Circus side shows

I  finished the peaches last night (at 11 pm).  (The tally?  Twenty-one quarts of canned sliced peaches, 11 pints of jam... or peach syrup if you insist that jam must actually be jelled, and 7 pie's worth of frozen peaches in the freezer.  Plus we still have a fruit drawer full of fruit to eat.)  I can now move on to other things.

And those other things?  Pondering why this past weekend's article in the paper about large families annoyed me so much.  It wasn't necessarily a bad article.  The mothers of the families interviewed (one of them Mary, from Owlhaven, a blog I regularly read) were articulate and normal sounding.  There wasn't even the requisite interview in the these types of articles from the 'opposition'.  (In homeschooling articles this view is routinely represented by either an upper level school superintendent type or teacher's union rep and in a large family article it would be either some child psychologist about the dangers of being one of a herd or a more normal (in the eyes of the writer) person with a regular number of children saying something along the lines of, "I just don't know how they can do it.")  Really, the article was fine, and while I've been slicing and slicing and slicing peaches, I've been trying to think through my incredibly negative reaction.

And I've come to two conclusions.  The first is that it seems that large families (and by large, the article was definitely including families with four or more children) have moved into the status of circus side show performer.  The side show was a sad commentary on how society treated people who were outside the mainstream, often through no choice of their own, but because of a physical deformity or genetic disease.  Instead of treating them as just as human as the rest of society, they were relegated to entertainment status; something to stare at and then turn away and go back to 'normal' life without having to seriously consider the moral implications involved. 

It's no secret that large families have moved into a form of entertainment.  Television networks have made buckets of money showing the population the lives of many large families.  And judging from the various comments I've heard about them, many people watch because they are waiting to see a train wreck.  Either the train wreck happens onscreen or they believe that the train wreck must be coming at any moment because there is no way that a family with 19 children can be normal and raise functioning adults... something must give at some point.  The reasoning behind this is:  "If I, who have only 1 or 2 children can barely cope with the one or two that I have, there is no way a woman can possibly manage more.  Something has to give and surely the children are living a deprived and emotionally arid life."

The other reason that I think explains my negative reaction is the sidebar article that accompanied the main one.  The sidebar which began something along the lines of, "Yes they are expensive."  And here is the real crux of my annoyance.  More and more, children are not viewed as human beings who are valuable because they are created in the image of a mighty and loving God, but on economic terms.  How much are they going to cost us?  What losses will we have because we chose to have children?  What will I miss out on buying or what trips will I have to fore go because I have to feed these extra mouths?  And if you are an adoptive parent, I'm sure you know full well the question, "How much did you pay for him?" (Which, by the way, is probably one of the single most insulting things you can say to an adoptive parent.  Just don't do it!)  But it does highlight how society has come to equate children with cost.  Once again we treat children in a way that adults would find highly insulting.  No one wants their value as a person to be calculated with a cost-benefit analysis.

And all of this is based on a false view of economics.  We as believers follow a God who has a very different economy; one that doesn't make sense to our rational human side all the time.  He only gives us what we need when we need it, and often that doesn't come until we have said yes to what He has asked and started to move in the right direction.  God is never late, but He is not early, either.

I'm sure if you were to ask any mother of a large family if she felt capable of parenting many children at the point in time when she just had two, she would laugh and say, "No!"  But at the point we had two children, we didn't have 7 or 8 or 9, so we didn't need that capability.  As we added to our family, our ability to parent grew as well.  Parenting children is a learned skill; one that has to be practiced.  Most large families were not instantaneously made.  Children were added one or two at a time, and as the children were added the competency built.

The amount of work 9 children require as opposed to, say,  three is misunderstood as well.  There is this impression that each time you add a child, the work doubles or trebles or quadruples, etc.  This may be true going from one to two, but it doesn't continue this way.  Many things, such as fixing dinner or cleaning the house, have to happen regardless of how many children I have.  Doubling a recipe and cooking it is really no more work than preparing a single recipe.  I use bigger pans, but I don't double my time.  The house is the same no matter who is living in it.  I probably do less cleaning than a mother of two because I have so many more people to divide the work between.  Many hands make light work and all.

The same is true on the money side of things as well.  There was that figure mentioned in the newspaper article about it costing upwards of $260,000 to raise a child.  It has always baffled me because it can't possibly be accurate... at least not in my universe.  So many things can be reused.  You don't have to buy your children the latest toy or gadget (and probably shouldn't).  Some bills are the same whether it's three people in the house or 12.  Much of it all comes down to how you use your resources and that huge figure must assume that the person spending the money has not been careful at all.

And really, even if it did cost that much, what does it really matter?  These are human beings we are talking about.  Children who will add to our lives in ways that are beyond solely dollar signs.  It's why the visa commercial works so well.  There truly are things in this world that are priceless and children are one of them.  Talk to older people.  Those who raised large families see mine and tell me proudly how many children they had and that they would do it again in a heartbeat... even though sometimes it was hard.  I have also heard from other people, who sadly comment that they always thought about having more and now they wished they had.  (Grocery stores are interesting places aren't they?  It's as if there is some truth filter people go through when they enter and find themselves saying things they never would in the real world.)

So, laundry?  Yes, daily.
Fancy trips?  No, not so much.
Many hands to hold around the dinner table?  Priceless.


Ann said…
I love your thoughts on this and just posted a link on my own blog. I especially love your thoughts on the economics of children and how people often don't realize the true value of children until later on in life. How many are on their deathbed and say they wish they had made more money? How many wish they had made more relationships and had more children? I always enjoy your blog dear friend :-) Keep writing!
Anna said…
I thank you for such a lovely post. (and Ann for linking up) Weve recently, a year ago, adopted number four through adoption. This looks so different on this side than I expected. I think because most families have older ones still at home helping. I am praying once the dust settles we will be able to adopt number five. Thank you for dispelling some of the myths. Adding one more does seem overwhelming.
Anonymous said…
Thank you once again for your words of wisdom. Sometimes I just wish I could help younger couples realize the blessing children bring. I guess it truly does boil down to what we believe. Will we believe God's Word, or the fear the world wants to create related children. Blessing or Curse? Truth or a lie?
Yes, training children is hard work. This is a work that God is using to shape me too!
Amy said…
I read the article and thought it was generally positive, but also thought that the definition of large family (four or more) was absurd. I grew up in a family of four and while I had one more sibling than most of my friends, we really weren't seen as large.
I'm a little jealous of your peaches. It made me want to go picking. Did the peach slices you canned float? I did two batches and doubled my heating time after the first batch floated, but the second batch floated too.
Also, I have found two museums in the DuPage area that do not discriminate against large families! Cantingy in Wheaton charges $5 flat per car, and the family pass at the DuPage Children's museum in Naperville includes both adults and all children in the household.
thecurryseven said…
Amy-- Yeah, I was a little surprised at four children coming under the heading of large families as well. And, yes, the peaches floated. So did my friends who is a master canner, so I'm choosing not to worry about it.

I'm very excited about the admission rate at Catigny! It's been on my list of places to go for a while now (though it would have made more sense when we were studying the Civil War). Very cool.

Melissa Werner said…
So I read your post this morning but haven't been able to reply until now -- things I have been thinking about in regard to what you said . . .
If, according to the article, big families consist of four or more children that must mean that I grew up in a big family. I always thought I grew up in an averaged size family. But then again, both my parents came from large families - five children on my mom's side and nine on my dad's. I also have two uncles who had 9 and 11 children, so more than two kids in a family isn't such a stretch of the imagination.

I think what I find interesting about this concept is that there was a time when families of four, five, six or more wasn't such a big deal. It really is a recent concept that a family of more than two or three children is considered large.

I have to admit, I have been known to say, "If money wasn't a factor I'd have more children." For me the money factor comes down to not just wanting to work outside the home but having to work for, let's face it, all the "stuff".

Truly B (I'm using your nick name initial now because we've known each other so long) I'm absolutely impressed with what you and J have accomplished! I still remember visiting you when you were pregnant with M. A lifetime ago!

So here's to you and that great big loveable family! I don't read your blog to hear about the train wreck. I love the stories and the photos. My interest also lies in seeing what you're doing with your nine and how I can apply some of those concepts to my two. Sometimes it's as simple as are we placing our faith at the front of everything we do each day? Something I have to admit I'm not always very successful at achieving but I'll certainly keep trying and will go back to your example as often as possible!

PS -- Along those lines, I'm dealing with a 16-year-old who has decided the most audacious thing he can say is that he's doesn't believe in God, he believes in science. Do you have advice? My next option is to ship him to a monastery in the Alps. Just kidding . . .sort of.
Alex and Riann said…
Thank you for your perspective and wise words. Bless you, mama.
Anonymous said…
YES! My husband and I have 8 (twins at the end) and I wish I could memorize your words for the next teasing or naysaying or "glad it's not me" adult....(children themselves would never think it strange to want more of themselves!It's only more people to play with and a baby to dress up and someone to read to and ....)

Stefanie Krueger
TJC said…
extrinsecus ab acceptus terminis!

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