By Sharon M.
“Oh my! You certainly have your hands full!” a nice, elderly lady exclaims as I walk through the grocery store with my kids in tow. My 4-year old daughter and 3-year old son are walking alongside the grocery cart touching everything on the shelf that catches their eye. My 2 -year old whines from the baby seat of the cart, frustrated that he is not allowed to run around free like his siblings. My newest addition is only 2 weeks old and is sleeping peacefully against my chest in the Snugli.
Everywhere I go with my 4 children, people tend to make comments about our “large” family. At the very least, people always give us a second glance even when they do manage to hold back their comments of shock and amazement. Apparently it is an uncommon sight in this modern world of dual-income families with 1.86 children.
Honestly, I have become accustomed to the stares and comments that inevitably follow my family wherever we go. At times though I am puzzled by the very personal questions that accompany people's reactions. The most common embarrassing question all around goes something like this, “You do know how babies are made right?” The question is asked with a nervous laugh as though they are unsure if my response might actually lead to a discussion of how conception occurs. Another common question is, “Are you planning to have more?!!” This understandably makes me hesitate because a discussion of having more kids should be between a husband and wife...not a group of strangers!
You might think that the majority of comments and questions would be directed towards me as the mother since my husband avoids going out with the children at all costs. And yet my husband is harassed quite a bit at work when he is asked about his family. My poor spouse has gotten the most intrusive question of, “When are you going to get snipped?!!” on multiple occasions from people he barely knows.
I understand that most of these inquisitive bystanders are completely unaware of the problems with their comments and questions. They are truly just surprised to see a large family and they cannot help their knee-jerk reaction of saying exactly what is on their mind! I have fallen victim to this speak-before-you-think reaction many times myself. Even just recently I was surprised to find out that the principal of my daughter's school has 9 children. I remember exclaiming, “Wow!” and later wishing I had given a less dumbfounded response.
Once strangers get over their initial surprise to our big family, they do tend to ask more in depth questions. They want to know why we have chosen to reproduce beyond the standard 2 children. I have a few different responses to this depending on my mood and the setting in which the question is asked. If I feel comfortable enough to share my personal story with the person, I might tell them about how my first pregnancy was a miscarriage and that event led me to feel blessed for every pregnancy thereafter. Or I might tell them about how baby number 3 was a complete surprise since I was breastfeeding my second baby and never even had a period before I was pregnant again. If I am feeling uncomfortable, I might just give a quick, comical reply suggesting that I don't really know where these kids keep coming from!
In addition to the innocent, sometimes thoughtless remarks from bystanders, I have also been subjected to some very strong and purposeful criticism. Much of this criticism has come from my own family. My father has “recommended” that I get my tubes tied the next time I have a baby. My father's cousin also challenged my decision to have a fourth child by saying, “Don't you feel like that is unfair to the children? Don't you already have a hard time giving each of them the individual attention they need?” Even my gynecologist (who has 4 children of his own!) gave me a lecture about limiting my family size. He finished off my annual pap smear with, “Well, just keep breastfeeding so you hopefully will keep from getting pregnant again anytime soon.”
Most of my older family members truly believe that I will go insane any day now. They shake their heads at me and say over and over, “I don't know how you do it! It's too much for one person.” I will be the first to admit that it is not an easy task raising 4 kids under the age of 5. There are challenges to maintaining my sanity every single day! When the pizza has fallen on the floor, the kids are crying because “he hit me!” and there is a mysterious brown substance on the floor that everyone has stepped in...I feel like I should throw in the towel. Dinner is usually the worst time of the day. The kids are tired, cranky and unwilling to eat anything that resembles a healthy meal.
Despite the craziness of having a multitude of kids under one roof, I have no regrets. My husband and I are not perfect parents by any means but we believe we are providing a good life for our children. We are healthy, well-educated and blessed with economic stability. I left a well-paying job to be a stay-at-home mom. I have worked very hard to devote myself to my family and make certain they do not feel neglected. On the other hand, I dread the idea of having a rowdy, undisciplined group of kids so I do not hesitate to discipline when necessary. Overall though, my kids are well-behaved compared to some 2-children families!
I spend 24/7 with my children so I can't honestly say that I feel they are not getting enough attention. They actually prefer to play with each other rather than spend time with mom! I try to give them every opportunity I can by taking them to school, church, ballet, gymnastics, swimming, tennis and field trips galore. My husband feels like I spoil them too much by taking them everywhere. Personally I see it as a way to give them a well-rounded upbringing.
Other mothers I have talked with usually wish they had had more children. I commonly hear them say, “If I were a little bit younger I might have had one more.” I have a hard time imagining a mother saying that she regrets having too many children. As any mom knows, once each child is a part of our lives, we can never imagine life without that sweet, precious soul. Life just would not be the same without our children!
There was a time when having 4 small children wouldn't have drawn a crowd in the grocery store. It certainly is not the normal size family today but I feel strongly that it shouldn't be viewed in a negative way. Baby Bunching is not something I would recommend for everyone but it has worked fairly well for me. I only wish our modern-day population would have a little more acceptance of larger families. Speaking for myself and my husband, we would be very grateful if inquisitive people would refrain from asking questions pertaining to our private body parts or our sex life. Allow me to recommend some more appropriate responses such as, “What a wonderful group of kids!” or “What a lovely family!” This would make for a much more comfortable interaction for everyone!
Sharon is a mother of four in Georgia and the author of What To Do When You Have Heart Disease, www.TheHeartDiseaseGuide.com