How big is too big?

My mom sent me a link the other day to a "story" about big families. It's always interesting to see what gets written about big families...sometimes its just interesting to see what someone's definition of a big family is...many times it's more than three kids. Well, this one was sparked by the announcement from the Duggar family that they're expecting their 18th child in January 2009. Now, I must say THAT is a big family...kind of makes 7 look like we've hardly begun, although even though I love the idea of a big family, that many for me is overwhelming to think about...I would be like 50 something and still having kids! I don't think it's ever a good idea to say never, but for us, 18 kids is not very likely. At any rate, I read the opinions offered by hollywood celebrities on the matter, and although they started out with opinions like, "I think it is not our business, that it is up to each family...", they ended with comments like, "God says in the bible that He will be displeased with our selfish choices and there is nothing more selfish than having a large family..." I went on to read the comments of readers, and some of them were positive, some neutral, and the rest (there were 248 pages of comments and in about 3 hours I got through probably 20 of them or so) just made my blood boil. My actual thoughts were that I couldn't believe people could be so judgemental, harsh, naive, and ultimately stupid. I typically have my own opinion about things, and most of the time really understand that others have different opinions, and respect that...I got to the point where I couldn't even tolerate these comments and I finally had to shut my computer down. To summarize the worst comments: large families are selfish, greedy, needy, wasteful and flushing all of our earth's resources away.

I understand the state of our environment. I understand that everyone pays taxes and that a good chunk of these taxes go to the public school systems. I understand that someone who doesn't have children or only has one or two can not imagine having more, especially 9 or 10 times more! I understand that unless you live someone else's life, you'll never truly understand their life, their lifestyle, their choices...none of it really.

You don't often hear people who have big families criticize those who have small families, or no children...by all means, the bible says that children are a gift from God...children are not a burden...the purpose of the union between a man and a woman is the creation of offspring. Could it not be seen as INCREDIBLY selfish NOT to have children, or to make the choice to prevent the conception of any more children....that it is greedy to choose to terminate a viable pregnancy? Those kinds of things are usually said in defense, not as outright criticism. Many times ignorance plays such a huge part in hurtful, negative comments. I don't think this way when I see families without children or with only one or two of them, but it does cross my mind to retaliate to the comment, "Don't you know what causes that?" with "Yes, and apparently you haven't figured it out yet!" Different choices are right for different people, this choice is right for us.

As I'm writing this, I'm kind of wondering to myself, "where am I going with this?" "What relevance does this have on documenting memories of our family?" Well, I think that I was SO very disturbed by the comments from this article, that I found myself justifying the size of our family...questioning the well-being of our children, our abilities as parents, the choices we make. I found myself sitting at the receiving end of this horrible criticism, getting VERY defensive! I began to wonder if we were wasteful, greedy, burdensome to our extended families, friends, and society in general. All in all, it was a good examination, because I then found myself confidently assuring myself that because we very prayerfully consider all that we do, especially the addition of new members to our family, we are very blessed and that I really feel sorry for those who don't see it that way. We are good parents. We definitely have struggles. Our household is kind of crazy sometimes. We spend time--good quality time with our children...each of them, together and independently. We offer them the best that we can, and I really don't think that our best would be any better if we only had 3 or 4 instead of 7, and I definitely don't think that our lives would be as rich as they are right now if we only had one, although if we did, we would still be blessed. I don't think that we offer our children less than parents who have two children...we just offer them something different. We literally CAN'T let them all participate in three sports a season in addition to scouts, 4-H, reading club, piano, gymnastics, dance and theatre. We don't have the time or the money. I know some families that have more of both those things and their 2 kids don't have a lot of time to come up for air in between being picked up and dropped off and grabbing a quick bite to eat at a drive through, being put to bed by the nanny and taken to school by the neighborhood carpool mom.
Our kids don't have the latest, greatest toys, and they haven't all gone on Caribbean cruises, or visited other countries, or gone to day-camp all summer long with the other kids of two working parents. They get to play with their siblings--fight with their siblings--be engaged in imaginary play outside without the XBOX, vacation to Scottsbluff for two weeks and learn how to drive a tractor, hike a monument, rekindle once a year friendships, eat dinner together as a family at the dining room table in our house, spend time in the car with their own parents before and after school, generally playing a game, praying, recapping their day. They're offered the opportunity to learn to care for others when they help with the needs of younger siblings. They're learning that they don't always get what they want, that it's not all about them all the time, that adapting is part of life, that it's OK to grow up and know what they want to do before their 35th birthday, that family is NOT a burden, and most importantly that God is the most important member of our family...that God is the third person in their parent's marriage, that God is to thank for what we have, to ask for help when we need it, and even when we want it. That without God, much is difficult, but with Him, anything is possible.

I can't guarantee that each of our children are going to grow up unblemished, never stray from the right path, or even not make mistakes here and there. I can't guarantee that one of them won't completely fall off the deep end, but neither can a parent who only has one child!

I can guarantee that we are environmentally responsible. That the almost 9 of us are not single-handedly sucking the last resources from our earth. I really think that the majority of large families are environmentally conservative, one because they need to be, and two because they desire to teach their children to be responsible, not wasteful. I think that we are likely just as eco-friendly as many families who have far fewer children. We recycle, reuse, compost, use non-toxic, environmentally safe cleaning products, carry "green" shopping bags, conserve electricity in the summer by keeping our AC set at 80 degrees...which by the way isn't incredibly comfortable..., use high efficiency appliances, shop locally, support local small farmers, try to consume organic or natural, grow lots of our own food, do our part to encourage others to do the same. We aren't abusing the tax system or being greedy or needy...we send our kids to a private school that doesn't get assistance from our tax dollars. We may have more children than one can imagine being able to provide adequate emotional attention for, but they are each loved with every fiber of our body.
Our children have many of the same issues that other children of the same ages have...even those who come from families of 1-2 kids. I don't regret being a mom...I'm right where I want to be. It is by far the hardest, most thankless job I've ever had, but it is also the most rewarding, satisfying, and gratifying job I've ever had. In ten very fast years of parenthood, I've learned things that can only be learned "on-the-job". I've certainly had times when I felt that I wanted to sell my children, but I wouldn't ever trade them for anything...not a deck, not wood floors, not new furniture.

Bottom line...our big family is NOT too big. Our big family is just the right size for us right now...it's what God trusts us with. We may screw up sometimes, make poor decisions, solve a problem the wrong way. We may do things differently than someone else does it. We're doing the best we can, and we feel like that is pretty darn good. It's too bad that all of those people who think children are such a burden will never have the fullness, the completness, the gratification that a child offers...we will, and not just once, but seven times!

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