A little over two years ago, David and I were living the “American Dream”. We had two beautiful, healthy boys who were old enough to make their own breakfast, use the potty without having to be wiped, and keep themselves entertained most of the time. We lived in a 3000 square foot, 3 level house… the 3rd level being a fully finished basement complete with movie theater, exercise room, and guest suite. We were surrounded by other American dream families in a picture perfect neighborhood right outside of Atlanta. David worked 15 minutes up the street and I stayed at home and worked part time from the house. The boys were involved in many activities at school, at church, and even just in the community. We went on 2 to 3 vacations a year…including 1 that lasted Saturday to Saturday in the summer. We ate at whatever restaurants we wanted and rarely thought about whether or not we could take the kids. We both had hobbies. We took 1-2 trips a year together, just David and I. We went to marriage conferences, church retreats, and business trips. We were both heavily involved in ministry at church and not a week went by when we were not responsible for some kind of practice or set up or activity during the week that had to do with church. We did pretty much what we wanted and we enjoyed ourselves. To quote the new Lego movie…Everything was awesome.
Fast forward two years and you will find us with 5 kids…one more than all the Facebook quizzes tell me that I should have. We live in a 1600 square foot house on just over an acre of land in South Georgia (Waaaaayyyyyy outside of Atlanta). David works 3 hours up the street which takes him away for most of the week while I stay at home and work part time and homeschool and oversee the children, the house, the dogs, and Roberts’ family life. Besides spending almost 6 weeks in China over the last 2 years (which could hardly be called “vacation” due to the time required for the adoptions taking place), we have been on a couple short weekend trips here and there (which could hardly be called vacations due to the fact they required packing and unpacking for 7 people). Though we are completely in love with our church and its ministries, neither of us are involved in anything right now and I consider it a success if we make 2 of the 3 services each week. My hobbies have changed from “getting out” things like photography and volunteering to “staying in” things like painting and reupholstering chairs to save money on seating for 7. and you know what… Everything is awesome.
Of course, this huge change isn’t everyone’s story and we have seen more extremes in the past couple of years than most because we added to our family by adopting our three beautiful daughters from China, but do not be deceived… adding more children changes things.
Many of us plan out how many kids we will have when we get married. David and I had always agreed with that 2.5 range…especially after my first pregnancy. The last thing I wanted was to have to carry 10 kids to full term (I was horrible at being pregnant). And truly, that 2.5 range is a wise number. If you have two or three kids, there is really not a need for extreme anything. That number is fairly manageable, most of the time (of course I am not referring to families that deal with special circumstances like health issues). When we had two boys, we were rarely overwhelmed by them. We had two hands… two ears…there were two of us. We had it under control.
All of that said, I am a HUGE advocate of big families! I think it is a bummer when amazing, Jesus-loving people stop with 2 or 3 kids. There are some REALLY good parents out there and when there are so many kids in need of really good parents, it is hard not to advocate to the hilltops that they step out of their comfort zone. Yes, I totally understand that sometimes Jesus calls you to 1 or 2 children for reasons all His own and I am not advocating disobedience in any shape, form, or fashion. I just think that “number of children in our care” is often something we reserve for our own decision making capacity and fail to ask the Lord whether it is the number we were created to parent.
For the sake of this blog post, let’s say that you, the reader, have 2.5 kids right now and are interested or pricked in your heart that maybe you aren’t done…maybe there are more children that God created you to raise…maybe he is calling you into “big family” land. So what do you need to know as you make this decision? What changes? How hard can it be? What do you need to prepare for and take into account if you are considering a big family?
Let me start with the cons… the sacrifices… the cross… the bad news first… What will you likely give up as your family grows?
- Quiet. Even typing the word brings a little bit of longing to my soul. With 5 kids of all different ages running around, there is rarely moments that don’t include noise. If I could have a dime for every time someone says “Mom!” or “Mommy?” or any of those words associated with the maternal instinct, we would be living in a bigger house with a padded room specifically for Momma. Nope, the bigger the family, the less “quiet” will be anything more than a command you use when you just can’t take it any more.
- Money. Big families are more expensive. Grocery bills will rise. You will find yourself shopping deals, cutting coupons even if you said you would never do it, visiting insanely huge discount warehouses to hit your grocery budget. There are more children to send to school and to college. More reasons to save for weddings or just for the date money they are likely to ask for. It all adds up. Even if you aren’t paying for college, according to the BabyCenter “Cost of Raising a Child” calculator, if you live in the South it will cost you $226,000 per child over their 18 years of life. You have 4+ kids and you are looking at close to a million dollars in estimated costs.
- Going Out. I am pretty sure that the phrase “I don’t get out much” was coined by someone with more than 3 children. By the time I get all my kids ready…shoes on, diaper bags packed… and in the car, in their car seats, etc. I am ready for a nap. We stay home ALOT. With so many kids, we don’t pay for a whole lot of outside activities. Gone are the days of rec ball and summer trips to the movies. Even eating out requires more thought as we share plates and realize we are never elusive. Walk into any upper scale restaurant with 5 kids and you can almost hear the audible gasps. Babysitters are harder to come by and overnight trips for you and honey are almost too exhausting to think about as you round up people to each take a couple of the kids. Nope, you are very likely to spend more time at home, the more children you add.
- Friendships. It’s not always on purpose, but sometimes having more kids filters out friendships. People don’t mean to stop inviting you to things, it’s just that it’s an extra 7 people. If they ask you to dinner after church, they might have to reserve a party room. Besides that, you aren’t the most interesting person to be around when more than half of your time is spent moving the salt shakers out of reach, taking children to the bathroom, solving seating arguments, and pleading with your kids to stop saying they are bored. Just because you felt the call to take on more children does not mean that your friends did. The important people will stay, but you might find that important people are actually few and far between. More children means settling for a lot of acquaintances.
- Coddling. When there were 3, I spent a lot more time tenderly kissing boo boos and applying band-aids to flawless skin. I spent more time pleading with a child to stay in their bed. I spent more time refilling drinks and cleaning off plates. I spent more time listening to long excuses for why a sibling was crying after being hit. Ain’t nobody got time for that any more. There is a lot more “You’re okay. Get up and shake it off.” and a lot more “If you get out of this bed, you will be in trouble.” and a lot more “You have two legs. You know where the sink is.” and a lot more “There is NO excuse for that.” One of my friends noted that she felt like her mercy flew out the window when she hit 4 kids. If we are going to try to be all things to all people, we have to cut something out…usually it is the coddling. I’m not saying coddling is a waste. I wish I could do it more. When I get alone time with any one of my kids, I try to fit years of coddling into hours, but over the last 2 years I have become much more “matter of fact” and practical about parenting. Marilla called it “stuffin’ nonsense” and while I hope that I am not quite Marilla like yet in my parenting, I feel like I am much closer now than I was with 2.
- Nailing It. I could write a whole blog about this one. When I was still in the world of 2 children, I was fairly on time with everything…bills, progress reports, homework folders, assignments, field trip money, etc. etc. I made fancy snacks for their birthday to take to school. I came up with brilliant ideas to make their world special. I wrote notes in lunch boxes. You get the idea. Now I am happy if I remember their doctor’s appointments (thank GOD for those reminder phone calls). I have messed up on just about all there is to mess up on. Things have been late, children’s birthdays have been forgotten until the last moment (did I mention that on top of 7 birthdays, we now have 3 Gotcha Days to keep up with). If I do something for one child and don’t have time to do it for all, I risk disappointment or even worse rejection (this hasn’t kept me from doing these things…I’m not a fairness mom and my kids are gradually learning that it is okay if they don’t get everything their sibling has). I often have to apologize to teachers, youth leaders, babysitters, my husband, God… for missing, forgetting, messing up, speaking out of turn…you get the picture. I rarely nail it anymore and you can be sure when I do, I celebrate (so if you see me jumping for joy because I remembered to get my child to the dentist in time for the appointment, you will know why.)
- Quantity. Weird title for a point about “adding” children to the home, I know, but this is what I mean. Each time you add a child to your care, you add a little person…a person with hopes, dreams, wishes, ideas, personality, character, needs, and most importantly a call. As their parents, we are responsible to guide them in the path that God has prepared for them. This is a HUGE deal and each child that you add means more responsibility…another person to learn and to keep up with… another person who will need conversations and direction and your guidance. As you add children to your family, the quantity of time that you have to give to each of them becomes less and less. Instead you will have to find the quality moments and opportunities to do the same thing that the quantity used to. God provides these moments and He gives grace for this, but sometimes I feel like I am driving myself crazy trying to maintain relationships with each of my children on an individual basis. It is similar to trying to maintain relationships with 5 best friends at the same time.
There are probably other things and maybe my friends with big families can contribute in the comments, but you see where I am going with this. There is sacrifice involved with more children. There is a hard that creeps in…where parenting becomes less about the “I can’t stand to be away from my kids for a second!” and more about the “if I could just get a break for one second.” Big families require sacrifice…and not just from the parents, but also from the kids.
But now the good news… the pros… the rewards… the things that make it all worth it…What do you likely gain as your family grows?
- Love. The greatest of these… I used to want to be popular when I was in high school, now I am. I am the most popular person in this household. The love that permeates every moment of life with a big family is AH-MAZING. If I am not being loved on at the moment, I am able to watch someone else being loved. There are so many picture perfect moments of God’s love in this house that it is sometimes overwhelming.
- Fun. I can honestly say that sometimes in the middle of my “American dream” life, I was bored out of my mind. The boys were entertained, the house was clean, everything was done and I had nothing to do. These moments were often excruciating for me…and they have totally disappeared. I never get bored. NEVER. If I do, I have a list a mile long of things that I do not ever have time for anymore, so I just pick one of those. We have so much fun. The dynamic that the girls have brought to our lives is something that we never knew was missing, but was…for a long time. We laugh OFTEN. It’s amazing!!!
- Help. More children, more helpers. Many things that we have struggled with over the years have now been taken over by one or more of the children. When we need to move something or to organize something or to work on a project, we have several more hands to do it without having to call anyone. Not only that, but our kids learn to help each other…and working as a team is something that they will take into adulthood with them.
- Unselfishness Training. When there is more sharing going on, there is less room for selfishness. You may think that children suffer from having many siblings, but from the experience we have had, I see just the opposite. My children have grown in character directly in correlation with the addition of siblings. They, too, have to navigate the waters of living with a whole nother personality. This teaches them how to get along with all different kinds of people. They learn how to love others who do not think like them…and they learn how to share their parents, their food, their space, and sometimes even their toothbrush (Yuck. I know. #bigfamilyprobs).
- More Jesus. If anything has grown my relationship with Jesus in my lifetime, it has been adding children. Children are a gift of the Lord, and in high quantities they are a gift of sanctification. I have had some really desperate moments of leaning on Him, of begging for His help, of asking Him to give me wisdom. It has not only deepened our relationship, but it has taught me how He cares about the smallest, tiniest details of our lives and is just waiting for us to ask Him for what we need. With every additional child, I have seen more Jesus…and I have been disciplined to know Jesus more.
- Grandchildren. Lord willing, I will have more grandchildren than I will ever know what to do with…but to know that I will likely never be left alone…that I will likely always be taken care of…I don’t know that there is a bigger relief.
- Children. I consider each of my children a gain. The privilege of getting to know them…getting to watch them grow…getting to be a part of their lives for the rest of their lives…there is nothing like it in the world. No money, no time to myself, no American dream life can every compare to the blessing of being Mommy to these amazing little people. There is no better calling than to be “so and so’s” Mom.
Again, I know my friends can add things that they have gained by adding children…these are just a small few of the things I have experienced in my short time as a mom of 5. Some people ask if we are done. Most people just assume that we are. I can only say that I am willing to accept as many gifts as the Lord will equip me for. The big family life is often chaotic…it is often less than ideal… it is often challenging, but it is my favorite.