About Me,  Contraception,  Evangelization,  Family Life,  motherhood,  NFP,  Parenting,  Pro Life

If the worst thing that happens to my kids

… is that they have to work harder and share more than the average middle class child of the 21st century, then I’m okay with that.

I’m more than okay, in fact.

A couple days ago I wrote about the curious phenomena of parenting and motherhood, in particular, getting a little less intense as the number of children increases. Maybe that’s not exactly the right turn of phrase. It’s still incredibly intense, but I no longer feel like I’m drowning in plain sight. More like in hidden sight. Kidding. Mostly.

But truly, for our family, four has been easier than two, and three was definitely easier than one. It doesn’t make sense from a (human) logical perspective, it’s true, but nonetheless it has been my experience. And it seems to be the case for many of us:

“Motherhood at any level is physically, emotionally and mentally exhausting. It takes everything you have, whether you’re mothering one child or (I suspect), seven.”{new post}

Posted by Mama Needs Coffee

An interesting side discussion sprang up in the midst of the conversation though, and it’s one that at first had me laughing but then had me thinking more deeply about the reader’s concerns, but also about what exactly we’re trying to do with these kids of ours. Or, more to the point, what their telos, their intended end, is.

The question was raised that wasn’t it a little unfair for my older kids who were clearly being burdened with helping the younger ones, and wasn’t that why my life was so much easier now with four little people on deck? I basically cackled when I read that because honestly? My eldest was still yelling for me to wipe up until this latest baby was born and, at 9 months pregnant last summer, I was still lumbering to the bathroom to do it.

Because hashtag idiot, hashtag inexperienced mother. So no, not terribly helpful … yet.

He has, in all fairness, stepped up considerably since Luke was born, and he’s now dressing himself, brushing his own teeth, putting away his own laundry, and setting and clearing the table. Sometimes he empties all the trash cans in the house into the main trash, and that’s awesome. Last week I bought him a little snow shovel and he likes “clearing” the driveway. Which is about as effective as one might imagine, if one were to imagine using a teaspoon to scoop a banana split.

So he’s learning to be helpful, for sure. And he has definitely fetched more than a few diapers in his day, as have his two younger mobile siblings. But I would not say we’re operating with a crack team of teen girls conscripted to hold babies and change diapers and cut up fruit for snack time. And I think that’s what my reader was alluding to.

It sounds dreamy.

Or maybe it sounds dreary, for the teens in question.

But I’ve thought good and hard about it for the past couple days, and I’ve spent some time observing the teens in my life and thinking back on my own adolescence, and I’ve come to the conclusion that if a child’s greatest complaint upon arriving at adulthood is that they were too put upon with the care of their own siblings, well…I think that’s a pretty decent outcome.

Let me explain.

First, I don’t think anyone would argue that we’re facing an epidemic of adolescent altruism in this society. Far from it. Now there are good – really good – young people in my community. Their parents have done an incredible job with them, and they’re just good people, period. But I’d venture to say that they’re the exception.

I think it’s really, really difficult to raise unselfish, confidant young men and women in this culture of ours. Because it goes against literally everything they’re programmed to believe, almost from birth: you are special, you are uniquely gifted, you deserve the best, and we are going to make sure your life is really fun, because fun is the greatest good.

Show me one example of media or current pop culture that doesn’t cater to those messages and I’ll recant. But I can’t think of a single one myself.

So when I meet teens and young adults who are kind, unselfish, confidant, and hard working in spite of having been raised in middle class America…I know it’s in spite of the culture, not because of it.

And you know what’s a really, really effective inoculation against entitlement, selfishness, and terminal naval gazing?

Family. Family in general, and siblings in particular.

It’s awfully hard to imagine you’re the most special snowflake in the blizzard when you’ve got 4 people who look a whole lot like you vying for resources and sharing closest space and a schedule with.

And in the school of life, the family is the primary curriculum for how to be human. It’s where we learn to love, to be loved, and, quite honestly, to suffer.

Not for suffering’s sake, but because to dwell on this planet is to experience suffering, and to persist in joy in spite of it.

And it’s also where we learn to wipe down the bathroom sink, start the dryer, and empty the dishwasher.

Having grown up with 6 siblings and 1.5 bathrooms between us, I can personally attest to having learned that lesson firsthand.

And what a small suffering it was. What a gentle primer on delayed gratification, on frustration, on the cost of selfishness (no hot water for #’s 4,5, and 6…you monster), on the reality that this life is not all about me.

Because this life? It’s not all about me.

There is a fine line that parents must walk when it comes to instructing in selflessness and industriousness and generosity and relying overly much on/taking advantage of their older kids, in particular. But if the worst thing that happens to a teen is that they’re missing out on some Friday night football games and Saturday night keggers because they’re being roped into babysitting?

That’s a big “W” in my play book.

Believe me, I lived that life. And even though I’m the eldest of seven kids, I was mostly a selfish, bratty monster for years 12 through twenty…something. When my mom announced her pregnancy with my youngest brother Patrick, I burst into tears and screamed (I am not proud of this) “How could you do this to me???!!” in the driveway, so yeah, not dramatic at all. And no, family size is not an inoculation against teenage drama. But. But. 

I grew up. We all did. Only one of us remains at home, and it’s only for another year or so. The rest of us have all launched, a few have married and now with children of our own, we’re once again sharing space. But here’s what it looks like on the other side:

All those Friday nights (and truthfully? It wasn’t all that many) that I spent babysitting? Those same exact small people are now baby-sitting my kids on the weekends so Dave and I can grab a date night. They’re dropping by to read a story or take someone to the park for an hour of catch. They’re offering to pull the sled and shoot nerf guns when we bring the crew together for family events.

It’s full circle.

And my children, despite everything that I do wrong in raising them, will at the very least carry a kind of natural immunity to selfishness by their sheer closeness and volume. And I pray that when they’re grown they’ll look at each other the way my siblings and I do, and they’ll thank God that their crazy parents said yes. And while I don’t think “WhatsApp” will be a thing by then, I hope they’re all on a group hologram text of some kind, and that they talk every day and are each other’s best friends and greatest champions.

That’s not the worst thing that could happen.

(P.s. my two eldest cherubs emptied an entire bag of craft feathers that!I!bought!myself!why! and 150 pipe cleaners onto the family room rug while I tapped this out and a few are wispily stuck to the baby’s bald head and now they’re both “cleaning” up their mess and writhing on the floor like despairing, spawning salmon by turns. Just, you know, in the spirit of full disclosure.)



  • Traci Sumner

    Awesome! This really hits home. I have 4 siblings. We range in age from 44 to my youngest brother at 25. We were horrified when my Mom was pregnant with him or after when one of us was toting the baby, because people thought it was my older sister’s or mine! And yuck! we knew what happened to get pregnant. double yuck. Gee, we survived and we’re all productive members of society and pretty decent people. Fast forward me from age 14 to age 40 (gasp!) and our oldest is “almost 13” and our youngest is 2 months. Gee, the 12yo told us that “we were ruining her life.” Um, not really. She even likes her sister, now. And changing a diaper hasn’t killed her, yet. It actually gave her baby experience and she makes money watching other people’s babies. I’m hoping that our 4 girls will grow up as unselfish as we can make them or encourage them to be. And as a side note, throwing a diaper away for a 7yo can be fun if you call them the bomb squad and they have to dispose of it within a certain amount of time – you take the win when you can get them!)

  • Diana

    This is great! We only have one kid right now (not by choice, infertility, long adoption wait, etc.) and both grew up with large families and LOVED it. Hardly a day goes by without texting with at least one of my sisters (I have 5) and they are some of my very best friends. As second oldest I sure got roped into babysitting and chores and all that but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

  • Chiara

    Oldest of six here. Did I whine/sulk/fuss when my Mom wanted me to babysit/clean up/make myself useful? Oh, yes, yes, YES . . . It’s pretty embarrassing in retrospect.

    As an adult? I’m actually a pretty competent girl. Thanks, Mom!

    And — how great each one of my siblings is! How we talk things over and have each others’ backs! It’s one of my life’s greatest treasures. So — burdening? No. Making them more capable, plus giving them this now and future gift? Yes!

  • Jessie

    PREACH. Big families are deffffinitely not an inoculation for drama, so true, but the community that arises between siblings – I wouldn’t trade it. I wouldn’t trade the hair pulling, tattling, punching fights for the front seat, and lifelong room sharing for the ability I have now to text any one of the 7 siblings I have to just “grab a drink,” or come over and watch a scary movie. Or for their desire to pop in for a minute “just to kiss the babies.” Siblings are blessings. Even those that “accidentally” drop a brick on your head when you’re a week old (hashtag older brother).

  • Lee

    I love this! My mom was number 4 of 12 and I have amazing memories of spending time with my single aunts and uncles in my younger years. I am still very close to them now.
    And it has come full circle with my siblings as well. My youngest brother is the bachelor uncle that my kids love so much. Family is a wonderful gift!

  • Rhonda

    Excellent post! And a great response to the anti-children, anti-family trends in our society. I am one of two and now that I’m an adult, I wish I had more siblings. I tell my own children (all 6 of them) to appreciate the size of our family as those brothers and sisters will be (and are) their best friends and supporters…

  • jeanette

    When I hear people express fear about how many kids they have (or about how many someone else has!), I only wish they could look way ahead into the future and the great gift they are creating for everyone connected to that relationship. I’m the 4th of 7 kids. Today my parents have 7 kids plus their spouses, 26 grandchildren (plus their spouses for those who are married so far), and 9 great grandchildren…and that is just the beginning. The story of our family is not over yet (and never will really be, I suppose). Life keeps unfolding for us and it is a joy to be part of that.

  • Suzi Whitford

    I wish my sister and I were closer in age. It is only now when we both became mothers that we have ‘reconnected’. But growing up with a brother who was 5 years older than me and a sister who was 7 years older was lonely. I would have loved to have a sibling closer in age and I want to provide that for my children. So, my two little girls will be 21 months apart!

  • melissa

    Only child here! My husband has one sibling, so between the two of us we have….one sibling. I would never dare you to dream about or judge my parents reasoning for only having one child, and they have never shared it with me (I also know far too many people who have suffered infant loss and infertility to assume anything), but both my husband and I are longing to give our children this sort of family dynamic, and although we are feeling like we are deep in the trenches at the moment, expecting our third in 3.5 years, I know that wwe are giving our kids a great gift. And it is so encouraging to hear about other people’s family drama growing up, I can’t even tell you. My toddlers fight like cats and dogs and sometimes I wonder if the saying “the greateat gift you can give a child is a sibling” is even remotely true. And then I read something like this and I remember that it totally is! So thank you!

  • Nancy

    Kids love being given responsibilities! When my son was born, my daughter was 5 and the best little helper I could’ve asked for! My two big girls (5 and 7) get the mail, feed the cat, make themselves food, clean their rooms, take their baby brother out of his crib when he wakes up. Even my two year old wants to vacuum for me and help me clean. If you can’t rely on your family for help, then WHO can you rely on?!

  • Tia

    I’m an only child and gotta say, I agree 1000 percent. As a parent, it is natural (and good) to be selfless, but when you only have one, it’s basically very hard to not spoil them without seeming grouchy or stingy with love. It’s hard to accept that you can’t change them, it’s hard to see them disappointed and not want to step in. But all that attention gets stifling once you hit age 5, and it really doesn’t help deal with life.
    My favorite stories growing up were things like Sound of Music or Cheaper by the Dozen. Those families had so much joy! I mean, of course there are plenty of dysfunctional big fams out there but the sibling force is strong and I think one of the greatest gifts I can give my kids.

  • Aren

    This is wonderful! It’s so true that sharing a home with siblings cuts down on entitlement and opens your heart to love. And I totally laughed out loud over the ‘writhing like spawning salmon’ bit, my kids do the same thing and it’s such an apt analogy!

  • Sonnet

    I am 10 years older than my sister, the youngest sibling. When she was 6 months old, our mother suddenly lost her vision and became blind. She was in the hospital for a long time and recovering at home for longer, and then once she was healed physically she had to adapt to blindness. Our dad worked long hours 6 days a week to pay for healthcare.

    So as you can imagine, in one instant the entire care of my baby sister fell into my 10-year old hands. I had cared for her before, but now I got up with her in the morning, got her changed, dressed, and fed, organized her meals, took her for walks, put her to sleep. I never remember minding, I loved ‘having a baby.’

    My sister and I grew incredibly close for the next few years, and I learned invaluable skills that made me an excellent babysitter and then a confident mother. I wouldn’t wish health problems on anyone, but I’m also incredibly grateful for the way things turned out and how much I got to learn and enjoy as the oldest caretaker. I wouldn’t change a thing.

  • Hannah

    I am 3rd of 9, and my mom assigned an older one to help out with a younger one (buddy system). Yes my 10 yr old self didn’t want to take a break from the playground to change a diaper, but my little brother changed me so much (I was a “if you don’t play my way I won’t play at all” type) that my siblings commented on it years later “You know, Hannah, you were kind of a brat until Micah”. He really did change me, he taught me what love was. And I’ll never forget when at 1 1/2 he put his little arm around me and hugged me. It was akin to a religious experience. And when I was going through turbulent teen years & depression, it was the little kids bringing little love notes and hugs and even their neediness that helped pull me out of it, every day.
    So in my experience, little siblings = antidepressants
    And plus, they’re the group of friends I can never lose 🙂

  • Becky

    I have frequently found myself looking at people who have just the one and talk about how hard it is and think, “it would be so much easier if you just had a couple more.” Especially if they are close in age. Part of what makes it so hard is that you are the whole entertainment system. Even if you try to get your child to be “independent,” the parents are still the fall back. And, the truth is that I don’t actually enjoy Candyland but the 5 year old sister would LOVE to play it with you. I don’t want to make snakes out of play dough but the under 8 set will happily make all manner of things. My kids are proud of all the stuff they know how to do.

  • Amanda

    I only have one sister and it is a fond if distant dream that my 5 (or more??) will someday have a group text they turn to regularly. I love to hear that it’s good to have a bunch of adult siblings. What most concerns me is what happens with the baby, whoever that ends up being. How do they learn unselfishness? When there are more capable workers and no one to help? Tricky.

    • Jenny Uebbing

      nieces and nephews! Haha, at least that’s how we’re schooling our “baby.” He’s still pretty spoiled though, getting older, chiller mom and dad to himself. But we do what we can 😉

    • Kathryn

      I’m the youngest of four (not necessarily a huge family), but I can say that I still learned about unselfishness. It wasn’t through taking care of younger siblings, but in realizing that the whole world didn’t revolve around me! My parents balanced 4 kids’ activity schedules while remaining realistic that we couldn’t do it all. Each of the kids had to say no to things we wanted to do to allow time/money for someone else to pursue their activity. I learned unselfishness in so many ways -sometimes it meant swallowing my complaints when I had to get out of bed before sunrise to sit in the back of the car for my brothers’ high school carpool (I was too young to stay home alone), other times it meant sacrificing my plans so one of my other siblings could use the shared car, or dropping my favorite sport to get a job to pay for my own car/insurance/college books.

      I absolutely loved being the youngest in our family, and it’s such an immense blessing to have three older, wiser friends to look up to!

  • Jean

    Both my parents came from large families, though I was born to them in their 40’s and my only sibling was an adult out of the house by then, so I was essentially an only child. A very lonely one at that who inserted herself into the larger families in our neighbourhood. I witnessed firsthand and joined in with looking after the little kids in those families. A delight to me, not work but a privilege.

    My mother had to drop out of school in 3rd grade (1921) to help run the household as her mother was extremely asthmatic and no meds in those days to treat it. It’s amazing that what some people consider burdens are no more or less than the taking on of responsibility in a family setting, and what lays the groundwork for children becoming responsible adults as they mature. I meet many such teenagers in my community, also meet many 20 and 30 something adults who have never grown up but remain very childish as they’ve never been entrusted with anything more than satisfying their own immediate desires. There’s an old Yiddish saying “Teach your son a trade otherwise you teach him to become a thief.” Son or daughter, equally, what we teach helps form them into the adults they become.

    • Cami

      I meant to add I was an only child. My parents divorced when I was a baby. It was a very lonely life as an only child. I never felt like that was how it was supposed to be- just me and… my toys. Thankfully I discovered I loved volunteering and helping people at a young age so with that, I gained some perspective that I wasn’t the center of the universe. I also loved my cousins since they were the closest I had to siblings. So I’m super glad that having three kiddos (so far) guarantees they have lots of family around to challenge them, shape them, and love them. And I agree that learning to love and suffer for others begins with family.

  • Molly

    This article is so true, Coming from a family of nine, and marrying someone from a family of 13, I know exactly what you’re talking about. I do, however, think one possible scenario that I experienced needs to be considered. When I was 9 my youngest brother was born – multiply handicapped and with chronic health problems. We were told that it was our job as his sibling and as part of the family to help out with him. And being the generous hearted kids we were, those of us who were still at home threw ourselves into giving everything we could to help out. After 10+ years of this, most of us were burned out and bitter. I’m slowly finding healing from the whole situation, but one thing I have concluded from the experience is that it is possible to ask too much of children in difficult situations. My parents should have found outside help. It would have been healthier for us, and we would still have been able to respond generously. Just a thought. For children to learn to respond to the needs of others, their own needs must be respected.

  • Claire

    Love it! Thank you so much for writing this. I am a mother to just one child (not by my own choice), but I frequently defend large families, and your article will help me to do so more effectively.

  • Megan

    Just happened upon this blog and want to say that I’m finding all these posts about life, NFP, and family really wonderful. Just a little background about my own journey. My parents converted to Catholicism when I was 11, after my father had already had a vasectomy. They took their faith very seriously with the exception of the Church’s teaching on birth control. There were no attempts to reverse the vasectomy and I honestly don’t think the thought would have ever crossed their mind (they were in their early 40s at this point). This being said, they were pretty serious about most other doctrines of the faith. When I was 12 and learned what abortion was, I was the one who actually brought my parents into a deeper understanding of the issue and now my mom volunteers at a pro-life pregnancy center. I did for years, but at the moment, don’t have a lot of time being a full time teacher and mother to two boys. When I got married, I had been on the pill for my cystic acne for several years. I was a virgin, so obviously, not using the pill as a contraceptive, but I hadn’t been well formed in the issue of contraception in general, so I stayed on the pill because A) I still had bad acne and B) we did want kids yet. About 2 years into our marriage I admitted I was on the pill to one of my fellow pro-life, Catholic friends. I could tell she was appalled and I was a bit embarrassed. Yes, I knew the teaching of the Church on this issue, but I honestly thought no one really followed it including serious Catholics. I hadn’t known anyone personally who used NFP and our marriage counseling did a poor job of really explaining why we should use NFP. I don’t even remember the priest discussing it with us at all. I really feel like the Church has failed to instill this in young people–even ones who take their faith fairly seriously. At least that was the case in Los Angeles, where I was living at the time. Anyways, after 2 years, I decided we should take an NFP class. I immediately got of the pill despite acne coming back and began tracking my cycles in earnest. It was amazing how much I learned about my body. I had never even really understood my own reproductive system until then. Well, we still weren’t “ready” to have kids yet because my husband was not working and in school full time, but we decided to give the ole’ NFP a try. Anyways, I’m one of the lucky ones who had a really regular cycle, so it worked for us. We did not get pregnant when we were avoiding. And when we decided to start trying? Well, we got pregnant the first time. I knew exactly when I was ovulating. And the with our 2nd (who was just born 4 weeks ago) we decided we didn’t feel the need to prevent and bam! Got pregnant the first month we didn’t prevent. I’m excited to see what’s in store for our family. I will say…my own mom who would call herself a serious Catholic made the remark, “Wow, pregnant again already?” (my son had just turned one when we got pregnant with #2). That being said her two children are 7 years a part…hehe. I guess I’m still learning to trust this whole process and God’s hand in it. I don’t think we’ll actively try to have a “big” family. I’ve always thought 3 kids would be great. But God may laugh at my plans. And that’s ok.

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