My husband and I met and married young and are open to life, therefore, we will most likely end up with a big family. This intimidates me. I did not come from a big family and really have had very little exposure to the inner workings of a family with any more than three children. Consequently, I am always in search of role models. Of course Maryalice is my number one (shout-out, hollar) – but we live several thousand miles apart.
I have to search out local mothers of large families to see their approach, size it up, take pieces of it and implement them in our home. Recently I had a troubling conversation with a 36-year-old mother of eight at one of our local playgrounds. She is an Army wife like me and her husband is currently deployed to Iraq on a 12-month tour. Her eldest two children are 18 and 14 year old girls. She has homesechooled all seven children (#8 is in utero) and everyone appears well-adjusted and well put together. As we watched our children play together, I took the opportunity to shamelessly pick her brain on all topics from lunch-preparation, to curriculum design to cloth diapering. I guess my questions inferred that her two eldest daughters helped a lot around the home because the mom felt the need to clarify that a)She did most/all of the food preparation and b) she rarely asked her older children to babysit the younger ones, but took them along with her instead. She went on to explain that she knew too many adults who had grown up as children in large families and were now “burnt out” from all that had been asked of them as children. They were reluctant to have many children themselves because of how much had been asked of them growing up. By shouldering more of the chores herself, this mom believes she is protecting her children from burning out.
Immediately this struck me as odd. I ask a lot of my eldest (5.5 yr.old girl), and she doesn’t seem resentful, but rather, empowered. I have always figured that as long as they don’t see me reading _Cosmo_ and painting my nails (I do that when they are sleeping, yea right) – they understand that we are all in this together and that we will have more time for fun together if we do the hard stuff together. They are already well familiar with my sing-songy “work before play” mantra. Yet, there seems to be a kernel of truth in the playground mother’s fear. I cannot think of many people who have emerged from large families with the desire to be a parent in one themselves, especially girls. I want to hear from you – how do we find the balance of raising helpful, responsible children without turning them into nannies or cooks? Are any of you the products of large families — what did your parents do to make growing up a great experience, even with siblings sandwiching you in every direction?