I’d like to persuade you to give serious thought to doing something countercultural, something that requires sacrifice, effort, and expense. Something that will yield unimaginable rewards, but only many years from now:
Have a big family.
I will define “big” as more than two children. Two children seem to be a comfortable stopping point for many couples. Going on for a third (or more) is a weighty decision, as couples consider the costs of being “outnumbered,” or as my husband, Mike, said years ago, “going from man-to-man defense to zone defense.” The expense of raising more children, the energy required to care for them, the added responsibility, reduced personal time, less couple time, career compromises—these are compelling reasons to think long and hard before making this decision.
When all is said and done, having children is as much an emotional decision as a rational one. We simply loved raising kids, and so, despite the costs, we had four children in less than eight years. Looking back, I wouldn’t change a thing. Here’s why.
The wonder of watching a child develop does not diminish with multiple children. It is astonishing to see how the same gene pool and environment produce such a variety of little humans. The thrill of each childhood milestone is multiplied when the child’s older siblings are sharing them with you.
More children mean more relationship dynamics within your own family. Our four kids came up with many sibling combinations in order to play games, do projects, or make mischief. Taking the kids on an outing was always fresh and unpredictable, depending on which parent took which kids. Like a deck of cards being steadily reshuffled, most of the time the cards turned up good. And when they didn’t? Well, we had a story and a laugh afterwards. Having a big family was work, but it was also a lot of FUN.
More children and more expense generally means that children will make do with less. Clothes and toys were passed down in our family, and two of our kids shared a bedroom until the oldest left for college. Learning that resources, privileges, and parental attention must be shared is one of the best things you can teach your kids. Big families provide unlimited opportunities to drive these lessons home. Our kids also learned how to be savvy negotiators with each other—for computer time, choice of TV show, what music to listen to in the car, who rode “shotgun.” Yes, they fought. But eventually they figured it out.
We did plenty of schlepping and chauffeuring during those busy years, but there were firm limits on how many extracurricular activities each child could take on. Traveling sports were out, as was any sport that required 5 a.m. ice time or gym time. Those limits prevented our kids from the stress of being too busy. They also enabled us to eat dinner together most evenings. I’ll admit that dinner with a bunch of young children was not exactly relaxing. “What are we going to indigest tonight?” was Mike’s way of asking what was for dinner. In time, the kids learned how to behave at the table, find an opening in the boisterous conversation, and feel their essential place in the family.
Now, as adults, they—and their spouses—are a cohesive team. They turn to each other when they need advice, a sounding board, or simply to grab lunch. The three married children staged their own baby boom last summer, delivering three new grandchildren over a dizzying six-week period (two of the babies were born just a day apart). They delight in each others’ children, in their role as aunt or uncle. Getting everyone together under one roof is quite a feat, but we have pulled it off a few times, most recently this past Thanksgiving. While our exhausted daughter napped on Thanksgiving afternoon, I paced the floor, trying to soothe her fussy baby. One of her brothers said, “Give the baby to me.” Nothing could have been sweeter than watching our son in the role of devoted uncle, using every one of his own parenting tricks to get that baby girl to finally fall asleep.
For some couples, raising a large family is impossible due to infertility, health issues, or other circumstances. I know that these reflections do not fit every family situation, nor are they meant to. But if you are capable of having a big family and are simply wondering if it’s worth what it takes, I have this to say: We are put in this world to live life fully and deeply, to do hard things, to dig in, and use up what we have. Furthermore, if you care about making the world a better place, raising good, decent human beings is a stunning contribution.
Does it always work out well? No. There are no guarantees when raising kids, just like there are no guarantees about anything in life. You put in everything you have, and then you pray…for blessing, for mazel, and for the ability to be the best possible parent to the children—one, two, or 10—that God has blessed you with.