Friday, October 18, 2013
Life in a Large Family: A Primer On What I've Learned (Pt.1)
It's a sunny, beautiful Friday afternoon, right in the beginning of fall. Ben is draped across the couch, reading. Peter, just up from his nap, has found the matchbox cars and is tooling them about any available surface. Fiona is drawing, as usual. Dinah has disappeared up into her room and Jonah is turning slow circles in the driveway on that red tricycle of his.
He's been asking all afternoon and I finally wipe my hands on a dish towel an open the back door. "Ready for our walk?"
His brown eyes sparkle and that enormous grin of his splits his face nearly in half.
I've got the baby on my back. I turn and call through the house - "I'm taking the boys on a short walk. Anyone want to come?"
Like a dull roll of thunder, their feet beat a path to where I stand and, after a moments struggle into shoes and onto scooters, we're on our way. Ben first, tall on that bike. Jonah next, pumping that scooter with every ounce of pent up energy he can manage. The girls and I take a more leisurely stroll, hand in hand. The baby chews on the shoulder strap and Peter sings from the wagon as we make our way through the golden afternoon.
At the corner, a car stops and the driver waves us onward. I smile and nod and she rolls down the window, squinting into the sunlight. "These kids all yours then?"
Still smiling, I shrug a bit self consciously and say "yes, they are."
My eyes scan her face and my smile fades as she shakes her head, scowls and rolls up her window dismissively before driving away.
Dinah looks up at me. "What did she mean, Mama?"
I just shake my head. "She doesn't understand how any one person could be as lucky as I am."
For every person who doesn't understand why a sane person would live the way I do, there are many more who fill my inbox with their questions, or seek me out here and there and ask me our of a genuine desire to know - how does it work?
I'm often asked how things really are around here. "Is it always insane?" "Is it like a daycare?" "Is it loud?" The answers are a mixture of yes and no. In most ways, life here is how I imagine it is in most families - fraught with good times and bad, happy and sad, loud and quiet, messy and clean. The only real difference lies in the quantity of everything. So while there is more mess, there are more hands to clean it. More potentially for sad moments, but more family members to cheer you up. More laundry but more people to enlist in putting it all away. And so on and so on.
As I think about these questions, posed by moms of just a few, or maybe women without children of their own yet, I think about what I wish I have known - and the things I've learned along the way. So I came up with this, a small primer on what I've learned and am learning, just a little bit every day.
You Are Who You Are: I'm not a terribly organized person. Our days are pretty organic in their flow: we eat when people are hungry. We sleep when we're tired. We wake when we're ready, thanks to our home centered schooling. We paint and draw and bake and sculpt when the mood strikes. We clean when things get dirty. We (I) knit nearly constantly. I did not magically become organized or schedule-crazed just by having a large family. I am who I am and that will come through, whether I have 2 kids or 10. Trying to be someone you aren't makes for a lot of stress and disappointment when it doesn't work out.
It Is A LOT Of Work. Let me repeat: Life in a large family is a lot of work. 6 children means 6 completely different personalities, ways of looking at things, sets of emotions, immune systems and personal tastes. 6 dentist appointments and medical check ups to schedule. Birthdays to plan and Christmases to budget for. 6 children makes for an unholy amount of mismatched socks. 6 children means rarely getting anywhere on time, something that took years for my punctual self to accept. 6 children means a lot of laundry and full scale quarrentine when anyone gets sick.
Never Walk Alone: Life in a large family is not for everyone, but should you find yourself moving in that direction, my biggest piece of advice is this: find yourself a mentor Mom of Many. Someone who has done it or is doing it. For me, this was my own Mom for many years (she had 7 children.). It has expanded to include one of my best friends. Through observing her family in action, I see what she does and how it works and, frequently, adopt some of her tactics. With a MoM mentor at your side, you know how to expand the seating around your table to include just one more (the secret? A bench!). You know to keep a basket of wash cloths in the downstairs bathroom for the numerous moments throughout the day when life demands a bit of clean up. You know that taking 15 minutes to meal plan saves you hours of dinnertime agony in the long run. You know where to find a larger vehicle for your growing family. You get in on food co ops to save you money while feeding your family in a healthy way. You spend Saturdays getting everything ready and set so that your week runs smoothly. And most of all, you have someone who does get it, who you can confide in and know they won't say "...well, if you just didn't have so many..."
People Don't Want Your Life: This is somewhat of a recent revelation for me. As much as I love what I have been called to, I know there are plenty of people who take a look at my reality and thing "No Thanks." As I proudly make my way through the grocery store with my crew in tow watching heads snap around as we walk past, not everyone is appreciative of what this is. And that is absolutely fine.
Less is More - Toys, specifically. And clothes. And anything else where excess is truly not your friend. As our family has expanded, our possessions have lessoned. No one has complained or even noticed. In a large family, your playmates are at your fingertips. My kids engage in imaginative play more than toy-play. As far as clothes go, the line between enough and too much is sometimes hard to find, but a life changer when you do.
It is gradual - unless you are blessed with 6 babies at once, most people add to their family one step at a time. I couldn't do 6 kids when I had one, or two, or 4. And, frankly, it has taken me a while to feel like I can actually manage 6. It is a learning curve, yes, but also children are constantly growing and changing. In just the past few weeks I have watched the relationships in our family shift a bit yet again. Everyone is in a good place. I didn't have 6 toddlers at once. I have older kids unloading my dishwasher for me, helping with the laundry and taking out the trash. With this gradual, step by step creating of a family, I've been able to ease into it, find my footing - and enjoy the blessings that having a large family brings.
It can be done - we spend less on groceries and gas than many of our friends with much smaller families. We don't eat out, we shop second hand, we keep things simple.
The kids are alright. My children love their siblings. From adoring their baby sister to being best buds with one another, my kids are blessings to each other. Sure, they squabble and get angry like any siblings, but they are on the same team, something we make sure we remind them. Coming from a large family myself, I have seen just what an incredible gift siblings are long term. Growing into adulthood with 6 people who know me better than anyone and get where I'm coming from - that has weight. We work to foster close relationships between our kids in the hopes that they will have this same blessing. Different as we are, my siblings are my best friends, and I am so grateful that my parents had each and every one of them.
It Isn't Fool Proof - Having a lot of kids doesn't mean you have a great family. Our bedrock is our Faith, and on that we build our marriage and our family. It is not a guarantee that everything will always be perfect, or that our kids will turn out a certain way. But it is a guarantee that God is with us, always - extending His grace and mercy over our every day lives.
As always, this is our family's choice and lifestyle. It is not a judgement or condemnation of those who live differently.
I could go on and on and on about this, but I'll stop here today. If you have any other questions, please don't hesitate to comment below or send me an email.
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