I never planned on having four children. Though I always knew I wanted kids, I wrongly assumed I would follow the average and just have two — a boy and a girl. I’m not alone in that thinking, as half of Americans still say two children is the ideal number to have. To me, any more than that seemed overwhelming, unaffordable, unmanageable, and honestly, not in any of my family planning goals whatsoever.
Then, thanks to somewhat lax birth control use and reproductive system ignorance (newsflash: you can get pregnant while breastfeeding!), along with the fact that, OMG, babies are so damn cute I want another, suddenly I was a mother of four boys. FOUR. It was like I went to bed one night and woke the next morning to discover we needed a car with a third row.
In today’s society, four or more children is considered a large family — and a rarity. In fact, families with four or more kids account for only 14% of families. No wonder when I am out in public with all my kids I get odd looks, “You have your hands full!” comments, and my favorite question, “Are they all yours?”
I don’t blame the baffled strangers either, since I’m sure most of the time I look completely blindsided, lost, broke, or some combination thereof. If you are a mom of four or more kids, I know you get me, and I’m here to tell you, I get you too — in so many, many ways.
It’s not that having a large family means I have more work than mothers of an only child. I’m not here to bitch about my workload, nor am I here to compare it with yours, because ALL MOTHERS WORK. I cook for people, do laundry, manage my kids’ schedules — all the same things mothers of one child do. But even though we’re all doing the same things no matter what size family we have, there is something a little different about mothers of four or more.
What is that difference?
Well, we may be doing the same things, but there’s a good chance we are doing all of them way more half-assed than moms of fewer children. Or we’re doing them half asleep. Or we’re doing them on autopilot because we can’t remember what or why we are actually doing them.
This is why when I see other large families out in public, the mom and I usually share a friendly all-knowing poker-faced nod and an unspoken mutual understanding of our situations. It’s a look that says, “I see that you and your family is a walking shitstorm and I raise your shit-storm with my own shitstorm.”
What else do my large family comrades have in common?
1. We can’t remember anything.
I realized this truth while pregnant with my fourth. There were days when I literally forgot I was pregnant at all, or how far along I was. There was so much going on in my household, so many people to take care of, I forgot I had another one in my belly. I sat down one stressful evening with beer in hand, then felt a baby kick and thought, “Awww, shit. I forgot I can’t drink this.” And when someone would ask, “When is your baby due?” my answer was usually, “Uhh, not really sure? Soon maybe?”
2. We’re broke.
You want to know how much it costs to put four kids through braces? I will tell you. It costs about the same as my orthodontist’s new BMW. Piano lessons? Soccer cleats? College tuition? Times for or more? Let’s just say my bank account has been on life support for several years trying to keep all of these kids clothed, fed, and educated.
3. We have so many details in our heads. SO. MANY. DETAILS.
While filling out forms at a new doctor’s office, I was asked to write down all four of my kids’ social security numbers. I know, I laughed, too, because it’s all too heavy of a mental workload. All the numbers. All the sports practices. The school assignments. The conferences. The committees for each child’s activities. The dentist and doctor appointments. Shit, come to think of it, have they all been properly vaccinated? Did I forget to pick up a kid at school again? Has anyone seen the baby lately?
4. We are the cheapest people I know.
Back when I had a house full of babies, I would only change a diaper with a new one when that baby had 100% flooded that thing. Just a hint of pee? Sorry, no chance of you getting a brand new one to the tune of $1.00 per diaper. Want to hear some truly brilliant money-saving tips? Find a mom of a large family and pick her brain because we can feed an adult and three teenagers with 1 pound of ground beef.
5. We know what’s important, and what isn’t.
This is by far the best side effect of all the crap that ails large families. With so much going on all the time, we’ve been forced to dwindle things down to what is really most important. It’s all about staying above water at this point, which means we tend to let plenty of helicopter parenting minutiae go by the wayside simply because there aren’t enough pilots to hover over all the kids we have. Somehow it makes the chaos work, and we’re able to get down to the real business of being what a loving family truly is.
I am proud of the life I’m giving my large family, and as messy and unmanageable as it is sometimes, it’s still a great honor to raise these humans and give them back to society. But more than that, I am proud of all my kids for teaching me what family is really about.
Is it hectic and exhausting and often more than I can bear? YES.
Do I crave silence and peace? Of course!
But those things are coming soon enough, and I’m sure the silence will one day be more than I can bear too.