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Growing Families

Greater Than Two

Mary Wagner-Davis
Roseville CA USA
From NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 18 No. 6, November-December 2001, p. 228

We're late . . . again. Why is it that we just can't leave on time? Is it so hard to get four children and two adults up, dressed, and out the door? Recently, we were walking back from the bathrooms at the water park. At least I thought we were. "Katie, Jessica, Emily, Joseph? Joseph?!! Where's Joseph?"

"Right behind you, Mom."

I can't even keep track of my own children! While life seemed to whirl when I had two children, it seems to whirl more often with four. Maybe my mother was right; one for each hand is enough.

One for each hand might have been right for my mother and many others in the United States, since the average family has two children, but it isn't right for everyone. Some families have more than two children, mine included. Maybe we didn't all plan it that way, it just happened. Maybe it has been our hearts' desire to have a larger-than-typical family. Whatever the case, the logistics of raising a larger family can sometimes be daunting. While I admit to not being perfect in this area, evidenced by the fact that I am sometimes late, and sometimes can't keep track of my children, and sometimes lose my cool, there are some things I've learned that help; at least they do when I practice them.

Watching a woman nurse her baby at the water park reminded me of one of the first things I learned about having more than two children: spend some time each day doing things the older children really enjoy and you'll have fewer hassles the rest of the day while you care for the younger ones. Actually, this is true no matter how many children you have. When my third child was born, the weather was mild and the older two frequently spent a large portion of their day outside. One Christmas, we asked all of our family to contribute toward the purchase of a swing set. Thanks to their generosity, I was able to spend time inside, rocking and nursing the baby, while my older children enjoyed themselves on their new swing set. Other times I'd sit on the swing nursing the baby while Katie and Jessica played in the sandbox. The time it took to get them occupied was well worth the investment. You may not have a swing set and the weather may not be mild, but there are likely other activities your children really enjoy that would keep them occupied and playing in a relatively independent manner. You might choose clay or bubbles, water balloons or books on tape. As your children grow older, as mine have, it may be a favorite board game, computer game, or making cookies together that works. Whatever it is, it pays off to take that time with them.

Shopping is always challenging, partly because it isn't my favorite thing to do and partly because taking four children along to the market or mall is an accident waiting to happen. Because my second child couldn't tolerate the car seat, even for the five-minute drive to the market, for many years I have been doing my marketing very early in the morning while my husband can be with the children. I also shop infrequently and buy in large quantities.

Other friends who shop with their children are sure to make a stop at the bakery section for a loaf of fresh French bread as soon as they enter the store. Shopping when everyone is rested and has a full tummy helps. Some stores offer little shopping carts that are just the right size for children to push. Little ones seem to love them and the only problem is if there are not enough carts to go around. A list helps me stay focused and finish more quickly. I also frequent stores that offer help out to the car. If that isn't an option, I try to park my car near the rack for shopping carts. The last thing I need after unloading the groceries and getting everyone in the car is to remember that I now have to put away the cart. Do I get everyone out of their car seats or do I leave them alone in the car while I rush back? It's never safe to leave young children in a car, even for a moment. It's much easier just to park near the cart rack in the first place.

Cooking and other household chores continue to be a challenge in our family. Not only do I have to cook in quantity but I somehow need to find something that pleases six palates. Now that the children are older, I've started having them cook dinner once a week. Not only does it teach them an important life skill, it gives me a break. Everyone pitches in on menu planning, another important life skill. Clean-up chores, more life skills, are rotated between children. Even little ones can help clear or set a table. Older children can see to things like rinsing dishes and reaching cups that are stored too high for their siblings. Everyone participates in the meal, from planning to preparation to eating to cleaning up. By establishing this pattern early, we've had an easier time keeping this routine now that the children are involved in more activities. Even when everyone has a softball game in the evening, we prepare a healthy afternoon snack and then simply prepare bowls of soup or cereal after the game.

I take this same principle and apply it to household chores. It is important for me to remember meal times and chore times are family times. I'm not the only one eating (if I was, mealtime would be a whole different story!). Nor am I the only one who took a bath today, at least I hope not! As our family grew, I also found that routine was our friend. The predictability of meal times, clean-up times, story time or bath time was comforting to everyone. It took some of the responsibility off me and helped my children take charge of themselves. The routines help maintain a household that could otherwise easily disintegrate into chaos.

Arriving at appointments on time was a struggle for me to begin with, but even that has improved over the years. I read one book that said to allow half an hour per child to get ready to leave the house. While I don't think we need two hours to get everyone ready, we probably need close to an hour total, depending upon where we're going. I've started trying to notice how long it takes for us to get ready. If I have that information, I can allow for that amount of time rather than being frustrated either that it takes so long to get ready or that we're continually late. As we got ready to go swimming the other day, I noticed that it took approximately half an hour just for everyone to get their swimsuit on, grab a towel, and put on sunscreen. It definitely helps to have an older child help a younger child. When Katie understands that it is her responsibility to help Joseph brush his hair and get his shoes tied, that's one less thing for me to do. It also helps to have a place for everything and a thing for every place. Frequently used items, such as shoes, sunscreen, and backpacks have a place to be stored and heaven help the person who doesn't store them accordingly! It's amazing how much longer it takes to get out the door when someone can't find the matching shoe or has misplaced a library book.

I overheard a woman tell her friend, "You can only really parent two children. You can have more, but you can only really parent two." Of course, this was said loudly and clearly enough to be sure I heard. At first, I was highly offended. After considering the source, I began to think about just what her objections might be to having more than two children. One of the things I realized that might be of concern is how to spend time with each child. I'll be the first to happily admit that my children are not only attached to me and their father, they're attached to each other. When you have more than two children, this is probably more likely to happen, yet I also know families with two children who are highly attached to each other. I'm sure this is a good thing.

Recent research would suggest that siblings play a big role in child development. One of the things I didn't quite grasp as I had more children, was the combination of relationships we would experience. It isn't just mother-child and father-child. It's mother-child, father-child, and child-child. Each parent has a relationship with each child and each child has a relationship with each sibling. Maintaining those relationships can be tiring. While we do many things as a family, we also do some things as pairs or smaller groups. Depending on the makeup of your family, that might mean the boys go somewhere with Mother or Dad while the girls do something else. It might mean the older children are involved in something while the younger ones do something else. It also might mean that, periodically, each child has an outing with a parent./p>

Mothering through breastfeeding taught me sensitivity to our children's needs. We continue to show that sensitivity as our children grow. No matter what size your family is, the idea behind parenting is to help children grow up; to produce adults. As women and as mothers, we've all given this process a lot of thought. As mothers in larger-than-typical families, parenting may take a bit more organizational ability and a bit more delegating. When we are less than organized, do a poor job of delegating, have a week of illness or a "bad hair day," the results are more noticeable than in smaller families. This doesn't make us bad mothers or disorganized dimwits when it happens. Like anything else, sometimes it happens and we get up and prepare for another day, doing the best we can with the resources we have at hand.

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