ONE: "You don't look old enough to have that many kids." This direction is ABSOLUTELY a BIG thumbs-up. I highly recommend it to anyone searching for something to say to the lady who just admitted that she has 5 or more children.
TWO: "My hands are full with the two I got! I don't know how you manage that!"
THREE: "Are you <insert Catholic / Mormon / Crazy>????" And be assured the answer has a 90% chance of being YES to any or all three. ;)
FOUR: The most recent discussion at work came from a well-meaning and most definitely not insulting question about just how people can afford to raise a large family.
I'll go ahead and tell you that if you think you're about to read an earth-shattering post about how we're raising our family, paying for activities and going to retire at 55 with plenty of money to live on, then you might want to move right along to the next pie-in-the-sky-dreamland blog you can find. We are, by no stretch of our imaginations, wealthy. We're only marginally self-disciplined with money. We make ends meet and we work our butts off in the process. We sweat out the bills from time to time, and there are those days we have to say "no."
But -- somehow, we have enough money to keep our family in clothes and shoes that fit, feed everyone enough to stay healthy, keep a roof over our heads, beds to sleep in, keep the lights on and ensure we are toasty in the winter and cool in the summer. Sure, we do some things to keep our costs from getting out of control. We keep the thermostat at 65 degrees in the winter and make sure everyone has some layers on. We keep the thermostat at 76 in the summer and try to stay cool by going swimming, or just getting out of the house for activities. I do hand-me-downs where I can (although my girls and their unique body types have made this difficult to do), consignment and thrift shops, and watch the sales. At the end of the day, though, I'm sure there are many moms out there that could put me to shame with how much further they could stretch a buck.
The conversation at work started innocently enough. I mentioned that I needed to buy Sarah size 9 Women's shoes when only 3 months ago, I bought her size 8.5 women's shoes. (Yes, I checked and her toes were at the end of her shoes, and when we bought them 3 months ago, she had 3/4 of my thumb width of room to grow. The girl just keeps growing and growing and growing.) So, the question was asked, "Just how do people afford to care for a large family of children?" This woman followed up her question with a back story that she was 1 of 6 children growing up and she had no idea how her parents did it either. She also shared that most days, now as an adult, she can barely seem to keep herself in clothes, maintain her health with doctor/dentist visits and such.
Now, I'm the first to admit, there ARE financial reasons serious enough for some folks to limit their family size. I'm not the person that's going to tell anyone who says they are avoiding pregnancy due to financial strain that if they would just manage their money right and make the right sacrifices, they could afford to have another kid. That is irresponsible. My husband and I have been at that point a couple of different times in our marriage -- it would NOT be a good time to be open to a baby because our finances were in shambles. We were sad that we couldn't be open, but we worked hard to get to a point where we could. And if we would not have been able to get to that point, we might not have the children we have -- but somehow, it worked out.
Sometimes, the finances aren't spectacular, but it's not a dire situation, and God blesses a couple with a baby. And that has happened to us. And this is what I said to the woman at work and what I've said to others who have asked me.
We're not rich, but we're making it. We do what most people do and just put one foot in front of the other every day. We go to work, we come home and care for our family. We're blessed to have our jobs and we're blessed to have our Catholic parish and school that is supportive of large families. Yes, the big expenses come about -- Orthodontia, Glasses/Contacts, Club Volleyball, Club Swimming, Ballet Tuition, etc -- but we still just take it one thing at a time.
Our orthodontist has a program that allows us to pay for subsequent children and their orthodontia at the rate of the first child. So, even though their prices may increase, we are locked in for the rate we paid with our first child through their services. Vision insurance is a steal when it comes to a family the size of mine. The co-pay for annual check-ups is only $10 and then the co-pay for frames is $35 and they pay for lenses (up to $150) every 12 months. Now that we have my husband, me, and two children in eye-wear, we're reaping dividends from having vision insurance. The medical bills for actually having a baby is still pretty steep since we have a QHDP insurance program and pay 100% out of pocket for non-preventive services up to our deductible. But once the deductible is hit, the insurance picks up everything 100%. I'd like to see the Catholic high school come up with a better discount program for 2nd child at the school and plan to negotiate that should we seriously consider sending our children there, but there's always the option for public high school and we live in an excellent school district.
And honestly...college is just gonna hafta be on the kids. First of all, who knows if college is the right direction for all of our children. My husband wasn't cut out for college and he has a great job making a good living without having gone through the expense of college. I put myself through college (albeit ending up with some debt along the way) and it didn't kill me. Perhaps there will be scholarships available or military academy appointments...you never know!
All of this to say that it's not impossible to raise a large family. Sure, it's expensive, but it's expensive to live anyway. No, my kids don't get EVERYTHING. They have to pick and choose the one or two things they really want to do. Just like anything else in life, raising a family and how we all pay for it is rooted in our priorities. And my kids will live if they don't get the high school prep education that costs a small fortune. Or maybe I can negotiate that steeper discount and make that work.
And the most important thing I hope my kids learn growing up in our family is that family is the priority. Family will be there for you whether you have money or you don't; whether you get to play special sports or you don't; whether you go to college or you don't. We were poor when I was growing up, but I don't remember being unhappy about it. I have more happy memories of sitting around playing cards with my siblings than I do griping about what I didn't have or get to do.
And that is my prayer for my family.