BLESSINGS OF BIG
"Biggie" size your family. I'm serious! Although the latest news topics generally discourage any "biggie" sizing (i.e.: let's fight obesity in America), in one life department - families - upgrading is essential. Not just essential, but vital to our world. Yep, you heard me right. I'm encouraging - even promoting - large families and lots of children.
My son started his recent research paper on world population with the statement, “I am the oldest of nine children.” I’m sure his teacher read it with a smile and caught his gist: we still believe in “multiply and replenish the earth.”
We do have a big family. Our nine children beat the national birth rate by 466 percent. Not that we’re looking for praise. In fact, we often receive the opposite. In today’s society, large families are generally the oddballs swimming upstream in the present social current. However, I’d like to make a case for children and families, and some of the blessings of “going big.”
The first blessing of big families is the scientific proof that children bless humanity as a whole. Yep, whether you have kiddos or not, be grateful for the little tykes that run around at the park. Here’s why. During the ’60s and ’70s, the “zero population” cry changed America, and while that noisy band is now a bit quieter, their trumpets took a detrimental effect on society.
In a nutshell, the trend of accepted and available contraception and cohabitation separated what demographer Johnathan Last, author of “What To Expect When No One’s Expecting,” refers to as the “iron triangle linking sex, marriage and childbearing.” The end result? Redefined families, more single parents, more singletons, and fewer children. Today, America’s overall fertility rate is 1.93, well below the necessary 2.1 replacement rate. And while the percentage of married Americans through 1970 was always above the 90th percentile, today, Americans who will never marry outnumber those who will.
What’s the result of a declining and more singleton population? Mr. Last claims that our current nationwide crisis (the debt ceiling, the fiscal cliff, the sequestration cliff and the entitlement cliff) are only symptoms of America’s real problem: the demographic cliff. In fact, studies indicate that the entire free market system in America is inseparably connected to the strength of American families.
While that short analysis may seem a bit harshly cut and dried, feel free to do your own research. Countries like Japan and Germany are already facing this crisis at a dangerously fast pace. Grim statistics aside, my point is that those people staring at me in the grocery store should actually be thanking me (and every other mother) for bearing a child who will someday support the older generation with their hard work and tax dollars.
The second benefit of having children is the social blessings. Learning to be independent is the first step to success. I want my children to eventually earn their own money, wash their own clothes, fix their own meals. But social skills can actually reach a higher level than independence — interdependence: getting along in a group.
Interdependence isn’t easy. It requires sacrifice, unselfishness and service, and has been integrated into the American tapestry for centuries. Early Americans came to this world to find a better life, not just for themselves, but for their children. They worked hard, took risks and even died for their posterity. We’re basking in the fruits of their labors. But are we returning the same favor to future generations? While most of us aren’t fleeing our homeland or pioneering across plains, raising families is still a practice which naturally develops those early American “future before self” qualities. Ultimately, interdependence drives America.
And here’s where our big family comes in. As a mother I only have two hands, one lap, one me. Once parents have more than two children, they’re outnumbered. Believe me, I’ve felt that sinking despair when you’re corralling two children and see a third run off at the park, or when a third (or fourth or fifth) child has to (heaven forbid) sit next to his brother or sister during reading time, because Mom only has “two sides.” It’s rough!
However, what seems like a tragedy may actually be a blessing. I’ve observed that children with younger siblings are naturally trained in interdependence. If they can’t sit by mom at the moment, they learn to get along with their sibling at their side. If dad can’t hold their hand, an older brother can. Families cultivate interdependence, and children can learn this important skill at an early age, ultimately making them better citizens.
I’ve noted these “big family” blessings in the lives of our older children. Surviving a day in the high school halls can be difficult, even hardening. But when my teenage boys walk through the door, drop their backpacks on the floor and make a beeline to pick up their baby sister and smother her in kisses, I’m grateful for our big family.
When they set aside their calculus books and take a moment to play ball with a younger brother, I see skills and compassion developing which will help them as future daddies and businessmen. When I wake up children early on a Saturday morning to pick tomatoes in the family garden or take their turn at mowing the lawn, I can sense their vision expanding to see how work is necessary in our interdependent world. They’re learning at a young age to think of others, to love others, and to want to serve others — all foundational principles of America.
The financial factor is another family benefit I claim. Families naturally foster frugality. With nine children, we can’t afford ballet lessons, music lessons, karate lessons, soccer leagues, and every other opportunity under the sun for every single child. Aside from the astronomical expenses, my van only drives to one place at a time. Children (and parents) have to choose, thus saving time and money (and learning to sacrifice in the interim). In fact, some studies indicate that simply playing with siblings may even be more beneficial than all those lessons. We’ve spent hours producing family musicals, playing sports and telling funny stories — experiences that may develop talents to rival the best paid lessons. Case in point: My younger brother (number 10 of 11 children) recently starred on national television. Where did he get his singing talent? It was born around the family piano.
Do we waste energy? Not necessarily. In a four-bedroom house (with more than one child per room), we’re using the same amount of energy as four single people in four rooms. We all eat together in the dining room, using the same light as one person eating there. Sure, our food consumption is higher, but perhaps is offset by our huge garden and the fact that we spend less per person out of necessity. We drive to town in one car, not 11, and probably go less often, since finagling 11 people in and out takes time and patience.
In conclusion, some will criticize my philosophies (founded upon personal research and experience). But let’s make one thing clear: am I advocating that everyone have nine children? That everyone drive around in a mini-van or grow a huge garden? No. But I firmly believe having children and families of any size is beneficial to America — scientifically, socially, and even financially. Perhaps children, despite the overpopulation rap, aren’t half-bad. In fact, I conclude where I started: there are many blessings to going big.