Yesterday we went to the Chicago Botanic Gardens to see the Wonderland Express exhibit along with our good friends the P family and H-S family. I've written about these two families extensively before, but if you are new, the extra initials in the alphabet soup I'm usually serving up may be confusing. So, a thumbnail sketch.... the P family has 8 children (we watched some of them while their parents were in Ethiopia adopting numbers 7 and 8) and the H-S family has 7 (they watched our children the last time we were in Vietnam and will do so when we travel to China). These are very, very good friends and our children have known each other nearly all their lives. If you were counting, that gives us 24 children between the three of us, though some of them are grown and either on their own or in college. Consequently, we all have heard comments about the unworkableness of large families. Since each of our families works quite well, we wonder where these beliefs come from. We have decided that it must be because large families are somewhat rare these days and the people making the comments have never met a real life large family. So in the spirit of public education, I present a snapshot of what it's like to be a part of a large family.
By December in Chicago standards, yesterday was a beautiful day. It was dry and in the 40's which was a good thing since when we arrived at the gardens we discovered that the free tickets to the Wonderland Express were for timed entries and the next time we could get such a large number of tickets was for an hour later. We had an hour to walk around.
One of the nice things the Botanic Gardens offers is a large card with things to find in the garden and stickers to mark what you found. It is a great thing for keeping littles interested in looking at plants. So we gathered up a stack of these and headed out the door.
There are a couple of reasons people offer for why others shouldn't, or they can't, have a large family. One of them is that it is not fair for the children to have parental attention diluted by the presence of other children. (I'm actually quite sure that the majority of my children are relieved that they don't have my full attention all the time, but that's not the direction I'm going today.) What these people don't seem to understand is that the relationships between siblings is valuable and a joy to behold.
Here is TM with P4 (the P family all have the same initial, so I solve that problem by tacking their age onto their letter). TM is pointing out something on P4's card so that he can mark it with a sticker. All the mothers are there, of course, but children all paired up and helped each other with their cards. If a child grew tired of a sibling's help, he (or she) would find his mother and hang out for a while until he felt ready to return to the others. At other times, a mother (because we are actually keeping on eye on our children) would decided based on a child's behavior that he (or she) needed to come spend some time close to Mom and keep that child close until self-regulation was happening again.
There is also the claim that younger children just get lost in the shuffle. Well, someone needs to tell G. and L. that this should be their experience, because that is the only way they would discover it. These two little girls were fought over the entire trip. The number of children wanting to help them out with their cards far exceeded the two little girls who needed help.
Here is our current set of older girls. Notice how tired and care worn they look from having to raise their siblings. (Oops! Did I write that out loud? A little too snarky, perhaps? I'll touch more on this subject in minute.)
P15, P13, H H-S, and A.
I've also heard that children in larger families just don't get the same opportunities to do things that children in smaller families do. And that might just actually be true... at least not in the same amount. But I'm actually a happier person not driving my children hither and thither everyday while I try to occupy their time. We do participate in classes, lessons, and activities, but because we are dealing with limited funds and time, we are very careful about what we agree to do. I think it makes our children a little more appreciative of what we do participate in. And we keep an eye out for deals which makes some activities doable. Such as the one we are at the gardens for. The Wonderland Express is a model railroad. But it's not just any model railroad, this one is in a beautiful garden setting with all the major buildings in Chicago created out of plant material. (It's very difficult to explain, so go to the link I provided and watch the short video.) Tuesdays are free, so that's when we went. Everyone loved it.
ZG H-S, ZT H-S, and D.
But probably the single biggest reason that people give for why large families shouldn't exist (other than the environmental one... I'm not going to touch that one here, either, but we did carpool), is that the older children end up raising the younger ones and it's not fair to them. Perhaps in some families this is true, but then there are smaller families who are dysfunctional and no one points to them to say two children families shouldn't exist. Yes, my older children help out. Yes, they have all changed diapers. No, they have not enjoyed it, but I don't either, really. But they do not raise my younger children. That is J.'s and my job and it is one we perform. What we see instead are children who adore their younger brothers and sisters and want to spend time with them and play with them. I actually think that children who are in their teens who do not have babies to dote on are missing out. Especially the boys. The older boys from larger families whom I know adore babies and little children. They love to spend time with them. They love to care for them. It teaches them how to be fathers and what life with children is really like. These boys are not going to be the men who are surprised at how much work a baby takes and pout when they are displaced as the child in the family. Caring for children helps boys become men and girls become women.
P17 and B. They were not asked to push the strollers... but they fought off the girls for the privilege. Eventually the girls won them back.
Finally, there is the idea that moms of many never have a moment's peace. I think this is sometimes true of any mother... it goes with the territory. But my experience is that I have plenty of time to myself. In fact even at the gardens, with 20 children in tow, the three moms were able to visit and enjoy talking together. It is a pretty safe place to let children run around and we visited while we kept an eye on things. If the group got too far ahead, they would wait until we caught up. This is the scene we saw upon turning a corner:
Everyone loved the chance to roam around and explore. We would take head counts every so often to be sure we had everyone.
Here's the whole crew, minus the four who are off on their own. (The Japanese gardens, which are on islands, are in the background.)
I'm sorry if I come across as a little strident or tetchy. Large families work. They are great places to grow up. The mothers of large families I know do their job in raising their children. All of them. And every time I hear someone say that they would never have more than two children because it wouldn't be fair to the ones they already had, I wonder a little bit at what they think of me. I try not to take things the wrong way or make it too personal, but sometimes the pressure builds and I have to let off steam.
The non-snarky blogger will return tomorrow.