Wednesday, March 17, 2010

What it is, and what it's not

Parenting a large family is not easy.

I have learned this the hard way, after years spent reading blogs writ in soft focus, bursting at the seams with all of the sugary sweet goodness that is the perfect day with the perfect children in the perfect home with the perfect schedule and, dare I say it, the perfect mother at the helm of it all. I have learned this after watching, doe-eyed, as a beautiful family passed by me in the grocery store, at the fair, or on the street. I would count the little heads as they paraded--obediently, meekly-- past in their matching polo shirts and jumpers: one, two, three, four, five, six--no! seven!

Parenting a large family, it turns out, is not easy. There are so many things you do not see, so many blips on the radar screen that make the days and the nights more complicated then you might imagine as you gaze longingly at a whole row of well-groomed little ducklings waiting patiently in line at the library counter.

There is laundry. Lots of laundry. Currently, ours rocks to the tune of two loads per day, plus diapers.

There is food. Lots of food. No sooner is one meal cleaned up, it seems, than someone needs a snack, someone else wants to experiment in the kitchen, and someone else is complaining that there's no room in there to unload the dishes--which we desperately need unloaded because holy cow, it's almost time to get cooking again.

There is a lack of space. Personal, physical, emotional, you name it.

There is "bedroom bingo." In our house, this is exacerbated by the fact that we're top-heavy on boys and have run out of years where we'd feel comfortable bunking an almost-teen girl with anyone but a wee baby brother.

There are logistical puzzles. "You're going where, with whom? O.k. Can you also take this child? He needs new shoes." "You're moving car seats in the van? Why? Don't you realize how long it took me to come up with the perfect configuration?"

There is a time crunch. I am only homeschooling three, and I can already feel the coming pinch of balancing algebra and phonics in the next few years.

There is a stigma. Ask anyone with a "larger" family (set your own definition here) how many times they've been asked about their reproductive lives in public. You will be shocked at the lack of polite borders that exist in this area.

There is a financial burden. I'm sorry, but I can not fathom why some people insist on saying that it's no more expensive to raise five kids than it is to raise two. It's just plain old not true. Trust me on this one.

There are limits. Guess who won't be making any fabulous week-long getaways to locales exotic or otherwise for the foreseeable future? Aside from the fact that most hotels frown on more than four people sleeping in a room (fire codes, apparently), there are also things like admission, meals out, gas, etc. to consider. It's simply not doable for most large families to enjoy, en masse, some of the more pricey vacations that many others enjoy.

So, if raising a large family has so many downsides, what's the point? Why bother? Why not mandate a two-child policy and save the world the stress and trouble of raising a family that's not so easily fit into a standard restaurant booth?

Every day, I die to self. I suppose I could have done this when I just had one child, but the fact is I did not. I was still far to self-absorbed to live outside of my own needs. It took getting to the point where I could not "have it my way" to recognize that in truth, I should not "have it my way." At least, not all the time. Tending to smaller, needy people pushes me outside of my ego zone and into the trenches of loving on others ... not just me.

I am more creative because of my limitations. I thought that struggling with a budget of $20 a week for foodstuffs stretched me to be a more creative chef. Turns out, that was nothing compared to trying to balance the preferences and medical needs of seven people, all the while keeping it nutritious, all the while keeping it fresh. And oh, yes ... the fact that I now have very little in the way of "free time" has made me more creative as well. You'd be amazed at how much I can get done in twenty minutes when it's just me, some yarn, and a pair of needles.

There's always someone. It's insanely hard to find time to navel gaze and otherwise mope when you're constantly being hugged, encouraged, and asked to read books. The social network within these four walls keeps us going in amazing, uplifting ways.

I appreciate the little things. When you go out to eat on a weekly basis, you take it for granted. When it's an all-out treat to seat everyone around the table for a meal you didn't cook, it's nearly sinful how much you'll enjoy that food.

My kids have learned compassion first-hand. Since they are not anywhere near the center of my universe, you'd be stunned at how patient, giving, and supportive of one another my children can be. Do they do this at all times? Of course not. They are kids. But I am constantly impressed at the little things: Logan waiting in the wings as I explain a math problem to his older brother, and Jo noticing and stepping in to ask if she can be of assistance to Logan. Atticus seeing me packing things into my backpack in the van, and deciding to get Oli out to save me the trouble. Logan carrying Manolin on his hip to make sure he can see the garbage truck out the window. Good stuff, that.

We have seen God's provision. I know that this isn't the case for everyone, but with the addition of each child, we have seen God's hand as He has provided: be it in terms of hand-me-down clothes, a raise for Mr. Blandings at work, an offer of a loaned baby swing, whathaveyou. We have never felt alone on this journey--and when you know you're at the end of your means, you are more able to see this work as it takes place.

It really is "the more the merrier." You've heard it, and it sounds trite ... but it's oh-so-true. I can't imagine a moment without any of my children. I never look around and think, "One less person would sure make this dining room table a whole lot easier to navigate." I never load one more child into the van and wish that I was still driving my little Volvo station wagon.

Truly, for me, this is the life I was meant to lead. One with trade-offs, no doubt. But one that stretches me, affirms my faith, and leads me to be the woman that God always intended for me to be. I have very little time to chat with friends on the phone, to relax at women's retreats, or to ponder what book I'll read next. But I have conversations about eternity with my seven year-old, a pre-teen daughter that will happily hold my hand as we worship in church, and a three year-old who calls me, "Mama-mooo" and then breaks down into giggles. My children are not the perfectly dressed, sweetly docile little darlings that line the covers of Quiverfull magazines. I don't own a denim jumper, and I buy as much bread as I bake. No one will ever mistake us for the perfect large family. But hopefully, what they will see in us is happiness instead of harriedness, joy instead of burden, and acceptance rather than conformation.

That's worth it. Warts and all.


Melody said...

Well said!

Fatcat said...

I'm envious of your bountiful life. My husband decided he didn't want to do 3 hours of face to face training to continue our foster care license this month. Our adoption from China was denied a couple of years ago. I feel kind of bereft and directionless now.

You write beautifully.

Meg said...

Keeping it real! LOVE IT.

Joyfulness said...

Very nice. It IS worth it.

Erin said...

Beautiful! Wonderfully said. :-)

Beth said...

Preaching to the choir! I couldn't have written it better.

Kate said...

And then they grow up and the fun is multiplied exponentially!

Camille said...

Yes, it is a joy and sorrowful too...but definitely worth it! I qualify as a "large family"...with *only* four children? ;-) God is good and DOES provide all our NEEDS...sometimes we do lose sight of what those truly are! :)


Carolynn said...

I LOVED this post. Thanks for the transparency and the encouragement. The car seat configuration is oh so true!

R- said...

I really enjoyed the post and agree. On a slightly related note, have you seen this?

I don't agree with everything the author stands for (very much against GMOs for example) but it is nice to see someone saying this.

The Pennington Point said...

I linked over here from Making Home. I enjoyed seeing into your life as a mom of many.

One thing that strikes me as I read it, it's a different experience for each of us. I have some of the same struggles, and some of them haven't affected me. But I'm sure I have some large family issues that you don't. How sweet that our heavenly Father has a perfect plan for every one of us.

Nice to meet you. :) Lisa~

Kelli said...

Just found your blog from 'Making Home' and I have to say that I was touched by your post today. Thanks for sharing what most moms don't want to. Reality. What a great perspective.

Blessings to you and your family. You're doing a great job Ma-ma!:)


Gary and Michelle said...

As a mom of 6 (and hopefully more to come) I totally agree with all you said.

Life can be tough - but it is wonderful and I wouldn't change it for anything.