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May 28, 2014

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
 

24 comments:

  1. Love this! I can't agree more with you on the Catholic Schools part. Right now my oldest just finished Kindergarten at our local catholic school, and my second is starting preschool there in the fall. I am currently pregnant with my fourth, and looking ahead, I dont know how we are going to be able to afford it when they are all elementary aged! Our school does not offer a cap on tuition, so no matter how many kids we have, its full price for all. Its sad to think that we may have to choose a different path of education in the future, especially when our parish priest is so heavily favored towards the catholic school, and is constantly talking about how we all should be going there, no matter what. Its a tough place to be in, we chose to follow God's will in discerning our family size, but we seem to be punished for it at the same time when it comes time to make decisions about education etc.
    Ok Im rambling, but I just wanted to thank you for this post. As someone who still has all "youngs" with who knows how many more in the future, Im already feeling a lot of what you said above!

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  2. Thank you so much for posting!!! Sooooo true!

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  3. So glad you posted this! I definitely think we can have a tendency to say "all is perfect" in order to make the Church's teachings appealing to others, but sometimes it's just not the case. And the more we share and support one another in the imperfect times, the stronger the Body of Christ is.

    Well done, my friend!

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  4. The Catholic school thing infuriates me.
    We homeschool, but if we could afford Catholic school, I'd send them. There's no chance. To add to the irony, my husband works for the Church, and has his entire adult life.
    That said, God's plan is always better than our own, so I choose to be grateful. His Grace is sufficient, in all of these things!

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  5. Great post! fresh and true perspective!

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  6. Reading the stresses of a large family just makes me so excited to have one...am I crazy? Maybe! :)

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  7. Wow this is such a great post! Thank you for it! I enjoy hearing from mothers who are more seasoned than I am. My husband and I have been having the discussion of family size/when should we have the next baby often lately. Thank you for being honest about raising a larger family. And thank you so much for commenting on my post about my toddler issues. Thanks for the advice and encouragement! I really really appreciate it! God Bless!

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  8. Loved reading this post! Paying for Catholic school is definitely a challenge, and we talk a lot about it. I hope we'll be able to do it for our children, but we only have two, not five. It's so hard. One of the Catholic schools in this area (but not close enough for us) has free education for any child after the second.

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  9. We really are on the same wavelength today! I'm glad you're taking the risk of laying out the frustrations. You're right, we always do think we have to be happy-happy about it. For what it's worth, you have more kids, farther spread apart, and you've worked outside the home--all of which make your sacrifices tremendously heroic. I very much admire you.

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  10. We really are on the same wavelength today! I'm glad you're taking the risk of laying out the frustrations. You're right, we always do think we have to be happy-happy about it. For what it's worth, you have more kids, farther spread apart, and you've worked outside the home--all of which make your sacrifices tremendously heroic. I very much admire you.

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  11. Another thing to consider when having a larger family- it may never get less expensive. My husband is the oldest of six children, all of whom are spread between California, Arizona, Colorado, and Kentucky. Both my in-laws ( divorced) are still young enough to be working and have neither the time, nor the money to visit their kids and grandkids. Unless your kids stay put, someone will be spending tons of money on travel expenses. And even then, it might just be a once a year gathering of the family.

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  12. As Grammy to these five wonderful young people and fourteen (with one on the way ) others, let me start by saying how very proud I am of all five of my young ones and their delightful, amazing children. There is so much joy in seeing the fruit of many years become so beautiful in life. The support and love to be found in large families is beyond awesome to use a pet word from today's vocabulary. I often wonder when I hear in the news about isolated loners who take the lives of innocent children, college kids and adults if they might have fared better in a large family where love and caring abound. The warmth and affection that I felt each time I beheld my children was reward in itself for the privilege of having them in my life. Everyone that I know who came from a large family is unselfish, kind and compassionate. Let us give thanks for all parents who dedicate their lives to rearing children!

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  13. I love this post. :)Being a parent is hard work! I remember when I first started to question that pressure to appear perfectly happy all the time http://www.patheos.com/blogs/permissiontolive/2011/03/not-perfect-but-i-hope-beautiful-anyway.html It was a really big growing point for me.

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  14. We are due any day to receive our 6th little miracle into this family, so I could COMPLETELY relate to your post! Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom and honesty with us! When people say to me, "You have your hands full" I always, always say with a smile, "Full of love! Aren't I blessed??!!" Found your blog via Catholic Women Blogging Network, and l look forward to keeping up with you and your gang! :)

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  15. Absolutely! Our big struggle right now is the car situation... our minivan is full up and so whenever we have family visit, we have to take two cars everywhere since we don't have any spare seats in the van. Our other car is still a little commuter car since I drive 90 miles per day, but honestly another minivan would be nice too (which would involve at least three more carseats, though, ugh... more $$$). I would love to upgrade to a Chevy Suburban or (dream car) Honda Pilot, something, but again... $$$!

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  16. Oh, and DAYCARE. This summer all of my take-home pay is going to daycare. During the school year with the oldest two in public school we have money left over after daycare to make it worth it, but summer sucks with five in full-time care. I'm essentially working for health insurance and that's it. Sigh.

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  17. This was such a great post, Michelle. Thank you for sharing this!

    Funny related story to how you began your post: I was at McD's with the kids. We had dashed in during a down pour and I was trying to open the door to the play area while holding an umbrella, toddler, baby, diaper bag, and directing my 3 other kids. There was a group of old men who looked at us and said, "You have your hands full!" but NONE of them got up and helped me with the door! Whaaaat?!

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  18. Amazing post! I'm the oldest of 5 kids and all of these sound like my family growing up. My parents have been driving a van and volunteering at my high school for 14 years. It was a big day when we no longer had to go down the diaper aisle at the grocery store.
    But, as the oldest who got 100% parental attention for many things, sometimes I envy how my younger siblings had a little breathing room. ;-)

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  20. Excellent point about Catholic schools. The price of a Catholic education is a serious scandal that isn't being addressed.

    It's frustrating for many couples when the Church tell us to be "open to new life", then price a Catholic education out of reach for the very families who respond to this call? I understand that education costs money, but surely there must be a better way of financing it than high tuition rates.

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  21. You should really push for school vouchers. I live in Indiana, and it's WONDERFUL! I am with you on the cost of Catholic schools. It's a ministry first and foremost, but instead of being handled like a ministry to families, it often becomes a privilege for the elite (who often only have two kids). We should not be punished for being open to life, which is what God and the Church calls us to be!

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  22. Arizona is awesome too. People can redirect their state taxes to tuition organization and those organizations award the monies to families to pay for private education including Catholic Schools. Last year we had 2 in High school and 3 in Elementary and we paid practically nothing.

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Thank you for reading. I enjoy reading other perspectives, please feel free to share yours. :)