I saw you in the lift on my way back from the doctors. You could not have known my story or why I was there and you won’t remember me but you have had a profound impact that I will remember forever. Your 5 children were lovely. Smiley and fun and free spirited, but it didn’t stop the other mother’s comments. They were not meant to be hurtful and goodness knows you probably get questions like those all the time. I wondered how bored you were of hearing ‘you’ve got your hands full!’ or whether it was common for total strangers to ask you whether ‘they were all planned so close together.’ I noticed how uncomfortable you became when your youngest pressed the wrong button and the lift became crowded. It was as if you felt the situation was somehow worsened by you having five children. And believe me, it wasn’t. Had my three children (a relatively normal amount by today’s standards) been with me, they would have also pressed the buttons and they would have also giggled to each other and acted just as yours did, with totally normal childlike behaviour.
There was a time when having a big family was normal and considered a blessing. But now I feel that if you have more than 2 children, you’re considered slightly odd. People wonder why you’d want four, surely that would limit your choice of holidays? Surely that would inhibit your free time? How will you be able to pursue your own hobbies and career? It seems that two is the perfect lifestyle choice, the perfect balance for normal human beings to be able to retain a sense of their own identities. Two is the balance of having children without it not quite taking over your life but somehow for me, that seems to go entirely against the whole idea of having children in the first place. Surely, they’re meant to change your life, surely having children is meant to teach you about how to self sacrifice and put someone else’s needs before your own? Children do change you. It’s unavoidable and inevitable. As soon as I had our eldest nearly 8 years ago, I knew everything would change. I am still learning to juggle more balls than I can think of in order to work, earn and be a hands-on parent. Over the last 8 years, it’s been a constant push and pull of being a parent and a mother, of working and not working, the difficult dynamic between those-who-have-children and those-who-don’t and now it seems that we’re stepping into a new unknown. Now we are pitched as a ‘big’ family and I am realising, just like the lady in the lift, that our new conflict is between those who have the ‘sensible’ amount of children and those who opt for four or more.
We saw some old acquaintances in a restaurant the other day and upon hearing that we were expecting our fourth they said ‘Wow – you don’t have to keep going you know, you are allowed to stop!’ As I humoured them and laughed along, it was then that I realised I’m going to have to toughen up. I must not let every comment I hear about our family affect me. I must embrace having a large family and not feel daunted by it, because it seems that I may be the only one that is going to! The current parent climate does not seem tolerant to families of six or more.
But although I am daunted, I’m also excited. For having children has already taught me so much. I have learned to be more tolerant, more patient (although still learning on that one) and to put other people’s needs before my own. Of course, I’m worried that we won’t be able to take them abroad or fix our house up or give them a variety of life experiences. I am hoping that the benefit of having siblings will somehow outweigh that in the end.
I do wonder what our lives would have been like if we had only had two children. I imagine the luxurious holidays I could never afford with a family of six, or the adventurous ones that are not possible with small children. Yet, I am realising that there is just as much fun in the things we can do, the picnics and the make believe play and the swimming in streams (we haven’t actually done this yet but it’s on my family bucket list!)
The truth about parenting is that you can’t fake it, and I’m going to make it my mission to ensure that we don’t wind up too frazzled, that we embrace the chaos and enjoy every little bit of a life as a family of six.
And so, lovely lady in the lift with your wonderful 5 children – thank you for allowing me a glimpse into your life and the fun that a large family can bring and thank you for giving me the standard answer for those ‘unhelpful’ comments that will undoubtedly come our way over the next few years. ‘Yes, we have our hands full but we’re enjoying every minute!’