When our firstborn was ten months old, we moved into a lovely little house and were soon greeted by some of our new neighbors, a family of nine (with eight still living at home.) The girls gave us fresh-baked banana bread, the boys mowed our lawn as a way of saying "Welcome", and the mom and dad made an effort to get to know us and love us. I had never spent a lot of time with large families before, so I was very intrigued and inspired by their lifestyle. I found it a great privilege to spend time with them, and I wish I would've spent more. That year-and-a-half of living there and learning from that family truly changed my life. Even if my husband and I never had any more kids, what I learned about parenting and daily life from that family convinced me that I wanted to maintain a large-family mindset.
I'll explain more about what I mean by large-family mindset, but first here's some background:
I don't think I ever thought too much about how many kids I wanted (if any), and even now I could never tell you "We're going to have ___ kids." Saying things like that feels presumptuous. Fertility is unpredictable, adoption is unpredictable, my own abilities are unpredictable, and the future in general (even what's going to happen today) is unpredictable. So I don't have a set number of children in mind. I don't know what I can handle as a parent. Every single time I've had a kid, I felt like I couldn't handle it...but God gave me grace each time He added a child to our family, and it feels like we've been thriving. So here we are expecting our fourth kid in five years, and I'm expecting Him to do the same. Maybe after four kids it will be clear that I could not do a sufficient job raising more children...or maybe---through birth or adoption---we're not even halfway to our family size. I really don't find it helpful to try to plan these things. But one thing I do know: I want to raise my kids to be hard-working and others-centered, and the large families I know are, by necessity, pretty good at fostering that kind of environment.
In light of that mindset, here are some thoughts I've been trying to keep in mind along the way, even when I only had one kid. Of course I'm not claiming to be a parenting expert, but I think there's a lot of wisdom in asking ourselves questions, and so far asking myself these questions has helped me make 10,000 little decisions that have really paid off. So here they are for you as well:
-Am I teaching my children they're the center of the universe?
This is the root issue I'm trying to confront. I don't want my kids to think they're gods of this planet. I believe that's their natural inclination (and mine too), so though I want to shower them with loving affection, I also want to teach them about reality. And the reality that this world is bigger than them is actually good news.
-Is doing this for my child a sustainable habit for either of us if we were to have more kids?
(Examples: Me doing all the household chores, constantly catering to child's preferences, etc.)
When we only had one kid, he could make a mess and I could clean it up. I've never been great at cleaning, but back then at least it was possible. Now there are six hands making messes; Lord willing, in a year there will be eight. I have two hands. That math proves that I can't keep cleaning up after them.
They have to learn to clean up after themselves...and that's so good for them. My son takes great pride in making his room look beautiful; he folds and organizes his clothes, lays out a towel as a welcome mat, and artfully places his things where he thinks they'll look best. If I always cleaned for him, he wouldn't experience that feeling of truly accomplishing something.
Picky eating is another thing that I have to figure out how to avoid; I can't just make six different meals for six different people; we all need to learn to be adaptive. This is an important skill regardless of family size.
Of course different children need different things---parenting is not one-size-fits-all. But if our children never learn to be adaptive or responsible, they will not be able to interact with a world that is full of complexity, change, and difficulty.
-Is this a long-term financial commitment that I'd be able to continue making even if we had more kids?
(Example: Saving for the kids' college.)
Who says that we have to provide the funds for our children to attend college? If they have to earn their way there (through scholarships, getting jobs, or both) they will probably get a lot more out of their experience. Or maybe they'll look at alternatives such as attending a trade school, becoming an apprentice, or starting a business.
My husband did a combination of these; he dual-enrolled at the community college in high school and thus completed a year of college credits for free, then he worked at RadioShack to help pay for his first year at college. As a student, he soaked up every minute of learning from his classes since he knew he was paying a pretty penny for them. He decided not to continue his college career and eventually started his own business. Since he started entrepreneurial endeavors at a young age---earning $1000 profit in one month when he was only nine years old---and worked hard his whole childhood, he was well-prepared with the life skills needed for being a successful business owner and an adult who was ready to get married and start a family by the time he was 20. He's passionate that we encourage hard work in the same way for our kids.
-Is this a luxury I'm holding onto too tightly?(Examples: Regular hair/nail appointments, daily trips to Starbucks, frequent travel, etc.)
If you're used to getting highlights every six weeks, you might need to reconsider whether that's something you want to continue doing for the rest of your life. If you have a bunch of kids, every appointment becomes a burden worth scrutinizing, and you'll have to drop many of them. But, whether your schedule allows it or not, sometimes it's good to reevaluate the things we've always felt we needed.
-Is neglecting this good habit "for now" sustainable if I find myself in a similar season many more times? (Examples: Isolating myself, ignoring Bible reading, wearing sweatpants all day.)
It's true that our lives and basic capabilities change drastically with the arrival of new children or through certain seasons with kids, so we need to show ourselves grace, but we also have to push ourselves to do the most important things and maintain a sense of stability. A friend with six kids once told me, "I can't quit spending time with Jesus just because I have a needy baby. I still brush my teeth, right?" We make time for the things that are most important to us.
-Would our schedule be able to handle this amount of busy-ness if we had more kids? (Examples: Major commitment to playgroups, sports, etc.)
There's great value in social activities, especially if you're homeschooling. But a struggle for parents is signing their kids up for everything because they feel it's most enriching for their children. It's been good for me to think, "Okay, if we had a bunch of kids, there's no way each kid can choose their own sport, hobby, and musical instrument. So how can I creatively integrate everyone to try a broad spectrum of activities over time?"
Maybe that means that we watch instructional ballet videos, then we whip out our art books and try to learn how to draw beetles. Then we might visit a museum together, where I can better gauge the kind of skills and interests to which each kid seems to cling. Sure, we'll sign up for soccer at some point and probably do piano lessons. But when I feel a sense of urgency to expand their horizons collectively---and mostly at home---it's amazing how much more we can accomplish!
Finding creative ways to un-busy our lives is a valuable pursuit whether you have one kid or ten.
-Am I accepting my new life with gratitude? Do I think motherhood is important?
(Example: "I can't wait for my life to get back to normal.")
Life with kids is different. I try very hard not to let my children dictate my life (resist the kindergarchy!), but in many ways parenthood necessarily does redefine how we spend our minutes and hours. In a large family, sending your kindergartener off to school doesn't mean you suddenly have all kinds of free time, because you probably still have other little people who aren't there yet. And, of course, when you're homeschooling, you're going to have that moment when you do the math and realize "I might not have time to myself until I'm sixty years old!" and you'll have to make yourself remember why you're doing all this in the first place. But that's important to do regardless of when you can retire from the full-time parenting thing. As parents, we need to learn to love our lives, even if we don't have as much freedom and privacy as we used to. There's a new kind of freedom in that, and it's empowering.
-Is this method of parenting sustainable if I had more kids?
(Examples: Helicopter/snowplow parenting, rewards-based parenting, etc.)
Hovering over your children's every move or plowing through any obstacles they might encounter is not possible when you have a bunch of kids...at least not if you want to maintain your sanity. But that's okay, because study after study is showing how bad it is for our kids if we do these things. Many parents might have been neglected or felt their parents were harsh or unkind, so they overcorrected by being so focused on and involved with their kids that it crippled their children from blossoming into well-functioning and independent adults.
Also, solely relying on rewards-based motivation proves itself to be a flimsy parenting method, especially when you poke it with the possibility of multiple children. One of my kids is motivated by snacks, one of them is motivated by privileges, and one of them is motivated by toys. It's exhausting and impossible to say "Stephen, if you behave at the store, we can go to Target afterwards. Piper, I'll buy you a new hairbow if you behave. Evey, I'll give you a cookie at the end if you're good." I just don't have the margin (or the dental budget or storage space) to reward each kid for every good thing. Plus, what does that teach them about the world and what does it teach them about God?
I believe we need to figure out how to parent our kids in a way that they obey us because they respect us because they trust us. They trust their parents so they do what they say. They obey at the grocery store because they know that's what's best for everybody. They don't run into the street because Mommy said it's dangerous, and they believe that she cares about their good. They don't lie because they know it hurts people and themselves.
As a Christian, I teach my kids that God's Word is the basis for all our morality. Because He is good, we know what is bad. And we'll never be good enough. Though we expect our kids to be obedient whether their hearts love God or not, we acknowledge that only Jesus was ever obedient enough to deserve a relationship with the perfect and holy God. And he offers this relationship to us!
We can address the ins and outs of what is going on in our kids' hearts when we deal with them as if they're complex people, not animals who are simply trained with treats.
No matter how many kids we have, it's good to evaluate our parenting philosophy with seriousness and humility.
In conclusion, having the "large family mindset" is helpful because it causes you to evaluate why you're parenting and what you want to teach your children about the world and themselves. It creates an urgency to find efficiency and simplicity in your daily life. It instills a sense of wonder that you don't know everything God has planned. It empowers you to find strength, resourcefulness, and skills that you didn't even know you had in you. (All of which, of course, is a gift from God.)
So, no matter how many kids you end up wanting or having, be encouraged, friend, that your job is mega-important and nobody can be you for your kids like you can!
4 Questions to Ask Before Saying Not Yet, No More, Or Never to Kids
How Not to Despise Parenting Little Ones
A couple months ago on our quarterly trip to Georgia, I was amazed watching my kids with their cousins. They were running together in a park, so sweetly in line with one another, and I couldn't figure out why they get along so well. Their ages vary widely, their interests and personalities are all over the charts, they live in different states and only see each other a few times a year, and they're not even that closely related; they're second cousins, the children of my cousin. But when they're together, they absolutely love it.
So why do they love each other so much?
That's how the dynamics of cousins usually seem to be for most families, right? You're matched up with people you don't see often and whose upbringings and DNA differ enough that they don't necessarily have much in common with you. There are always quirks about your cousins that you don't appreciate (and vice versa), and almost every family gathering has at least a little bit of drama, but they are your cousins. You love each other and you look forward to those gatherings when you see each other.
So I couldn't help but wonder: why don't I adopt this mentality of "you're my family so I love you and I'm going to spend time with you" when it applies to, say, my church family?
One of the tricky things about being in a large church is that if you encounter someone you don't like, you can just make sure you don't run in the same circles as them. There are plenty of other friend groups you can join so you don't need to interact with the people who rub you the wrong way. I did this for years, mostly without realizing it, and it worked. There were people my age I knew for ten years with whom I never had a conversation.
But then we joined a much smaller church where church membership is a big deal. If someone joins the church, they and the rest of the church make promises to each other. It's not in a weird cultlike way (I've seen some creepy Youtube videos of religious initiation ceremonies), but we do make a covenant with each other and to God, like in marriage. We promise to pray for each other, to love each other, to maintain unity with each other, etc.
If I'm taking this process seriously, I really can't continue in my old ways. I've been a member of our church for five years, and as I said earlier I already had a background of disliking and avoiding people, so there have definitely been some instances in which I had to face the facts: I don't love this person, and that's not okay.
So God has had to humble me. I've had to pray, awkwardly try to initiate friendships (or at least acquaintance-ships), and think a lot about the gospel. Everything that the Bible says about God's love for me also applies to this person that I don't love yet...so it's a really good thing that God isn't as stingy with showing grace to me as I am to others. I can throw myself into the glory of being personally treasured by God, but I'm not the only individual who is treasured by God; those precious scriptures apply to all who believe in Him. If I really believe that my deep-down, defining identity is "called, beloved, and kept" (Jude 1), then I need to believe that about other Christians too. I've done a terrible job at this so far---I'm a very prideful person---but I can't even describe how joyful it was to wake up one morning and realize, "I love this person. I am so grateful this person is in my life!" when that sentiment felt quite opposite only a few months prior.
So I can't do that thing anymore where I say "Yeah, I have to go hang out with this person from church. She talks way too much so hopefully it won't take too long." I can't gossip and snicker about people to my husband as if it doesn't actually hurt anyone. And I can't ignore that nasty place in my heart where I harbor feelings of bitterness towards other people. It's not just going to affect me or the other person, but it will effect the whole church. I don't want to be outwitted by Satan; I need to be aware that one of his primary flailing-against-Jesus strategies is to cause disunity in the church (2 Corinthians 2:11.)
I really appreciate that the Bible tells stories that describe human weakness so honestly and relatably; Peter and Paul had a sharp dispute. Paul and Barnabas split due to disagreement over Mark. There was drama all over the place, and no matter how solid a church is, there will be problems, because churches are comprised 100% of sinful people. But Jesus placed such importance on unity in the church that he prayed: "that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me" (John 17:21.) The reality of our relationships with other Christians---especially those in our local church---certainly feels far-off from the love and unity within the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but Jesus asked for our unity to reflect the trinity nonetheless. So we should take that really seriously.
There's no way I could predict the reward of forming friendships that didn't exist before. I'm free to start really enjoying relationships with other Christians in my church when I acknowledge that chemistry doesn't matter, common interests don't matter, age doesn't matter. They don't need to all be my best friends---that's not even possible---but I I can't maintain beef with someone that I'm going to spend eternity with. I need to love them and desire to spend time with them, as if they were actually my family...because, according to the Bible, they are.
Today my mom let me know that Lifeway Christian bookstore is offering a Bible journaling workshop, which they advertised as "a unique way of spending time in the Word through studying and memorizing scripture." Understandably, my mom assumed a Bible journaling workshop would teach students of the Word to journal about what they learn from the Bible. "Bible journaling" should look like the picture below, right?
Take a minute, go on Google Images and look up "Bible journaling" for a second. And then cry sad tears about what you find.
Because this is what women (and Christian bookstores) are calling "Bible study" nowadays: plucking out a verse (or even a song lyric!) and doodling it not just in the margin but literally on top of scripture, oftentimes with opaque paint that actually covers the text!
A lot of these artists are really good at what they do...I'm a fan of calligraphy and word art, and I'm quite jealous of the creative skill of these women. There is so much value in meditating on scripture, even if it's only a verse. But were they really so deep in their study of the phrase "be still” that they couldn’t find a sketchbook or even a piece of paper? Did they really need to cover up the words of the Bible? Is this empowering women to be theologians with robust faith?
The thing is, having the actual Bible as the background for your word art is just so very photogenic. Lifeway even recommends using the hashtag #noteworthytruth to “show us your journaling.” A quick search of #noteworthytruth shows you exactly how many notes are being taken on truth using this method of “Bible study”: zero. And much of this “truth” might consist of a phrase such as “I am an artist” or “from firm roots grow beautiful leaves.” I’m not seeing how legitimate Bible study would propel a person to cover up the words of the Bible to paint pretty flowers and inspirational phrases not even found in the Bible.
How could we have possibly made Bible study so much about us? And how could Christian retailers in good conscience feed this horrific trend? Is it really because they are more motivated by the profit from the sale of markers, paints, and wide-margin Bibles than by equipping women to be students of the Word? (I sent Lifeway an angry email about this.)
I think the vanity of Bible journaling is a metaphor for how mankind has always tried to use God as a stepping-stool to get what we want. And that’s convicting for me, to be honest. Though I might not smear acrylic paint all over my Bible so I can post a cute picture for Instagram, I certainly struggle with touting my Bible knowledge or subtly letting others know when I do something good. All of us in different ways abuse God’s Word for our own selfish means; that started in the garden of Eden. So maybe the yucky parts of Bible journaling aren’t so much of a recent trend after all.
But there is certainly great news. Yes, God sees our sinful self-centeredness, He hates it, and He will punish it. Romans 1:18 says, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.” But this same Judge whose Word is not taken lightly is also the Justifier (Romans 3:26) who sent His Son to take that punishment for those who would believe. He rose again and we can have new and free life in Him.
Here’s some more good news: the reason "Bible journaling" is so ugly is because it sells the artist and the viewers terribly short of the beauty of true Bible study. Women who would rather paint over scripture than read it not only miss the heart of God, but they miss out on the richness of enjoying God through His Word.
In Isaiah 66:2, He says “But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.”
The joy of committing to scripture and uncovering deep layers of truth about God, speaking and singing to God about that truth, and excitedly talking with others about that truth…it’s incomparably thrilling.
Yes, studying the Bible is thrilling.
I’ve heard a pastor compare reading the Bible to “taking your vitamins”; it’s good for you but you're not always going to be excited about it. And I suppose that’s true some of the time; even as I write this I’m in a little bit of a funk with my Bible reading. But that problem is with me, not with God's Word. God's Word is always a feast; sometimes our bellies are just too full of junk food to notice.
In His presence is fullness of joy, and how could we know Him better than reading what He has so beautifully inspired people to write about Him?
Enjoy the feast of the Word, my friend! If your Bible-study career thus far has been limited to devotional books, random flipping, or even a heavy reliance on commentaries, I can't encourage you enough to sit with the Bible (just the Bible!), ask the Holy Spirit to give you understanding and joy, and behold your God through His Word.
And sure, make some lovely art about it. :)
Christians: Let's Study the Bible for Ourselves
Ten Years in the Word: How the Bible Shaped Me
The Real Reason We Don't Read Our Bibles
Our Obsession with "She"
Bad weather is a bummer for active kids, but thanks to this wonderful gift called "imagination," we are able to still have wonderful times indoors. Here are three pretend-play ideas you've probably never heard of that work particularly well with a bunk bed (especially the KURA bunkbed from IKEA), though you can really do them anywhere. Also, though more children add to the fun, you can play these with an only child simply by providing your presence.
Keep in mind that my kids are only 5, 3, and 1, and they all love this stuff. It's amazing how even super-energetic children can be so willing to stop, listen, and play pretend as long as Mommy or Daddy is spending time with them.
I will provide more ideas later...I've got a ton of 'em!
1) Double Decker Bus Tour Around the World
Sit on the top bunk, grab a world atlas with plenty of pictures, and let someone be the tour guide. Another person could drive the bus recklessly using an invisible steering wheel or a plastic plate, and, of course, there can be passengers that bend and bump along with the imaginary bus's movements.
Here are some things the tour guide might say:
"Coming up next we will visit Nepal's Himalayas and visit Mount Everest! Brr, I hope you all brought your winter coats! Let's invite some sherpas onboard and give them warm food!"
"We're driving right along the Nile River right now. Watch out for those Crocodiles. I think I see some pyramids in the distance!"
"Hold on tight because we're about to enter the Audobon. There's no speed limit, so we might go really fast! Say hello to the German people!"
If you want to extend the play further, you can get off at each stop, and the possibilities there are limitless! And, of course, this game will go better if you already teach your kids about other cultures and places.
2) Spy Base
Put blankets on the top bunk or use yellow crepe paper as caution tape to section off your base.
I Googled, printed out, and laminated "hand scanner", "eye scanner", a map, and pictures of various countries and recognizable cartoon characters, and taped them up in the base and around the house so we can play two different games as spies.
A) Search for the Missing Diamond
A precious jewel has been taken (and hidden somewhere around the house) by a mysterious diamond burglar!
How you play is extremely open-ended, but you can examine the suspects (the cartoon characters), pretend to ask witnesses, and look around the house for answers.
B) Smuggle Bibles and Necessities into Restricted Nations
I came up with this after reading God's Smuggler by Brother Andrew. Before playing, I chose some nations hostile to Christianity (Russia, Iraq, North Korea) and taped outlines of their country on the doors of various rooms in our house and I hid some Bibles in a cabinet. I then told the kids that we need to pick up Bibles, then send them along with church planters/missionaries (the cartoon characters) to these nations.
Here's what some of the gameplay might sound like:
"I just got a call from Frodo in Iraq. He said the people there need medical equipment, badly! Here's a box of Band-aids. Send it to Iraq!"
"I just received an encouraging call from Belle in North Korea. Many people are finding hope in Jesus and they're able to forgive their enemies and not despair! Let's send more church planters there to help the work!"
"Inspector Gadget just let me know that it's a really bitter winter in Russia and they're losing access to food. Go to the pantry and bring some food to our brothers and sisters in Russia!"
When I'm ready for us to be done playing, I say, "Uh-oh, the government is becoming very suspicious of us. Quick! Let's erase all the evidence that we've been here!" (That's my sneaky-mom way of getting the kids to clean up all the laminated papers and cards we've used.)
I understand that this activity sounds really weird, troubling for kids, and possibly even disrespectful to people who are actually going through these hardships. But I think it's important to find a balance between teaching your kids about the sufferings of other people while also keeping it lighthearted enough that they're not having nightmares. Finding that balance is, of course, up to you.
When we sneak to the hostile countries, we might duck for protection from bombs sometimes, but then we might ride on the backs of dolphins to cross the ocean or something. When we're playing I never use words like "kill," "dead," "blood," etc. but afterwards I try to talk about the real-life hard situations people are enduring around the world (reading Voice of the Martyrs magazine helps!)
I think instilling a sense of adventure in our kids, even in the context of gently immersing them in perspective of horrible real-life events, is good for them. I hope that this plants seeds in my kids of longing to risk their lives for the sake of others. Maybe one day they really will be smuggling Bibles and medical supplies into North Korea.
3) Time Travel Elevator
I simply found clip art of some worldwide historical events, masked them into the shapes of ovals, organized them in rows, printed out my "elevator panel", laminated it, and taped it onto the wall of our bunk bed.
We'll say things like, "Okay, let's go watch the Boston Tea Party! Beep. Nrrrrrrrrrrr. Ding! We're here!"
The options then are, of course, endless. You might have a mission, such as taking an artifact or giving aid to famous historical figures, or you might just walk around and pretend to interview witnesses of the event. At this point, though, we just like hopping on and off the elevator. The kids like to leave me stranded in the time when dinosaurs existed and conveniently forget to come back and pick me up!
Here's a printable of the PDF and the .docx file so you can edit it yourself.
I have lots more ideas, so keep an eye out for Vol. 2!
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My name is Hope.
I'm 25, married to a rad guy, and raising three little people ages 1,3, and 5...and I'm now expecting my fourth. I like lime green, Coke icees, and I wear my Crocs until they have holes in them...or melt.
Quick links to some of my posts:
Articles I've Written on Other Sites:
Youth Ministry's Family Blindspot - Christianity Today