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Common problems for big families and how to remedy them

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Cerith Gardiner - published on 05/24/23

Growing up in a large family can be a real blessing, but things can get a little tricky once the siblings become adults.

As a sibling to three brothers and four sisters, I’ve often written about the joys of being from a large family. (I’ve also mentioned how being a middle child, like me, is also a prime position to hold!)

However, once all the kids have flown the nest, there are large family dynamics that can be tricky to deal with, especially when mom and dad are getting older and no longer have the energy to cope with their rowdy brood.

So, to help any adult children from large families manage their own families, and their many siblings and their families, here are a few tips that have helped me over the decades:

You can’t do it all

One of the most frustrating — and wonderful — things about having lots of siblings, is that there’s always something to celebrate. Whether it’s a birthday, an anniversary, a graduation, or a sacrament, the calendar is generally full all year round.

With all these celebrations can come a lot of pressure and financial stress to be able to make every occasion. Well, this is where you have to be reasonable. You can’t always turn up to every event, especially if you live out of state. And it’s important that you’re not made to feel guilty.

Something you can try to do is have an idea at the beginning of the year of the number of occasions you’re able to go to. You can prioritize the most important, and any extras you do go to, are an added bonus.

It’s important that you have a frank discussion with your siblings — no doubt on a lively Whatsapp group chat — about the pressure you feel. Your other siblings are probably feeling it, too.

Keeping in contact

Another huge pressure is to be in contact with your various siblings and know what’s going on in their lives. Again, this can cause quite a lot of stress, as it takes time to keep on top of a large family’s comings and goings.

The important message to share is that if there is an emergency you will do your best to support the sibling in need. As we try to manage our own families, it can feel impossible to stay in touch with everybody. Just because we don’t reach out to each other every week or so, it doesn’t mean we don’t care.

Of course, there are practical solutions, like arranging a family Zoom meeting. However, this can also sometimes feel a little stressful if you’re up to your eyes in things at home. It’s paramount that you support one another in allowing your siblings to disengage when needed.

Financial strain

Between birthdays, weddings, and Christmas, being part of a large family can be financially ruinous! You want your nephews and nieces to love you and know you care, but this doesn’t mean you have to spend money.

As a child, one of the great things about growing up in a large family is knowing that there’s always someone to play with. So try and carve out a day per year where you devote yourselves to each other. Have a siblings reunion and bring all the kids. The cousins will be in their element, and you’ll not only provide them with precious memories, you’ll give them your time, and that is worth so much more than a quickly chosen gift.

(A little note: Don’t forget that many large families at Christmas select just one person to buy for — this can be in the form of a special gift, or even a joke present. This means you can take your time to choose that special gift, or find the perfect gag.)

Caring for mom and dad

This is possibly one of the hardest and most fraught issues to contend with. As your parents age, discussions start about what should happen in certain scenarios. This can be particularly difficult when you’re surrounded by stubborn and opinionated siblings!

The best thing to do in these sorts of circumstances is to have your parents inform everybody about what they would like to happen in case of illness, death, and financial issues. (A power of attorney might help here.) This will allow ‘warring’ siblings to consider the wishes of their parents first and foremost, and to make joint decisions based on these requests.

The website Powerofattorney.com offers free sample HCPOA templates for every US state.

Naturally, it’s not an easy situation for any family of any size, but the clearer the instructions from the parents are, the less room there will be for conflict.

These are just some of the possible issues that large families may come across. If you’re from a big family yourself and have tips on keeping things calm among a large brood, we’d love to hear about it in the comments section below.

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