So many parents of big families have figured out what matters in parenting and what doesn’t. They don't sweat the small stuff or take children's antics personally.
Just one verse each day.
I’ve written before that I grew up around a lot of big families, in what I call a “big family culture.” I’m one of seven siblings, and growing up, most of my friends were from big families too.
Now I’m lucky enough to be raising my kids in the same kind of environment. Being around my friends with big families has given me so much appreciation for this culture.
At the same time, I’m very aware that what is so familiar to me is not familiar to most people.
In praising the big family culture, of course I am in no way criticizing small families, or those couples unable to have children, or who have one child. This is simply a reflection of my own experience, and elements about it that I enjoy.
My dad likes to tell a story about an acquaintance who was preparing to host her extended family for Thanksgiving — a total of nine people. She went on and on about what a stressful ordeal it would be.
“Just imagine! Dinner for nine people! Can you imagine what it’s like to cook dinner for nine people?!” she said.
Finally, my dad laughed and said, “Yes, I can imagine what it’s like to make dinner for nine people — because my wife or I do it almost every night!”
Sometimes I wonder if sharing what it’s like to live in a community with lots of big families must sound like dispatches from another world, as big families become increasingly rare.
But there is so much to love about big family culture, and it’s a joy to share these things with the world.
If you’re from a big family, or you have a big family, or you’re just curious about big families, here are three things I really love about being around big families.
1Parents of big families have learned not to sweat the small stuff
When my oldest was born, I was so anxious and concerned about every little thing he did. I wish I could go back in time and tell that stressed-out first-time mom not to worry about when my baby would roll over, start solids, start crawling … and on and on.
But the truth is that telling myself that wouldn’t have helped. Even if someone told me not to sweat the small stuff a million times, I wouldn’t believe them. I had to learn the lesson myself through lived experience.
Now that I have four kids, I have a much healthier sense of perspective. My friends who are parents of big families similarly have put in the hours to know what matters in parenting and what doesn’t. I find it incredibly refreshing to be around them!
2They don’t take children’s behavior personally
It’s totally normal for small children to be loud, or disruptive, or otherwise not model citizens. Of course, parents need to teach them how to behave, but it’s a gradual process with plenty of ups and downs, as their natural state is hooliganism (at least for my rambunctious crew!).
But a lot of people seem to forget or not know what’s developmentally appropriate, especially if they are not used to being around children other than their own young toddler.
Many times I’ve run into parents of very small children at the playground who are aghast to see my kids doing totally age-appropriate things like running, yelling, chasing each other, and, yes, occasionally fighting.
I know those new parents will eventually realize these behaviors are normal as their kids get older, but for now, they stare at my kids in shock and hurry their little ones away. Sometimes they even tell my kids not to run or yell, seeming to think that my kids’ energetic behavior is aimed at their kids personally.
By contrast, my friends with big families mostly have learned not to take children’s behavior personally — either their kids or mine. They are used to little kid antics, and they don’t take it as a personal affront if our kids squabble over a toy. Even better, they don’t think the world is ending if their child yells or cries in public!
They’re just used to little kids and their nonsense, and it is so incredibly refreshing.
Now just to be clear, there are plenty of parents of small families who have a healthy sense of perspective and don’t take things personally. Of course, parents of big families don’t have a monopoly here. And plenty of parents of many can be uptight too. I’ve just found it seems like parents with a lot of child-raising experience often reach this point of zen about kiddo antics.
3Their kids are used to playing with kids of all ages
Recently had a friend over who has five children. When my preschooler started following her 10-year-old around like a little shadow, I made a move to stop her, but my friend smiled and said, “Oh, don’t worry, she’s used to little kids following her.” Sure enough, that little girl made my preschooler into her loyal fan, who now claims that that 10-year-old girl is her best friend!
It’s a beautiful thing to see kids of all ages able to interact and play together. It broadens a child’s horizons enormously to be able to get along with people of all ages and abilities. I believe it’s a skill that will carry them far in life, and it comes naturally when a child has lots of siblings.
These are some of the things I love about big family culture. If you have a big family, or are from a big family, what would you add to this list?