I don't know if I will ever agree that my family of six is a "big" family, but the culture we live in certainly does. (I am blessed to be surrounded by friends of whom my family is one of the smaller ones, and our parish has many, many families of 6+ children.) It was not until I had four children that the words, "your hands are full," "you must be busy," and the incredulous "are they all yours?" became a daily occurrence in my life. Yes, truly, it is daily. I do not exaggerate. It then makes me chuckle when I hear this when I only have three of the kids with me (which is often lately since Clare has been in summer school and then Jamie had a week of Vacation Bible School).
I have never been a confrontational person (my mom can vouch for that). Growing up, I was always the peacemaker in my family. I still do not like confrontations, but I am quickly learning not to take anything from people who make comments. Especially those who make comments in front of my children. Never do I want my children to feel that there is something "wrong" with our family or that there is something bad about having a large family. I am currently working on my repertoire of short replies (suggestions welcome!). I do not want to be rude or set a negative example in front of my children, but at the same time, there has to be a rebuttal to the negativity that is implied when someone makes a comment.
I have also come to realize that our family operates under different "values" than other families. We live in such a consumer-focused, materialistic society. Sometimes I find myself falling into that trap, but remind myself again and again of what is important. Part is due to necessity (we cannot afford to buy everyone their own motorized Barbie jeep), but the majority is that I don't want my kids to grow up like that. To think they are entitled to everything they see. That if they want something, it's theirs.
After coming home from the hospital, Shawn and I discussed buying Clare a little car like the one she drove around almost nonstop during her stay. She is working hard on learning how to ride her tricycle, but she does not have the muscle strength to pedal for very long. And if there is even a little incline, forget it. This car, however, allowed Clare to zoom wherever she wanted to go, by using her foot power and without having the coordination a tricycle requires. We had decided that we really didn't have room in our budget to buy the car when my mother-in-law told us that they had that exact style of car sitting in their backyard from when my nieces were little. She offered that my father-in-law could clean it up and it would be Clare's. Even better - free! The car came to our house, and both Clare and Simon now fight over it daily. Even Jamie wants a turn sometimes. So we now share the car. And, yes, I have to referee many times over whose turn it is to drive the car. I have broken up numerous fights and, some days, the car sits on the porch because everyone has lost the privilege of driving the car.
One day, after witnessing such an argument, my neighbor said that they had the same car in their shed that her two children no longer played with (incidentally, her 3-year old son was one of the children fighting over who got to drive the car - the same 3-year old who supposedly had no interest in said car anymore - the same 3-year old who was ignoring his mother's order to get out of the car because he did not want to give Clare her turn). She offered to bring the car down to our house - by her reasoning, we would be doing her a favor by taking a big "unwanted" toy off her hands and she would be doing us a favor with VOILA - two cars and no more fights. I itched to point out that maybe she should bring the car out for her own children to play with and then they would stop taking my kids' turn, but I held my tongue. Instead I thanked her for the offer, but that one car was more than enough for my children. They were fine sharing the car. It obviously was going to take some work, but what kind of message does that send - you can't share something? That's okay, we'll just get another one! I wanted to ask my neighbor what lesson I would be teaching my children by providing another car? How was that going to help them in the "real world?" The neighbor looked at me like I had two heads - she had supplied the perfect solution to my "problem" and I was turning her down. But that's just not the way we work in our family.
I'm not perfect, and my parenting isn't perfect, but I like to think that I am raising my children to be better than what our society believes they can be. That the bottom line is not about always being happy, doing what feels best for us, and having whatever we want. That it's not breaking any child labor laws to have an older child help out with the care of a younger child. That when we cross the street, Jamie is responsible for holding Simon's hand, while I take Clare's and push Violet in the stroller. That we pitch in, help out, and, yes, even share - that's the way we are a family.