This post is something been brewing for about a year now. Last year, while I was still pregnant with John Benedict (our 4th) and wrangling the other three (ages 4 and under), I experienced something I hadn’t experienced before. Friends, family, and perfect strangers took a particular interest in our fertility and wondered why we were having more children. I’ll admit, I was even a little afraid to tell people this time around, because lets admit that after three children, you’re becoming an anomaly.
The question was worded differently (or sometimes more as a statement) depending on who presented it. But it went something like this: “Why would you bring more children into the world if you cannot afford the ones you already have? Won’t this cause your children suffering? They will have less of your attention, fewer opportunities in education, you will not be able to provide as much for them as you would if you did not have another.”
There are so many ways you can take such a question. Do we really look like we’re not able to afford the ones we have? Why is my choice to have a child any of your business, anyway? But I wan’t to hesitate before taking reactionary approaches to questions like these, and I prefer to view them as coming from a place of actual curiosity (rather than a place of judgement) since going beyond the 2.5 or whatever is the common family rate of reproduction these days, is weird to the people who will witness your cart caravan in the grocery store, or notice that some of your kids clothes are a little threadbare.
So, here’s a bit of an answer for those who are curious.
Every family has their own understanding of happy. For some people, happiness requires a big family vacation every year, or kids involved in all the school sports, or kids in the nicest brands of clothes, etc. Our definition of happiness may not exactly fit the same mold as yours, so that might be why we look a little weird. Our definition of happy involves loving God, quality time with our family, and embracing God’s plan for us. This doesn’t mean that your happiness with those other things does not involve loving God, but the other things are just not that high on our priority list.
I think in our very consumerist American society, we have a lot of feelings of entitlement to have the best education, the most expensive clothes, the latest gadgets, the most exotic foods. And sometimes this turns into kids having to first be in the best preschool, so they can get into the best schools leading up to the best colleges. If you can afford all of that, awesome! More power to ya!
We, however, don’t believe that we are entitled to the best of everything, or that these things are necessary to live a good life. So if what we are able to provide our children is merely average. If we shop at goodwill and consignment shops for our clothes and furniture, if we choose to home school as long as that is what works for us, if we don’t go on expensive vacations and don’t have a big house (where each kid can have their own bedroom), if we teach music to our kids ourselves, and they aren’t involved in every activity, sport and music lesson under the sun, we will still be okay. In fact, by living within our means, being involved in less busy stuff, and being generous with life, we have an opportunity to teach our children something very important.
They will learn that people are valuable, regardless of their education, possessions or occupations. I think we might have an easier time teaching them that the world does not live and breathe to make them happy and comfortable. They will learn that if something is worth having, it’s worth working for. Perhaps naively, I believe we would raise our children the same way whether we had two or six. A good work ethic may go further to advance them in their occupations than a degree. I think they should have to prove that they deserve the good education by demonstrating academic excellence in high school. If they are not so inclined, we won’t require them to go to college. If they are not gifted scholars or particularly inclined to the academic lifestyle, we will encourage an education that best matches their gifts and abilities, rather than trying to push them into a one-size-fits-all educational mold.
But causing our children suffering? I don’t think so. Not any more than they would suffer with only one sibling. They will have to learn to share their things (which if you ask any toddler is quite painful). They will wear hand-me downs and sometimes they’ll get holes in them. They will learn not to be selfish (though if they are like their mother, they will do so very imperfectly). They will have to swallow their pride and make apologies. These are normal parts of living with others whether there is one other little person or three others. This is what comes naturally from living side by side with other people in the world, whether or not you are from a big family. The thing is, people need to learn these things if they are going to grow up to be contributors to society rather than a drain on society. These are things people must learn if they are to be capable of real love. And I just personally think the lessons are more easily learned in big families.
And have you seen my kids together? Maybe not. Let me just tell you about it. They LOVE each other so much! They squeal and giggle when little JB gets up from his nap. They spend almost as much time as I do working for some smiles and giggles from him. When one of them is away, the others mope and miss her or him. They are so affectionate with each other. Penny and Alasdair give each other big hugs and fall on the floor laughing. Nikki walks around the house sighing happy sighs and saying things like, “I love our family!” or “I’m so glad I’m in this family!” When you ask the kids who their best friends are, they almost always name one of their siblings. I would never deprive them of that love. (Granted, these are not what all their interactions are like. We still argue and fight over toys and hurt each other’s feelings. But when they are decently rested and fed, their interactions are mostly pleasant.)
We do make some sacrifices in order to have more than the average number of children. We didn’t buy our first house until after my 30th birthday. Other than trips to see family, we do not go on vacations (stay-cation is more like what we do). We produce what food we can at home: gardens in summer time, backyard chickens, making as much food as we can from home (like baking all our own bread). We rarely eat out, and when we do, it’s at a mexican restaurant that does a taco night with $1 tacos (it is less expensive than fast food!). We don’t (usually) hire babysitters, but instead take turns babysitting for free with other families. We do a lot of things ourselves, which takes time, and it takes work. But it is worth it so that our Nikki and Penny and Alasdair and even our eyebrow-raising fourth, JB, (and whatever other little blessings God hands our way) can live in this beautiful world, and know the love of their parents, each other, grandparents, aunts and uncles (and maybe some first-cousins one day?).
So, what does Cheers have to do with all of this?
Last summer, my husband and I spent our evenings watching old episodes of Cheers on Netflix. We enjoyed the light entertainment while we worked on our hands-on projects. Carla was my favorite character by far. If you’ve seen Cheers, you remember she’s the spunky, incredibly passionate, (usually) single mom of lots of VERY crazy, energetic kids. You always got the impression that even if she didn’t have to work to support them, she’d work just to get away from them for a bit. In the last episode, sitting around in the bar for the final time, the gang reflects on life. (I’ve scoured You-tube for a clip of this, but I can’t find one. If it’s still on Netflix, you will just have to go find that last episode and see for yourself.)
“I’ll tell you what the point of life is. Having kids. Creating life. Sure it’s disappointing and painful – heartbreaking at times. Sure they can drive you crazy or make you think you just can’t make it through another day…where was I going with this?”
Carla always had the biting, sarcastic humor, and while that shows through here, I loved that she gets it. Life. What is possibly more important than that? What achievement or possession could be more important than working hand-in-hand with God in the creation of people!?
And while we’re showing off my very cultured television viewing…If you ever watched Friends, remember when Phoebe’s brother (who had triplets) is going crazy trying to keep up with them all and begs Phoebe to take one of them? I think Phoebe asks which one, and he can’t pick, because despite all the things they do to make him crazy, they also make him laugh, and he loves them all too much to give any one of them up. That’s all very true.
So, while you may be asking, “Why?” we say, “Why not!?”
(BTW, if we hadn’t had John Benedict, I wouldn’t ever be able to brag about giving birth naturally to an 11 lb. baby! That’s got to be a little bit important too.)