Jul 22, 2011

What dark secrets do large families hold behind closed doors?

This post comes largely because of some criticisms that the Duggar family have received.  Many have commented on blogs and forums that the Duggar family may look happy on the outside, in the public eye, but behind closed doors there is probably a lot of abuse and discontent.

Well, honestly, I don't know what happens behind closed doors in the Duggar family.  I've never met them.  But I do wonder that a TV program that has run for three years wouldn't pick up some of that supposed abuse.  I also admit that I know a couple of people who came from large families that feel like they were deprived as children.  I also acknowledge that there probably are a lot of large families out there with abusive parents.

Guess what?  Sadly, in our society there are also a lot of small families where the children are abused.  There are people who were an only child who feel like their parents didn't spend enough time with them.  There are families of two where the older child was forced to raise the younger child.  It's a tragic reality that not everyone has good intentions, and children are often a victim of the imperfections of adults.  Personally I think that parental abuse has nothing to do with the number of children in a family.  It comes from bad parenting.  Most parents are not abusive.  They love their children, and are doing the best that they can.  When we see a system we don't agree with, we tend to focus on the worst and apply it to the whole generally.  This is wrong, but we all do it.

Personally, I admire the Duggar family, and I think that they really are what they appear to be, a happy family where the parents are in love, the children get along, their homeschool education is thriving, and their family worship inspires all of the members of the family to do their best, serve others, and glorify God.  I have no reason to believe that the children in that home are unhappy, and I believe that the opposite is true.

I also know what life was like in my own home, "behind closed doors".  Frankly, sometimes what happened in the view of all was a lot worse than what we did in private.  People would see a group of kids, some without shoes (they refused to wear them), some wearing mis-matched clothes (they wanted to dress themselves), and see rambunctious energy at a family picnic and wonder how on earth my mother managed to do it all.  Behind closed doors, they missed our family gardening together, or daily family devotional where the children would recite poetry.  They missed evenings where my father read to us.  The family trips where we lived in a moterhome together, the homeschooling projects, and sing-a-longs were rarely seen by the public eye.  The home was often cleaner when we had company, but we lived there, truly lived there, and that is what we grew accustomed to.

Behind closed doors, we all loved being a part of a big family.  I can't imagine what our family would be like without any of my siblings.  If I wanted a smaller family, who would I have wished was never born?  How tragic!  When my mother got pregnant, none of us were consumed with thoughts of how our Christmas might yield fewer gifts, or how we might get less time with our parents.  Our mother was home all day long with us.  That was a consistent thing that we knew we could depend on.  Even now, my mother always makes time for me, and my father does as well.  No, when a new baby was on the way, it was always a time of great excitement.  We always got to take a break from school.  We all would get to hold the baby.  We knew that as the child grew, we would have another playmate.  All had hopes and dreams for the child, although some were more realistic than others.

Do you want to know the biggest, dark secret that I have kept about our family is?  Do you want to know what I felt was the greatest injustice?  It had nothing to do with the number of children.  Both of my parents allowed my sister to eat something else when we had tuna-fish sandwiches, but I had to eat the pancakes that had vegetables blended into the batter, or nothing at all.  They were gross, and I went hungry sometimes because I refused to eat them.  I rejoice that my children will never have to eat them.  (Mom, if you read this, please take it with a grain of salt and just laugh.)

If that was the biggest injustice I experienced growing up, I think that my parents did pretty good.  They did Great!  All of my siblings are very close.

My father-in-law comes from a family of 14, and they too are very close.  All of them are grown now, and all are different, but there is such a beautiful feeling of kinship between them and the cousins.  Family reunions are a big deal, and great effort and sacrifices are made to come to them, many coming from out-of-state.  They are very accepting, and marrying into this family is the best wedding present my husband could give me.

In summary, I conclude that while some families may be harboring dark secrets, it is wrong to assume that they do.  It is wrong to judge a family's happiness by their size.  If a large family appears to be happy, has well-behaved, intelligent children, and parents that appear to be in love, chances are good that this family is doing something right.  By their fruits ye shall know them.

Jul 20, 2011

How will I put them all through college?

A common misconception in our society is that parents are obligated to pay for their children's college.  Every financial adviser my husband and I have talked to has questioned our plans in this regard.  Parenting magazines (whatever they're worth) offer tips to save for it.  Complete strangers who find out we're still planning on having more kids often ask about it.  College is expensive, the costs are rising, and in this economy, many parents are concerned about what they will do when their kids graduate from high school.  Having a large family makes the task seem even more daunting.

If you are planning on flipping the bill, good for you.  Don't let me stop you.  It's a personal choice.

But here's a little secret.  Psst!  (whispering)  You don't have to!

You don't have to pay for their college education!  Really.  My parents of 11 and my husband's parents of 3 both made the conscious choice to not pay for their children's college, and as college graduates, my husband and I are GRATEFUL for that choice.  We both value our education more because we had to work our way through it ourselves.  Doing well academically was important to us because we wanted to be able to get scholarships.  We both graduated debt free.

My husband was lucky, he was valedictorian and had a full-ride scholarship.  He still had to pay for room and board when he left home, and working to pay for that was an important lesson for him.

My parents did help pay for my first year of college, and it was very appreciated, but after that I was on my own and the real learning began.  The biggest thing that they contributed was free room and board while I was going through college.  It's hard to find a scholarship equal to that!  I never lived off of ramen noodles.  Thanks mom!  I worked very hard to find scholarships I could apply for and tried several.  Some of them I actually won, and I appreciated them even more because of the work that went into them.  Those scholarships made my education possible.  Various ones were from the school, one was from 4-H, and one was from Mountain America Credit Union.  I also paid for a lot of it myself, even taking a semester off and going part-time one year because I couldn't afford to go full-time.  But I did finish, and I didn't bring any college debt into our marriage.

I never did apply for a grant.  That was a personal choice, I didn't think that tax payers should have to pay for my education.  I'm proud of that decision.  However, I do have several friends who came from large families who qualified for a huge amount of federal aid because they came from large families.  My husband's father was a school teacher, his mother a homemaker, and with three children they just barely didn't qualify.  With four children, they would have.

Paying for my own schooling was a valuable life lesson for me.  I am responsible for my own education, and I did a lot of soul-searching to decide if college was important for me, and why.  I looked into a lot of different options.  Not all young adults want to go to college, and finding those other alternatives and choosing them is another growing experience that they might miss out on if they feel entitled to their parental college stipend.

My brother just younger than me decided to go to a tech school.  He then got a well-paying job working machinery.  That job is now putting him through college off and on as he chooses.  He was such a good student at the tech that they hired him to be a teacher, so he works there part-time as well.  He is financially prepared to provide for a family, and his monthly rent to my parents is a great blessing to them.  He's handsome and single, look out world!

My sister dreamed of traveling the world, and she really has.  She paid her expenses and traveled to China to teach English.  Twice after that the program paid her expenses as she worked as a mentor, overseeing and helping other young adults in the program.  She traveled to Ukraine and China.  Wow!  How do you put a value on that experience?  Pre-marriage, young adulthood is a time for learning and personal growth.  It is a time for becoming.  My sister's experience and service abroad has served her well.  Now she is applying for a midwifery school.

My next brother is currently serving an LDS mission.  I look forward to seeing what he will decide to do with his life after that.

My younger siblings are looking into other fields.  Some are college-bound, not all.  One dreams of being a veterinarian.  I chose music because it was something that I could do on the side, part time, if I needed to contribute to the family finances.  As the title of my blog suggests, what I really dreamed of in my youth was to be a mother.  You don't need a degree to do that!  Most of what I have learned to help me in THIS career has been self-taught through the books I have read and on-the-job training.  Oh yes.  Being the oldest of eleven children helped prepare me for that too.

Other options for young adults are apprenticeships, entrepreneur endeavors, tech schools, and yes, even service to the community.  College is nice, but it is not necessary for becoming a productive, successful member of society.  Nor is it prerequisite for being an intelligent human being.  Teachers teach, students educate.  I am a student of life.

So don't worry, parents, you don't have to pay your child's way through college.  Myth busted.

Jul 18, 2011

Myth #1: Having a big family is selfish

Overpopulation is a big concern for a lot of people.  There are 7 billion people on this planet, and finite resources.  The responsible thing to do is to have 2.1 kids, or less.  "Zero population is the answer my friends..."  Humans are the worst thing that have ever happened to this planet, and if there were less of us, the world would be a better place.  If everyone had 8 kids, the results would be disasterous!

Or.  Not.

Yes, when I was in college I had to read Mathus's Essay on the Principle of Population.  It was a required class I took my last semester in order to graduate.  "Life Science", they called the class.  Believe me, I am aware of the argument.  I disagree.  OverpopulationIsAMyth.com does a better job at debunking this idea than I can.  Check out their website for more videos, studies, and facts.

Is overpopulation a problem we are facing today?  Far from it.  Japan is not the only country with an aging population.  Europe is filling more coffins than cribs.  In Russia, Putin has openly confessed that the biggest trial his country is facing is that there aren't enough babies.  Europe and Russia have tried offering financial incentive to families for having children, but it hasn't helped.  This is a very serious problem facing the world today, and is contrary to what we have been taught in school.  From a non-religious perspective, the reality is that human beings, precious little babies, are the world's most valuable resource.

Demographic Winter is a recent documentary that explains these issues in greater detail.

As far as finite resources argument, I confess that yes, ULTIMATELY the world could run out of resources, but we aren't there yet.  Not even close.  From my Judeo-Christian heritage comes the command to multiply AND replenish the earth.  We are told to take care of the earth, and to fill it.

I love mother nature and I strive to protect our natural resources in a number of ways.  We buy in bulk.  We downsized our home.  We recycle.  We use sustainable, green cleaning products.  We use cloth diapers.  We often purchase organic and/or locally grown food.  These lifestyle choices are different and distinctly separate from our decision to have a large family.  Choices like this are obviously better for the earth, no controversy.  Having a large family does not contradict that choice.  We are striving to raise a large family.  My children are the best gift that I can give the world.

Is having a large family a selfish thing to do?  Really?  I suspect I'm preaching to the choir, but I'll let you decide for yourself.

Jul 17, 2011

In defense of large families...

This is a topic that has weighed heavily on my mind the last few weeks, and after some consideration I have decided to publicly share my thoughts on this topic.

My personal perspective on this is somewhat unique.  I am the oldest of 11 (yes, eleven) children.  Growing up, I have always looked up to and admired the mothers of large families.  My own mother, of course, is especially one of the women that I admire.

 There is something about having a family that large that makes a woman, well, become.  A mother becomes more when she has this responsibility.  More patient.  More loving.  More skilled.  More diplomatic.  More refined.  More intelligent.  More full of Charity.  Even more Christlike.  I look up to these women, and I do not think it a selfish thing to want that experience of becoming for myself.

Besides, I really love kids.  :o)

I really feel a need to write a defensive post, largely because having a large family is becoming increasingly unpopular, even here in Utah.  Disclaimer done.

Picture the scene:  A young woman announces to her friends that she is going to have a baby.  Squeals of delight fill the room.  Baby showers, gifts, and baby-mooning soon follow.  Two become three, and their world will never be the same again.

Later the young woman becomes pregnant again.  Again there are well-wishers, and general excitement over the new baby's arrival.  Again, a beautiful scene.

Here comes my baby #3.  I am pleased to say that my community really reached out to me when my 3rd was born.  Meals were brought, and family traveled to see our little guy and support him.  Overall, it was all very charming.  But already things are starting to change.  When I go out with my children, my baby doesn't always get the adoring looks my first son was privy too.

And I'm just starting my family.

What happens to a family when baby number 8, or 10, or 14 comes along?
Neighbors will still bring food, family will still offer their support, but society offers only condolences.  "They're crazy!"  "The poor children!"


Why is having a large family frowned on?  Why is it uncool for a young girl, when asked what she wants to be when she grows up, to respond, "A mother"?

I don't know for sure, but I have a few ideas that I will be sharing with you this week.  They will not be politically correct; they will be controversial.  I welcome your comments and perspectives.  I just have a few things that I need to get off of my chest...

Jul 13, 2011

Fun with Watermelon

I'm not very good at making sugar cookies, in fact I have done it only once with my children. But I love our cookie cutters and wanted to put them to good use, so we used them on our watermelon yesterday. The kids loved it! The only bad thing about it was that my 3-year-old didn't want to eat the watermelon that surrounded his new creation. Oh well, more for me.

Two years ago I saw a fantastic idea in the Family Fun magazine to have a watermelon carving contest.  We carved one and the result was even creepier than the orange counterparts.  Our neighbors all commented on our creation.  Gutting the watermelon was a sticky mess, but the results were worth it.

Jul 6, 2011

Dreaming of a dream home

About a year ago we sold our house at a loss.  There was extensive mold damage, and we fixed it all before we moved.  We didn't sell the lemon that we bought.  Our home was a 6-bedroom home that we fancied we could fix up and sell, or alternatively never outgrow as our family grows.  I was very relieved when we sold it, and this last year we have been paying off our debt.  I have been very happy to rent.  Downsizing to a two-bedroom home has actually been invigorating and wonderful for us.  The apartment that we are renting is very nice, with tall ceilings, and we love it here.  The bedrooms are very large.  One houses our library and my husband's office (he works from home), and the other comfortably sleeps all five of us.  We got rid of a LOT of our stuff, and it is invigorating to know that our next move will be a lot easier for us.

Ah yes, our next move, which brings us to this post.  I love it here, but eventually we want our children to be able to move out of our bedroom, and alas, we will outgrow this town-home community.  Recently my husband and I have spent long hours discussing and dreaming of, well, our dream home.  A dream home is different for everyone, and I am sure that our dream home is probably different from yours, but allow me to tell you about it anyway.

Our dream home is NOT very large- I don't want to have to clean it.

Our dream home does not have several bedrooms for our (hopefully someday) large family.  Alas, growing up, my next sister and I had many arguments concerning our living space, and yet we also had bonding moments going to sleep at night that I wish I could have shared with my other sisters.  My husband and I agree that in our dream home, bedrooms will primarily be for sleeping.  Like the Duggar family (I adore them!), we would like to have two large bedrooms for our children, one for the boys, and one for the girls.  Yes, and one for us and the baby.

Our dream home will have a large laundry room that will house all of our clothing.  I think that Michelle Duggar was brilliant on this aspect and I want to do that too.  One room for all of the family clothing.

Michael dreams of a large garage where he could have a wood-working shop.

Then there's little things like a child-sized toilet, a drinking fountain, an indoor treehouse for reading with a slide (why not dream big?), and a large kitchen area.

We also want an energy efficient home, one that is disaster resistant (a bomb-proof cellar would be excellent), and one that won't wear out over time.  We are DONE with mold.  So done.  Michael got really sick whenever he spent any prolonged time in our last basement.  I'm sure it wasn't good for the babies and I either.

Monolithic Domes

Our dream home is a Monolithic Dome.  They are permanent, extremely energy efficient, and mold will never be a problem.  If money were not an issue, we would build a 2500 square foot dome (including the garage) and live in it the rest of our lives.

Pretty neat, isn't it?  We priced it out on their website and found that we could build our dream home for about $250,000, including the land.  For half of that we could build a dome home that would fulfill our needs, but it would be tight, and would not have a garage.

My husband and I want to live a debt-free life, and more importantly, we have big goals of becoming financially independent and free.  Being out of a house and renting gives us great flexibility, which we love right now, but eventually we want to be in a home and pay no rent to the bank or a landlord.  Some very cheap housing alternatives have looked appealing to us.  We are in the early research phase for all of these, but I thought I would still give a shout-out and let you know that these very green and dirt-cheap options exist.  We could buy some land, and live in a trailer home until the home was completed, making our housing very affordable in the meantime.

Cob houses

If we build a cob house, we would let a machine do much of the work- a rototiller can mix a lot faster than your feet can.

Many cob houses are also straw-bale hybrids.  Michael reminded me that in the event that mice ever got in the walls, you would never get rid of them, and no further research has been done on straw homes, even if they are excellent insulation, etc.

Earth Bag Homes

An Earth Bag Home is another option.  The construction process is more appealing to me.

Rammed Earth homes

Storage Container Homes

Speaking of cheap, if you don't want to get your hands dirty, these look appealing.  We would definitely do something to the exterior so that the neighbors wouldn't hate us...

If you have stuck with me this long, you deserve to some comic relief.  Here are 10 homes that are NOT our dream home:

The end!  Thank you for watching!
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