Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The Big Family Post

Anyone else get soap opera cast from this picture or is it just me? Photo credit to the oh so talented Susan Schmidt.
Frequently I receive big family related questions. "Did you like growing up in a big family?" "Have you ever wished you were an only child?" "Do you want a big family of your own someday?" It's never really been a topic here on the blog for no reason except it never seemed relevant. But today I'm here with all the answers to your big family questions, to satisfy your curiosity and hopefully dispel some myths along the way.

A few things I would like to clarify before we delve in...

-I believe growing up in a larger-than-typical family is a great experience and really one of the best things my parents have done for me. I love my siblings and wouldn't want to live my life without any one of them. So of course I like being a part of a big family because there isn't a sibling I would want to wish out of existence. 

-In this post a large family will be any family of five or more children from a traditional (two parents, biological children) or non-traditional (multiple marriages, adoption, etc.) family. There is no rhyme or reason behind the number five except five seems big.

-When big family parenting is done right it can be one of the best things to happen to a kid. But not all parents do it right and I acknowledge it is not the best option for every family. There are children who have been hurt because their parents had a poor approach...although parents who are going to screw up their kids would probably screw up their kids regardless of the number of kids.

That being said...

There are unique challenges that come along with the benefits of big family life and I want to be honest and realistic. 

My mother makes a habit of occasionally asking my siblings and I what we like/dislike about our family and what we would change if we could. FYI: this is a great parenting practice. We are not a perfect family but we're pretty close. (JK...sorta.) We have our issues but the only thing I dislike about the number of people in my family is the lack of storage (but really closet space) and constant need to rearrange and organize. But that really has nothing to do with a big family and everything to do with our small house. (Which we love and are sad to be adding onto soon because, while there will be more closet space, we love our little house just as it is and closet space isn't everything.) And while constantly re-organizing is a pain it encourages me to get rid of the excess so it's not all bad.

In all seriousness, the one aspect of being a big family I could really live without is the age gaps between my siblings and I. My older sister is 23 and my baby brother is 2. That's a pretty big gap. It makes me sad that we didn't all do childhood together and it makes me sad that as I move on with my life I will miss out on parts of the little ones childhood. With my littlest siblings more often than not I feel more like an aunt than sister. But the age gap is not all bad! I love observing my little siblings and being able to enjoy their newborn and toddler stages and help with their upbringing. It truly is a unique experience and I have learned so much about children and human nature in general from watching them grow.

The most frustrating challenge comes not from my family itself but from people's perception of big families. There is a common idea among the world in general that kids of big families are screwed up by virtue of the fact that they are from a big family. Intending to be kind, a friend once said how surprised they were after getting to know us just how normal we were. That stung just a tad. At one point they thought we somehow damaged merely because the size of our family. Whenever we as a family go somewhere together people will point, stare, count kids and ask rude questions. Often in a restaurant people will interrupt their meal and move to a table farther from the big family. Few friends are brave enough to invite my entire family to their house. And for some reason people feel the need to bring the Duggars into every. single. conversation. For the love of all things sacred, stop comparing us to the Duggars. We do not know the Duggars, we do not watch their show, and we strongly disagree with many of their family's choices.

But then again...when has it ever mattered what people think?

Children (usually teens) have confided how much they wish they were an only child. I think they expect sympathy. My advice: suck it up and deal with it. It's not your decision how many siblings you have. As the procreators and bread winners it's your parents call to make. You can't control your situation but you can control your attitude and it's attitude, not situation, that determines your happiness. You can embrace the family you've been give or be miserable. It's your choice.

Do I want a big family of my own? Honestly, I haven't given it enough thought to know yet. Not being in a position to be a parent right now it's not a decision I should be making. I will say, if I ever sided against having a larger-than-typical family it would not be because I have been burned by my experience but because I realize the really amazing sort of parent it takes to raise a large family well. And I strongly disapprove of parents who have a large number of children out of a sense of religious or social obligation and spend their parenting years in bitterness and resentment, failing to properly treasure their children.  

I hope this has helped demystify big families for you! Most importantly, I hope you will realize that the size of a family is a small fraction of the many factors that make a family. My family is unique and wonderful and I am grateful to be a part. I love our many inside jokes, how we always manage to find our own happiness wherever we land, how we understand each other like no one not-a-Wachter could ever understand, how we will give or do anything for each other, how we stick up for each other even when someone is being a jerk and, yes, I love that there are eight people in the world who share my life and DNA.

If you grew up in a big family I would love to hear your take on it! As always I welcome your questions and comments and encourage you to speak openly. I don't offend easily and appreciate frankness. 

11 comments:

  1. Truly a beautiful post. It seems to me that most people from large families love it and there are actually a ton of benefits for siblings with large age gaps. The one aspect I always wonder about with large families and am considering now that I plan on having children of my own sooner rather than later is the financials. I want to be able to show my kids the world and give them every advantage but this would be very different if I had several children

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    1. Not being a parent I'm probably not qualified to answer the financial question. But my parents have always been open with us about finances and I will share my perspective as an adult child from a large family. My father is an electrical engineer and my mom is a full time mom. So we are an average, middle class, single income family of eleven residing in an area with a high cost of living. But growing up I never felt deprived or like I was missing out on something because there were things that as a large family. We were always well dressed, well fed and never went without. I think, financially, when raising a large family it's all about determining what's important to you and being intentional about making it happen. My family takes a three week vacation every September and every few years we visit Disney World. These trips are very imporant to us so we are careful in other areas. For example, we live in a small (but comfortable!) house and rarely eat out (expensive and unhealthy!). For other families private school tution or a larger house could be their priorities. Every family is different but I think raising a large family does not have to be a financial strain. Most of us in the Western world waste so much and I think we would be surprised how much we could do if we spent less on things we don't really want or need and put it aside for what is most important to us. Also, I will say, I think knowing it was not financially possibe have or do everything has taught me to be content and enjoy what I have been given.

      Thanks for stopping by and taking time to share!

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  2. Wait, you're not friends with the Duggars?? Ugh. That was my entire reason behind falling in love with your family!!

    And what are you talking about? I don't know ANY families who have had children out of religious obligation and then spent the next several years complaining how they never really wanted to be parents in the first place. Oh wait....

    Age gaps are hard, and I admire how much you older girls work to connect with the younger ones.

    Love your whole BIG NORMAL WONDERFUL family :)

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    1. Haha! Girl, you and me...we got this sarcasm business nailed!

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  3. Once again, Nana, you've said everything I would've said if only one could find the words...

    The only thing you missed was the WARNING:

    If you say something foot-in-mouth or just-plain-rude about our family to any family member, it will be repeated aloud to the whole family (typically over dinner) and will be properly and thoroughly hashed out and laughed at.

    Just sayin'.

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  4. What I love best about being in a large family is the community of it - my best friends are my siblings, and I don't have to arrange a get-together with them next week or email them to tell them about my life: they're right here the entire time and that's amazing. Of course we fight, but we also get along swimmingly & that's just life for ya! I know at the end of the day they are my best allies, my most unbiased reviews, and my closest people. And that's what counts. <3

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    1. Absolutely... Well said! Having lifelong friend right at your fingertips...awesome.

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  5. hoorah for large families! :) I love the dynamic of the 7 kids in our family, and we just spent the whole summer all together for once, so that was pretty awesome. I feel my parents did an excellent job with us--we were in a bit of an unusual situation because they moved overseas when we were kids, so we were big family expats.
    There's a 15 year age gap between me and the youngest, and then I married a guy 7 years older than me, so he's got a sister-in-law 22 years younger than himself. I've really liked our age gaps, honestly. Parts of it suck, like the fact that I moved out to go to college in the USA when my baby sister wasn't even 2 yet. But I like that it feels like we're always experience some life stage or another with yet a new kid. Right now, I've been married 5 years, my next sister has a fairly serious beau, one sister is just starting her freshman year of college, the "baby" is in 3rd grade--I feel like we're always getting the benefit of all the different milestones at once!

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    1. How fun that you were all able to spend the summer together! Very true...there are definetly some benefits to the age gaps...I suppose the key is to appreciate the unique relationships and to treasure the time you have togehter. I do enjoy sharing my (limited) life experience with younger siblings going through a rough growing up stage...and let's not forget the perk of having little siblings who remind you to not take life (or yourself!) too seriously.

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  6. I always thought you were the oldest!!!

    Anyway, I have six younger siblings. When I was 14 three of them were under the age of two. During that point of life EVERYONE would stop,point,stare,count....ugh!!!
    Women would ask my mom "are you trying to compete with the Duggars?"
    My mom would always tell them "well,if we were we've already lost"...

    I love growing up in a big family my sister closest to me is my best friend, honestly I can't imagine growing up without her...
    My mom grew up as an "only" so she always thought 5was the perfect number!!! Haha!

    I always think when I see these people with two kids...gosh, your home life must be, well, kind of boring

    Just like my friends who only have one sibiling always say... Is your home life...well....loud?

    Yep loud, wild and crazy the way I like it! Enjoyed this post and your blog!

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