children, I read an article recently that suggested birth rates may be increasing among (Canadian) Gen Y and Millennial moms. And, not only that, but another article suggested that more young women are choosing to be stay-at-home moms (Gasp!).
I, for one, welcome a rise in birth rates, not only because it means more playmates for my kids but because I believe that big families are good–good for kids and good for parents.
So, the more, the merrier.
I understand that many people would welcome a larger family if they felt it was possible. And there are plenty of my peers who stop at only one or two children because of circumstances outside their control (like infertility and difficult adoption costs and processes, for example). I know plenty of parents of single children who are awesome, loving parents; and I know plenty of only-children who turn out to be fantastic adults (I married one). So, this is not an indictment against those people. This is a statement of support for big families. I write this mainly for those who are still undecided about what numbers is the “perfect number” or for those who have already settled on a small family. And, especially, for those who want a big family but need some encouragement to take the leap from 1-2 children to 3+.
Why having a bigger family might be better for you:
1. Having multiple children spares you the delusion of your child as the standard.
When you have your first child, it’s easy to assume that your experience can be translated to every other parent/child in the world. It worked for you, so it will work for them, right? Everything from childbirth to sleep-training, breastfeeding and learning to ride a bicycle–people with only one child tend to think of their child as the plumb line for everyone else. But, what happens when you have more children? You realize that every child is different. You can parent four children in the very same way and come up with four very different “results.” One will want to be held; one will want space. One will sleep well from birth; one will fight sleep until they turn six. One will learn to potty-train at 2 years-old; one will struggle into preschool. Parents with more children seem to be more adaptable to different children (those both like and unlike their own) and more gracious in the way they deal with other parents because, when it comes to difficult parenting situations, they have been there and know that no one gets it right the first time every time.
2. More children means getting more use out of everything you bought for the first one.
When they are young, I buy most of my kids’ clothes used. Sure, it saves me money. But it also saves resources. Walk into any kids’ used clothing store and you’ll be amazed at how much stuff people buy, use once or twice, and then get rid of. Having a big family is often viewed through the lens of sustainability, in which increasing the population increases waste. But large families aren’t necessarily wasteful. Most large families that I know take good care of their kids’ stuff (because there really is a lot of “stuff” that comes with kids) and keep it through multiple children, often handing if off to another family when they’re done. In this area, the difference between having 1-2 children or having 3+ is very minimal. When my third child was born, there was basically nothing I needed for her. Everything–clothing, furniture, toys, and diapers–could be reused from my older children.
3. Parenting a large family calls your priorities into question.
Adding more children might not be the earth-shattering financial disaster that some small-family proponents would lead you to believe, but having a large family does require particular sacrifices that small families do not have to make. Need an example? Try finding an affordable/fun/logistically-feasible vacation for a family of 5+. (Have you ever priced plane tickets?) Another example: Forget your anti-minivan ideology–you’re moving into 12-passanger van territory here. How about this: It’s pretty easy to find a babysitter for one or two darling children. Who’s going to come watch 4-5 of them while you go on a date or go somewhere overnight or go to get your haircut?
A large family necessitates reorganizing priorities. And I mean this in a good way. Committing to parenting multiple children means committing to a near-lifetime of sacrificing the convenience of a child-free life for the full-time, nonstop world of underage companions. Regardless of your family size, parenting requires a lot of work and sacrifice. It involves a lot of saying “no” to yourself–time alone, career aspirations, creative projects, shopping trips, etc.–for the sake of caring for those children. For many young adults, this is reason to postpone, or avoid completely, the task of parenthood. But, to be honest, most of us could afford a little more generosity with our time, money, and energy. I’ve heard it said this way: You’re going to spend it somewhere. Why not “pay it forward” to a brood of children, rather than spending it all on yourselves?
4. Parenting multiple children is an endurance sport.
I’m not a runner and I don’t have an hour a day to swim laps or walk on a treadmill, but catch me at 8pm on any given day and I feel like I’ve been running for miles. Keeping up with kids (and taking care of a home and making food and keeping myself breathing and adequately dressed) is hard work. And, similar to running a long-distance race (or so I’d assume), it requires just as much mental and emotional training as it does physical. It is good for you. It is challenging and difficult and, if you let it, it makes you better. There are some days when I collapse after bedtime and think, “I can’t believe I kept them alive today.” And then there are days when I, literally, feel like I just climbed Mt Everest and I feel awesome. Like a superhero. Like I can conquer anything.
Parents of big families have nothing to prove. They don’t need fancy cars or spectacular homes or impressive resumes to show that they have made something of their lives. They are–literally–growing a generation. Assuming that their children don’t end up as spectacular disasters, which is possible, parents get to sleep at night knowing that the fruit of their labor is not accumulating dust in the garage or “appreciating” in a bank, but that it is slowly growing into the men and women who will one day conquer their own mountains and run their own races. Parenting is a long-term investment. It is a marathon–not a sprint. When it’s over, you will be dog tired and wonder how you had the strength to do it. And you will feel awesome about the way you spent your days, even if all you have to show for it is a full heart and a full home.
Need more convincing?
Look me up in a few days for Part 2: Why being in a bigger family might be better for your children.