Friday, October 7, 2011

Large Families

I've been meaning to write this post (or a similar one) for awhile now.  Each time I try to reasonably explain my points, I find myself getting fairly emotional about the topic.

As many of my readers already know, I'm the oldest of six.  And from what I've read, my experience is not all that unique.  I fit the stereotype of an oldest daughter of six...and there is a reason there is a stereotype!

From my experience, I think it's safe to say that I disagree with the practice of large families.  I will define a large family as six children or more.

If a person has a choice, I think choosing to limit family size is a good idea. 

Here are my two reasons why:
1 - The older children end up raising the younger children
I struggle with this, because I understand the notion of a family sacrificing together, trying to make the most of it.  I don't think children should be handed everything they want, I don't think children should be fully shielded from the world.

But in general, it is simply unfair to have too many children that you (or your spouse) can take care of, where you will depend on an older child to do a portion of the day to day parenting.    In other words, the excuse of  - we can care for this many children because the older children help out!

It's not fair to the older children.  They have a right to be children.  They didn't choose to be parents at the age of eight or ten or twelve.  They don't need to be changing diapers or helping with homework.

There are other, better ways to teach children how to be other-focused. So children can focus on themselves and becoming successful people - not focused on making sure their siblings are cared for.

There are advantages that I've had from being the oldest child who filled the void.

But I don't think this "the older children will take care of the younger ones" should be used as a defense of your choice to have more children than you can physically, emotionally or financially support.  It is irresponsible and doesn't always lead to a good outcome. 

2 - A disproportionate number of women are negatively impacted by this choice.
This was pointed out in this slate article, and I agree. It's easy, as someone who is not raising children day to day - to idealize large families.  But if you're not participating in the day to day, I don't know that you really know what it's like.  I was the oldest daughter, and I have a good idea what parenting a large family is like.  But I don't really *know*. 

In traditional male/female families, I think women are negatively impacted by large families.

Some women have boundless energy.  Some families are able to support a large number of children and have enough financial, physical and emotional resources to be good parents.

But there are just as many women who are stretched too thin by having too many children.  They are not able to focus on all their children's physical and emotional needs, much less their own.  They may not be able to support themselves and their children if they lose a spouse or are divorced.  Raising six or more kids is a lot of work, and the idea that "it will pay off" is not always true.  What does that mean anyway?

Pregnancy is hard enough - much less all the diapers, homework, economical, healthy meals, etc.  In the traditional family, the father usually has to work so hard to support the large number of children - they are typically exhausted themselves.

It's not up to me, of course, and I have no control over this choice or other choices that people make.  I'm just a blogger on the internet, spouting my personal opinion.

But I have some knowledge about this particular subject, and I don't think it's selfish of people to decide to not have children or to have smaller families.  My own personal theory is that there can be stronger family bonds if the parents are able to be present, and not hopelessly overworked all the time.

Limiting a woman's fertility has been one of the best gains for women in the last century - and I wholeheartedly agree.

Parents have a responsibility to themselves, to all their children and to the planet to be mindful of their fertility choices.  To ignore those responsibilities is short sighted at best, and neglectful at worst.


Freckle Face Girl said...

I see your point, but part of me likes large families. I am the oldest of five and spent quite a bit of time helping with the younger ones. I was 14 when my youngest sister was born. In many ways, it made having my own kids quite easy. I’m glad I don’t have lots of kids though.

Large families are definitely NOT for everyone. Sadly, when I was growing up, I saw many who did it & shouldn't have. I also strongly believe it should only be the mom's decision without pressure. I'd have to say that most of my TBM friends have 3 or 4 kids. That also seems to be the magic amount at church.

C. L. Hanson said...

I agree completely. I've seen too many families where parents chose to have more kids than they could parent well -- and the kids suffer for it.

A couple of points I'd add are the following:

I wouldn't draw a hard-and-fast line at 6 -- four or five can still be too many for lots of couples to parent well, whereas it may be possible for some couples to parent six kids well or more. It depends on the skills and temperament of the parents.

If someone really does have the energy, resources, and inclination to give six+ kids the individual parental attention they need, then I don't have an objection to that. However, in most cases I've seen, the decision to have a large family is based on social, cultural, and ideological considerations, rather than on what's best for the kids and the family.

Also, I agree it's unfair to the older kids to expect them to parent their younger siblings, but I'd add that it's also unfair to the younger kids -- to raise the first few and then delegate, instead of all of the kids getting individual attention from their parents.

Amy said...

I come from a fairly average family. It's just me and two brothers and it's great! I have very close, loving relationships with both brothers and parents. We really KNOW each other. My husband is the oldest of seven. He has developed a fairly close relationship to the second child in adulthood. But, his relationships with his other siblings and parents are superficial at best. Part of this may relate to his personality. He is fairly introverted and was shy as a child. But, I can't help but think that the lack of attention he received from his parents (there was always someone more needy) and the chaos of six younger siblings amplified his tendency to withdraw into himself. With each additional child, the attention and resources available for raising the existing children decrease and the larger that family becomes, the greater decrease per child.

Great post!

Karen said...

My husband and I decided (for several personal reasons) that the appropriate number of children to have was 0. But at best case, we wouldn't have done more than replace ourselves (2 children). Given the overcrowding on the planet as it is, to have more children would be a greedy use of resources.

Aerin said...

Thanks FFG. I think it is something parents should think very seriously about. I agree with chanson - I think each person or mom does have a perfect limit - they need to be encouraged to find that limit for themselves.

I agree that having the older kids raise the younger ones isn't fair to the younger kids either.

Thanks Karen and Amy for commenting and stopping by!