Monday, June 28, 2010

Me and My Big Family

I got back from the grocery store a little while ago where I ran into a casual acquaintance in the produce section who made a less than positive remark about the size of my family. I hadn't seen her in some time and she asked me "So how many kids do you have now?" I told her six, to which she replied, "Oh, you poor woman!" What the hell? This is the second instance in the past few days when somebody has made negative comments to me about having a large family. Another casual acquaintance over the weekend was conspiratorily telling me about a family she knows which has seven kids, and how "You just know that the older kids are taking care of the younger kids." I swear she had a smirk as she was telling me this. I don't know, maybe she always talks with a condescending smirk, who knows. But she does know I have six kids! Which brings to mind the question: why the eff was she ripping on large families to me? Was it a passive-aggressive way of telling me what she thinks of the multitude of children in our household? Or was it, as someone else pointed out, perhaps "sour grapes"? Both of these women are mothers of only children, so I completely understand that having a large brood is probably somewhat of a foreign concept to them, but why the negativity?

This is not a new experience for me. People have actually been making the size of my family their business for a long time. I think it all started when I was pregnant with the twins, and upon learning that I was, in fact, expecting twins, people - complete strangers, mind you! - would say things like, "Oh, you poor thing!" and the ever-popular "You're done after this, right?" As if my husband's and my reproductive choices are open for public debate.

People seem to have very strong opinions about other people's childbearing choices - and most people don't seem afraid to voice those opinions. Any more than two or three kids seems to be met with dismay. Imagine what people thought when we went from two to four, and then kept right on going.

And, sadly, I'm ashamed to admit that I find myself explaining to people that "Never in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine I'd end up with six kids!" I have this underlying feeling that I have to assure people that I'm not crazy enough to have set out with such an unreasonable goal. This makes me feel very guilty, because the truth is, even though I didn't initially set out in my childbearing foray to have a whole houseful of kids, I did want each and every one of them, and I was thrilled every time I saw those two pink lines. I feel ashamed that I give a crap what people think.

Having a big family is not for everyone. And there are definitely challenges we deal with that are unique to the abundance of kids we have. Traveling, for instance. Major undertaking. Which is probably why we haven't had a family vacation in . . . ever. We're actually planning a road trip right now, and finding accommodations for all of us isn't easy. And yes, sometimes it feels like the needs and wants are never-ending, and yes, it can be draining and exhausting. Yes, it's true that the kids don't get nearly as much one-on-one time with us as they would were there fewer kids. I'm not convinced this is causing them major emotional damage. Certainly none of them will grow up to be adults who think the world revolves around them. And that's not to say that only children do; it's not a statement about only children at all. I'm just saying that sharing - things, time, attention, everything - is and always has been a way of life for our kids.

Do the older kids help out a lot with the younger kids? This seems to be an assumption a lot of people make, maybe thanks to the Duggars who apparently have a system in which the younger children are paired with an older sibling as soon as they're weaned. (Is this right? I've never watched their show; this is just what people tell me when they're comparing our family to the Duggars. Because we clearly have so much in common with them. Not that I'm judging them. Different strokes, people. That's my point.) Anyway, only in the last year or so have I started having Kevin babysit his younger siblings on occasion, and I pay him for his time because I want him to feel that his time is valued and not taken for granted, I don't want him to resent being made to watch his siblings, and let's face it - a little moolah sweetens the pot considerably. That's about as far as the help goes between the older kids and the younger ones, although I may ask Joey to get Lilah a drink of water, or Lilah to fetch a toy for Finn, and so forth. I don't feel that it should be the older kids' responsibility to look after the younger ones, although we do try to foster an attitude of teamwork around here.

There is an upside to having so many kids, too. There's never a shortage of playmates, and in fact, they keep each other occupied, engaged, and entertained so much so that I believe I may have a little more down time than my friends with fewer kids. Watching the relationships between them blossom is something I wouldn't trade for anything.

Anyway, we take care of our family without help or handouts, so I just don't understand why anyone cares how many kids we have.


Monica said...

Well said, Lisa, and I only have one less than you. Just a couple weeks ago, some neighbors commented on my family size saying "better you than me!" and their bratboy (8 yr old) asked me how I was going to manage raising all my kids! The most common question when I was pregnant with #5 was whether I was getting tested to see if this child had Ds as if John Michael has some unbearable condition. Yes, there are challenges, but the good outweighs the few things that we don't do. My kids do help me with John Michael by playing with him, but it's not as if they're raising him and I'm just sitting in my chair eating bonbons while nursing a new baby.

Cindy said...

I think it's great having such a big family. I wish I have the skills and the courage to have more kids. I'm barely coping with one and I'm always envious of women who can proudly announce that they are mothers of a few kids.

joy said...

It's hard to come across large families nowadays.
i suppose that when people smirk at others, they are really showing that they think they are better than you. But that's all right, because it's usually the other way round when it happens.

You'll gradually build up greater security and confidence in yourself each time it happens. i've been following your blog for a while, and now, i cannot imagine a world without your twins, Finn and especially Lilah.

ashamom said...

Yeah, I have heard it all too. I was "crazy" when I had four, so I must be "certifiable" with nine!
It hurts, it's insulting, it makes you feel "apologetic" at times and that's sad.
We are also not on any public assistance, but people assume we are and make comments about that.
Who gives them the right?
I also had someone else's young kids tell me: " you probably can't afford cereal with all those kids" - clearly an echoing of what the parents must be saying!
The funny thing is, I strive to provide a "normal" childhood for the kids and I try to never use the excuse of having too many kids.

Kara said...

I wonder if there ever is a "magic" number when people stop asking you about your reproductive choices? I ask because I'm a Mom of 3, all girls, and I am constantly asked "so when are you going to try for a boy?" People seem surprised when I tell them that I'm done, permanently. I sometimes feel that I should get a t-shirt made that says "Three is Enough."

diane rene said...

I feel sad for anyone who has to deal with the stupidity and ignorance of other people. I don't really understand what makes people think that their opinion is so important that they need to share it with everyone.

I get similar reactions, tho my family isn't considered large, people react to the ages of the kids ... 21, 18, 10 and 6, and then when hubby and I talk about trying for another or adopting a baby boy, we get the weirdest looks!

of course, the people who tend to have the nerve to spout their nonsense, also tend to be the ones who drop their children off every other weekend for a "get-a-way" or find any reason to dump them on a family member for the night.

we invest time in our kids ... we take them with us on vacation and only leave them with my parents one weekend a year (and it hasn't been that for the last three).

i guess it ll leads back to, mean people SUCK!

Beth said...

What?! I can't believe the things people go right ahead and say.
What would we women all do with our time if we weren't so busy judging one another for our choices? sheesh.
Speaking as an only child who was neither scarred by it, resentful of it, or spoiled as a result of it, I prefer big families. The more the merrier, I say. Sure, it's difficult and messy at times. But I love it.
Pucker up and kiss it, nosy rude lady at the grocery store!