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southernbubby




 
 
 
 

Post  Fri, Jan 10 2020, 6:16 am
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What Everyone Can Learn From Parents of Big Families
When you’re parenting at scale, keeping things simple is key.

ImageKristin Reilly, 37, holds her 6-month-old daughter, Jilly, while playing with three of her older children. Kristin and her husband, Ted, have seven children aged 11 and under.
Kristin Reilly, 37, holds her 6-month-old daughter, Jilly, while playing with three of her older children. Kristin and her husband, Ted, have seven children aged 11 and under.CreditTaylor Glascock for The New York Times
By Laura Vanderkam
Jan. 9, 2020
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This time around, the symptoms felt like familiar visitors. I woke one morning this past May feeling woozy and pretty sure — even before taking a pregnancy test — that my husband and I would be welcoming our fifth child around the New Year.

As the parents of four children under 12, we were already used to being outnumbered. Yet four kids still put us in the relatively normal category. On Nanno, an on-demand babysitting app that launched nationally in 2018, the number-of-kids screen maxes out at four. At Embassy Suites, our go-to travel option, the drop-down menu allows you to input up to four children for online booking.

Five, as an old Monty Python film put it, is right out.

Still, as we started sharing our news, it dawned on us that we were joining an exclusive club. People are fascinated by large families — perhaps simply because of their rarity in a world of plunging fertility rates, but also, I began to suspect, because they think parents of large families must have the maddening logistics of 21st-century child-rearing all figured out.

In my experience, the number of people who presume to judge your parenting declines in proportion to the number of kids you have. But do parents of large families actually do things differently? As my husband and I prepared to welcome baby No. 5 (who surprised us by coming early, on Dec. 29), I sought advice from more experienced parents of larger families. It turns out, these moms and dads do approach parenting differently, though not in the ways you might expect.

ImageLaura Vanderkam and Michael Conway take three of their children out to meet the school bus. Their fifth child was born in late December.
Laura Vanderkam and Michael Conway take three of their children out to meet the school bus. Their fifth child was born in late December.CreditHannah Yoon for The New York Times
Though multiples multiplied from the 1970s on because of fertility drugs — leading to the McCaughey septuplets and John & Kate Plus 8 — fertility rates in the United States have reached new lows, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Provisional data for 2018 put the total fertility rate at 1,728 per 1,000 women, meaning that the average woman can expect to have about 1.7 children over her lifetime. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, the rate stood above 3.0. Even the mid-1970s baby bust rates topped current rates.

With these demographics, large families look like a spectacle, or at least a historical anachronism. Tim Carney, a columnist at The Washington Examiner and author of the book “Alienated America,” is the father of six children, ages 3 to 13. (“Theoretically we’ll be out of diapers, maybe in January, for the first time since 2006,” he said.)

He equates the fascination when he walks around the zoo with six children to the reaction he would get if “people found out we went around in a horse and buggy and drew all our water from the well.” In Catholic communities like his, “it used to be that everyone had these massive families,” but not so much anymore, he said: “To some extent it’s like finding a real-life dinosaur.”

But the fascination may be wistfulness as much as curiosity. There’s some evidence that Americans wind up with slightly smaller families than they theoretically want. Despite the record low fertility rate, one Gallup poll found that 41 percent of adults in the United States think that families of three or more children are ideal, up from 38 percent in 2013 and 34 percent in 2011.

ImageMichael Conway helps his 4-year-old son, Alex, brush his teeth in the morning.
Michael Conway helps his 4-year-old son, Alex, brush his teeth in the morning. CreditHannah Yoon for The New York Times
People limit the size of their families for many reasons — environmental worries, social norms — but financial and logistical considerations play a big role. Children can be pricey. The cost of infant day care in a large city can easily top $400 a week or $20,000 a year, making even one child daunting when median earnings for a woman working full time are about $42,000 a year. As for logistics, parenting standards have gone up; time diary studies show that both mothers and fathers have spent more time with their children in recent decades than in the 1960s. If one or two children seem to take all our available time, we marvel at those with more. Have they manufactured more hours in the day?

[Family size isn’t always a choice. NYT Parenting readers share their stories.]

Certainly, big families have their strategies. Kaethe and Jonathan Ward live in Milwaukee with their six children (13, 12, 10, 8 and 4-year-old twins). “We intentionally live close to school, church, my husband’s work is pretty close, plus the Y where we go, parks, libraries,” said Kaethe Ward. “We don’t spend much time commuting at all. That makes a difference.” Older children can be sent across the street to the grocery store, and do their own laundry.

“It’s a good way to teach natural consequences,” said Ward, who works part-time at her twins’ school. “I don’t have time to worry about a favorite shirt not being clean in the morning.” Simple meals win out. “Everyone’s happy with lots of soups and bread,” she said. “Or anything customizable: burrito bowls, pasta.”

Families like the Wards, with up to six children, often swear by the relatively economical eight-seater Honda Odyssey minivan (the Wards drive two). Past six kids, families sing the praises of the Ford Transit, more commonly employed as an airport shuttle.

That’s what designer Lisa Canning, an HGTV television personality and author of “The Possibility Mom,” who just had her eighth child, drives. The family recently moved from Toronto to a walkable Florida neighborhood in part for the logistics; it’s easier to keep track of flip-flops than eight pairs of mittens, boots and hats.

She and her husband, Josh, prioritize a weekly Wednesday date night, but schedule it after the kids (all ages 10 and under) are asleep or in their rooms. This makes finding a sitter easier. “The person just has to sit and be a responsible adult in the house — many people will do that,” she said.

As I manage the logistics of a household with two working parents, I am personally fascinated by families, such as Canning’s, where the mother continues with her career. Kristin Reilly, a Chicago-based banker who welcomed her seventh child this spring, reports that people always ask the “How do you do it?” question.

“Then it will come up that I work full time, and that’s when people are very much like, ‘Whoa, how do you really do it?’” Like all moms, she said, “I’m always trying to fit a 50-60 hour workweek into a six-hour day.”

ImageKristin and Ted Reilly and their seven children gather for dinner at home.
Kristin and Ted Reilly and their seven children gather for dinner at home. CreditTaylor Glascock for The New York Times
She works at home sometimes, relies on her entrepreneur husband’s flexibility and has sitters to care for the younger children and do household tasks. As part of making life feel calm, Reilly prays each morning, does walking meetings for exercise and uses Rent the Runway, an online clothing rental service, for her wardrobe. With seven pregnancies — her kids are now 11, 9, 8, 6, 4, 2 and the infant — “My body is always changing,” she said. “That has been kind of a lifesaver.”

In rarefied circles, large families need not make trade-offs. If Kanye and Kim Kardashian West or Alec and Hilaria Baldwin added to their broods, they would not need to rethink that trip to Disney World. They would just hire more drivers.

But normal large families do make trade-offs as they grow — and often learn a liberating secret: Many “requirements” of modern parenting aren’t requirements at all. One poll done for the Today show in 2013 found that while mothers of three children experienced more stress than mothers of one or two, mothers of four or more experienced less; a Norwegian study found that living in a large family was associated with lower levels of stress and anxiety in children, too.

ImageKristin Reilly (far right) breastfeeds her 6-month-old daughter while four of her older children play nearby.
Kristin Reilly (far right) breastfeeds her 6-month-old daughter while four of her older children play nearby. CreditTaylor Glascock for The New York Times
“People who are raising two kids think this seems immensely hard, and so they imagine that six is three times harder than raising two kids,” said Carney. But while big families can be challenging, “the marginal increase in difficulty is smaller with each one.”

Or as Reilly puts it, “One you eventually get past two or more kids, you have to accept that not everything is going to be perfect.” Individual rooms, intense activity schedules and that insidious idea that parents, on their own, must do everything can all be questioned.

Lizzie Heiselt lives with her husband and five children (12, 10, 7, 3 and a toddler) in a two-bedroom, rent-stabilized apartment in Brooklyn. They make the most of their 850 square feet, turning the children’s bedroom into a playground with three twin loft beds and a rock climbing wall. The older children attend one of New York’s public gifted and talented schools. The family bikes everywhere in fair weather; Heiselt’s bike has space for her three youngest children. “We get a lot of people taking pictures of that situation,” she said.

Having grown up in a family of 12, Heiselt said hand-me-downs seem normal to her. “One great thing about New York is the sharing economy,” she said. “People put stuff out on their stoop with a sign that said it’s free!” Through their community of fellow members of the Church of Yoshke Christ of Latter-day Saints, they borrow and share whatever anyone needs.

Financially, it works — even in New York. And psychologically, parents of big broods often discover that much modern fretting is pointless. As the Heiselts’ flock has grown, “I have grown as a mother,” she said. When we talked, her then 15-month-old was not yet walking. “In an earlier version of myself, I would have been very nervous.” But now she knows he’ll get there. “The pressure is off. I’ve been through this. I can just see it’s going to be fine.”

Large families also discover upsides: Older children learn independence as they do things mom and dad are too busy for and develop empathy and a sense of responsibility as they care for younger children. In the midst of a loneliness epidemic, siblings follow you through life. This is particularly helpful in adolescence. “Life hits hard for a 13-year-old,” said Ward. “As a mom, I can only do so much. But when her little brother comes up and hugs her, that makes everything a little easier.”

In my case, the sweetest moments of what wasn’t always an easy pregnancy were when my children hugged and talked to their little brother in my belly. They were welcoming him into a tribe, a “little platoon,” as Carney referred to his brood, that is fundamentally its own entity.

Laura Vanderkam is the author of “I Know How She Does It: How Successful Women Make the Most of Their Time” (Portfolio, 2015), and “Juliet’s School of Possibilities” (Portfolio, 2019).

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PinkFridge




 
 
 
 

Post  Fri, Jan 10 2020, 6:28 am
Nice.
Some years ago there was an article in Oprah magazine, it was a May (Mother's Day) issue, about a woman with 9 kids. While she was a professional and I'd love parts of her lifestyle, I still identified and felt, you go girl.

Even more years ago, there was an article in Jewish Women's Outlook by R' Avi Shafran called Never Too Many, that started with a question he and his wife were asked in an airport: "Careless or Catholic?" And another JWO article about very large families called The Elastic Day.
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amother




Sienna
 

Post  Fri, Jan 10 2020, 6:36 am
I don't know of people asking such questions.
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SisterSix




 
 
 
 

Post  Fri, Jan 10 2020, 11:44 am
Thank you for this, I really enjoyed it. Had to lol at “Church of yoshke Christ” though
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cozyblanket




 
 
 
 

Post  Fri, Jan 10 2020, 12:14 pm
SisterSix wrote:
Thank you for this, I really enjoyed it. Had to lol at “Church of yoshke Christ” though


Same!
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#BestBubby




 
 
 
 

Post  Fri, Jan 10 2020, 12:33 pm
Siblings can be great - mentors, tutors, playmates. A sister is a friend for life. I know, not always, but most of the time.
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tryinghard




 
 
 
 

Post  Fri, Jan 10 2020, 2:58 pm
As a mom of three, I have to ask you four-plus moms: is it true? Is four less stressful than three?
I do find it easier with three than I did with two but that has a lot to do with age gaps and my own personal situation including emotional development. Wondering if that’s realistic to hope for in the future...
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amother




Khaki
 

Post  Fri, Jan 10 2020, 3:51 pm
tryinghard wrote:
As a mom of three, I have to ask you four-plus moms: is it true? Is four less stressful than three?
I do find it easier with three than I did with two but that has a lot to do with age gaps and my own personal situation including emotional development. Wondering if that’s realistic to hope for in the future...


No! LOL
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ces




 
 
 
 

Post  Fri, Jan 10 2020, 3:57 pm
tryinghard wrote:
As a mom of three, I have to ask you four-plus moms: is it true? Is four less stressful than three?
I do find it easier with three than I did with two but that has a lot to do with age gaps and my own personal situation including emotional development. Wondering if that’s realistic to hope for in the future...


I found my 7th the easiest. I had so many helpful older children, it really made a difference!
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