Thursday, January 3, 2013

The Hills are Alive....with Big Mormon Families

Over the holiday I caught a portion of "The Sound of Music", a musical that pops up every year around the holidays. Frankly, I'm not sure how the holidays and fighting the Nazis became intertwined - but there you are.

I watched this film a lot as a child, and I know the words to most of the songs.  The biggest surprise came when I was 6, visiting my cousins and found out that there was more to the movie after the wedding.  (In order to get us to go to bed, my Dad would let us watch the movie until the wedding, and then say "they're married now, the movie's over"). 

original poster from wikipedia
Watching it now, in my thirties, I'm amazed by how coordinated and coherent the family of seven children is.  Granted, this is the 1930s and it's a musical - meaning a completely idealized life.  No one thinks "Oklahoma" or "West Side Story" are real (one would hope). 

But still - it seems so perfect, this large family of children (led by the sixteen year old Leisl) who works together to play tricks on the governesses and jokes about champagne. 

I was thinking about it - I don't remember one time (perhaps my brother will chime in here) that all the kids went anywhere together without our parents.  Not once.  We would go out together, but not as a full group (that I recall).  So the scene in the film where they visit the abbey rang very hollow. 

Trying to get everyone in my family to do anything (by the time I was sixteen) was like herding cats. 

So I thought - this movie must be what people think growing up in a big family is like.  It's everyone working together, singing, watching out for one another.  They get through their troubles together. 

But that's not what big families are like (at least, it wasn't for my family).  Is anyone really that naive?

.It's true that the Captain had a lot of money, and that definitely helps in large families. 

Being in a large family is being raised to be competitive.  You have to compete and out-shine to survive. My Dad also used to say "the squeakiest wheel gets the most grease" (For the record, this is a saying that has never made any sense to me.  It sounds like you're encouraging someone to squeak if they want something - it's a backwards way to do anything).

There are only so many resources, and they have to be divided amongst everyone.  It's not a matter of everyone pitches in - it's not always that simple or easy.  My Mom would talk about a large family of girls she remembered from Utah, they all learned to sew and made their own clothes.  In the 1980s, in the suburbs - all handmade clothes were unrealistic.  Sure, it could happen.  It's just the place where reality hits - life is not all re-made curtains. 

You had to pool your resources, and you had to be very careful what you shared.  I read someone who talked about hoarding Christmas gifts in a large family - and that was almost what it was like sometimes.  You wanted to have your own stash of whatever because it could be gone tomorrow. 

My parents have finally re-arranged the kitchen to not have food "hidden" in various cabinets - but for the longest time, the chips were in one cabinet SOLELY because they might not get eaten as quickly.  At the end, it stretched believability as everyone knew exactly where the chips were. 

I have a lot of advantages for being raised in the family I was.  I love my siblings, and the big family reunions.  We did work together, and I learned a lot. 

All I'm saying is, at times I am not sure that people see the downsides to large families or challenges after watching the media portrayals.  There are important pieces that are left out. 


Leah said...

So agree! I'm from a family of eleven and I remember a lot more chaos than coordination, a lot more shouting and punching than singing and dancing. We had to eat fast or not at all. Cold cereal especially was an item that disappeared almost as soon as it entered the house. A lot of fun in many ways too though. The high kid to adult ratio made fertile ground for a lot of creative endeavors. Most kids play House; we played Town, with different bedrooms serving as the bank, the post office, various stores, complete with circulating monopoly money. My parents barely had time to earn a living and keep us alive. Forget making homemade clothes!

Freckle Face Girl said...


Tonight, I am just wondering how the parents managed to not go insane. The last few days, I have been ready for my TWO kids to go back to school! Chaos is a good word for it. :S

I have a 3 friends that have had lots of kids (6 or more) and seem to be ideal at keeping all the kids happy, well educated, clean, nice and perfect. It is a complete mystery to me how they do it. When I was young and saw families that big, they were NEVER ideal. It seemed more like the kids were neglected, dirty, fighting and hungry. There were 5 kids in my family and I remember spending lots of time at friends/neighbors houses. Life was always calmer somewhere else.

Aerin said...

@Leah - Thanks! I think that's what's important, that there are two sides of this story. Parents or perspective parents shouldn't be persuaded by the one side.

@FFG - Maybe things have changed over the years and parents are better able to handle multiple kids. For me as well - life was always calmer somewhere else.

postmormongirl said...

This is very familiar - I am the youngest of seven. Everyone always assumes we must be close (especially as we lived in a very very rural area) but the truth is, we were so busy fighting over scarce resources that we never really learned to trust each other. Even today, we are not very close, which saddens me to no end.

C. L. Hanson said...

Crazily enough, this is one of the things I like about Saturday's Warrior. Since it was written by Mormons for Mormons, the kids fight and compete and pick on each other as much as they "pull together" -- because the whole discussion is taking place in a community where people know what big families are like.

Donna Banta said...

I've always thought that the Sound of Music was unrealistic even for a musical. The big perfect family, the clothes made from the curtains, skipping over the Alps at the end. In fact the actual Von Trapps were somewhat appalled by the show. -- I remember reading a quote from one of the sisters who complained, "we took the train out of town."

Great post!