The other day, I received an email with a question about big families from a reader named Megan, and I thought you might like to chime in with some advice. Here’s the email:
I’m a mom to four boys under the age of 6. I have 3 year old twins, a 5 year old, and a 6 year old. All of our boys are adopted from South Korea, and we are super lucky to be their parents. I’d love your thoughts on something. How did you decide to have a big family? My husband and I love having a big family and would like to add another kid or 2 (either by adoption or biologically…I don’t know yet), but we feel like a circus act everywhere we go currently!
We have not decided to have a large family for religious reasons (although we do have a faith practice) and we aren’t trying to save kids by adopting them. We just like having a big family and happened to decide to adopt the kids we have. I’m wondering how you decided to have a large family when it’s clearly not the “norm” to have a larger family?
We are constantly asked really personal questions about our family, people make so many comments about how are hands are full, and to be honest I think people don’t always want to hang out with us because we have a larger family. I get really overwhelmed when I’m in public because my boys (and I) feel like all eyes are on us. I’d love to hear how you handle it/decided to have a large family. — Megan
I was intrigued by Megan’s questions, and her email got me curious. If you’re reading, how do you personally define a big family? Is there a certain number of kids that you think of? Or is there some other factor you use?
In my own experience, yes, some of that big family feeling comes from physically having lots of people in the room. But some of that feeling also depends on the ages of the kids. For example, I was definitely more overwhelmed when I was parenting 3 kids age 4 and under, than I was when kid number six arrived. So for me, is 3 kids a big family?
As far as how we chose to have a big family, I think for us, it was almost the default option. Both my husband and I grew up as one of 8 kids — four girls, four boys each. So growing up in a big family was familiar to us, and as a young married couple, we discussed wanting to have a big family of our own too. But I don’t think we had a particular number in mind. I do remember thinking that if we wanted to have lots of kids, we had better start early. And we did. I had baby number one at age 23, just a week after I graduated from college.
As for being a circus when you’re out in public, I hear you. We use the same word when we think of our family on outings. It’s a lot of people and it does feel like a circus, and yes, it draws a lot of comments. How to handle it? Well, first, I can tell you that it does get better as the kids get older. And second, our best strategy was just to acknowledge the chaos. We be honest about situations that we knew would be too crazy, by skipping them or sending just one parent with a couple of kids.
We’d also try to get out in front of the craziness by being open about it. For many years we had a default response when someone invited our family to their home for dinner (which happened especially often in France). We’d basically say, “Oh. You you do not want to invite us for dinner. We are a circus! We are so many people, it will be overwhelming. Come to our house instead.” If they insisted on having us over, which they sometimes did, at least we had warned them of the tsunami coming their way.
And of course, a lot of handling the circus comes down to teaching your kids how to behave when you’re out and about. Which every parent has to do, but it just feels magnified with lots of kids. And I suppose that’s why things get easier as the kids get older — they’ve had much more practice behaving well. Even still today, before we get out of the car at any destination — a friend’s home, the mall, the park, a museum, wherever — the kids get behavior reminders from us. Be aware of your volume (we can be loud when we’re together). Be aware of people around you and make sure we’re not walking in a wide line on the side walk and blocking paths. Be patient because it can take a little while to find a good spot for the whole family at restaurants. Be flexible because if this outing isn’t working out, we may need to change our plans. And look out for your siblings.
Lastly, 3 tips to help them as they’re learning how to behave on outings: 1) Remember that bad behavior mostly comes down to tired or hungry kids. So have snacks in your bag, or make frequent food stops as needed. And 2) be willing to shut down the outing if the kids are just too tired. Whatever the activity is, it’s not worth losing your temper at the kids. It’s okay to go home. Honestly, if they’re little, they probably won’t remember the fun activity even if it’s great. 3) Have mental games or challenges at the ready (like 20 Questions, or spotting patterns — how many blue cars or red pants can you find?) for those times when the family has to wait and be patient.
Okay, Dear Readers. Your turn. What advice would you give Megan? What is a “big family” to you? And how did you decide whether to have a big family or not? Was it even on the table for you as an option? Also, how do you teach your kids how to behave on outings? Any tips you’d add?