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.