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The joys and challenges of big family culture 

family, mom, dad, kids

Roman Samborskyi | Shutterstock

Theresa Civantos Barber - published on 11/12/22

There are some challenges, but also so much good about growing up in or raising a large family!

It used to be commonplace to have lots of kids, but growing up in a big family is becoming increasingly rare. And it’s even more unusual to grow up with lots of friends from big families.

I’m one of those people who grew up in a big family and had lots of friends who did as well. I grew up in a place that had a “big family culture.” Almost everyone in my class at school had three or more siblings, and even when I was in high school, many of my friends had baby and toddler siblings (and all the ages in between!) at home.  

Growing up in a “big family culture” comes with its own joys and challenges. Here are a few ways that it’s different from what others may experience.

1Babies are celebrated like nothing else

I vividly remember the uproarious excitement whenever a new baby was born, even if it was baby number 7, 8, 9, 10, or 12 in the family! Children have an incredible sense for what is most important in life, so it’s no wonder the older siblings rejoiced each time a new baby came home.

And it was a mark of honor to be “good with babies.” We often vied for a chance to hold friends’ new baby siblings, and if you got the baby to fall asleep on you, that was cause for bragging rights!

2Miscarriages are more common

This isn’t something that might be obvious, but I noticed that miscarriages can be more common in big family culture. 

Ten to 15% of pregnancies end in miscarriage, and the rate goes up as moms grow older. So when a woman has many pregnancies, including numerous pregnancies later in life, it’s statistically likely that some will end in miscarriage. 

I actually noticed this phenomenon when I was in high school: A large group of friends and I were talking, and we realized that all of our moms had suffered at least one miscarriage. 

That seemed kind of odd to me at the time, and looking back, I think it’s a little-known reality of big family culture. I also wonder if it’s part of the reason that babies are so celebrated in big family culture: We know how lucky we are to have that baby here with us.

3Money may be a little tighter

I received some really helpful advice before I got married. A friend told me, “Listen, I know you want to be a stay-at-home mom and have a lot of kids. You need to know that, if you’re living on one income and having a big family, you won’t be living the same lifestyle as others in your income bracket who have two careers and fewer or no kids. Go into it with the mindset that you’re going to live as if you’re at a lower income level than you actually are.”

Honestly, I think about that advice all the time, because it’s absolutely true, and it helped me to be prepared. If you’re having a big family, you probably won’t be living the same lifestyle as others in your income bracket, and you need to accept that and make peace with it. 

Personally, I felt OK accepting that trade-off. I felt that having more kids was worth it. But everyone’s situation is different, so it’s good to know that going into it.

4You have the support of your siblings as built-in best friends

Recently one of my siblings said to me, “The older I get, the more I just want to hang out with my siblings all the time.” I couldn’t agree more. 

I feel so lucky to have the most amazing siblings; they’re my favorite people in the world, and I enjoy their company more than anyone else’s I know. Every time the seven of us get together, it’s a party! 

I feel forever deeply grateful that my parents gave me so many siblings. It’s the greatest gift they could have ever given me, far more valuable than any physical gift or experience. 

As an adult, I see so clearly the value of having a big family. My kids will have the support and love of their siblings to carry them through the rest of their lives, even long after I am gone. 

So despite its challenges, there is so much that is good about growing up in or raising a big family. I really loved growing up with so many siblings, and I’m grateful my kids will get to grow up this way too.

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Catholic LifestyleFamilyParenting
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