I have four children – the oldest are five – and I will begin this post by saying that I do not consider this number to be excessively large. However, wherever I go, I am frequently asked, “Are they all yours?” I usually simply reply, with exuberance, “They are!” However, I am sometimes tempted to say that I just borrow extra children for special outings, or the toy store was having a buy one get one sale. I am not sure that people would find me funny, so I generally avoid such tongue-in-cheek comments.
As long as I can remember, I imagined my life with many children. I imagined my life making a difference in my community. I imagined my life as a wife and mother. I imagined my life teaching my children the many things that I learned from my mother and grandmother. My husband had no such “big family” dreams in his youth. He never had a longing for constant chaos and little children piled around the dinner table or in our bed. That being said, I can safely say that he has been won over in relatively short order.
There are many wonderful aspects about having many children running underfoot. There is an endless supply of hugs and kisses, there is always someone in looking to chat or share a snack, there is a constant stream of one-liners that I love to post on my Facebook page (sometimes just so I remember how funny and cute my kids are even when they aren’t being their funny or cute selves). In short, there is never a quiet moment between 7am and 7pm, but I think that would probably be the case if I had two children or six.
I am often asked by other moms if I always feel overwhelmed. I have to admit that I do not. Once in a while I definitely would like to go hide in my bedroom and I definitely function better after a large cup of coffee, but the truth is that I try not to let myself get overwhelmed because I try to set manageable expectations for myself. I have four children but only two hands. Simply put, this means that my children have to develop a certain amount of independence and patience – I can only help one child at a time put on a coat or shoes, I can only pour one glass of milk at once or serve one or two dinner plates. All of this requires that my little people develop a bit of patience while they wait for their turn or they just figure out how to do it themselves. However, this also means that opportunities for teamwork abound. My son is thrilled to be able to get his little sister breakfast. My younger daughter, in turn, is overjoyed to be able to entertain the baby while I am cooking dinner. I love watching them watching out for each other. They are so proud to be able to make meaningful and measurable contributions to our family.
As a working mom, my children appreciate that I have a role outside of the house that requires them to pitch in a bit more inside the house. There is always a long list of child-friendly chores that are waiting to be done. Sweeping, folding laundry, sorting baby diapers (the coveted job!), and picking up toys are just a few daily activities that can be quickly accomplished when tackled by three eager siblings ready to help Mommy tidy up and then settle down for some games or books.
As a group, we have read our way through the entire Magic Tree House book series and are currently working on some Beverly Cleary classics. We cannot get enough of Zingo and probably own enough puzzles to stock a children’s library. Sometimes I am in on all the action and sometimes I am cooking dinner, answering the phone, and checking homework. The beauty of my busy-ness is that my kids have learned to play really well all by themselves. I love to play with my kids, but they don’t really need me to play with them all the time. I absolutely enjoy eavesdropping on their play from another room – listening to their imaginative scenarios unfold or watching the big kids help the littles with a puzzle or drawing a picture.
I can’t imagine life with any fewer children. My life is certainly not quiet, but it certainly is fun. I feel nothing but contentment as I watch my little people grow and gain skills, independence, and respect for others. These are attributes that can be difficult to teach in isolation but are easy to learn given the right environment. Until I find another buy one, get one free sale, I am happy with my family of six and look forward to seeing what is in store for my bright-eyed brood!
by Erin Brighton, MPH, M.Ed. (Charlotte, NC)