When I was schlepping through parking lots with two or three babies, I received two recurring comments from the public: You’ve got your hands full! and They grow up fast!
Now that I have seven kids, those useless comments are long gone. The only thing anyone says to me anymore is, I don’t know how you do it. Most of them also don’t want to know, and are speaking to me only as a character: the Mrs. Sowerby/Weasley/Quiverfull/McBroom kind of mother I have become. But some people really are curious, and for them, I disclose the following secrets.
1. If we did it the way a lot of people do it, we couldn’t.
In our house, even very young persons sleep at night, eat at the table at appointed times, and abide by other rules of civilization. Teaching these necessary disciplines is difficult, but there are many ways of doing it. Our house is neither all beatings all the time, nor the blissful lie of parent-child attachment where no one cries, ever. There is a lot of trial and error, and frustration, invention, resourcefulness, and forgiveness.
2. We are acclimated.
Most people go into survival mode when a baby is born. They hunker down in ponchos with frozen pizzas until the kid starts behaving decently enough for everything to go back to normal. In our house, baby/toddler mode has been a way of life for twelve years. When you get over being enraged about how much everything stinks and how much harder your life is than everyone else’s (about eight years), you can convert that newly available energy into picking up the house and making a decent meal. That’s when you realize that you were making things at least as difficult as the kids were.
3. Imagination is imaginary.
That children in a large family don’t get enough attention and items and love is something everyone knows on the basis of thinking of things that are bad about big families. I know that my mass of kids looks like a mass of kids to other people. It is absurd to imagine that they look like that to me. I’d offer some proofs, but no one wants to hear a mother blither about her children. I’ll simply point out that every objection launched in this category is counterbalanced by a benefit unavailable to those in smaller families.
Would our kids be better off if it were just one of them playing Battleship with Dad or me every night, rather than the mob of us hollering up and down the table over Carcassonne? Who is asking stupid questions like this? Please cross-apply the argument of alternative benefits to all contentions regarding the practical disadvantages of large families. It’s not that hard for any reasonable person.
4. We do not belong to some class of magical people who always wanted seven children.
My husband and I have a number of reasons for our number of children. There are two strictly secular ones. First, we harbor no fantasy that the government will provide for us in our old age. Second, everyone’s a eugenicist deep down; we just take a life-affirming approach to it. We are also practicing Christians, a religion in which approbation of contraceptives is both divisive and an historically fishy 85 years young.
Neither my husband nor I have some objective love for children or preternatural patience. This life is the outcome of us accounting for facts of contemporary human existence and our religious ethic, and made possible by our providential ability to conceive children. With all these human psyches in the balance, my husband and I find that the primary victim has been our own sense of entitlement to do whatever we want all the time.
5. Everybody else in the world loves contraception enough to make up for our selfish overpopulating of our house.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is committed to getting contraception to everyone, and when people who aren’t me have contraception, they use it. Even Slate knows this. Ergo, this popularly perceived problem does not keep me up at night.
6. Kids are only as expensive as you let them be.
I am aware that having new and stylish things is very important to some people. My experience has been that freedom from attachment to social status by means of expenditure is a valuable gift. Thrift stores, Aldi, and state parks offer our family more than everything we need and a lot of fun.
Our children come by opportunities, as skills and hobbies are now known, as my husband and I are able to provide them (we’re a little surprised more people don’t seem to have thought of this). As for the cost of schooling, we operate on the mind-blowing principle that the earning power one gains from one’s education should exceed the debt accumulated in the process.
6. I’m only as expensive as I let myself be.
Many would say I’ve lost my identity by becoming a housewife with seven kids. I doubt if those people miss my identity very much, since the world was already long on wannabe-academics who care too much about how they look.
I’d describe the personal change all this maternalism has brought about as “getting over myself.” It turns out that I don’t need the public presence my pride thinks my talents deserve (and all the smartphones, haircuts, petrol, and trousers necessary for such publicity) for my life to be worth exactly what every human life is worth: nothing to most people, and everything to a few. Or, in my humbling case, more than a few. This wireless world has even allowed me to pick up some pennies without leaving home. I wasn’t going to spend that time cleaning blinds anyway.
I still have my hands full, and kids do grow up fast, even if people don’t tell me those things any more. I wonder if young mothers would be badgered by strangers with that latter insight so often if more people had more kids.
And I am very thankful when people whose hands aren’t as full loan me one every now and then, because although kids are absolutely worth having, they are a ton of work. That’s the last secret. Some people are kind and helpful to us. They accept us as we are, tie a kid’s shoe while I’m holding another kid, and congratulate us when we announce we’re pregnant again. They, and the transcendent comfort of our children’s intrinsic existential worth—and gin—are how we do it.