Let's just get the obvious out of the way...I love my family. I absolutely adore them and would have my life no other way. My kids area a joy and a blessing. We consider all of them a gift from God and we are incredibly blessed to be chosen as their parents.
Now, having said that...if I were having coffee with a friend and they asked me if I thought they should consider a big family, here is what I would say. This would be my reality and the practical things to take into consideration aside from the obvious blessings. Take this however you will. Every family is different...
*Big Families are harder than small families in a lot of ways.
I know that shouldn't seem like rocket science. But, especially when the kids are small, they require a lot more hands-on attention and trying to divvy up that attention among more than one at a time is difficult, even for the most organized person.
*Your body takes quite a beating.
So many pregnancies, especially close together, really takes a toll. Even for the most health conscious and physically fit person, having a baby has been likened to running a marathon-ant that's just labor and delivery. Then there is the business of carrying that tiny human--who gets his nourishment from you even at the cost of yourself most times--and that can be very draining.
*Your house is no longer your own.
Say goodbye to unrealistic expectations of a clean, magazine-ready home. Most nights we find a rogue Power Ranger or My Little Pony in our bed, step on a pile of Legos, or collect a trail of books all around the house. Granted, you don't have to live in squalor, but I find I have to pick my battle: cleaning or spending time with the kids. At one point or another, one always takes a back seat to the other. It is possible to find a balance, but I find I have to give myself permission to actually live in my house.
*Complete strangers will stare and ask questions.
Joe and I can't go anywhere with our whole brood without the usual questions:
-Are they all yours?
-Are you 'done'?
-How do you do it?
-Have you figured out what causes that yet?
And on and on...
*You don't have to live like you're poor, but money will probably be tight.
Joe said he looked in the cupboards the other day, a day or two after grocery shopping, and was shocked that we were almost empty again. He said then it dawned on him, We're a big family. Every now and then we have that light bulb moment when we realize we will consume more than the average family. Whether it's food, toiletries, clothing, etc. A careful budget (and a meal menu) is really the only way to combat that. We're working on that...
*Your time is no longer your own.
I like to joke (and sometimes complain) that I can't do one single thing without carefully scheduling it or asking permission. It's true. It can be as simple as going to the bathroom to getting a haircut, going on a date or out to dinner with a friend...the kids have to be cared for. For those events where I actually have to leave the house, if I don't want to take them all with me, I am usually the one left to orchestrate a sitter. I have to determine if it's really important enough to spend the time scheduling and paying a sitter.
*You will probably feel overwhelmed much of the time.
Especially in the early years of being pregnant with many kids. There are some mornings when I just don't want to get out of bed because I know what lies ahead. Obviously I love my kids and enjoy being with them, but the constant barrage of needs and wants 24 hours a day is wearing. Some mornings I would love to roll over and go back to bed, uninterrupted and without yelling and havoc in the background.
Suddenly, things as easy as grabbing milk and bread from the store becomes an ordeal when you have to take everyone along. Walking anywhere with sciatica and a huge belly is torture and made even worse when wrestling a wayward toddler or pushing a stroller.
*Someone will always be at odds with someone else.
The fighting is insane. The bickering is almost constant. Maybe it's their ages now, but it seems our kids (at least 2 at a time) disagree on everything; what TV show to watch, what book to read at bedtime, what snack to have after school, etc... I feel like a judge in small claims court most days.
*That elusive *Me Time* everyone says you should have is a battle.
At least for me. We don't have friends and family jumping up and down to come stay with our kids so I can have a few hours in a row to myself. It certainly isn't their responsibility, just a dream of mine. We also can't hire a babysitter (who makes more than most college grads) just so I can take a nap or read a book in peace.
*It's important to spend special time with each child
We are not so good at this. In fact, I feel bad that none of our kids really have anything that is solely theirs. They pretty much share everything. They each often say they want to spend time with just us--without their brothers and sisters--and we feel badly that this doesn't come easily (see above where I talk about orchestrating a sitter...)
*Support will not jump in your lap.
I have stated and blogged many times about how stressed I have been, how tired, how exhausted, how beat....it doesn't matter. I have discovered that everyone has his or her own life and I am not the center of it. Just because I feel like I am hanging by a thread does not mean someone will swoop in and rescue me. If I want or need something, as ridiculous as it may seem to me at the time, I must ask for help and be very specific about the help I need. I also can't be put off when the person I ask is less than thrilled that I have asked.
*If you are a stay-at-home parent, your spouse may not see your day as "hard."
I have heard this from many friends who stay at home-and experienced it myself. The spouse who works outside the home doesn't always understand what is so hard about staying at home all day with the kids. And that sometimes comes out in sideways comments or looks. Granted, this isn't just a "big family" situation. This can happen even with one child.
*Your vehicle needs will be dictated by car seats and number of kids.
We just had to buy a new van because our old one didn't have enough seats. This was an unplanned expense and hassle. We can also never offer anyone a ride because we are at capacity.
*The ole Love Life may take a hit.
I won't get all TMI here...but being romantic and feeling sexy is not as easy when you have miles of stretch marks, left-over pregnancy cellulite, a huge belly, kids busting in the room, and the struggle to switch "hats" on a dime. It really takes effort. And isn't always easy. Someone's ego is bound to be bruised, even though it has little to nothing to do with your desire for your spouse.
*You must carefully choose what can wait and what can't.
Some days I am ready to explode because it seems I can't do even one thing from start to finish in one sitting. Yes, I have a deadline or a meeting to prepare for, but if a child needs a drink or another is demanding a bottle, I have to decide which one will have to wait. You bet your sweet petunia the one that is loudest will win. ;)
*You'll probably decline many invitations.
I have learned that it's sometimes easier to turn down an invitation to an event because it may seem like a great idea, but once I get there it quickly turns into a cluster. Fun events like the zoo with friends, a pool party, a day at an amusement park, etc are things I now dread. I want to do these things for the kids' sake, but practicality has taught me to wait until they are a bit older and more independent. Not only can these be very expensive enterprises, but my sanity is usually left strained at the end of the day. Also be prepared that others will probably not understand why you're turning their invite down. I am learning that it's better to go with my gut and ignore their irritation/disappointment-- knowing that I know what's best for our family. Also beware of the well-meaning "I'll help you!" that is often used to get you there. As sincere as the sentiment may be, it usually does not end up being the case. Bottom line: your kids are no one else's responsibility, so most likely you will be left to handle them on your own while everyone else has a good time.
*What works for one child may not work for another.
Our 2 oldest, school-aged kids could not be more different as far as their personalities. R is quiet, reserved, intelligent, and extremely emotional. L is outgoing, boisterous, struggles a little more to understand school concepts, and doesn't let much get him down. We have to handle both completely differently. With R, we feel like we're walking on egg shells and tip toe around how we communicate with him. With L, we can approach him in any manner because he is so easy-going.
*There will be a lot of "It's Not Fair!" moments
Birthdays at our house are a source of contention. No child likes to watch another get a toy or special treatment if they can't partake and enjoy it too. We try really hard to celebrate the child whose birthday it is without making the others feel left out or envious. It's almost impossible to expect all the other kids to be 100% supportive of the birthday boy/girl. Some families get gifts for all the children and give the largest lot to the birthday child, but we are trying very hard not to allow that kind of thing. It's important, we feel, to teach our kids to celebrate others' special occasions without horning in on the glory or making us feel guilty we aren't celebrating them the same way. Life isn't fair. It's a hard lesson, but we're trying to teach it the best way we know how at an early age.
*You will receive an endless supply of unwanted and unsolicited advice.
Whether I like it or not, people like to share their worldly wisdom with us. Sometimes it's great and sometimes it's ridiculous and I wish people would keep their nuggets to themselves.
*Some people will ask you for advice thinking you're an expert.
Although it's flattering, I get nervous when people ask me parenting advice. They assume that because we have a lot of children, we know what to do in most situations. We have learned a lot and we are getting better at weeding out what does work and what doesn't...the truth is: what works for us may not work for you. I feel pressure (all from myself, of course) to give the right answer. And what if what I tell you isn't right? I worry it will cause hard feelings or you'll be disappointed.
*Be prepared for rude looks from complete strangers.
This one always stings. Not only are Joe and the kids and I a side show when we go out, but people I have never even met before often take a head count and then make the most awful facial expressions. I can only imagine what's going through their heads, but it makes me want to rip their faces off.
*Not everyone will understand why you'd want "so many" children.
Who cares. I didn't ask them.
I'll keep adding to this as I think of them. Again, your experience may not be the same as ours and some of these things may not apply.