The other week I took my 5 kids to the park. It was sunny and beautiful and warm enough for these northern-blooded kids to splash in the water. No towels, no change of clothes, no concerns. Up on the bank, a woman was staging a Christmas photo shoot with the cutest props ever- an old beat up green truck containing a Christmas tree in the bed and festive wrapped boxes. There was an adorable little boy wearing red plaid playing with toys as the assistant sprinkled fake snow above his head and the photographer captured it all, all to the sound of Jingle Bells. And also all to the sound of my son screaming in sheer terror.
You see, my by-now-almost-naked-8-year old was putting on his only dry clothes, his socks, in the way-too-close background of the photo shoot when something scurried across his foot. Since his reaction to an ant and a killer tarantula are identical, it could’ve been either. I don’t know; I didn’t see it. But I’m sorry to say that my first response wasn’t to comfort my truly frightened, wet & shaking son. No. My first response was, “Oh.My.Word. We just ruined that family’s pictures!” Images of epic photo bombs and judgements danced through my head, and I felt myself go red in the face with embarrassment.
That big family. Those poor kids. Half-naked in November in the creek. Normal families are taking Christmas pictures. They’re really missing out.
They’re really missing out.
That’s what I thought. And that’s what I often think.
I can be quick to keep score of all the things we don’t have. All the things I can’t give my kids. The things we’re missing out on. Things like individual bedrooms, the financial capacity to eat at restaurants regularly, a cool or clean vehicle, new wardrobes every season. On a daily- even hourly- basis, my kids don’t get what they want, and I often feel badly about that. Picking a movie to watch on Netflix requires 10 minutes of negotiating and compromising with siblings, and I’m not sure we’ve ever reached a unanimous decision. Same goes for food. Because I have decided not to be a vending machine, meals consist of the same food for all, and that often means the discontent of many. A quiet conversation with mom or dad is consistently interrupted by siblings and frustration looms. Personal space-even in a big house- can feel lacking, and I recently discovered that one of my sons sits in our teeny tiny unlit school closet for his ‘media time’.
I find it frighteningly easy to feel like I’m failing them. Frustrating and disappointing them with all these darn no’s and limitations. Heck, I feel frustrated and disappointed by no’s and limitations!
Then the other day I was chatting with a friend. A friend who grew up in a large family and whose perspective I value. She helped me see what I am providing, and then suggested I blog about it. I was hesitant. I’ve read a few pro-big-family posts before and they came across judgy. Like it was the best way to raise kids. The enlightened way. The easy way. The more spiritual way. As if quantity trumped all other considerations and na-na-na-na-boo-boo.
I do not hold those beliefs. What I do believe is that this is how I am raising my family (which has turned out to be larger than I ever expected) and I am committed to making the most and best of it. For them and for me. So without further adieu, here’s my running list of what my big ol’ family provides for each other:
- Opportunities to work together. House work. Yard work. School work. Grocery shopping…It’s all hands on deck or the ship sinks!
- Built-in play all day every day. There is never an excuse to be bored ’round here.
- Conflict Resolution. There are endless opportunities to learn how to disagree lovingly and effectively, how to assert yourself and how to humble yourself; how to be angry but not abusive; what’s worth fighting over and what’s worth releasing. I’m definitely learning right alongside my kids on this one!
- Delayed gratification. “Mom, come see what I made!” “Can I get a new toy.” “When can we get a dog?” “When can we go to Disney World?” “When can I have my own bedroom?” All real questions asked by my children far more than once, and all answered with “Not right now” and an explanation of our current limitation.
- Gratitude. Because they understand that money runs low, energy runs low, tempers run high, and schedules run amuck, they are learning to be grateful for what they have, what they get, and what they hope to receive. The other day my 8 year old thanked me for buying groceries as he was loading them into the shopping cart. Just tonight my 7 year old thanked me for cooking dinner even though I wasn’t feeling well (mild stomach bug passing through the ranks.). I often hear thank you’s for trips to the playground, snacks, time spent together. And Micah and I dish out a lot of gratitude to our kids, too. It’s definitely mutual.
- Positive Peer Pressure. The older ones behave a certain way, and the younger ones follow suit. The big kids don’t run in parking lots, yell in buildings, throw tantrums in aisle 3, etc, so neither do the younger, ever-watching ones (usually.) The older kids start a sentence with “Excuse me” and so do the little ones. The big kids pray at dinner and the little ones want to as well.
- Leadership. There are plenty of chances to lead, and it’s not just reserved for the oldest. All the kids have moments of directing the others to complete a task, fulfill a vision, get.it.done. They all lead differently, and it’s pretty awesome.
- Initiative. There’s so many examples of this I just can’t…. One wants a video game, so he and his brother start a dog walking business to earn money (Mutt Strut Brothers…check’em out!) The baby wants water, so he waddles to the water filter and points until someone notices. Caramia wants a new dress for her doll but it’s not in the budget this month, so she fashions one out of tin foil or scraps of fabric or rose pedals! It is incredibly inspiring to witness.
- Resilience. Man, this one is dear to my heart. Defined as the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness; the ability to spring back into shape; elasticity, my family’s growing resiliency is really motivating. In a culture where we see adults throwing tantrums for all sorts of reasons, I’m glad my big ol’ family fosters opportunities to be resilient. To suffer well and bounce back. To maintain our identity. To be flexible but firm.
- Self-care. Such a catch phrase these days, but so important. By simply having more kids than I can tend to at any given time, my kids have learned how to take care of themselves when I am unavailable. Two kids puking at the same time? One has to go it alone. Fell off your bike and bleeding? Gonna have to clean your wound with hydrogen peroxide like Daddy taught you and bandage it yourself while Mommy finishes up nursing the baby. *Sam has been our Family Medic for years, responsibly caring for all sorts of wounds. The size and volume of our family could swallow you alive, and so we work hard on teaching our kids (and ourselves) how to take care of ourselves. How to recognize when you need alone time and how to get it. How to speak up and ask for what you need. How to be a part of the team and also an individual. Such a fine balance.
Each of these 10 points could be painted in a negative light, and I’m sure there are cases where that would be true (things like neglect, dismissiveness, manipulation and exasperation within a family come to mind). But I am finding that these 10 points are invaluable gifts to our family, adding richness to our daily experiences, not detracting from them. These 10 points are helping us all grow up, grow together, build a healthy family culture and build real skills that we take out into our world. Whether your family contains 2 souls or 12, I would love to hear the unique ways your tribe fosters positive growth. And if you’re not sure your family is actually on that track, you might ask someone you trust for feedback. I know firsthand how easily we can deceive ourselves into thinking things that may or may not be true about ourselves and our families. Trusted feedback, counselors, outside perspective is so important if we hope to grow up, get real and get help!
*These fantastic pictures were taken by Second Street Photography over Thanksgiving. It was a spontaneous shoot and I knew there was no way I could coordinate that many people with what was in our suitcases #bigfamily. So we went with the theme “Wrinkled But Happy” and I think it captured us pretty spot on 🙂