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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  1. Yes! To everything. Your point about people not wanting our lives...I hadn't thought of it quite in that way (not that expect everyone wants 6 kids either), but it explains a lot of the head shakes and rude comments. My older kids have started to notice that people react to our family differently. When they ask what people's comments mean, I usually sigh and tell them I don't know. I loved your answer to your daughter.

  2. Love this! I come from a family of 8 and what you say is spot on. I wish people weren't so rude though--it's sad your kids had to see that lady scowl. I really liked how you stressed that the family grew gradually and you were able to take it on a bit at a time. That is encouraging to me! :D

  3. Beautifully written! We just added number four to our family and even four seems to be a number many people shake their heads at. In the beginning of our marriage, we always believed two would be plenty, but after being around two families who had five and six kids each, we changed our minds, realizing there are some very nice things about having a larger family! Yes, it IS more work, but it's such valuable work, isn't it?! :) It's not for everyone and I get that. I just wish people wouldn't be so close minded simply because it isn't what they themselves would want.

  4. We'll be welcoming number five in May. I get all kinds of comments in the grocery store, I suspect at least in part because three of the four are boys! It is a different way of thinking. Some things take much longer and sometimes I don't think there's enough of me to go around, but there always is. God's grace is wonderful and living into it each day is exciting!...K

  5. I can't imagine what you must face, when I get the same looks and comments: and I only have 3! And I don't know why it would be anybody's business to question in the first place. Especially the one who saw my less than flat tummy and said "you're not having more, are you!?" Like I am some homeless pound puppy that's just gonna give birth to a litter in the street or something. *eyeroll* Can't believe I would have rather she just called me fat and moved along.

    The simple truth is, it's not for everyone, but what makes life beautiful, besides us all knowing our heart's desire -- is letting someone else have Theirs! Even if you don't agree with it.
    My mom is one of 11. My dad is one of 10. I have about 30 cousins: on my moms' side alone!! And if I had of started earlier in life, I would not likely have stopped at 3 myself. Sorry nosey grocery store lady. But I simply do not know what it's like to NOT be surrounded by family, and noise, and heaping amounts of that Love.

    A real blessing of a post! May many blessings overflow back on you.

  6. I feel much the same! My Mom was one of 5 and my Dad one of 6. I love people and family!

  7. Ah, yes. No, there is never enough Mom to go around, and there is enough guilt about that steal your joy right away. When I get to feeling that way, I remember that I'm not the only one who is loving and raising these kids. God is at my side, my husband, our faith community and friends. The kids will be just fine!

  8. Good questions, Amy. I don't think God calls us necessarily to the things that are easy for us. Being a mom of many kids has been a refining experience for me. I still have so many flaws, but one day at a time He uses the hard things to draw me closer to Him. As to how we know this is for us, we have always sought His will in this matter...and haven't felt led to say "no more." As to being a yeller, or from yellers...I know exactly what you mean. But with daily grace, I keep trying.

  9. Thank you so much for your comment! I think the desire for children is a very precious thing indeed. Something we don't see much anymore. It is a pleasure to meet others who feel the same!

  10. You are such an inspiration! I love reading about you & your family! May I ask, are you Christian or Catholic? (I only wonder because I saw that you use a Catholic Bible App.) Anyhow, I go back & forth so much, but in the end, I feel like if any part of me has doubt about being "done" then we probably aren't. We do want some time to just think it over & since I am only 23 & Jeremiah 26, we have loads of time (Lord willing), plus I would like to get in better physical condition so that future pregnancies that may occur can not be so demanding on my body. :D

  11. I completely understand, Amy. And may I also say that making this decision when you are about to welcome a new baby, or even right after - may not be the best time. It is overwhelming to be at the end of pregnancy, and overwhelming those first few months with baby. Making a forever decision at that point may not be best. I am a Lutheran (LCMS) Christian with some Catholic leanings. I am drawn to a more traditional faith, so I love that about some Catholic materials.

  12. It's a wonder that it took me this long to realize that people don't just not have large families because they can't, or regret that they didn't. Some truly do not want that for their lives. I think, being born into one, I always wanted something like this. Not everyone is coming from the same place, or interested in the same experience.

  13. Well, it gives us an opportunity to learn how to respond with grace to those who are not treating us the same. But yes, it can be a little discouraging. So thankful for a community, both online and off, of people who encourage and support me in this!


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