Friday, April 04, 2014

More about vocabulary and large families... or not

I promised you yesterday that I would disclose what G. was writing when she wrote this:

Some of you were able to read it, but for those who weren't, it says, "underwater creatures'. You must read it from right to left and most of the letters are reversed as well. If you aren't expecting it to actually spell something, it does look a lot like hieroglyphics.

The reason I'm showing it to you is not to discuss G.'s quirky current writing style, though I could probably get a whole blog post about just that. I've known plenty of children who have done this, and I will probably be sad when it straightens itself out. What I wanted to discuss was the whole vocabulary-thing again.

Evidently, the whole idea that the younger children in a large family are somehow intellectually compromised has really stuck in my craw because I keep thinking about it. First, I think am I being really honest with myself. Do my youngest display the same type of language development as my older children did at this age. I find myself eavesdropping on their play and conversations, making note of the words they use. That's why I paid attention to the sign that G. wrote the other day. In case you were wondering, at the ripe old age of 4 1/2, G. did not spell this out on her own. She had wanted to make a sign for her ocean box that we are making for science and asked A. to spell out "underwater creatures". A. said the letters and G. wrote them down. It was her choice of words for her sign that interested me. We had used this phrase before in our study of ocean dwellers, but I had never specifically said that it described what the children were making to place in their boxes. She had been listening and paying attention and made the inference for herself. As I said when I first discussed the topic, it really doesn't matter the place in the birth order, if a child engages in conversation with adults who use a rich vocabulary, the child will develop an equally large vocabulary themselves.

Having assured myself that there was nothing stunted about G.'s and L.'s intellectual development, I continued to ponder why this topic continued to gnaw at me. Here's what I've decided... it is the premise behind the study that irks me. The idea that a child growing up in a large family must somehow be compromised is at the root of what this (and others like it) is about. It shows a fundamental bias against large families as well as enormous ignorance of how real large families work.

I will be the first to admit that there are large families out there that are dysfunctional. They don't work as a family should and children are not being raised in a terrific environment. This is not because the family is large, but because it is dysfunctional. There are plenty of small families out there that are dysfunctional and I don't hear anyone blaming the fact that there are two children in the family as the cause for the dysfunction. Let's not mistake causation with correlation. So, for the sake of argument, let's just say I am discussing, healthy functioning families for right now.

If a person has never been a part of a large family or known a well-functioning one, what are some of those underlying assumptions I see them making? First off, is the idea that the youngest members of the family are not as loved and cared for as the first children were. They are just more little needy bodies who get lost in the shuffle. What this assumption doesn't take into account is that parents of many children love the youngest ones just as much as they love the ones who came along first. Parents are not given a limited amount of love that must be divided between their children, so that if there are more children, there must consequently be less love. It doesn't work that way. I know I anticipated the birth of G. and L. as much, if not more so, than I did M.'s birth. J. and I fawned over the last little babies just as much as we fawned over the first. The youngest ones have an added benefit that the first ones didn't... they also experience the love of their older siblings who also have a tendency to fawn over them. These little ones were awash in love from day one and that hasn't changed as they have gotten older.

This isn't unique to just my family. I've talked with countless mothers of large families who experience the exact same thing. Our love is not a limited quantity, but grows with each additional child. There was a story one mother told (and if I could remember where I read it, I would attribute it.) She and her husband had baby number 10? 11? (I don't remember) at the doctor's office for a newborn check-up. They were acting like all parents of newborns do... cooing, kissing, hugging, loving the baby... and the nurse at work that day was watching. The nurse's reaction was telling. She exclaimed something along the lines of, "They treat that baby just like it was their first!" For the parents, this wasn't odd. This was their new baby; of course they were over the moon. For the nurse, this was astounding. In her world it seems that she couldn't imagine a baby so far along in the birth order as being as loved; as if the parents would have run out of love at this point.

The second underlying assumption is that parents don't have the time for the youngest and ignore them or assume the older children will take care of the younger ones. I think this is the single biggest argument I've heard against large families... the idea of cheating the older children out of their childhood because they are raising their younger siblings. While I don't doubt this does happen in some families, though I will add it probably happens regardless of family size, that doesn't mean it happens in all. If parents love their children, all their children, wouldn't they want a hand in raising these precious beings? There is a big difference between an older children helping a parent and an older child raising younger siblings.

J. and I are the ones who discipline and train our children, who read to them and tuck them in, who kiss owies, Older siblings may also do these things, but not on a regular basis. They are helping (and certainly under my supervision), not raising. Besides, how can there be too many people in a child's life to read them stories and to hug them and to kiss them?

I know people unfamiliar with large families and who only have one or two children, remain baffled that it works. They see how much time and energy their smaller family takes up and cannot imagine adding 8 or 9 more. I want to say a couple of things. First, it is rare that anyone suddenly wakes up and finds themselves with 10 children. It happens gradually, one (or two) at a time. Adding one to any size family isn't a problem. Usually it is not even enough to warrant doubling a recipe for dinner. You get used to the larger family size gradually, you build up and learn skills as you go. Yes, to suddenly go from 1 to 10 children would be overwhelming, but we didn't.

Second, I really do have time to spend with each of my children. I may never convince some, but it is still true. This is helped by the fact we homeschool and so I spend a good portion of each day interacting with them. Also, we are very choosy about what we participate in. I just cannot spend my days shuttling people back and forth to activities. I don't think the value of the activity outweighs the craziness that over-scheduling causes. My children do participate in outside activities, but they are kept to a manageable amount. They do have time to pursue their own interests, to spend time with friends (and parents), and have dinner every night as a family. If a parent looks at their schedule and multiplies it by 10, I'm not surprised they think I am Superwoman. I'm not sure even Superwoman could manage a schedule like that. But I'm not Superwoman, so I don't even try.

There you go... thank you for reading through another episode of Large Family Myth Busting.
I have another article up. It's supposed to be titled Thinking For Yourself, but for some reason there's a typo and it's titled Thinking of Yourself. It kind of changes ones expectations of what they're going to find, huh?


jan said...

seriously loved this and so grateful you take the time to put things on paper - as a homeschool mom to 9, I get what you say. so a big ol' thank you!

Danielle said...

Thank you for standing up for Large Family!

We only have three, so I never feel I have the credentials to "know what I am talking about" when it comes to speaking of Large Families, but I so see the value in a Large Family.

I still don't understand why people feel the need to judge other families decisions on how many children they have, as if it is their decision to make in the first place!

Thank you for shedding more light on this issue, from your personal experience!

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