Being a mom to a “large family” is overwhelming and wonderful all at the same time. I am absolutely blessed by having all these little munchkins running around calling me mom, and also by having a husband who loves all of us unconditionally. And yet there are many assumptions out there about who I should be, how I should act, and what I should say in any given circumstance. Assumptions about how my children should interact, how our days should go, and things we should do. Many assumptions, quite frankly, that are not correct.
If you walked into my home on any given day, chances are there would be toys strewn about the floor, dirty dishes in the sink, clothes piled up in the laundry room, and beds unmade. But you would also find happy kids running around, handmade pictures hanging all over our dining room walls, muddy shoes laying in the mudroom, and joyful (aka- LOUD) singing reverberating through our small abode. While it may not be magazine-perfect, and it may not be as orderly as you would expect, it is my world and proof that my kids are loved.
Whenever my husband and I go out in public with our troop of kiddos, we get many stares and double-takes (rubber-necking, similar to when people drive by a car accident), strangers counting our little ones’ heads, and finally the all-too-expected questions and comments. Sometimes it can feel like the Spanish inquisition in the middle of the cereal aisle at the grocery store!
Here is a rundown of typical answers given during a usual outing:
“Yes, they’re all ours;
yes, we know what causes it;
yes, they were all planned;
yes, our hands, as well as our hearts, are full;
no, we are not going for our own reality show;
yes, we own a television.”
I understand that most commenters are well-meaning with their questions and remarks. Sometimes I wish they had the chance to really experience what it feels like to be a part of raising a large family (instead of just witnessing a few moments at a public place). I would love if people could put aside the pre-dispositions and see large families for what they really are: a bunch of imperfect people put together under the same roof for a greater purpose. If I had a chance to sit down with these strangers, invite them into my chaotic, beautiful mess, here are some thoughts I would share on what it is like raising a large family.
1. We are not perfect parents. We have our good days and our bad days, just like parents with fewer children. That does not mean we do not love our children or cannot “handle” them. It just means we are like every other human being out there: imperfect. We battle our own “giants” of stress, selfishness, contentedness, and any other human condition. I am extremely thankful I do not have to be perfect, and by extension I don’t expect my kiddos to be perfect, either. We know that bad days do not make bad parents.
2. We do not have this parenting thing figured out. In fact, I’ve realized the more children I have, the less I know! Each child is unique, making it nearly impossible to have it all down to a science. Every time I think I have an element of parenting figured out, one of the kids throws me a curveball and I’m left problem solving again. Kids are good at keeping us on our toes! 😉
3. We still lose our patience. We have moments where we get caught up in whatever is going on (tantrums at Target seem to make me lose my bearings), and we say or do things we wouldn’t normally say or do. Shortly after those moments we also experience guilt/regret over what was said or done, and we also experience the humbling act of asking our kids to forgive us. This does not make us bad parents. It makes us normal parents. Parents with one child can lose their patience just as easily as a parent with ten children. What matters is that we learn from our mistakes and move on. We are all a work in progress!
4. We are in charge of parenting, not our kids. There is a huge misconception out in the general public that parents with large families have it “easy” because their “older kids are raising the younger kids”. For our family, and all of the large families I know, this is absolutely NOT true. (Although part of me dreams of having a teenager whom I could have babysit during the day while I go grocery shopping alone… *sigh*) Asking our older kids to help out around the house is not the same as asking the older children to take up all childrearing activities. Instilling good working ethics is extremely important to us, and if that includes helping out with minor childcare activities (for example, my two year old loves bringing her baby brother his bottle), then so be it. When all is said and done, it is our house, our rules, and we are in charge of training up our children the way we see fit.
5. We make it our goal to know each and every one of our children. I have heard it said that there is absolutely no way parents who have large families can know each child individually. Again, this is not the case. For me, I make it a daily goal to spend one-on-one time with each and every one of my children. One of the “luxuries” of being a stay-at-home parent is that I get to spend each full day with my kids, getting to know them and help them grow in their own unique way. And even if a parent (of both small and large families) is not an at-home parent, they can still spend quality time with their kids, honing and growing their personalities and hearts, instilling morals and values. Quality over quantity is most important when raising kids!
6. We are not better than parents with fewer kiddos, and vice versa. It seems like there is an imaginary stigma out there that says if you have a large family you are (insert “better” or “worse”) parents than those who have smaller families. People, this is not a contest. There are sooooo many parents I know who are AWESOME parents with one or two kids, and I know AWESOME parents with six to eight kids. We need to stop comparing apples to oranges and focus on parenting the children we have been blessed with, no matter the number. Be the best parent you can possibly be!
7. We are not uneducated. Some large family parents (especially moms) are told that if we had a college education we would be able to make better decisions in regards to having so many children. (I heard someone tell another large family mom that intelligent women do not have multiple children. I wonder if that person imagines us to be backwoods hillbillies, barefoot, pregnant, holding a baby on our hip, and a gaggle of little ones running amuck?) I wish people understood that having a college degree does not make a person successful, nor does having a thriving career mean happiness. I know many large family moms who have multiple degrees (including their masters and doctorates) who feel much more fulfilled in their role as a large family mom than they did “climbing the corporate ladder”. I believe that each of us has a unique purpose and calling in life, and the only way to true happiness is by pursuing that calling with every ounce of our being.
8. We can be loud, but we are loud for a good reason. Laughter is a usual occurrence at our house. And so are squeals of joy. And kids chasing each other. And musical instruments being played. Put it all together and you get ear-shattering loveliness. I admit, sometimes the noise can be very overwhelming, and I treasure the quiet at night when my kiddos are fast asleep. But I’m thankful for the noise because it means my kids are growing and loving and just plain being kids. (Except for the bickering and fighting that occasionally spark up between siblings… I haven’t figured out how to be thankful for that yet.)
9. We are not cookie-cutter-parents or families. Each large family parent has their own vision and dream for their family. Some parents are growing large families because they feel called to do so (many times from a religious standpoint), while others simply enjoy being surrounded by kids and choose to welcome many. Some large families choose to dress more modestly while other families choose to dress more “mainstream” (we tend to dress less “extremist compound” and more everyday wear). Some parents choose to homeschool, while some parents choose to send their kids to a private or public school. Just as each child is unique, so is each family.
I am sure there are many other points I could elaborate on, but these are the ones closest to my heart. I hope I have helped someone somewhere see the beauty (and normalcy) that comes with raising a large family. 🙂 If you have a large family or were raised in a large family, I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!
***I would like to thank the wonderful ladies in my large family Facebook group for helping me come up with parts of this blog post. 🙂 ***