Growing from a small family to a large family

Continuing to make use of other's questions... A reader commented, "I'd be interested in hearing about the transition from being a small family to being a large one." Or something along those lines.

I have mixed feelings about how to answer this. In some ways, very little seems to have changed in becoming a parent to an larger-than-average number of children, but in others, it has been such a monumental change, that I sometimes wonder if I'm the same person I was 15 years ago. What I mean is, there are some things about my existence that feel as though they are pretty much the same. I have the same children, just a few more and some of them are older (and that would have happened regardless, that aging-thing); I still do laundry, just a few more loads a week; I still cook, just do a lot more doubling; I still drive people around, just in a 15-passenger van. If you look at externals, things have just gotten bigger... cooking pans, laundry machines, cars I drive... but not necessarily more work. If I'm already doing certain tasks, doing a bigger amount of them a few more times a week is not that much more work. And those are the things that most people wonder about. How do I shop and cook for so many? What does my laundry look like? (Um, not really caught-up at the moment.) How do I keep track of everyone? Those types of things. I think people are a bit disappointed (and perhaps a bit unbelieving) that those things are really not much different for a large family than a small one. In some ways they are even easier because we have more people to help out and as a result can do things faster. I am absolutely positive that I have much more free time than another mother who has just two or three small children. Those are the hard years. I found them more difficult and more challenging than the stage I'm in now.

What I want to tell people is that having a large family hasn't changed how and what I do, but has changed who I am in a very fundamental way. I'm sure other mothers of large families or any mother who is raising an a-typical child can relate to the fairly regular comment of, "I just don't know how you do it!" As if there is something essentially different about me that allows me to do this perceived Herculean task of raising these children. I want people to believe me that there is ABSOLUTELY NOTHING SPECIAL ABOUT ME! (Yes, I know I'm yelling... I'll calm down.) There is something different about me, though. By having been given these children to raise, I have been shown in no uncertain terms that I am absolutely not capable of the task. By myself, I can't do it. And it took children numbers 5 through 10 for God to show me that.

All parenting has difficult moments. Some children are easier than others; some are more difficult. For me, I had things pretty well under control up through child number 5. Oh, there were difficult days, scary moments, frustrations, tears (theirs and mine), but I still thought (even if I never verbalized it) that the good things were my doing; somehow I was responsible for the good stuff that happened with our children. I had the picture-perfect, matching stair-step family. Life was good.

But God wasn't going to let me stay there. He was working in me. I thought I knew what His goal for me was... to open our hearts and home to a child who needed us. And on some level that was one goal, but I don't think it was the main one. He was going to show me how much I needed Him, because He knew at a fundamental level, I didn't really know.

The next five children have done more to teach me about God and His love for me than anything else has. I believe that one reason God wants us to have and to raise children is that in doing so, He can show us our weaknesses and His strength as in no other way. Parenting, and especially parenting a large family is a spiritual discipline.

There have been specific lessons I have learned with each of these five children. TM showed me my own brokenness and sinfulness and consequently my deep, deep need for a savior. While I thought I was saving a child, in reality the child would save me. My illusions about myself were shattered and caused me to cling to God as never before. It was an incredibly difficult and painful process, but not one I would trade for anything.

K. taught me acceptance. There was always a little piece of me that wanted that perfect family... beautiful faces, intelligent minds, high-achieving children,because this would reflect well on me. K. showed me I could love a child even if he wasn't perfect. When we adopted him and became aware of his delays, we had no idea what the future held for him. Would he ever talk? Would he grow? Would he need care for his entire life? At his level of delay, these were all possibilities. And I was scared. I didn't know what this meant for our family, our future. But God showed me that I could love a child who wasn't perfect. Once a person realizes this, a whole world opens. I learned that who K. was, his essence, was so much more than what was visible on the outside and what he could and couldn't do. I realized that I began to look at other people with new eyes because of what my son taught me.

G. and L. have taught me joy. I cried to God, grieving because I thought I would never have another little girl to dress up and love, and He heard my cry and blessed us with these two little girls. They are a gift from God. I won't kid anyone and say that my pregnancy with them was easy, or that we enjoyed the endless sleepless nights when they were infants, but even with those difficulties, they have brought nothing but joy. We have reveled in them and enjoyed each and every moment (even the loud ones). We are well aware how fast childhood goes and the blessing of later children is that the parents can relax and just enjoy. They make me smile and laugh and praise and thank my God. We may not understand or even want to be blessed in the way God wishes to bless us, but if we embrace His blessings we can experience joy unbounded.

What will H. teach me? Time will tell, but it well may be to relax and live in the present and fill my house with joy. With an older child who is aware of her surroundings, but does not yet speak your language, I find I am paying much more attention to my outward behavior and the general atmosphere of our home. My other children have a long history with me. They understand I love them, how life works, that things will be OK. H.'s only way to understand this is to look around her. I can't explain if things feel off kilter; or if I'm just grumpy, but not at her; or why everyone seems to be in a bad mood. I can't make everyone happy all the time, but I can control myself. I want her to be glad that she ended up with the mother she did.

Having a large family has changed me because I can't do it on my own... and I know this. God's in charge, not me, so I don't have to. And for those who have ever thought, "Oh, I'd love to have more children, I'm just not sure I could do it." Well, you probably can't, but I know Someone who can.


Janet and Kevin said…
Elizabeth - I really related to this post, especially the part about paying more attention to your outward presence for H. who has just come home but can't speak our language yet.

I just gut reacted when Elijah came home and had all kinds of adjustment issues. Sometimes I would stop to think that maybe I shouldn't be acting in a grumpy or ugly way because what would Philip think who had seen me be a nicer mom, but overall, we just survived when Eli came home. God has grown us so much since then - thankfully for Eli and Philip!

When Sophia came home at almost age 8, I suddenly became so much more aware of how I must look to her when I was grumpy and not so nice acting. God has used it in a powerful way to show me I needed to be much more joyful during the day - my children needed me to be more joyful!

Praying H.'s adjustment is continuing to go well. I love checking in and seeing your beautiful family.

Robyn said…
Great thoughts. This kind of writing is why I read your blog. Thanks.
sandwichinwi said…
Beautiful post!

Carla said…
I think this is your best, most well written post. Thank you!

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