Thursday, August 06, 2009

The Way We Are

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.

23 comments:

Christina and Tee Jay said...

I don't know exactly why (long day + emotional genes), but this brought tears to my eyes.

I LOVE the parenting that I witness from you and Shawn, and I pray that Tee Jay and I can even skim the surface on how we do with Casey, et al.

Michelle said...

You guys are such an amazing family! and such amazing parents! It's hard to stick to your guns when the parents provide the peer pressure...it only gets worse...gather strength now : )

Anonymous said...

I know what you mean. I get the same comments DAILY!! My first response and one that puts a positive spin on it is " I am busy but I have great kids".
I stuggle with finding a good response when poor Justin gets picked on for being the only boy.

David and Christina said...

Very well said Tree. Keep it up.

Maybe you'll be the next Danielle Bean.

nichole said...

I love the way you all are as a family. It gives me such inspiration for when I have my own children someday. Keep doing what you're doing, you're kids are incredible and have you and Shawn to thank for it.

Noel said...

From a mom who also has 4 kids(mine are alot older than your are now but I remember those days) stick to your guns...it is worth it. I can tell you the " are they all yours" comments do get to you, but those comments have turned into praise now. Example- we go tot the store, everyone unloads the cart, everyone puts bags in the cart...the cashier ALWAYS says " your kids are so great. I see so many kids who just stand there with their parents, especially teenage boys and never lift a finger to help" you see in a " large" family ( i don't think of mine as large at all but everyone else seems too) you pitch in and help out...it's necessity. You also don't get every little thing you want because the money has to go to everyone...to be fair if you let someone buy one thing for $20 then you buy 4 things for $20 and that's not always resonable..so they learn that you can't always have what you want but we will find a way to get what you NEED...it may not be today but it will happen. They learn to wait in a world of instant gratification. KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK!!!!

Tes said...

As you said this works for your family and people need to respect that. Respect is severly lacking these days especially with some "grown ups". I only have 2 children and hopefully my children are learning by mine and my husband's example. We work together.

Michael and Michelle said...

I loved this post...it is true for us as well in many ways. Thanks for posting it as some of us are in the same boat as you...a very large boat by the way!! :)

After a comment like "Are they all yours?" I usually say, "Yes, isn't it great?" To which they usually just smile at me like I'm insane...and then they say "well God Bless you." To which I say "Thank you, He certainly did!"

Keep smiling, that usually stumps them too!

Anonymous said...

Tree and Shawn, I can't tell you how blessed I feel reading this most recent posting. I am profoundly proud to say that I am your father, Tree! NOT that I take any credit for your and Shawn's parenting skills, but it humbles and encourages me to know that our children are truly wise!

Aunt Joan said...

Tere isn't much more for me to add to all the praise here! God certainly blessed you two with 4 (FOUR??????) wonderful children, but He also blessed them with parents who truely are concerned with every aspect of their lives. I am seriously proud to say I 'know' you, but also I am related! Thanks for that privledge.

Nancy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nancy said...

You are incredibly blessed to have your children, and I admire you and Shawn so much. You are giving your children skills to use in life that will help them be content as adults. P.S. As I may have said before, I hate the rude comments about the size of family (with me having "only/just one"). I get them too and never have a smart response. It makes my heart hurt. Let me know if you think of something snappy and classy.

Anonymous said...

A friend taught me what to say when someone says, "Wow, you have your hands full" (I get this a lot, too, because my three are so close in age). I say back to them, "More like a heart full!" It usually makes them (and my kids) smile! :)
Love,
Stacy

Gretchen and Steve said...

Amen to it all! My In-Laws raised 6 amazing kids and even took in their niece and nephew after Steve's aunt passed away. Big families can be overwhelming, but being an only child myself, I think it's awesome to be surrounded by all that love (sharing fights and all). So, the next time someone says "you have too many children" just smile and say - "yes, God has showered our family with many blessings and it's just how we like it." I'm sure most of those people are green with envy. And please, please, please tell me where you hide your cape!

Kerry said...

We will always get comments from people - some will be innocent, some intrusive. When my sister had her baby twins at the store, strangers would ask "Did you do fertility? " Oh my!

I am so glad to hear how you stick to your guns about raising your children though - sticking to the one car. A friend of mine has five kids and at Christmas, they all got one present from Santa - they each got a cool ride-on scooter. They were all thrilled. We create these monsters - we all have to make sure we don't overload these kids and create the "necessity" to have more. Did you ever read The Tightwad Gazette books/ or newsletters? She had 6 young children and raised them in the same fashion.

Amy said...

Nice post, I always learn so much from your perspective.
Best,
A

Amy said...

Lol, tell them Oh yes, and there FATHERS ae a handful too! lol.

Kendra said...

I teach preschool, and it's frequently considered a solution when children are having a hard time sharing to just get "enough" so that everybody can have one.

We don't do that in my classroom, though for the same reason you described, Tree. We teach our values and want every aspect of our classroom to communicate that people can work together to make our way in the world. I'm proud to say that by the time they move on from my room at 3 1/2, these kids are great at figuring out (sometimes very bizarre) ways to share toys together.

3xymom said...

Tree- what a great post-
I too get the 'your hands are full' comment b/c I have three boys- I LOVED it the other day when a woman said to me, "Wow- three boys!" And I braced myself for the insult- and she said, "How blessed!" I wanted to hug her!

I usually respond to the "You have your hands full" with "Yes, aren't I blessed- and I'd have a fourth- if I could guarantee it would be another boy!" That usually puts a smile on my boys' faces!

You are doing a great job- I wish we could spend more time together- I love your philosophy!

Katherine said...

I'm starting to really resent the 'are they all yours' comment as well. I too get at least one comment every day now that we have four children and at first it was somewhat comical but now it's just old. I haven't commented back yet with anything clever. I typically just feign a chuckle and give a quick 'yes, all mine' but the reply I want to say when someone asks 'are they all yours' is something like 'i certainly hope so' or 'aren't i lucky?' But even those don't seem 'just right.' If you think of something let me know!

On a positive note, I brought all 4 of mine to the grocery store yesterday. And like you, I enlist the older ones for help. "L" was taking a turn pushing the stroller while I pushed the cart and she accidentally bumped into a display and sent individual velveeta bowls flying. She was so embarassed and I told her no worries, it was an accident, etc. The store manager and an employee quickly came over to pick it up and said don't worry about it. But I made sure we stayed and we all helped pick it up. When we finished the manager said "Cute kids mom." And all I said was 'thank you' even though I really wanted to hug him and jump up and down for his super kind words. Instead of being snide or commenting on the quantity of kids, he focused on the quality of them and how we all pitched in to help together. If only more people could/would do that.

Korinne Anderson said...

There are always people out there that make comments..no matter what your family looks like..I get the commment..ah...finally had your girl..(I have 2 boys and then a girl) We had 3 children because we wanted them not because we were trying for a girl..We lost a baby at 20 weeks and we are so thankful for what we have received...no matter if it is a boy or a girl...

Anonymous said...

Tree
It took me a long time, and some tough lessons in life, but I've come to realize that it doesn't help, but only hinders, kids to be given everything and have no responsibility. As far as the "large" family goes, to each their own, but what better way to live than to be surrounded with children, and a family who loves you unconditionally!! Love ya

Auntie Becky

Anonymous said...

My husband comes from a family of 10. My mother-in-law said her response to people commenting on the family size was "We love children." My in-laws were especially subject to other people's comments each time they were blessed with another child.

Michelle's advise was great, too!