Sunday, February 08, 2009

Gee thanks, Octuplet Lady.

I belong to two online parenting communities. One is a parenting after IVF community and the other is parenting lots of kids. And while these may seem like opposing communities, they actually share a deep love for children. Both the ones hard fought for and easily gained. Many times I find myself an ambassador for the other perspective because I fit so neatly in between.

Both communities have been hit very negatively in the media and public sphere by the woman who just gave birth to Octuplets. If you have somehow managed to not hear about this, just Google it. Both communities have been invaded by reporters wanting to interview people about our experiences. With trepidation, some have given the interview. But, the articles portrayed the stories they wanted to tell. In the case of my large family friend who was interviewed, out of the dozens of pictures they took of the family, the NYT decided on the picture that showed them barefoot, standing in front of religious art and ripped wallpaper (from their autistic son.) hmmmm....Do you think the NYT had a vision they wanted to flesh out?

But, the communities are also now being invaded by "Critics." On the message board of my Lots of Kids community someone posed this question:

I am one of "those people" who has always disdained large families. But maybe you can change my perspective by sharing yours. Why is having lots of kids more important than providing the best life you can for each?

That isn't snark; I'm genuinely curious. Explain to me how you negotiate these tradeoffs.
I'm posting my response with some prettying up because I don't think this is an uncommon thought...

First off, I'm not sure why I'm supposed to convince you of anything. If you don't want a big family, don't have one. (And that was not snarky, either. I promise.) I think the main thing is that these days, we are not forced to have big families. We choose them. We choose them because, for us, it makes our lives fuller. If a family of one child or two makes your life fuller? Than that's the right family size for you.

And the phrase, "best life" is such a curious one. A completely subjective idea. What would have been the best life for me growing up would not necessarily be the best life for you. And how can you generalize so much about large families? It makes it sound like having only one or two children guarantees a "best life." I know plenty of children in one or two child families who get less attention from their parents than ours do. Our family has made conscious decisions that help us lead a life using a smaller footprint and using less resources than most one or two child families. The idea that family size somehow predicts happiness and fulfillment is absurd in my mind. Our kids come third (only after our faith and our marriage.) And they are very well cared for emotionally and physically.

I don't think people really know what life is like in our family. We laugh more than any other family I know. I still take plenty of time for myself and for my husband and I. I'm not a drone. Going about doing mindless work in a gray world. My children have taught me so much about myself and about how to relax and enjoy life. There is a perception that we are somehow this big ball of stress and chaos. Ok. maybe the chaos part is right, but we actually DON'T sweat the small stuff. For me, I love that insignificant things that should not occupy my time or thoughts...don't. Because, my time and thoughts are filled up with important things.

I love that I roller skate and write poems and bake depending on the different child. I'm learning how to knit with my daughter and play the guitar from one of my sons who is also teaching a little brother. My kids have each other to stand up for them against the world. (I overheard Porkchop and The Meatball talking about how they needed to talk with a girl at school because she was being mean to Jellybean) To help them with homework. (They are always challenging each other to do better.) Things they would rather get from each other than from a parent. But, they still get everything they could want or need from us.

Our youngest is 4 months old and I'm having to constantly tell my kids to chill out on the more siblings question. They want more! (ok. not Skaterboy.) They love their lives. We are a very laid back and fun family. Other families have commented on how they feel so comfortable around us because there is no drive to impress.

As far as the whole "older kids raising the younger kids" things I hear about all the time, again, I have to beat my kids off their younger siblings with a stick (and NO, not literally) I'm constantly telling them, "I'm the Mommy, I'll take care of that." And they are begging to do it instead. Should I then forbid them from helping their little siblings? Jellybean is the only one that Ladybug will allow to help her onto the potty. When I tried to stop her, Jellybean said, "Why? I want to help her?" and stomped off in a huff. And The Meatball helps Porkchop tie his shoes and button his oxford. Without my asking! Is it somehow bad that I'm raising children who love each other and want to help each other out? They are learning important relationship skills and it bonds them together.

Don't get me wrong. Life isn't always peachy. We have days of nonstop bickering (myself and Chowder included). I yell too much. The wet gray winter can get very long. The laundry pile can get very high. And the toilets get amazingly dirty. But, in my mind it all comes down to a game of Yahtzee. Brothers and sisters chanting for that last 4 for their brother's last roll of the dice and when it comes up a 3 they all groan together and when it comes a 4 they all raise a cheer and yell "Yahtzee!!"


Alex said...

Very well said. I don't have a big family (we've only just started ours) and probably won't have one ever, but you have given me something to think about regarding what most important when raising a child. thank you for that.

And I'd also like to add that I am feeling ever so slightly jealous of your big family and admirable parenting skills.

chris said...

as usual, beautifully said. we have 5~our youngest is skaterboy's age. since they're ostensibly grownups now, we're enjoying talking about EVERYTHING with them. (*when* they're all here, which doesn't happen often enough)my favorite thing is when they're talking about something really esoteric (the oldest 2 are big into academics) and then something totally juvenile from their shared past pops up, and they all crack up together. point is, it's never boring, and you are so wise to enjoy the ride! blessings

Bridgett said...

You know, my dad is 3rd of 8 kids and hated it growing up. Hated it. My mom is 1 of 2 and hated it, too. Mike's parents are each from families of 5 or 6 children and both seemed to have had a great upbringing.

Mike and I are both eldest of 4; as an adult, I love having siblings to rely on and be there for. Mike and I have 3 now...which is probably all we'll have because birth is not kind to me, but I have hope that in the end, they think they've had a good childhood and preparation for adult life.

In my opinion, small families seem strangely lonely. But that's just my opinion. Sometimes big families seem like a place to get lost in the shuffle, too...

MollyD said...

I grew up the oldest of 6 kids. I loved it. I never felt like I was missing out on anything in life. There was always someone there to do things with, I was never lonely. I wouldn't trade it for anything on earth.

My sister (#3) hated it and said that she was going to give her kids all the materisl things in life and experiences that she never had.

Nevermind we always took family vacations every year, always did things as a family. So what that we didnt' have a top of the line car, go on helicopter rides or send her to Austalia (like she had to make sure kids could do),

I really think the veiw on large families differ even from the people with in the family. But then again I think my sister wouldn't have been happy with anyway or even as a only child.

I feel sad that I most likely will not have the large family I always dreamed of having, and that the two I have will most likely be all that I ever have. But I feel sad more for my kids that they will not grow up with the large family I had

Cakes said...

I think you guys are making excellent points. Family size has very little to do with what makes the "best life." Sometimes I wonder if The Meatball wouldn't have been better off as an only child because he is so rigid, but then perhaps being a twin in a large family will help him to grow up more flexible.

Erin said...

Big families, small families... family is a blessing, no matter what shape or size.
My wish: Let's be more accepting of one another, less condescending.

Thanks for sharing your family on your blog. It looks like you have a lot of fun together!

Elizabethw said...

Size has nothing to do with happiness. My mother was one of ten and each child felt loved, and to this day, the oldest is 90 and they still gather and celebrate occasions. I am an only, and I had a wonderful upbringing with my fabulous parents. DH is the oldest of four and their family couldn't be more disfunctional. It's all about what you make it.


Mel said...

I love your family and get really envious sometimes, in a good way of course. If you can love, feed, clothe and educate your kids without relying on welfare to support you, then I say people should have as many as they want and everyone else can just back off.
PS, the oct lady even made the SA paper.