“One More Never Made a Difference”

I grew up in a very large homeschooling family, and people were always surprised when they found out how many children my parents had. Sometimes it came from a stranger, a sort of incredulous sort of shock. Sometimes, coming from other homeschooling parents, it was a sort of admiring awe. One thing I remember clearly is my mom’s response to people’s shock, surprise, and awe.

After about five kids, one more never made a difference!

At the time, I smiled and nodded in agreement. We children ate in bulk, dressed in hand me downs, and ran in a pack. One more child was never really even noticed. What was the difference between 9 kids and 10 kids, really, or 11 and 12? Another pregnancy, another baby, it just all flowed together. Another one was hardly noticed.

But when this came to my mind again the other day, I saw it a bit differently. Let me put it this way: If having another child doesn’t make a difference, you’re doing it wrong. Raising children in today’s world isn’t supposed to be something you do in bulk. Rather, raising children is intensive. It involves a great deal of time, money, and energy. It involves investing in an individual little being, forming a connection, and being there when needed. The idea that you wouldn’t even notice the addition of another child? That’s not how it’s supposed to work!

Perhaps the reason this really hit me is that I’ve so recently made that transition from having one child to having two children. Having Bobby means that I have to take time that I would have otherwise given to Sally and give it to Bobby instead. It means that the time and energy I have to devote to children is divided between them. I will have less to invest in Sally as she grows up than I would have had I not had Bobby. That’s simply how it works.

Now it’s one thing to divide your time and energy between 2 or 3 children, but it’s quite another thing entirely to divide that same time or energy between 12 or 13 children. To some extent, you compensate by doing things in bulk—you can read a children’s storybook to 4 or 5 children at the same time, or take 6 or 7 children together on a trip to the zoo. But doing things with children in bulk is never quite the same as doing things with them individually, and you’d think that people like my parents, who talk about how homeschooling meant that they could give each child the individual time and attention their teachers couldn’t, would realize that.

It’s ironic that in having such a very large family my parents in many ways simply recreated a daycare or school setting as their daily home life. Indeed, we older children were employed in the raising of the younger ones, serving as daycare helpers and teachers’ aids. If you think of the Duggars’ and their TLC show, you can see what I’m talking about. The difference, of course, is that kids who actually attend school or daycare generally get to go home at the end of the day and have individual time with their parents. But when you recreate that setting at home, it’s 24/7.

As the oldest, and as my mother’s right hand and my father’s pet, I personally felt that I got enough time and attention from my parents. But I’ve since spoken to children raised as middle children in similar large homeschooling families who felt very differently, and when I look at my middle siblings, I see that. “Don’t get me wrong, I love my siblings,” they’ve said, “but my parents had no business having that many children.” It’s not that my own parents don’t try, it’s just that the amount of time they have is finite. When pressed, my parents would say that giving us the gift of another sibling was always worth anything we might lose in the division of their time and attention, but I don’t actually think that’s true anymore. Don’t get me wrong, siblings are awesome and I’m a total fan of children having siblings, but what you get from siblings is totally different than what you get from parents, and having siblings is no substitute for having parents.

I’m absolutely not saying that people should never have more than two or three children, and I’m not trying to determine some sort of limit, or to say that there should be. What I am saying is that if having one more “never makes a difference,” you’re doing it wrong.

About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • victoria

    I think it’s absolutely valid to fight against some of the currents that make child-rearing more intensive in this place and time than it is elsewhere and has been forever. (Pushing for academic achievement earlier than ever, having kids in lots of extracurricular activities that involve the time of more than just the kids, not allowing kids to go out unsupervised until they’re middle school or beyond). That said, I find it hard to imagine that someone could really give more than, say, six kids under age eighteen or three age five or younger what they need in terms of attention. Less if anyone has significant special needs.

    Then again, I’m a big fan of Amanda Soule’s blog (soulemama.com), and she’s got five under thirteen or fourteen. With a support system like hers — both she and her husband work from home, and she has a big extended family in the area that she’s close to, and she seems to have an inexhaustible fount of energy — I suspect they’d still be great parents with three more. Of course you never really know from the outside, but…

  • Machintelligence

    With all the billions of people already on this planet, the last thing that we need is huge families, which also, since you have to start young to achieve them, means short generation times. This, coupled with reduced child mortality and increased life span leads to huge population increases. Earth is already overpopulated — stop at two (at the most) and have then later in life.

    • Sally

      “This, coupled with reduced child mortality…”
      Yes, this is what has changed and why not using birth control no longer makes sense. For any one couple it doesn’t matter so much (in terms of population control), but for a society, it does.

    • Alice

      Fundies are always wringing their hands and moaning about how the economy is going to crash and the world is going to be a horrible, horrible place in the future because so many people are being “selfish” and having 0-2 children instead of 8+, so the world is eventually going to have an under-population crisis. This is not just coming from Quiverful people, but even more mainstream conservative Christians like Focus on the Family.

      There could very well be under-population problems in the future, but they are so MELODRAMATIC!!! about it that I have a hard time taking them seriously.

      • Stev84

        An aging population can be bad. You can see that in Japan and some European countries with very low birth rates. It becomes hard to pay pensions and health care for more people with fewer workers.

        But America is different. The birth and immigration rates together are above replacement levels and the social safety net isn’t as well developed as in other countries (though per capita health care costs are actually a lot higher). Their real worry is probably that the ones with the most children are the wrong color.

      • Alice

        “Their real worry is probably that the ones with the most children are the wrong color.”

        That is my suspicion as well, plus all the children growing up with the “wrong” religion or no religion. I heard them talk about the birth rate in Islamic families several times.

        I agree that an aging population does raise legitimate concerns, and it’s good to have a calm, intelligent discussion about it, but no one is going to take what fundamentalists say seriously when they run around like headless chickens.

      • Conuly

        Which is unfortunate, but the solution can’t be to keep having babies until we run out of room to put them all.

    • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

      Or, if you want a large family, adopt! (Domestically, please!)

      • Christine

        Completely agree. The fact that I wouldn’t really be able to adopt doesn’t mean that I am going to have a lot of bio kids. It means that I’ll have to settle for a smaller family.

      • Rilian Sharp

        Why domestically?

      • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

        Because all too often, American children are left to age out of foster care while American parents (or prospective parents) snap up a whole bunch of foreign infants.

        It ain’t right — we ought to be taking care of our own, man.

        (And before anyone starts in on me, yes, IF I were parent material, IF I wanted kids, I would adopt. But I am NOT parent material, and I DON’T want kids.)

      • Kayla

        “we ought to be taking care of our own, man.”

        EVERY child on this earth deserves to have a family. American or not American. Just because a child was born in America doesn’t give him/her a greater right to a loving family. “Our own” is HUMAN not just AMERICAN. People can and should adopt from wherever they want if they want to build a family.

      • LizBert

        I would point out there are many serious questions about international adoptions. It has become clear recently that many of the children adopted from developing nations were essentially kidnapped. There are also questions about removing people from their own culture and what the impacts of mass adoptions to other nations will have on the home countries. I don’t think international adoptions are wrong across the board, but we need to ask some serious questions about them too.

      • Christine

        And, unfortunately, the countries that most people are likely to go to for international adoptions (because they’re the most open to them) have the most problems.

        I also object to the attitude which some (not all, but some) parents of international adoptees have of “we need to save the poor darlings from the country in which they were born”. Yes, helping is good, but coming in as the great saviour is not.

    • karen

      If you care about the environment, some people should have lots of kids and the rest of us should have none. Big famiiies are much more economical per kid –recycled clothes and toys, one minivan instead of so many mosty empty SUVs. Kids from big families don’t grow up believing they are the center of the universe–they learn to share and cooperate as a way of life.

  • Mel

    One of my aunts has 9 children spanning 23 years. The middle kids really got the short end of the stick. The oldest and youngest batches of 3 had time before the other kids were born or after the older ones left the house. The middle bunch never really got much parental time. Their fifth child, a daughter, was viewed as being really troublesome- she refused to do anything her parents asked. One of my uncles noticed that the girl only refused to do things when she had her back turned to the speaker. Turns out she had massive fluid build-up in her ears and couldn’t hear very well. The really bizarre thing about that was that ALL of her older siblings had needed tubes in their ears due to the same problem. This wasn’t the first time medical condition had happened in the family. The sixth kid had real problems reading. Turns out he needed glasses badly…. like 4 of his older siblings.

    My aunt and uncle are nice people. They weren’t abusive or generally neglectful of their kids. They were just badly over-stretched. And this was with lots of help from the many aunts and uncles who lived in the area. I don’t know how much longer kids 5 + 6′s problems would have gone unnoticed if it hadn’t been for an uncle and a teacher.

    *they never referred to their kids as numbers either. I did that to protect the identities of my cousins.

  • Lauralee Moss

    Yes. I’m the oldest of ten, no half or step siblings. I raised some of those kids, from morning till night. They didn’t get parents, and I didn’t get a childhood.

    • WordSpinner

      For me, I consider it unethical to have so many children that the eldest have to act as parents to the youngest. It isn’t fair to any of the children.

      • Lauralee Moss

        Thanks. I wholeheartedly agree.

  • Rilian Sharp

    My mom has 10 siblings. Also, my dad has 6 siblings. I could feel/see the love my dad’s parents has for each of their children and grandchildren and in-laws and greatgrandchildren. But, one of my aunts on my mom’s side said that their mom loved them all as a group, but not individually. I could see that. I don’t think it’s the number of kids that determines it, I think it’s the parents’ attitude. And I think that my mom’s parents set out ti have “children” and lots of them. But also I don’t think that any of the children got physically neglected. Two of my uncles were homeschooled for a while because they were miserable in school. And my grandma taught them herself. My mom (the second oldest) said that they were not expected to parent their younger siblings. Also, my grandparents had been really strict and used belts to hit the kids, which terrible, but in 1986, when 6 kids were still at home, they changed all that, because they realized it wasn’t fostering a good relationship with their kids. I don’t know why it was so different between the older and younger ones. And I’m sure they’d all tell a different story than the one I’ve come to know.

    • Rosa

      The children themselves might have been different. I have a relative who’s the oldest of 6; she and her next-oldest sibling have mental illnesses that may have made them especially challenging to parent, or may have been made worse by their parents authoritarian parenting style. Either way their parents got more and more hands-off and less violent over time.

      Their younger siblings had completely different childhoods (the middle one is a little bitter over what she experienced as neglect – she said to me once “by the time we came along my parents were over raising kids”) and the youngest, born after a gap, had an almost generationally different experience – less authoritarian, more personal attention and emotional support.

  • antimule

    I believe that, as Steve Dutch pointed out, having lots of kids is basically a ponzi scheme, because you expect infinite growth, which is impossible. http://www.uwgb.edu/dutchs/PSEUDOSC/Ponzi.HTM

  • AKS

    Husband and I were always open to having more than two kids. Meaning perhaps 4 kids (not 10 +). I now have 5 children 8 and under. Number three and five both were conceived despite using various forms of birth control. Three children were not really that difficult for us. When number 4 came, though, things became crazy for a couple years. I don’t really understand people who say adding more and more kids don’t make a difference. The jump from 3 to 4 was very difficult. Other unexpected hardships occurring in our life at the time probably contributed to that but still having that many young children was difficult. After number four we felt done for sure but got another surprise three years later (while using birth control). Neither of us wanted to use permanent sterility (for health reasons, not religious/moral reasons) but decided that was the way to go since birth control didn’t seem to work for us. The 5th child has not been as difficult to transition into because he is an amazingly easy baby (compared to my other four) and the rest of our life is less stressful in other areas right now… That being said, I agree with a lot of what Libby Ann is saying. In our culture today it is very difficult to have a large family and give each child the time and energy and things that our culture deems important. I’m not so worried about the material sacrifices we are making in order to have a large family but I am concerned about the amount of time we are able to give to each child in order to nurture them and their individuality. Making comments like “one more isn’t even a big deal” or “we don’t even notice when we add another” seems to devalue the child. We are currently homeschooling our children for many different reasons. One big one being that my husband works an odd shift and has non weekend days off. If our children were in traditional school they would pretty much never see their dad and thus have a very minimal relationship with him. At this point in their young lives we think it is important for them to get that individual time from both mom and dad. And homeschooling allows that to happen in our unique situation. But it is a lot of work. Pretending it isn’t difficult with flippant comments seems dishonest and counterproductive to me. I don’t want my oldest child to raise his siblings or to shoulder responsibility that is not his. And I don’t want my middles to get lost in the fray. I think admitting that these could be potential problems makes us more in tune with each child and their individual needs. And makes us more able to deal with the realities of having a big family. Pretending it is no big deal is setting yourself up for burnout and failure. We love our big family and our unique kids. Can’t imagine life without each one of their amazing personalities but it is A LOT of work. And if it wasn’t a lot of work I’m pretty sure we would be failing our kids in many ways.

  • AKS

    Husband and I were always open to having more than two kids. Meaning perhaps 4 kids (not 10 +). I now have 5 children 8 and under. Number three and five both were conceived despite using various forms of birth control. Three children were not really that difficult for us. When number 4 came, though, things became crazy for a couple years. I don’t really understand people who say adding more and more kids don’t make a difference. The jump from 3 to 4 was very difficult. Other unexpected hardships occurring in our life at the time probably contributed to that but still having that many young children was difficult. After number four we felt done for sure but got another surprise three years later (while using birth control). Neither of us wanted to use permanent sterility (for health reasons, not religious/moral reasons) but decided that was the way to go since birth control didn’t seem to work for us. The 5th child has not been as difficult to transition into because he is an amazingly easy baby (compared to my other four) and the rest of our life is less stressful in other areas right now… That being said, I agree with a lot of what Libby Ann is saying. In our culture today it is very difficult to have a large family and give each child the time and energy and things that our culture deems important. I’m not so worried about the material sacrifices we are making in order to have a large family but I am concerned about the amount of time we are able to give to each child in order to nurture them and their individuality. Making comments like “one more isn’t even a big deal” or “we don’t even notice when we add another” seems to devalue the child. We are currently homeschooling our children for many different reasons. One big one being that my husband works an odd shift and has non weekend days off. If our children were in traditional school they would pretty much never see their dad and thus have a very minimal relationship with him. At this point in their young lives we think it is important for them to get that individual time from both mom and dad. And homeschooling allows that to happen in our unique situation. But it is a lot of work. Pretending it isn’t difficult with flippant comments seems dishonest and counterproductive to me. I don’t want my oldest child to raise his siblings or to shoulder responsibility that is not his. And I don’t want my middles to get lost in the fray. I think admitting that these could be potential problems makes us more in tune with each child and their individual needs. And makes us more able to deal with the realities of having a big family. Pretending it is no big deal is setting yourself up for burnout and failure. We love our big family and our unique kids. Can’t imagine life without each one of their amazing personalities but it is A LOT of work. And if it wasn’t a lot of work I’m pretty sure we would be failing our kids in many ways.

  • Saraquill

    “One more never made a difference” sounds like a pathetic reason to to have a child.

    • Alice

      Yeah, saying that really makes it sound like they are only having children because their sect influences them to raise an army for Christ.

  • http://twitter.com/Arachne110 Arachne

    As the 12th of a family that had 14, I can say that my experience of being part of the crowd of kids made me feel invisible. The only time we had mom and dad time was in a group when mom read stories, or dad told stories of when he was a kid. And that wasn’t even that often. most of the time my older sister read us younger ones bedtime stories. Sure, we went to church together, and prayed at home together and ate at the big dinner table together. But there was nothing to keep me from feeling that if I wasn’t there, nobody would notice.

    I knew my older sisters that took care of me and taught me to read more than I knew, or maybe still know, my mom and my dad. But then one of my older sister’s moved out of state and another had problems with mom and dad and moved to Europe for a year. I missed them for a while, but eventually that goes away and I don’t really know them very well either.

    My husband’s family are all close, and have easy relationships with their parents, and at first that really surprised me. But I find that I even have a better relationship with his parents that I do with mine. I don’t know how to talk to my parents really. They feel really distant and far away and I don’t even know what we have in common, because even when we tell family stories, my parents don’t even know the ones that I remember. I feel like I’m telling my parents about my life, that they should already know.

  • http://suburbintwasteland.blogspot.com/ Suburbint

    When I was growing up, I fantasized about having a dozen children. In my imagination they were all precious individuals, and I knew them all equally well with their personality quirks, likes and dislikes, hopes and dreams. I was the oldest of two, so I pictured myself giving the same time and attention to each of my fantasy children as my mom gave to me.

    Now I am the mother of four, and even though I do know their individual personalities, likes and dislikes, etc., quite well, I see how impossible this would be were we to add even one more child to our family. They already vie for my time and attention, and I’ve had to set up a system where they each have their own special days of the week to do things like help in the kitchen or run errands with me. I love and treasure them dearly, but now I fantasize about what it would be like to just have one or two, so that I could give each child that much more of me. The concept that one more — or many more — could “never make a difference” is absolutely ludicrous to me. They’re human beings, with souls and minds and hearts, not kittens or baby chickens, merely there to be fed and taught when and where to relieve themselves. My heart aches for those children who didn’t make a difference. For people who care so much about the sanctity of life inside the womb, they clearly devalue it once the child is born.

    Children are people. Just like you and me, and deserve to be treated as such.

    • Rilian Sharp

      I used to want to have like 8 kids. Now I question whether I should even have more than one. Having siblings has been fine for me, but that doesn’t mean it’s the best way. I don’t know.

    • http://abasketcase.blogspot.com/ Basketcase

      This desire to spend time with my baby, and really get to know him, is one of the reasons I only want to have one. (there are many other reasons too, but this is definitely one of them!)

      • http://www.facebook.com/mtillsley Monika Tillsley

        I have one child so it has been interesting to read about everyone else’s experiences. One takes all the time and attention I have to give! My husband wants more (another one or two) but I can’t help but see that as stealing time and attention from my firstborn.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=597605006 Mary Driftwood

      I used to fantasize about having a huge number of kids, too. Over the years, that number gradually grew smaller and smaller. Now, I think about either never having children at all, and devoting that time and attention to my nieces and nephews, or else adopting one or two older children.

  • Gail

    I think that older children having to help raise the younger children was pretty common in the past, and that more intensive parenting is a good thing. Whenever my grandmother sees a show with the Duggars or hears about another family with a lot of children, she comments on how in a family that size, the older kids always end up raising the younger ones. When she was ten years old (in the 1940s), she only had one younger sister, but she was expected to take care of her almost all of the time (I’m not sure what the schooling situation was) during harvesting season. She missed out on a lot of her childhood, and also, being ten, she’d do things like drive the baby around in the basket of her bicycle (so safety conscious!). I feel like this kind of thing was pretty common in generations past, especially in farming communities. I’m glad that families have changed so that this doesn’t happen as much.

    • arresi

      I think the pro-big families crowd is seeing things through some serious nostalgia glasses. Two of my grandparents and father were younger siblings in big families. All of them have or had major emotional problems, at least partially because of the size of their families (one was spoiled as the baby, one felt forgotten and unwanted, and the one felt guilty/blamed for not looking after a younger sibling well enough after an accident, among other things). They all had smaller families.

      Anyone who thinks that large families didn’t create problems in “the good old days” is ignoring the actual lived experiences of all those people who lived with large families and rejected that in their own lives. (I have to wonder how many of the really large family crowd was actually raised in one themselves. I’d expect people who’d grown up in a really big family to be more ready to talk about the problems they remembered and how they dealt with them in their own lives.)

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=597605006 Mary Driftwood

        When I was younger, I dreamed about having a large family, but I honestly had no idea what that would be like, because no one in my family had that experience. Both my grandmothers were only children, and both my grandfathers had two sisters each. The largest family in three generations was my dad’s, who had three siblings. He was the oldest, and ended up doing a lot of raising of his younger siblings due to his father being an alcoholic.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=597605006 Mary Driftwood

      she was expected to take care of her almost all of the time (I’m not
      sure what the schooling situation was) during harvesting season.

      The harvest season is the reason why public schools take summers off. At least, that was the traditional reason. Now that fewer families are directly involved in agriculture, there is more talk about year-round schooling becoming a thing, but people don’t like to lose their summer free time.

  • J-Rex

    I’m number 6 out of 10. My sister has a three-year-old daughter and there are always new funny stories about things she said or did and my sister tries to write them down. If I ask my mom about funny things I did as a kid, she can only remember one and it isn’t very funny. She also tells me that I was always a lot like her, which I’m not. It feels like she never took the time to get to know me. She found it easier to just assume I was like her and move on.
    If I go through old photos, the pictures of the oldest have elaborate stories written on the back explaining everything that went on that day. The second oldest has a short sentence here or there. The next three might have their name and how old they were. By the time it gets to me, there’s nothing.
    Parents like that seem to think it’s fine as long as there is time to feed everyone and get them all ready for church in the morning, but they never realize how ignored the kids feel…probably because they never spend enough time with them to find out that they feel ignored.

  • http://twitter.com/AmethystMarieTM Amethyst Marie

    How exactly is “One more never made a difference” valuing the sanctity of life any more than “It’s just a blob of tissue”? Is that how they think God views humanity? For all their talk about how Jesus would still sacrifice himself for you if you were the only human in existence, do QF patriarchists think God’s sitting up there in Heaven laughing, “After the first 5 billion, another billion never makes a difference”?

    • Baby_Raptor

      Well, look at how many he slaughtered. I could see him having that attitude.

  • Sophie

    I’m the second of four and I spent as much if not more time as our mum taking care of the two youngest. I’m the one that knows the funny stories about them and the one they come to with their problems. I remember being really worried about how much love and attention they would get once I left for university. I even looked at the local university and enquired if I would be able to put the youngest in daycare there so that I could make sure he was ok. And it wasn’t any better when there was just the two of us, my older brother was taking care of me from a very young age and was left alone in the house with me from 9 onwards. I know that our situation is a bit different because our mum is emotionally abusive and neglectful and really only had children because it helped her in some way but I can see how easily an older sibling can become the real parent in large families.

    The whole idea that “one more never made a difference” just feels wrong to me. Every child should be wanted, loved and valued as an individual. No child should be confused about who it’s parents are, as my 1st younger brother frequently was (he would cry for mummy and then push our mum away and reach for me – which you can bet never ended well for either of us). And no child should be deprived of their childhood instead being another parent. People should only have as many children as they can successfully parent, which in my mother’s case should have been zero.

  • Tonya Richard

    It absolutely makes a difference. I have eight children, and I never understood when people would say, what’s one more? I worry daily, that someone is not getting enough of my attention. I decided to have them, so I should sacrifice to make sure they get what they need from me. It is not easy, and I don’t expect much help from the oldest ones with the younger ones. Just an occasional babysitting, which they are compensated for. They are my children, it is my job to raise them. I don’t think we should be able to tell someone how many children they can have, but I do think they should carefully think about how much they have to give. Children need a lot of attention, and not just when they are younger, I think my teenagers need almost as much attention now as when they were babies LOL I will say, my life as gotten much easier since sending them to school. Trying to home school all of my children was too much, at least I have a few hours during the day to recharge with just my youngest child with me. If you are going to have a large family, you had better be ready to dedicate your life and time to it, because it is hard work if you want a good relationship with each child. Very satisfying hard work, but hard work nonetheless. Raising healthy, happy children who contribute positively to society should be your goal, no matter if you have a large or small family. Also, I hope to have a close, lifelong relationship with all of my children.

  • Marta L.

    This reminds me of my maternal grandmother, who had seven children over about twenty years in the ’40s and ’50s. She was Catholic which meant no birth control at the time, and it was a time when large families were seen as a good thing, but even so the same realities you describe here should still apply. And while I’ve heard stories of some siblings feeling taken for granted, I’ve never heard my aunts and uncles talk like they didn’t get the attention they wanted or needed.

    I wonder if the difference is the expectations for what parenthood meant? It didn’t necessarily mean taking one child or another to lessons or teams, since they lived in a neighborhood and were likely to do things they could walk or bike to themselves. They were (and are) definitely individuals, but I think there was less a drive for parents to “manage” their lives, maybe? They seem to know they could go to her when they needed or wanted her without that meaning they had to run everything by her? I think it’s a lie to say there’s no difference at all. But I also suspect there’s a way for there to be *less* difference than you might expect.

    (Full disclosure: I’m thirty, single and childless. So why my opinion on this question should count for much, I really don’t know!)

    • Sally

      My dad describes his childhood the same way. There was no expectation for parents to organize their activities. They did it themselves. Of course, he lived in a neighborhood with lots of kids and it cut both ways. Parents didn’t limit their contact with each other based on who has acceptable belief systems.

      On the other hand, my dad really needed more parental involvement academically. I don’t know why they didn’t work with him at all once he started school. He was very bright but did poorly in school. There weren’t any special services at the time or medications, but you’d think his mom would have sat him down and helped him with his homework none the less. -It wasn’t even a concept to her.

      He grew up in a family with only 2 kids, so it wasn’t lack of time. That’s not to say the concerns about large families aren’t valid. -Just agreeing that the culture does affect what parents expect of themselves.

      • Marta L.

        I think if having a new kid has no impact, there’s obviously something wrong there. But it also seems true that different people have different expectations for how much parenting will require in terms of time and energy. And of course there’s room for abuse and problems in both models; your dad clearly needed more encouragement but I also have a friend who was smothered under helicopter parenting and now has a very difficult time with internal motivation. There are problems all around, I think.

      • Arresi

        Pretty much any family arrangement can produce just about any result, I think. It just depends on the people involved. My youngest of nine grandmother was as spoiled and hovered over as any only child today. Some of my abused relatives turned abusive, others turned into devoted parents.

        That said, your comments seem to sort of divorce the changing expectations for parenting from the actual parents? (Not sure I’m saying that right.) Like parents just follow trends blindly. I mean, some of them probably do, but I have to think that most of the post-war parents who started having smaller families and dedicating more time to parenting were doing so because they were trying to do a better job of raising their kids than they felt their own parents had done. Which suggests a certain . . . unhappiness with the very hands off, big family model. Especially since people usually remember childhood though nostalgia glasses. I’d say their actions speak louder than their words. (Possibly worth noting: I know a few of the helicopter parents I know were former latchkey kids.)

    • Alice

      Yes, when there was no highly effective birth control widely available, people had little choice in how big their families were (and the people who don’t use it for religious reasons). Families also had to have a lot of children because of the high infant mortality rate and needing as many farm-hands as possible.

      I think the expectations were very different. Fathers in particular had the primary role of provider and may not have interacted much with the children, besides disciplining them. The mothers would have been very busy because it took a lot more time and work to do domestic chores before all the modern conveniences (not that it’s effortless today!).

      I think young children today can definitely have over-scheduled lives and they should be able to entertain themselves sometimes, but it can also swing too far the other way. Everything in life is a balance.

    • Gail

      I think the expectations of parenthood were definitely different. This doesn’t necessarily mean that just because nobody complained, it wasn’t a problem. One of my grandmothers (not the one I mentioned in my other comment) was the valedictorian of her high school in the 1930s rural South. Teachers encouraged her to apply for college, but she didn’t because she was the oldest of seven children and she was needed at home to help take care of them. I never once heard her complain about the missed opportunity, which could have drastically changed the trajectory of her life, and I never heard any of her siblings complain about their lack of parental attention. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t true that it would have been better for her to have the choice to have gone to college, or that her younger siblings might have benefited from more parental attention. So yes, the expectations of parenthood have changed, but I personally think they’ve changed for the better.

  • Leiningen’s Ants

    I read this blog to get hit by the proverbial ton of bricks, repeatedly. It’s the insider analysis that does it. You don’t want my pity though, I should know, so instead, take my pride in humanity’s ability to be both a social animal and uniquely individual simultaniously while surviving attempts to destroy the latter; each and every one of you made it out alive. Take some credit, take mine, I’ll give you it.

    • Baby_Raptor

      There’s just something about getting smacked with reality. You know you’re prodding the bull, you know it’s going to cause bad memories or whatever, but it’s still karmic.

  • AnotherOne

    In my experience there were both benefits and drawbacks of being in a large family. From around the age of 12 onwards I spent much of my time doing housework, cooking, and caring for younger siblings, and it was exhausting. And given their bad marriage, my mother’s serious emotional problems, and the chronic financial stress of having an income right around the poverty line, my parents had no business having as many children as they did.

    On the other hand, my parents had such a psychopathically strong need to control every aspect of our lives and behavior that I think it was good that they were stretched thin between many children. It was hard enough to wrest myself away from them in college–if they had had fewer children and more time and emotional energy to spend trying to hang onto me, well, I can’t even imagine . . .
    And having lots of siblings can mean you have a really great support system for the rest of your life. Obviously that’s not always the case, and it doesn’t make up for lack of parental attention as a child, but I know of several large families from my childhood where most of the siblings are pretty close as adults, and they’ve all been there through various life and belief changes in beautiful ways.
    All that rambling to say it’s a mixed bag. But I also want to warmly thank the moms of large families who are weighing in. It is refreshing and encouraging to see moms who 1) don’t think that “one more doesn’t make any difference” (I heard that tons of times as a kid!), 2) take care that the older children don’t end up shouldering the burden of childrearing before they reach adulthood themselves, and 3) try to spend individual time with each child. You have my respect, and it’s great to hear your perspectives.

  • Karen

    Hi Libby Anne – long time reader, first time commenter here. I’m coming at this as a practicing catholic with 3 children 5 and under, and while I can see how your mom’s comment can be seen as hurtful (especially to all the children after #5), it also seems like maybe it was just some quip your mom armed herself with when dealing with strangers’ intrusive questions. I know that I CANNOT go to a store or other public place with all my kids (and remember, only 3) without being told, “you’ve sure got your hands full,” “you know how those are made right?” “you’re done now, right?” etc. And I’m sure I’ve responded awkwardly or tried to make a joke that could be taken the wrong way too just to get out of the situation and back to buying groceries or whatever. I don’t really need to stand around and justify my family planning strategies with everybody i pass by at Target. So, maybe your mom doesn’t value all your siblings as individuals, or maybe she never spent enough one-on-one time with them, I don’t know, but I’d go by that evidence, and not by her one-liners to strangers. It may not have been from the heart. Anyway, I enjoy reading you! Keep up the great discussions!

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism Libby Anne

      I do understand your point, but it’s not just my mom who said this, it was a common saying among homeschool moms. And women like you with multiple children at a young age were told by older homeschool moms to just keep going, because once you hit five kids or so it’d be smooth and easy, because the whole bulk think kicks in. I don’t think that’s a very healthy way of viewing things.

    • Alice

      Yes, it was just a joke, but my family has always said that if you pay attention to the jokes people tell, you can learn a lot about a person. There are /many/ reasons for this, but one of them is that most jokes are not funny unless it has a grain of truth to it, so if someone thinks a joke is funny, some part of them probably really believes it.

      • http://patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism Libby Anne

        I think there’s some truth in this!

      • LunarG

        I’ve heard the phrase “Half joking and entirely serious” to describe that.

    • Sophie

      Karen – I think it’s awful that people feel the need to make comments about how you’ve chosen to have your family and I think that you have a good point that sometimes we do make flippant comments as a way to defend ourselves from what feels like an attack. However I agree with Alice that often those flippant comments and jokes do come from a real truth.

      My mother had my younger brothers in her late 30s/early 40s and was constantly getting comments about how did she manage, and was she a glutton for punishment and where did she get the energy and she would point at me and say “I’ve got back-up mummy!” and she and the other people would laugh. Except I wouldn’t because to me it wasn’t a funny joke, I took care of my brothers in every free minute I had.

  • sylvia_rachel

    My maternal great-grandmother had 10 kids (actually she had 12, but the last 2 were stillborn or died as newborns, I’m not totally clear on which). She loved all her kids, and they loved her, and it sounds like in a lot of ways it was a great, happy family … but the oldest daughter was an assistant mother from a very young age, and it’s a famous piece of family lore that my great-grandmother told her daughters she didn’t envy them their nice houses or their fancy appliances, but did envy their ability to “choose when to have babies”. Of all those 10 children, none had more than 3 kids of their own. I don’t think that’s a coincidence.

    I’m not religious, but I hang out with some women who are, several of whom have 4 or 5 or 6 kids. I also know many families with three kids. The difference is, these people are not of the “no birth control ever” school, just the “we really like kids!” school; they have about the number of kids they wanted, spaced out about the way they wanted (birth control ain’t perfect…). They lead pretty busy lives, and there’s no question that their kids are not each getting to do half a dozen different extra-curricular activities; but they very much see their kids as individuals with individual talents, goals, and personalities. They know which kid hates peanut butter and which kid is having trouble with her friend at school. I think there’s a tipping point past which you have too many kids for you to cope with, and it’s different for every family. I have heard people say that the most difficult transition is from one child to more than one (once you’ve mastered the art of nursing baby #2 while not neglecting baby #1, that’s a transferrable skill), but yeah, if you really don’t notice the addition of another child to your family, you’re doing it wrong.

    Now, on the other hand, I am raising an only child (not on purpose; DH and I are both from families of 4 kids, and we decided when we were dating that we wanted to have 3 kids, but then I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer a couple of years before we got married, and … ), and wow, is this ever a different dynamic than either of us grew up with! One of the most difficult things for me has been to recognize when I’m holding back DD’s growing independence by not realizing how much she’s grown up: there are no younger siblings to remind me how much smaller, less capable, and less independent she used to be.

  • http://www.facebook.com/susie.manthei Susie Maurer

    I’m the oldest of eight kids (we’re fifteen years apart, oldest to youngest) and I always say that having seven siblings is the best gift my parents could have given me. I had to help with my siblings, yes, but being good with children is an amazing skill that allowed me to pick up lucrative nannying jobs in college. I had to do more housework, yes, but that just made me a more diligent worker, which made it easier for me to pay for college debt free. I’ve always thought that having many children is much more difficult on the parents than on the kids.
    My mom is very connected to each one of her children, and she sees us as individuals, not just members of a unit. (Our dad died six years ago.) I do have cousins that grew up completely mothering littles, and I disagree with that. Your thesis is completely right, Libby. If you don’t notice “one more”, then you ARE doing it wrong. Parents should PARENT–not big siblings. However, if done right, having many children is the greatest gift you can give your kids.
    Also, about your two children note, I recently read that the transition from one to two is the most difficult because you’re learning how to deal with multiple children, which radically changes your parenting perspective.
    I’ve also noticed that I’m closer to my siblings than most people–no matter what size family they come from. It probably has a lot to do with family styles.

    • Anna

      Hey Susie! I’m the oldest of a family of six, and it sounds like we had similar experiences. I absolutely LOVE my big family and would never wish it to be any different than it was. Anna

  • http://profiles.google.com/kameshinjite Kagi Soracia

    Amen to that…my family only had 7 kids, but my mother always said that after three it was just one more, and I know the middle kids especially felt invisible or neglected. (Luckily for him, my brother got plenty of attention even being in the middle, because he was the only boy, but the rest of us often got ignored, especially by my father who was never very engaged.) Even I, as the oldest, felt invisible and neglected often since as new ones were born my mother’s attention moved on to them, and the older ones were just supposed to take care of the middles. I love every single one of my siblings, but I do think my parents had too many kids, not least because they couldn’t afford it. We were incredibly poor for most of my life because my parents were struggling to provide for all of us. Homeschooling on top of it all…just didn’t help.

  • rae

    My parents always said that “after three, it’s all the same.” They especially tried to tell us that after we had (oops) twins to bring our family to three kids in a year. Unfortunately they can not recognize that their situation was unique – I was eight years old when they decided that God had to control their family size, and my siblings were 7 and 5. We (mostly me) were the built in babysitters that took the brunt of the next five kids. When my mom basically begged me to have more children myself, I told her “I’ve already been a mom since I was eight. I’m not going to prolong that any more just so I can struggle to connect with (already) more children than I can handle.” Ugh.

  • Ahab

    It frustrates me when parents have more children than they can financially and emotionally support. Children need attention, warmth, and guidance, and those things are at a premium in a large family. Ultimately, the children suffer most from their parents’ poor judgment.

  • LizBert

    I was the oldest of four and I really don’t have any desire to have children of my own. In part I feel that I helped raise my brothers who are not much younger than I am. My mother and father divorced when I was elementary school aged, remarried, and had my youngest brother. Although she was physically present, I felt abandoned by her after she married my step-father. It felt like all of the focus in our house was on the baby who was the result of her perfect second marriage, and my brothers and I reminded her of that first mistake. We were never treated equally by my step-father and I always felt responsible for taking care of my younger brothers. They told me about things at school or when they were in trouble and I stood between them and our parents. I know that’s not how most families work, but even with just four of us it was hard to get parental attention.

  • Anna

    It seems like the people who had bad experiences in large families were either a) older siblings who had to be the parents or b) younger siblings who didn’t get enough attention. I’m the oldest from a family of six, and I was NEVER the mother! My mom was an amazing mother, did her job, and successfully took care of all of us. I never felt like either of my parents had favorites or that any of us had to take on parental responsibilities. Many of our friends growing up would comment on how much fun it would have been to grow up with a large family like ours. Four of us are now married and are all planning to have at least 4+ children as well because we had so much fun growing up together.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism Libby Anne

      I agree that how the parents handle it matters a lot, and that there were a lot of things I liked about growing up with numerous siblings. I would point out, though, that there is a HUGE difference between 6 kids and 12 kids. To be perfectly honest, coming from my perspective growing up in a truly large family, six kids sounds kind of small. :P

  • http://faithfulmomof9.com/ Sylvia Phillips

    I am the mother of 9 children. I bought into the patriarchal, no birth control mindset for for a while until my 8th child got brain cancer. I was so terrified that I would get pregnant again while she was very sick and I would have to choose between leaving her in the hospital or leaving a newborn at home for the duration. I realized I could no longer live that way. My husband decided to get a vasectomy but not before another form of birth control failed us and I got pregnant with our 9th! Thank God I never had to choose between the 2 children. My husband went ahead with the vasectomy and we are very happy with that decision still. Speaking of older siblings taking over the care of younger siblings- other than occasional babysitting that is something that I purposely never asked of my older kids. In fact, I was upset when I noticed on one episode of the Duggars that when one of the littlest girls got hurt she rushed past her mother, ignoring her to get to her big sister for comfort. That really bugged me!

  • http://sopheliajapan.blogspot.jp/ Sophelia

    In one of the responses I read to “The Child Catchers”, a journalist pointed out the irony in “saving” children from orphanages where large numbers of children compete for attention from a small number of adult care-givers, and adopting them into families characterised by large numbers of children competing for the attention of a small number of adult care-givers.

  • Gillianren

    I’m the middle of three girls, and my dad died when I was six. Mom didn’t really make my older sister the caregiver that often–she had too many extracurriculars going for that–but she did babysit some. I can’t imagine how bad things would have been if there’d been even one more. (I have begun to suspect that my Catholic parents were using birth control–there’s a four-year gap between me and the youngest.) Having thirteen? No way.

    I’m seven months pregnant right now. My daughter, whom I gave up for adoption at birth, is fifteen and not sure how she feels about being a sibling. I can’t say as I blame her about it. At least, given that she lives about three hours away, she can be pretty sure I’ll never need her to babysit.

  • karen

    It’s overwhelming to go from zero to one and from one to two. By three, you have a lot more experience and skills and siblings help each other. It seems unfair to take a mother’s sentence and attempt to judge her entire lifestyle based on that. We get it You can’t imagine doing what your mother did. That’s okay. No one thinks any less of you for not following in her footsteps, but don’t expect a medal of honor for not doing what she did either. Do you really have siblings that you wish were never born? How sad. Most people grow up and realize that the grass really isn’t always greener on the other side. That imaginary family that revolves around the only child rarely exists and when it does, the child is more than likely going to end up very egotistical. Parents do all kids of things besides spending time with a particular child–work, sports, travel, or spending time with the other siblings. Kids learn from whatever experiences they have. Bless the moms who have one or two or three or a dozen or however many kids. It’s a tough job, but it means the world to your kids and generations to come.


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