And please, if you’re going to comment on this post, read the WHOLE thing and give it some time to sink in first. I’ve thought about this subject for a very, very long time. And those of you who are against large families and/or older children taking responsibility for younger children, please know my mother agrees with you and shared this sentiment with me over and over growing up, and I found it unfair at times that a few of my friends with younger siblings were often babysitting. So it has taken me a long, long time to come to the perspective I currently have, after experiencing many different situations and ways of thinking.
Large Families Are a Blessing
I believe that large families are a blessing. They are not for everyone, obviously, but God intends some to have large families. Some have said “but it’s not fair to the children.” Here is something to think about: everyone has an opinion about their siblings and the families they were raised in. Some wish they had more siblings. Some wish they had less. Some loved it just the way it was. Some didn’t like a particular sibling. Some felt closest to a particular sibling, maybe even more than their parents. But you don’t choose to have another child because one of your children does (or doesn’t) want another. If you weren’t planning more and your children BEGGED for a sibling, would you have another? Probably not. It’s your body and your adult life, and you wouldn’t want to go through the pregnancy and have another child to raise if you didn’t feel ready, even if your children wanted another sibling. Likewise, it’s not their decision to say you shouldn’t have more children. This is YOUR life (most of your life happens as an adult and it’s your time to choose how you want to live it!), not theirs. When they are adults, they can choose their own experience. Love it or hate it, they’ve had the childhood they’re going to have. Not to mention that even if you only have two children (or even just one!), you can’t always please everyone with everything. So it is most important to please God, and then yourself, NOT your children.
Within a family, I believe that everyone has a special and unique relationship with everyone else. It’s not merely about the parents’ relationship with each child, but the childrens’ relationship with each other. Siblings can, and do, share very special and meaningful relationships with one another. I know that already in our family, the first thing Bekah says when she wakes up in the morning or from nap is “Brother?” She doesn’t stop asking until she gets to see him. He smiles at her more readily than anyone else, even when she’s just poking at him or getting in his face. They seem to have a special bond. I don’t have anything to do with that. If she hears him crying, she goes over and pats him or gives him a pacifier or a toy. She offers him her food or her drink (although he’s not allowed to have it). She LOVES him. I hope that they always have a special relationship with each other. I believe this type of relationship between siblings should be fostered because it is the first model for friendship.
Children don’t know how to have healthy relationships outside their families if they don’t have healthy relationships within them. Having their siblings around helps them to learn to get along with others, and negotiate the sometimes difficult areas like sharing, listening, turn-taking, etc. While these skills can be learned in other ways, they are built in to large families.
ALL members of a family have a responsibility towards all other members. It’s not unreasonable to expect a child to take care of things for himself — putting his clothes in the hamper, making his bed, clearing his dishes from the table. It’s also not unreasonable to expect him to help a family member. Perhaps removing a younger child’s shoes, reading a story to someone, getting someone a glass of water while he’s getting himself one. When our children are little, we are training them. Proverbs 22:6 “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” If you wish your child to think of others first, you will need to teach him to do so when he is young. When your child is a young adult and is staying with you, would you be hurt if he went into the kitchen and got himself a snack and didn’t offer you any? Or didn’t thank you after you made him dinner? He needs to be taught this attitude of helpfulness and gratitude when he is young.
It isn’t really a burden for a child to have to spend a short amount of time helping a younger sibling each day. A half hour or an hour of being a child’s “buddy” is not a huge chunk out of the older sibling’s day (not saying I would choose this system, just saying it isn’t as horrible as some have made it out to be). It can also help to foster that special relationship between those two siblings. They may truly enjoy studying together, or practicing their musical instruments together. And I certainly hope that siblings (generally) enjoy playing together! Even if, on occasion, they don’t, it is still part of being a family to help one another. It is the responsibility of EVERYONE to help everyone else when they need it.
I believe that today, we are fostering too much independence in our children. We teach them that they must have space, and privacy, and always the freedom to do their own thing. We teach them that as children, they should have their own activities. We push them outside the family as soon as they are old enough and tell them to go make friends, don’t worry about helping at home. Some families don’t even give kids chores for this reason (yes…I have read a book where a parent firmly stated her policy was not to give her kid any chores at all…or even to teach her manners. As this parent only had one child, I don’t really believe her. Perhaps it worked out okay for her ONE child, but every child is different and many would do poorly with that system!). We really push kids to be independent VERY early, from putting their in their own rooms from birth, weaning them betwen 6 and 12 months (if not sooner), disciplining them early but so gently they don’t actually get it (“You better come back here! I’m going to count to 10! If you don’t come, I’m going to come and get you!” Um…that teaches the child…what, exactly?). Why do we push our children to be so independent? Why is that necessary? And what happens when they grow up?
I envision a family where everyone focuses on each other as their primary relationships. They have friends, of course, but if their family needs them (whether it is to help a sibling, do their chores, or have a fun family outing), they say, “I’ll have to catch you next time.” I envision a family where they help their siblings because they WANT to, not because they have to. I envision a family that is so close and loving that when all the children are grown, if one says, “I need help,” everyone else says, “Tell me what you need and I’ll do it.” That is the kind of love and help that I see from my family.
When I think of large families, I’m not thinking of just what’s happening today. I’m not thinking of my individuals who are independent and will grow up to remain that way. No, they’ll grow up to form their own families (whatever size). They will never be really independent. I think it does them a great disservice to teach them to expect space and privacy when they will probably never really have it. They need to learn to live with others instead. Yes, this culture loves to emphasize individualism, but I don’t like it or believe in it. I think we need each other. I think we need to be in community with others, part of a family, at all times. We need to give when we can, and
learn to receive when we need it. People don’t do well at either these days.
As for the Duggars, I can’t speak for them. I don’t agree with everything they believe or have chosen to do. I don’t think in any way that we will be a copy of them or even very similar to them. Being Christians and wanting a lot of children are all we have in common (and debt free, hopefully!). I don’t make all my children dress alike and the girls wear their hair long and only wear dresses. I won’t make all my kids play the piano and the violin (they can choose any instrument, or sport, etc.). I don’t serve them processed food. I won’t give them dormitory-style bedrooms (because everyone needs a space where they can have a few minutes to themselves, even if they’re sharing with one other sibling). But in general, comparing us to the Duggars isn’t really fair. They’re just another family out there and there are things I agree with and things I don’t.
So that’s my general take on the subject. Families are all about each other, they are inherently interlocked, and they all have a responsibility towards one another. Independence is pushed far too much. It’s every adult’s decision how many children to have and what kind of life they want to lead and how they want to teach their children (and for those children, they’ll have their chance too, for most of their life). And ultimately…what is MOST important in a family? That the family is LOVING!! Size doesn’t matter, responsibilities (or lack thereof), etc. It’s that the parents are loving and giving and they teach the children to be that way too. That is what the children will remember when they are adults, not the minor annoyances.
Right now, I know I’m not the perfect parent (who is?). I know I yell sometimes when Bekah has ignored me for the 14th time in the last half hour. I know we have really bad days. But when she picks up a doll, or sees a real baby, she holds it, kisses it, strokes its hair, offers it a toy…she’s gentle and loving towards it. So I know that those moments are what really stick in her head. I have NEVER seen her yell at a doll or try to hurt it or do anything but treat it lovingly. So despite my totally imperfect parenting, something must be going right, huh?