Let’s Get Real about a Larger (than average) Family

When people say this: “You have your hands full!”

I often say “thank you” or “don’t I know it!” with a huge smile on my face. I never want anyone to get the impression that I don’t love the fact that I have been so very blessed to have five children beyond the womb (current ages 12, 10, 8, 5 and 2) and our baby, Gregory, who is in Heaven.

The reality is that it’s not always easy to have that huge smile. And sometimes I want to say, “Yes, I do…why don’t you take a couple off my hands?” Or maybe I want to say, “My hands! My house! My car! All of it is FULL!!! FULL, FULL, FULL!!! There is NO more room at the inn!!!”

Over the years, I’ve thought about how I publicly show my face with regards to our family. We used NFP and I wanted people to know that we (and God!) intended every single one of them. No “mistakes” around here. No “oopsies” or “method failures” or any of that. We went in fully aware babies could come from our union and we were fine with that. We welcomed them all!

There seems to be a tremendous pressure, especially in Catholic circles and especially on-line in the blog-world where everyone can read the things we write, to enjoy every minute of this great big family we procreated and to never let it show that it’s difficult, at times. We must always “saddle up” and ride on through the path we have laid by accepting this gift of children into our marriage and never let on to “the outside” that there might be times we question our former sanity. And that’s a shame because in reality, there are some difficulties that come with having more than 2.2 children (or 1.9 or whatever our birth rate is these days) in our society that should be acknowledged and validated without it seeming like we regretted having the children we have.

So, this is a “get real” post. This is the post that perhaps women like me are afraid to write. And I’m writing it. And I want to state for the record before I get going that I don’t want you to think, for one second, that I don’t love and adore my beautiful family. I can love them and I can love all the sufferings and hardships just as much as I love the joyful and fun times.

The Struggles of a mother of five…

·         Oh, the Insecurity! I often feel like the discernment to add to my family was the easy part (it wasn’t really…in my saner moments I know that) and I’m failing one or more of these precious children at any given moment. My oldest got 100% of me when she was a newborn. Not one other child of mine was afforded that opportunity. And not one of my children will ever get 100% of me ever again. (The pressure to tout the awesomeness of siblings is often what gets thrown at this one.)

·         The Diapers, the Wipes, the Pull-ups, Oh My! So, we’re out of diapers and potty-training now – but that was hard. Changing diapers in the household for almost 13 years – wow! Ever since our youngest potty-trained a few months ago, I’ve marveled, while reading the grocery ads and being able to skip over the Huggies or Pampers specials. We don’t need any of that anymore and WOW!! It’s been almost 13 years since I could say that!

·         Tantrums to Teens – Maybe I really AM crazy!We’re now balancing the parenting of tantrum-throwing toddler with clingy young elementary-aged kids while we’re also working to get the older kids ready to be adults – added responsibilities, teaching personal accountability and the like. It can be draining. You think dealing with the tantrums is hard, until you’re saying “shut up” and yelling at a kid who thinks they know everything so that you can assert yourself (again) as the sole parent in the room. Then later, you feel guilty that you yelled at your teen who is just trying to figure things out. (There’s that insecurity again…)

·         Just wait until they get older, it will be easier! When the children were all young, people would say that it will get better. And that is true, to an extent. My life feels better with my kids who are older because they do help me out in many ways. I have a babysitter in my oldest now and even my second child can be “in charge” for short periods of time. But the reality is that the struggles take on a different flavor. Monitoring internet usage and phones and text messages but also having the time to have the talks with the kids that they need to have at that time – the pressure can feel suffocating.

·         “That’s so great, I bet you get a lot of use out of everything!” I had three girls first and then I had my two boys. Sometimes “hand-me-downs” worked and sometimes they didn’t. All three of my girls have very different tastes and body types, so unless it was A-Line (yay for a great A-Line First Holy Communion Dress!) I didn’t get as much use out of true sibling hand-me-downs as I did from just getting second-hand stuff from various friends or consignment/thrift stores.  But to be honest, getting and giving “Hand-me-downs” all the time gets old. Shopping in Thrift Stores get old. Yes, I love to save money. Yes, it’s a necessary thing when you have five children that you do some second-hand stuff. Brand-new for all kids all the time is just not going to cut it. But, I’m not going to lie – it’s not all that much fun.

·         Minivan Rage! Driving a minivan forever sucks. We own two minivans because that way, no matter which parent/driver has the kids, they have a vehicle large enough for everyone. But, I find myself daydreaming about the day I can drive a compact car to work again. (Truly)

·         Nuclear Family of Four, Please! All the “family packs” or “family” anything refers to two adults and two children. It used to make me mad back when I had three children…but now, it’s just silly. Who decided two adults and two children make a family? Of course, I know my family qualifies as a family and I no longer feel like I need everyone else in the world to acknowledge that fact. But that doesn’t mean the ugliness of this situation doesn’t rear its head every so often. And usually it is when I’m forking over an extra $50 for something so that my entire family can do it together.

·       Oh! The expen$e$! Let’$ discu$$ the expen$e, shall we? Having a large family is expensive. That’s not rocket science. Raising kids is expensive all the way around. Doing anything fun with a family of 7 (2 adults and 5 children, thank you very much) is going to cost an arm and a leg. I literally have to “put money away” in the savings account specifically for a night out to dinner or to an activity. When our family travels and finds the need to spend the night in a hotel – we must to get a suite or something so we can all fit in one place. And, because life, in general, is expen$ive, when you have a larger-than-average family, your kids don’t get to do everything they see their friends do. Expensive club sports, music lessons, extra camps in the summer, travel – all of these things are simply out of reach for most of us with larger families. I’ve worked in activities with moderation, but it takes some a lot of sacrifice.

·         Catholic families want to provide a Catholic education? Hahaha This brings me to … Catholic Schools – this one is mostly for us large Catholic families who desire to send our kids to Catholic schools. Many of us large families of the Catholic variety expand ourselves right out of the ability to provide Catholic education for our children. I know of an example of a mother with child number six on the way who lives in the southeast U.S. It got to the point that the parish and/or school couldn’t give her family enough financial assistance to continue to educate her children in the Catholic school once she had three enrolled (Grades: K, 2 and 4). She looked and looked at it, but realized the next year would be an even bigger struggle and financial balancing act because she would have four going to school (Grades: K, 1, 3, and 5th) and it wouldn’t be long (just about 2-3 years) before her fifth would join them and she’d have five in that school (Grades: K, 3, 4, 6 and 8th). She had to face the fact that she would never be able to afford it. Some schools provide a “cap” (I think in this particular case, the school stopped increasing tuition after the 4th child began attending school), but regardless…even WITH financial assistance it could run (for her) $30,000/year for ELEMENTARY SCHOOL. Check it: that is NOT high school and NOT college; that is the cost of one year of elementary/middle school for her children.  (For a frame of reference that amounts to about 45% of the household gross income, as she is a stay-at-home-mom and her husband works full-time.)

As for our family, we are blessed in our situation that we have a parish supported, K-8 school. I hope that never changes, but it might. And if/when it does, I may be in the same predicament. Right now, our personal discernment with regard to high school has led us to accept that our children will attend the public high school. We were looking at having to pay for Catholic high school for a long time (our oldest enters high school in 2015, our youngest would, God willing, graduate high school in 2031). But let’s face it…have 2.2 kids (or 1.9…) and there’s a much higher chance you can make the (relatively) short-term sacrifices necessary to educate your children in Catholic school. 

Many Catholic families who have chosen to be generous in their discernment of family size are often the same families excluded by that discernment from providing Catholic education for their children. How ironic and sad.

And here is where I close this post with a final disclaimer. Because, the pressure!!

I love each and every one of my children. I’m so happy they are here with us. I’ll sacrifice much in the rearing of all of them.  Even the almost-13 years of diapers were so worth it! I’ll sock away the money to provide a vacation once in awhile. I’ll say no to some things in order to say yes to others. And through it all, the fact that we have each other will triumph over all hardships that come with being a large family.

We are blessed! My children know that.

And even if we had the means to provide for every wish with ease, we probably still wouldn’t do that because it’s not good for us.We live for Christ and His Kingdom, not for the things of this world. Most of the struggles I list are because of a human desire for material comfort in this world, I recognize that. And most of the benefits of a large family that I’ve written about in the past and will write about in the future are not material things we can touch, but supernatural benefits that make us grow into the Saints God intended us to be.

Mother’s Day with my crew

 

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Discerning Family Size Gets Tricky at 40

Discernment of family size is such a tricky thing. Over the years I think I’ve often erred on the side of openness (to another baby) because I have thought God’s answer about another soul would always be yes.  I am not sure what led me to believe that. Is it because I’m a woman and I’m biologically wired to have babies and love and nurture them? If I think about it honestly, if money were no object, I’d have probably been open to welcoming children closer together (and of course, if I stayed home since I wouldn’t have to pay daycare).

Lately I have wondered though how I would feel if God’s answer to the question of no more babies…ever…was to be “no.” I would be sad, no question. My brain functions normally and I realize I am approaching 40…let’s face it, the answer to more babies IS, in fact, going to be “no” at some point in the not-so-distant future.

So how do I work with God’s plan, if that plan is “no”? I would be lying if I said I wasn’t worried about obeying God’s Will if it means years of being “closed to more children” (using the most conservative interpretations of our NFP method to avoid pregnancy). There are plenty of people I know who can provide examples and anecdotes of how special and blessed a family was by being open to one more child later in life. I can read it online in forums and on blog posts — if I look for it, there is plenty of information to encourage me to be open just one more time.

Photo Credit

The difficulty comes in our discernment of God’s will for our lives. Do we say, “We’ll be open…and if God doesn’t bless us, then we have our answer.” Or do we determine, “Be open until such time (say…age 41) and if no blessings arrive, then we will avoid pregnancy for the remaining years until menopause.” I worry that I seem ungrateful for the children I have, but then realize that is silly and seeking another sibling for my children is not an indication of ungratefulness — they’d most likely be thrilled at the development.

In the end, the prayer I have tried to make constantly is to be open and accepting of God’s will, whatever that may be. I’ve learned the humbling reality that even if we achieve pregnancy, it doesn’t always translate to a baby I will care for on Earth. I find that my fertile self finds it hard to believe that God would not bless us with another baby — but should that be the case, it would require some growth on my part to find the acceptance necessary to move on. As far as my husband’s side of this discussion, he often swings to the opposite side of where I am with it. In the past, I have always been ready to be open to another baby long before he has. It’s not that he never wanted the babies we’ve had, it’s just that he’s more willing to discern that God is ready to end that part of our lives. Is it because he is older than I am? Perhaps. I don’t think it’s because he trusts any less because, ultimately, the babies we do have didn’t get here solely on my account. 

I think that discerning expansion of our family at this point in our lives is probably the most difficult discernment I have experienced thus far. I think it’s more difficult because we are older. I think it’s more difficult because the children we have require certain things of us and our schedules demand more running around than they did when we just had younger children ages 8 and below. It was complicated working my current youngest child into the fabric of our family because my oldest began having more activities, doing more in school and taking on more responsibilities for which she needed guidance. At some point, I have to determine whether I can juggle the middle of the night feedings with full-time work schedule and still have the energy for the club volleyball practices/tournaments, guitar and ballet lessons and introducing the younger kids to activities they are just approaching. 

I’m not going to lie…I have daydreamed of my youngest child being 4 or 5 years old, stroller- and diaper-free. I’ve looked at my family as it currently stands and realized I’m not that far away from it. I can see a budget free from daycare and preschool tuition. I can almost taste a life where my husband can take a pay-cut in order to work a daytime job during the same hours I do so we can have our evenings, weekends and holidays together as a family.

But it still makes me sad. It’s been so long since we’ve had no baby in the house and I can’t imagine that life as completely happy. I think there will be a mourning period I will endure as I hit the time of my life where my fertility drops to where it’s not even possible to get pregnant and for sure, carrying to term will be questionable. 

The fact is that the time will come when there will no longer be a baby in the house — and I will no longer have much say in that occurrence. 

God will close the womb in His time, just as He opened it. 

I am linking to Jennifer Fulwiler at Conversion Diary and posting every day this week! Click HERE to see who else took the challenge!