Thursday, February 19, 2009

Large Family Critics

I wasn't going to say anything about the controversy raging right now over "Octumom" -- you know, the woman in California who had 6 children via in vitro, then went back for more and had 8, all born amazingly healthy at 30 1/2 weeks. Carrying 8 babies that long in a pregnancy is an outright miracle, and their delivery was hailed, rightly, as an amazing act of modern science and medicine.

But then the focus turned to the mother of these 8 babies and as more details emerged, the news articles and blogosphere was raging, and not in a positive way. I watched the interviews with the mom and almost felt sorry for her. I think she was deluded enough to think that she'd be famous -- the next "Jon and Kate Plus Eight" only this time called "Super Single Mom of Fourteen." She didn't seem to "get" that people weren't going to hail her as a hero for having optional procedures to get pregnant when she was an unemployed single mother using food stamps, barely able to take care of the six children she already had.

I'm not inclined to defend Nadya. To be honest, I think she's a little crazy and probably looking for fame and fortune. I do feel sorry for her and I worry about how she will be able to care for her fourteen children.

What has bothered me is that the spotlight that has shined on Nadya has brought out comments and criticisms directed at all large families. I read one article that said it would cost “millions and millions” to raise that many children. Another article claimed that there just isn’t enough time in the day to nurture that many kids.

I’m not a fan of Nadya, but it’s not just because she ended up with fourteen children. I don’t think she was being wise to go back for even “just” a seventh when she wasn’t able to care for the first six and when she couldn’t provide her children with a father. Call me old-fashioned but I believe that children do best when they have both a mother and a father who love and care for them.

Sure, there are single mothers (and sometimes fathers) who do a great job, but usually they become single after they have their children, not before. They don't deliberately make a choice to have more children when they can't care for the ones they already have.

But while I don’t think it’s possible for Nadya to provide physically, financially, and emotionally for her 14 children, I do think that a mother and a father who are dedicated to their family can certainly take care of 10, 12, 14, or even more. I don’t think it takes “millions and millions” to do so, and I DO think there are plenty of hours in the day to meet all of their needs. Easy? No, but definitely possible.

I take my responsibility as a mother seriously. It's hard work, mentally, emotionally, and physically, to do all that is required to rear children in love and to teach them good principles. My faith teaches me that:

Husband and wife have a solemn responsibility to love and care for each other and for their children. "Children are an heritage of the Lord" (Psalms 127:3). Parents have a sacred duty to rear their children in love and righteousness, to provide for their physical and spiritual needs, to teach them to love and serve one another, to observe the commandments of God and to be law-abiding citizens wherever they live. (The Family: A Proclamation to the World)

That's a huge undertaking! It takes a mom and a dad who are devoted and dedicated to their family to make it work. I've said it before, but I know very few large families who simply "pop out the kids" without serious thought and consideration for how they can care for and nurture them.

And that's why I'm a little frustrated that the criticism of Nadya has expanded to criticism of large families in general. I don't defend Nadya, but I will defend the many moms I know who have large families and raise them well.

One of the main criticisms I've seen leveled at large families is that it is wasteful of the Earth's resources to have so many children. Many of the comments after this article, for example, rage about how the average American baby uses up 40 times the resources of a baby in a third-world country and so therefore, it's irresponsible to have lots of them. I could argue a lot about carbon footprints, and whether global warming is caused by men or environmental factors, or even about whether global warming is the calamity that so many believe it is, but I'll leave those discussions to more scientific minds than mine. What I will say is that in most industrial countries, the birthrate is at or below replacement levels, and family size in general is shrinking so fast that the very few mothers with lots of children are hardly the energy-hogs we're made out to be. In fact, according to the 2006 census, just .5 percent of women ages 40 to 44 had more than seven children. 4 percent had 5 or more and 28 percent of women had three or more.

And while I disagree about the "wastefulness" of raising lots of children, this kind of censure also makes me laugh, because it seems that the large family critics want it both ways — they criticize large families for being excessive and wasting resources, and then they turn ariound and say that large families don’t do enough or provide enough for each of their children. I had someone tell me once that they knew a family who had too many kids because they couldn’t afford to let their kids play soccer. Now, if you can't afford food or shelter, or if emotionally you can't be patient with lots of children, then yes, you shouldn't continue to have children. But soccer lessons? I think that's an extra that a family can take or leave.

I think many critics look through a very Western perspective when they criticize large families, especially in terms of “you can’t do enough for your kids if you have more than two or three.” In my opinion, parenting is about nurturing, about helping children read adulthood ready to contribute to society and people around them, not about how many “things” you can give your children.

We are fairly well-off, but we do without a lot of things because we prize other values, such as shared experiences on vacations and having a comfortable home, above things such as cable television, gaming systems, and expensive karate classes (and no, my kids don't do soccer, at least not for now). We read together as a family daily. We go swimming and wander the woods in the summer. We teach our children to be kind. We watch funny movies together. Time together as a family is valued and cherished.

If we looked at how families live and struggle throughout the whole world, we’d be a lot more able to put large families in context. We have so many resources and opportunities in this country for education and charitable acts. My children are taught to share and give and will likely grow up, earn good livings themselves, pay for an older generation’s social security, and contribute their time, money and efforts on behalf of those with less throughout the world.

We in this country have been abundantly blessed, and I believe because of that, we have a responsibility to help the rest of the world. I’m raising seven children to believe that whole-heartedly. What are the critics of large families doing to help the world’s very real problems?


3in3mom said...

Thanks so much for your thoughtful message in favor of families. I so admire you and your love for your family and your strength in being an advocate. I too am troubled at the critics of large families. I agree that there are too many people that don't look at the good wonderful families in todays world that are raising wonderful children and contributing good things to society.

Tis true that the values we hold are being tossed aside by many. Thanks for your shining light. I have weathered this commentary with my three small children. . . of how could we ---etc. I am always grateful for those that share what a blessing it is for us to lovingly care for our children, despite the number and how close in age.

We were asked last night again about adopting E's birthmother's sister's baby--we don't have an answer yet, but feel glad to know that people see the home we are giving our children.

Dina said...

I think any sized family is the perfect size if your decision is made prayerfully with both spouses weighing in on this issue. (Except for only children, which seems to be the new trend around here. My dad was an only child and didn't like it at all, so I guess I'm biased against 1 child families.) I think there are good and bad parents no matter how many they have.

Christina said...

Dina, I totally agree. I hope I didn't make it sound like large families are better than small. I just think painting all large families with the broad brush of "irresponsible" and "unable to cope" is wrong.

Jaydee and Shaunda said...

You don't know me but I am a follower of your blog. I really enjoy reading it. This was an excellent post and you were able to verbalize my feelings so well. We just had our sixth child last month. We get all the comments I am sure you experience also.

One scripture that has helped me is in D&C 104:17. I read that when I was in seminary years ago. I had a science teacher who was teaching about zero population and how we all need to be "responsible people of planet earth and have small families" This really bothered me, and when I came across this scripture, I knew that it was an answer to my prayers. The Lord's plan is to have families and he has prepared a way for that.

Christensen Kids said...

I get tired of deffending my "big family" Much has already been said, but I agree.
thanks for the good read!

Cherie said...

I loved this! Thanks for taking the time to write it!

swedemom said...

I read a NY times article and the comment section was scathing towards large families. I couldn't believe how critical, cruel, and downright ugly people were about large families.

I think this post was a perfect rebuttal to the criticism.

alligood said...

What a great, insightful post! I am always saddened, as well, by those who think raising a large family is a burden on society. I will not have more children than I can care for emotionally, or provide for physically. While I fully believe that each of us may have as many children as we desire, it makes me upset when people agree with that rule - as long as there's not more than 3 children! My large family is a blessing. We hand down lots of things, as well. It's not like I have to buy new everything for each little one that comes into our home! Making enough food for just one more mouth is truly not a big deal at all and, in fact, I think I am more resourceful because I cook almost exclusively from scratch.


Dina said...


I do think that the world's view of large families is not very favorable. I have 4 children and actually lost a friendship when I had my twins (#3 and #4) She has 1 child and truly couldn't understand or cope with our decision to do IVF and have 2 more babies! I had a lot more "looks" and comments when my kids were all smaller. Now that they are 6-13, we blend in more. :) Maybe it's because I don't have to take them all with me everywhere.

Within the church I used to feel the opposite pressure! It seems like I needed to justify my "small" family.

Hopefully we can become more and more accepting of any size family and embrace it, not knowing people's private reasons for their family size.

Rachel said...

Christina great points and they summarized my thoughts surrounding this whole octuplets thing also. I thought I'd just add that me teaching and nurturing my children will in the long run add to society, not take away. If I am able to teach my children to be good responsible citizens who work to make this world a better place, well isn't that what we want.

It has to do with how we raise our children, not the number we have. No matter how many we have, we as mothers and fathers are given the responsibility to teach and rear children. It's when we forget that, that we have problems with how many children we have (ie as is the case with the octuplets mom). But I can tell you right now, that I view my role as mom to be one of the most important things I am doing right now.

jaradoron said...

I enjoyed your posts and your thoughts. I thought I was busy with 5 kids 9 and under, but you beat me!! I can't imagine twins!! The critics of large families are ignorant, too bad their ignorance sometimes affects us. Good Luck!!


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