Sunday, November 4, 2007

Are Kids in Big Families Neglected? Please Weigh In!

A gal at our church once spoke to a woman's group and mentioned that in her family of 10 kids, she never had alone time with her parents. She said she would beg to go grocery shopping with her mom just for some alone time with her. That was about all she got. Another friend worked as a nanny to missionaries with 10 kids. She said the kids were very neglected and it was a sad situation.

However, other families with lots of kids seem to do very well at showing their kids attention. I have at least 10 friends I'm close to, so what makes some think that a mom with 10 kids can't carve out time for them? Especially since they are at differing stages and ages.

Since I was from a 3 kid family and I only have 2 kids right now, I can't answer this question. But, if you were raised in, or have many kids (4 or more) or know a friend in this situation, please give me your input. Are kids in big families to be pitied? Do they ever have heart-to-hearts with their folks? Do they get enough attention? How much attention is really enough for each kid? Do parents really only have enough time and energy for interacting with a couple of kids or do we just tend to think that kids need more attention than they really do?

Along the same lines: A friend and I used to say that it was so sad when parents make the oldest daughter (s) work like second mothers to the family. We pitied gals that we knew of who were homeschooling little brothers and sisters or constantly babysitting/helping them. Our rationale: If the parents are going to have kids, then they should be the ones responsible for them. It's not fair to make your older kids raise your younger kids.

The more I read/study on big families, the more I realize that instead of seeing "working their buns off as a second mommy" as a bad thing, maybe it's not such a bad thing for kids. And no, I'm not just saying this because I'm a mom now and would love Alathia to be my maid/nanny/cook someday! The more I think about how spoiled and self-centered kids are today, the more I realize that hard work would do a lot of these kids good. How rare it is today to find teens who are hard workers with good attitudes! How rare it is to find kids who don't think they are the center of the universe! I'm not advocating that moms should leave their posts and let their older kids have full reign at home. I'm not advocating that kids of any age should work all day with no time for play, hobbies, or rest. I'm just saying that instead of pitying those girls who are the "right-hand helpers" to their mommas, maybe I should honor them and thank them for being so counter-cultural. They of all people will be most prepared for the roles in marriage/parenting as they've learned it firsthand. Maybe we'd have more godly Christian men who knew how to lead if they were practicing it at home, leading little brothers and sisters and helping protect the family.

So, the questions are:
1. Are kids in big families neglected?
2. How much attention/time do kids truly need? How much is enough?
3. Is it harmful or beneficial to the older kids to help raise the younger?


Kristin said...

I come from a pretty large family. I have 5 brothers (no sisters) and my parents did foster care for many years. At one point in my life, for a period of about 2 1/2 years, we had 9 kids living at home (5 of us biological kids, 4 foster kids). It definitely wasn't an easy time, but now I look back and wonder "how did my mom do it?!" (She's a SAHM) She had to make sure everyone was where they were supposed to be, when they were supposed to be there; keep up with the housework, cooking, laundry, etc; tend to her duties as a pastor's wife; as well as make time for us kids on a personal basis.

Anyway, that was just a side note. As for your questions, I can honestly say, even during those times of having lots of kids in our home, I never felt neglected by my parents. True, I am my parents' only daughter, so I might have an advantage in that regard. But my parents always took time out for my brothers as well. My mom and dad never missed a school or church activity that we were in involved in. We always had at least one family vacation each year. They took their roles as parents seriously when it came to discipline and raising us. I could go on and on.

Because we were so used to having lots of kids around, we naturally were called upon to help with baby-sitting duties. (I knew how to change diapers, even cloth diapers with diaper pins, at a very young age.) All of us kids knew how to prepare bottles, feed baby food, give baths, etc. and for me personally, that knowledge really came in handy when I became a parent. My husband had never changed a diaper in his life until our daughter was born, so those were things I was able to teach him.

I do think children, especially young children, need adequate attention from their parents. As kids get older, I think the amount of attention doesn't necessarily need to be as much, but that all depends on the child too. I think a person can tell if one child is "acting out" due to a lack of parental attention, and that needs to be addressed by the parents right away.

So to conclude a very long comment - I love being in a large family. I am very close with all of my siblings as well as my parents. I never did, and still don't, need anyone's pity because I came from a large family! I feel very blessed and fortunate to have the family I do have.

Jason & Tanya said...

I have pondered on this as well. My hubby and I are "trying" to adopt. We want a bigger family and always have however I cannot have anymore children due to some heart conditions with my last child. Anyway, I came from a family of 4. I was a total accident, the sister youngest to me is 13 years older than I am. However, my family was always together and still are after the passing of my mom. I really don't know what it would be like to come from a big family. I just love the way I see a big family get together for dinners and love and they pull together in bad times. Even as small children I love the way that they help each other and lean on each other and you know all of the big families that I have seen and have encountered, I have yet to see a self centered "brat" in that family. Sure, there is probably the terrible two's and a little acting out once in a while but a "true brat" I have yet to see. I am sure that it is hard on the older kids sometimes. It is hard on the older kids when there is just 2 kids in a family. I think it teaches kids patience, how to love, respect others, responsibility and I could go on. Anyway, I am excited to hear others take on this...

Anonymous said...

For starters ~ I don’t think I have a big family, but other people seem to think that I do, so perhaps I am qualified to answer :-)
You didn’t ask, but I’ll give you a bit of family history:
I come from a family with 7 children; my husband had 4 siblings.
At last count, there are nine in our family; not including all the various animals that have taken up residence with us. We have to take two vehicles whenever we all go somewhere (maybe we are a big family, after all).
My oldest (son) is 20, my only daughter for almost 19 years came along just a year and a week after he was born. My second son, the spitting image of his father, is 15. Our longest stretch ever without a baby was ended 9 years ago, when God blessed us with - another boy. Then another barren stretch, followed by - yep, another BOY, who will be 4 in Dec & has been planning his birthday since about April. My youngest son, an “I can do it myself’ kind of kid from day 1, is almost 2 ½ and our precious little girl arrived 7 months ago. See, that’s not so many!

Now, to answer your questions:
I think that kids in any size family can be neglected; I believe it’s more a matter of heart, than family size. A mother of 1 can just as easily (maybe even more easily) neglect her child as a mother of 12.

That said, the consensus here, after fake tears, was - no - kids in big families are not neglected (they also agree, we do not have a big family) Would they sometimes like more individual attention from Mom & Dad? Yes ~ who wouldn’t? Interestingly enough, those same children are the ones begging us to adopt “at least three”. Why 3? They have figured out where we could put 3 more people (to fully appreciate that, you should know that our home is 975 sq. ft. No, no typo, not missing a 1 ~ 975 square ft.)

I don’t think ‘how much time’ is something you can quantify ~ there’s no formula. Each child has different needs at different times (some children will always require more than others…) I don’t always get to do what I’d like to do with each child every day. The important thing, though, I think, is - did I do my BEST? Do they know I love them? Did I apologize for losing it - again? Do they know I love the Lord?….
I have found that my older children still require lots of time & attention; it's just 'different' attention than when they were young.

It is extremely beneficial for older kids to help raise the younger kids, and not only that, but to help the family, period. Even young kids feel very valuable when they are expected to pitch in. Often, when I have a kid that's 'out of sorts', my husband or I will come up with a special job (not punishment, mind you, but a chance to contribute) That child just 'shines' after fulfilling the responsibility.
What better way to be prepared for life?!

Now, lest I be guilty of neglecting my kiddos, best scoot ~ Tracy

Anonymous said...

sorry ~ just had to add

As I was finishing up online - the 20 yr old was playing with the 7 month old - the 2 1/2 yr old woke up from his nap & came to join in the fun ~ they are currently all 3 laughing & having a great time. together. boy, are they deprived!
:-) Tracy

Josh & Laura Helweg said...

Wow.. what a great topic!
Being from a family of 3 I can't say much.. but my hubby can! He has 10 siblings!
Bascially what he has told me is it IS hard living in a big family, you do have to sacrifice time spent with each parent alone.. and it does really stink at times.
But he tells great stories of days he did get time with his dad hunting, or staying up late with his mom talking at the kitchen table (they still do this! :)
All in all, he said it wansn't damaging at all to him growing up, he just wishes he could have had a bit more time with his parents.. especially his dad.
I see big families as potential for trouble in this area, "forgotten children", etc..
yet, I see so much poitential to learn things, as Kristin said! The girls know so much more than I ever did growing up, (cooking chilc care, etc) and I don't think they are ever pushed so much they become mom's right hand.. but it is nice when she has a busy day. etc. I think it really depends on the mom and dad and their ability to care persoanlly/spiritually/mentally for each child, and to take care of the house/home and themselves.
God will bless those who live for him, including a "madhouse" with 10 kids! :)
Bascially I think it can be done well!

Kristin said...

I completely agree 100% with Tracy's comment

"A mother of 1 can just as easily (maybe even more easily) neglect her child as a mother of 12."

We saw that happen WAY too often with all the foster children that came through our home!

Mrs. T said...

1. I came from a family of seven, and I was the oldest. That's not as big as some families, but bigger than most. I don't know why, but around here I happened to know or be friends with a lot of big families (the biggest one I know--the oldest girl and my sister are good friends--has 13 kids).

First off, I have observed that most families that have a lot of kids are either crazy disorganized or crazy organized/regimented. And I've seen neglect happen in both types. I've seen good things and bad things in both types.

In MY family, my parents put us kids above everything else. We were priority # 1. And I honestly think that's what you have to do in a big family to not neglect your kids. I've seen other families where other things were the priority, and that is when kids would get neglected. I remember one mom priding herself on making sure to take ten minutes every day for individual time with her kids. I thought that was actually really sad :(

Obviously, younger ones will be more time-intensive, so that's why you have to make the time you spend with older kids count for more. But I find even with my two kids that "individual" attention for more than one kid can happen at the same time. That sounds strange, but it's true.

My conclusion, therefore, is that yes, kids in big families can be neglected. But kids can also be neglected in small families. I don't think the size matters as much as where the parents' heart, priorities, and management skills do.

2. I think this question is impossible to answer because every kid is so different. Obviously every child needs quality time AND quantities of it. Balancing time with all the kids and all the things one needs to accomplish is the tricky part, and will vary from family to family and kid to kid. So um...I dunno. :P

3. Well, I don't know how harmful or beneficial it is to OLDER kids to help raise the younger kids, but I have witnessed the ill effects it has on younger kids. You know the old saying "too many cooks spoil the pot"? Yeah.

For me, I was grateful that I was never responsible for my younger siblings automatically. There were things we had to do, sure, to help and all pull our own weight. It is good to learn childcare and cooking and cleaning and all that. But learning those things effectively is not just something one does by randomly doing it, but by learning alongside an older experienced person. So my parents did not lean on us older ones as if we were responsible adults with full thinking capacity capable of handling complex childcare situations. We did not discipline the younger kids. I take issue with "buddy systems" where an older child and a younger child are paired off.

As for the younger kids, as long as they weren't confusingly listening to four "mommies", then when olders pitched in it wasn't such a big deal. Siblings are not mothers, siblings are not fathers, siblings are not one's own children. They are siblings. It's a different kind of relationship, and for a reason.

Mrs. Jo said...

I didn't realize you grew up with so many! Sounds like your mom is a most amazing woman! I loved your perspective and it's good that your helping out gave you experience when you had kids of your own! You have major experience with boys; it'll come in handy when Lil' Nate arrives soon =)

You said you were a total accident, but I think God planned you and designed you specifically and blessed your family with a beautiful daughter in spite of their own plans of not having more kids!

As usual you had such great wisdom in your comment! There sure is a lot of testosterone at your house! I can't believe you're in a house that's less than 1,000 square feet. Maybe I should have you write on space management sometime! Good point that it's a matter of the heart and where your focus is. I, like your kids, was always begging my folks to adopt me a sister!

Thanks for the input on Josh's family. It's good to hear his perspective on the negatives and positives!

Mrs. T,
Great thoughts as usual! I'm glad your parents made enough time for you guys. I liked your thoughts on having "too many mothers" for the younger kids. Even while I like the idea of older siblings helping out, parents need to remember that the older kids are not the parents and shouldn't be required to discipline, make important decisions, etc. I would love to someday speak to some young people nowadays who have done/are doing the "buddy system" and see if they feel used or resentful or if they were happy to help their siblings out. My grandpa, one of the last of 18 children was raised by his sisters primarily.
I think helping out is one thing, doing everything for a sibling is quite another. I want all of my children to work and contribute, but I don't want them to be solely responsible for one another.

One reason I pose this question is because I'm wondering how this aspect will work out if God gives us a bunch of children. Where we once said 2 or 3 kids, now we're saying no more than 6 (but that could change!) My husband's biggest concern for a big family is not having enough time with each kid. When I look at families with 16 kids, I think to myself, "There is no possible way they can have a large chunk of personal interactment with each one every day! How do the kids feel? Because I'm not in that situation, I can't say for sure. This is why I value your input in this area!
I have a close relationship with my own parents and I know that I'd have less time with them if they had had double the kids. Even now, as grandparents, their time seems so limited with my kids that it'd be even harder to "share" them with more siblings/grandchildren.

Munkamama said...

I'm from a family of 5 girls (no brothers)...I don't remember feeling like no parental time -I think I got a lot more attention from my mom than I may give to my 2 my mom was usually babysitting other kids.

Sometimes though it might be my dad taking just us three oldest girls to some kind of event.

I don't remember feeling neglected.

I do agree though - that kids should help out in a family situation with lots of siblings - but even if there are only 2 or 3 siblings - everyone should share in the work and responsibility.

I too have heard of oldest kids being burned out by being a 2nd a child to be a helper/wife/mother is fine - but relying on them b/c you can't handle the work yourself is another thing.

Lyndi said...

I only have 1 brother and 1 child, but I will still put my two cents in:) My dad came from a family of 13 and I know he loves all his siblings and for me, i love the large family of aunts, uncles and cousins-(i have 39? cousins on just his side) however, he was left to teach himself quite a few things growing up and if it weren't for the grace of God he could be a very different man that he is today. Even though his parents were Christians it was constant cooking, cleaning, feeding etc and it was easy for him to get lost in the shuffle, (he's #12) However, now that everyone is grown it is lots of fun.

I think there can tend to be pressure from other SAHM's on women that they need to keep having children or they are not as godly or are sinning-that is NOT the reason to have a large family. BOTH the husband and wife need to be in constant prayer about the size of their family and agree as well. As discussed on other posts-if it gets to be too much for the mom, it is not healthy for her or the kids. As women, God gives us different talents and abilities, it is up to us to use them to glorify HIM. I can't glorify God by playing music or singing in church and I shouldn't feel like less of a Christian b/c I don't have that talent, likewise if I am not the type to handle having 12 kids then I shouldn't feel like less of a Christian/woman either.

I don't believe every woman should stay at home and continue to have as many children as possible. Quality is more important that quantity. :)If I can successfully raise 12 kids to the glory and honor of the Lord than that is wondeful, however, If I have 12 kids and they all turn from Him how is that honoring God? It is better for me to focus on the number of kids I can succesfully lead to the Lord.

As far as older kids helping the younger-it is great teaching for the future, just as long as they are still allowed to be kids too. they are only young once and what a shame to have the "burdens" of a family their entire life and never get to experience the care free fun of childhood.

Mrs. T said...

Mrs. Jo: Yup, just like I said. It's one thing to LEARN responsibility, it's another thing to BE responsible before your time. I'm so grateful for having hands-on experience regarding baby care and running a home (although I came from the second category...the disorganized one LOL), and I took a lot of joy in helping with the kids and helping my mom. But I was just big sister, and my mom was always mom.

I even helped the younger kids with their schoolwork (we were all homeschooled) and I am proud of the fact that I taught 3 of my siblings to read. :) I didn't do that because my mom handed me the reigns, but I actually took it upon myself and my mom was grateful for the help. So there is definitely value for older kids helping out with younger kids. And my siblings and I are ALL close, which is one thing that I think came with that. Which is good for my younger siblings, I think. My youngest sib and I in particular have a close relationship. And that's neat, considering the 12 year age gap. My three sisters are my three best friends, even though I was seven when the youngest sister was born.

Mrs. T said...

I always post a comment without finishing my thoughts. I'm notorious I swear.

Anyhoo, so like I said there is value for the children when they are included in the family nitty-gritty, but I think it undermines it when the mom distances herself from her responsibilities and hands the reigns over to immature children who are not Biblically put in that position. I see this with chores as much as childcare. I think kids SHOULD do chores. I think we have a responsibility to ourselves, our family, our country, and our world to take care of our things, our space, our domain, and ourselves. But there is a difference between changing a diaper occaisionally and being in charge of a baby. And I think it is dangerous, for all the kids, to enter into a sort of "lord of the flies" situation lol without mom's direct guidance. My mom's kids were given to HER and my dad, not to me or my brother. Yeah. I think I'm just repeating myself over and over basically, so I shall stop. :D

Mrs. Jo said...

Mrs. T,

Thanks for sharing your story. I envy you those 3 sisters! I think it's so neat that you taught some siblings to read. I agree completely that older kids should help out a lot and learn domestic things, but not BE the parents.

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