Pic of the day: Big sister is tucking in little sister. From my Sims2 "megafamily".
Lately, most of my computer gaming has been running my "megafamily challenge" in Sims2. I've been up to 14 household members briefly, and it is quite hectic at times. And yet I've known larger families than that in real life. I guess it helps that in real life one hour takes more than a minute, and a year takes more than a day. ^_^ Even so, I guess it can be pretty hectic in real life too!
I think the largest family I have visited in real life was a couple with 18 children; but at least one of them was already moved out and married. I think there may have been "only" 15 left or so. But families of 10 or more are fairly common among traditional Christians such as my friends. For that matter, one of my brothers has such a large family, although I have not spent much time with them and have, I believe, never seen all of them at once. But other such families lived closer and for much of my life I spent my most enjoyable days together with them.
I suspect the greatest challenge in real life is the same that my fellow gamers complain about in The Sims: They are used to micromanaging everything, and this just doesn't work any longer. You have to trust that you have raised them well enough for them to make some decisions for themselves. It is a well known fact that parents tend to have lots of ambitions for their firstborn, and try to shape him or her into their ideal of what a human should be. Eventually they realize that this is wasted energy, because people have an inner nature that unfolds anyway. All you can do is try to assist it so it doesn't get broken or twisted during its growth. Thus the saying: "Before I married, I had 7 principles for raising children. Now I have 7 children and no principles."
I am not talking here about people who get children by surprise. These are family-oriented folks who see the children as their most important contribution to the world and their sacred service to God. Of course they probably still feel like strangling the little stinkers from time to time, but generally they get over it before anything bad happens. In such a home where the children are considered precious and interesting, older brothers and sisters also tend to pick up this attitude, at least when the young ones are not too close to themselves in age. Sometimes when you see an older teenager with a baby, it can be hard to guess that it is not their own, from the way they treat it.
I suspect the process may even be self-perpetuating, so that girls especially who grow up in such a home may be primed to become family-oriented themselves. There seems to be an instinct, more easily awakened in females, that makes it downright enjoyable to spend time with small children. No offense intended, but this is not even unique to humans. Rats will generally prefer pups over cocaine, according to a recent article in Scientific American. And mother mice, when placed in an "adopt-o-tron", will keep pressing the lever that drops newborn baby mice on them, until the room is packed with squirming pink things.
The fact that the big families I have known have all been deeply pious, could make one think that they have these children out of duty or obligation. Not because they particularly want to, but to get a reward in Heaven or at least avoid punishment in Hell. I am sure this happens, and on one or two occasions it would even seem like it. But the vast majority of the families, once committed to this path, seemed to grow to enjoy it deeply. The parents and the children as well felt comfortable with it, as if it was a natural thing. Which it actually is. The unnatural thing is to be single and childless, and slightly less unnatural is to have only one child. Humans in the wild don't live like that. "Primitive" humans admittedly don't have children every year, as the process of intensive suckling lowers the mother's fertility. Also under primitive conditions, some of the children tend to die early. On the other hand, families stick together, so that you are surrounded by not just your own children but your nieces and nephews as well, and the children grow up with relatives that are fairly close to their own age. So the difference is not so big from the most intensive two-parent families with a new child every year and a half. Small wonder if there really are instincts that kick in.
Another thing I learned from real families was the importance of group activities, like musical instruments or board games. While a single child may prefer to put on headphones and listen to a CD or play a computer game, group activities rule when you have many children of different ages. The younger ones like to take after the older and do whatever they do, and in many cases this is possible with board games, singing and to some extent music. Almost all humans like to have people around them much of the time. They love to cooperate and compete, to learn and to teach. This is basic human nature.
Financially, having lots of children is hardly a lucrative business. You have to have room for them all, they need food, they need clothes, and they often need transportation as well. Here in Norway we are lucky to have a high standard of living in general, and the state also pays a moderate amount in encouragement to parents with children. Still, don't expect to have lots of money.
But on the other hand, economy of scale does kick in pretty soon. You do need an extra bathroom for every few kids, but you probably don't need more stoves, and a fridge or two will suffice for even a huge household. Many types of food can be bought cheaper in large quantities, and you are not likely to throw away a large part of what you have cooked. For everyday use, many clothes can be handed down, seeing less and less public use as they grow more worn. You still have to buy some new, but not everything, as you must with just one child.
It is true, you will have to skip some luxury. But for this type of people, having the children in the first place is a luxury. Once there, you would not trade them for anything in the world. And the truth is that satisfying the most basic needs tends to be quite cheap. It is when you get into the hyped-up extra wants that the money really begins rolling. A vacation overseas may be the rule for Norwegians today, but rarely possible for a large family. The cars tend to be functional rather than fast and sleek. Chocolate is not something you eat most days of the week, and apples tend to dominate over exotic imported fruits. But it takes a lot before you begin to starve.
Of course there is a lot of work involved. It could not possibly be otherwise. But as my brother says: "When we had one child, it took all our time." It is the same with ten. Unlikely as it may seem, children may start helping in the house when they realize that they need to, that it is not a punishment but simply something that someone must do for the family to keep living. You don't need to be 18 to feel pride in being relied on. Although to be honest, when it comes to outright housework like cleaning, girls tend to be more reliable than boys. I wonder if this is biological. I have long suspected that men do their proportion of the housework they think needs doing, while women simply see a lot more things they want changed. In the same way, a boy will not resent doing chores; but he will resent when you point out tiny details that he has overlooked. Do this often enough and he will rebel automatically. When things get hectic enough, you just don't have time for nitpicking, and the problem lessens by itself.
And let us face it, much of the "work" with children is their constant need for attention. A baby may perhaps be satisfied with food and sleep, though this is rare enough. From toddlers upward, you will get a constant "lookit, lookit, mama, papa, lookit!" The nifty thing is that you don't need physical strength or wisdom to pay attention. Siblings can do this quite easily. So having 10 kids doesn't mean they are all screaming for your attention. They are all screaming for attention, yes, but the net demand that can't be covered by siblings may be no larger than when you started with the first. Though I guess that depends on how you raised them, and luck of the genetic draw as well. (Or God's will, in the case of most of these families.)
Being an extreme introvert, I doubt I could have raised a dozen kids, or even half that. I am not at all sure my sanity would have lasted long in such a situation. Luckily for all involved, there are several compelling reasons why I would never have children at all, and I was aware of some of them from my youth. So I am never going to practice what I preach here. All I can do is hand it to you, while I play my Sims2 megafamily challenge. More about that later, I expect.
Visit the archive page for the older diaries I've put out to pasture.