Five things I've discovered about parenting a large family

You know, J. and I never planned on having 12 children. We thought four seemed like a great amount and that is what our initial "plans" were, for what they were worth. I'm sure God had some good chuckles about all of our plans. His were much better, though we were unaware of them at the time. So I am pretty much an unexpected mother to a large family. I come from a very small family and while I used to fantasize about having 11 other brothers and sisters (really), I had no real experience with larger-than-normal families and I am still constantly surprised at some of the things I discover about parenting them. What I didn't know...

1. Is that I would at some point be seen as the slacker volunteer. When my oldest were young I volunteered a lot. I did years of VBS and midweek programs and holding positions in our homeschooling group. Years. The people who had young children at the same time, saw me as a contributing member of the groups I was a part of. Now? I still have young children, but I need a break from the volunteering. The trouble with this is that the generation of parents who have children my younger children's ages don't see me volunteering. I am that parent. The slacker one. The one who just drops her children off... when they choose to participate.

2. Is that people would assume I can talk about nothing but my children. At least this is what is feels like. When I chat with people, they are the ones to bring up my children... the number, how each of them is doing, how I do whatever it is I do. While I don't mind talking about my children (I do happen to find them interesting), I have discovered that it is all people talk to me about, even if I try to steer the conversation onto other topics. I know this is a "thing" because if people don't know the number of children I have, we talk about other things. The second they discover I have many children, that is the topic. Only. And I can talk about other things. I have more than a passing knowledge and interest in a wide range of topics... books, music, education, learning languages, sewing, horses, knitting, crocheting, travel, history, theology, cooking. I might even be able to manage a cursory discussion of some of these topics in French. In fact, if you speak French and want to help me give my rusty French some practice I would love it.

3. Is that my family would make other people feel guilty. I've written before that other moms don't act normally around me. It's as if my presence makes them feel as though any problems or difficulties they face aren't valid around me. I've lost count of the number of times someone has apologized to me for having parenting problems in front of me. There is also the tacit feeling of our choices making others uncomfortable. Others with the same family demographic as ours have expressed this same feeling. It is easier to avoid us than to look at that feeling. I wish this weren't the case. I'm not really making judgmental statements about your family by raising mine. I'm just raising my family. I'm not thinking about how I am such a better person because I do more laundry. Heck. I don't think I'm a better person at all. I'm a mom just like anyone else, I just happen to have a couple more children. I admit that as a result I have a broader range of parenting experience, but my children still throw me for a loop and I still don't know the perfect way to parent. Parenting any number of children is both terribly difficult and terribly wonderful. My experience does not negate yours in any way.

4. Is that I would end up in a no man's land in terms of friends. It is true that people tend to associate with those who are in their stage of life. When I was a mom with just young children, I had a lot of friends who had young children like mine. For the most part, those friends' children are grown and in college and they are in a very different place than I am, who still has a couple of six year olds in the house. I see them and they have a different level of freedom than I do. I am acquainted with mothers of children who are younger than my girls. Young moms with babies and toddlers who have much less freedom than I do to socialize. I realized the other day that I don't really know anyone with early elementary school aged children. It feels a bit like I need to start all over in the making friends department, but at 49, I'm in such a different place from younger moms whose oldest are six that I'm not quite sure how to go about it. It doesn't help that in G. and L.'s age group at church, they are currently their Sunday School class. Sorry, I'll stop my little pity party.

5. Is that the general excitement over a new child gradually decreases. OK, in truth this doesn't surprise in theory, just in practicality. Everyone with more than three children has noticed this phenomenon. Head over heels excitement on the part of everyone for the first baby, nearly as much excitement over the second, especially if it is of the opposite sex, and then gradually decreasing from there. The trouble is, for the parents, there is just as much excitement and wonder over this new little life, just less audience to share it with. Sometimes there is even outright negativity. And that hurts because to the parents this new little baby or new child is just as special as the others. Perhaps even more so because of being an added blessing, one not deserved or even barely hoped for. Every child has value, but it seems to the general public, the first and second born of a family have far more value than any others. My tip for the day? If someone tells you they are expecting or adopting, regardless of the number of children the family already has, the ONLY appropriate response is a big smile and a big congratulations. One time I heartily congratulated a mother on hearing the news she was expecting number five and she looked at me with tears in her eyes and said, "Thank you. You are first person to be excited by our news." The other thing to remember is that for adoption news, that this is a child, a real child, you are hearing about. the family adopting that child is doing so because they want that child to join their family. They want that child to be theirs. They are not adopting to do a good thing or because they are good and amazing people. They are adopting because they have fallen in love with a child. Just say congratulations.

Large families and the people who parent them are not so different from anyone else. They have good days and bad days. Sometimes life works well and sometimes it barely works. Sometimes parents enjoy their children and sometimes its good to have a break and do something with other adults. We are not superheroes. We are not better than anyone else. We love our children... we just happen to have a few more than normal.


Carla said…
I can so relate to #4 even though we only have 1 child. I had him at 38 years old and there really isn't anyone else around me in the same stage of life. Those with kids his age are in their early to mid 20s, and those people who are our age have their kids in college and are far past the still-potty-training-thru-the-night stage. Ha!

Oh, and I LOVED your previous post that included a description of an actual-age 3 year old. It was such a great reminder to me that no matter how good my son's verbal skills are (and they've always been very good), he is just not capable of verbalizing everything in his little head and heart - which leads to frustration.

From the outside it may not seem like we have much in common, but I sure can relate to much of your writing!
I can really relate to 1, 4, and 5. I don't volunteer for anything any more. I don't help out at school, I don't lead VBS or teach Sunday School. And the UNenthusiasm started with our 3rd baby announcement. It's gotten a little better with our adoptions, since people have finally figured out we're doing this on purpose, it's not just that we're too dumb to master birth control. The friends thing is hard. The friends I had when my big kids were little are selecting colleges and planning weddings for their offspring. I'm still (still!) changing diapers 2 decades later. Older kids aren't welcome at playgroups for the preschool set. It's a weird place to be, where you don't really fit in with anyone except a few fellow freakish families like your own. I had a great friend with a big family that spanned similar ages to my kids and included adopted and bio children, but they moved out of state. It's hard to build your tribe because families like ours are BUSY and/or reclusive.

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