The Case for Siblings
I have gotten the impression that some people think big families are accidents, as if the parents are a bit simple and just haven’t figured out how these things work, so they didn’t manage to stem the flow of children before it got embarrassing, kind of like when you wait too long to fix your cat and suddenly have ten kittens that need homes.
My husband and I each come from families with seven children. There were times as a kid when I was embarrassed to have so many siblings. I would go through sibling by sibling and try to pick which ones I didn’t want so that our family could be a more normal size. I always arrived at the same conclusion: that I liked each one and would keep them after all. When Matt and I were dating we said that we would have two to four children. We currently have two plus four children, to quote my father, “we figure it’s a good start to a family.”
It saddens me to see fewer couples choosing to have large families because coming from a big family has been an amazing blessing for me. My brother and sisters are my best friends. They are the ones I call when I need to share or laugh and when I can’t handle my grief. Beside Matt they are the ones who held me as we lost our babies last year, and they packed up the nursery so that I wouldn’t have to come home and stare into the empty cribs. After the gift of life, the greatest gift my parents ever gave me was the gift of my siblings.
It’s a gift I wanted to give my children. Our siblings share histories, parents, and memories with us in ways that no one else ever could. That helps them understand us like no one else does.
Big families are often big by design and not by accident. When my second son was born, and I lay in the hospital bed snuggling his little body in my arms, I felt that my family was complete. But, I soon found that I couldn’t justify leaving my children with just one sibling simply because I didn’t like pregnancy, labor, or lack of sleep. I struggled with this again after our daughter was born. I had my little girl. I could dress her up and teach her to sew. We would do everything together and be best friends. Family complete.
About this time one of my husband’s aunts died, leaving behind an only child, a daughter who said that in losing her mother she had lost her best friend. I realized that, if life followed a natural course, I would probably die about thirty years before my daughter, leaving her as devastated as Matt’s cousin. I knew that what she really needed was a best friend much closer to her age, otherwise known as a sister. Fortunately, God thought so, too, and we arrived at five.
As the average family continues to shrink in size, fewer people understand the unique dynamics of a big family. Relationships form differently. Here are some of my observations:
- Forming bonds with siblings is just as important, if not more so, than forming them with parents. A child’s siblings will hopefully be around long after the parents have passed. Where the mother of one child may sit with her child on her lap and read a story, the mother of many will sit and read the story with two kids on her lap, one on each side, one hanging over the back of the couch, and one on the floor chewing on her foot. Those children are bonding with their mom, just like the only child, but they are also bonding with one another (well not so much the foot chewer but he’ll get there as he grows).
- Big families develop kids with character. Because mom or dad cannot give each child their full attention all the time big sisters teach little brothers to tie their shoes. Big brothers teach little sisters to make cookies. The older child is learning responsibility, patience and leadership as the younger child is learning a new skill. By necessity everyone learns to share and wait their turn.
- Children with lots of siblings are often very independent. Because the parents can’t be and do everything for them, they give the child freedom in things that are less important, and the kids learn to solve their own problems. While this can result in trips to grocery shop with two kids in backward pants and mismatched shoes, one dressed in a dinosaur costume, and another with a tutu on her head. The kids learn to make their own choices and the parent to let the little things go.
- These kids end up with relationship skills. Each day each child in a big family is going to need to relate to each other child and their parents. That gives them some serious people skills --eventually.
When a friend asks me if I think that she should have another child I tell her two things. First of all, that she may regret NOT having another child, but will never regret having him. Secondly, I tell her that while love doesn’t divide but it multiplies, time does the opposite. The more children you have, the less time you have for each one individually. So, you need to be willing to sacrifice in other areas to have time for your kids. I wish I had added a third bit of advice: Another sibling is one of the greatest gifts you can give your children.