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!
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My name is Hope.
I'm 25, married to a former skater dude, and raising little people ages 5, 3, 1, and not-yet-born. I like lime green and sarsaparilla, and I wear my Crocs until they melt. (Florida problems.)
Quick links to some of my posts:
Articles I've Written on Other Sites:
Youth Ministry's Family Blindspot - Christianity Today