Large families?
0 comment Tuesday, September 2, 2014 |
Caveat: the following is not meant to disparage anybody who has few or no children. I am speaking in generalities and I trust that nobody will take offense at anything I say here.
In the recent discussion, the question of family size and number of children came up. Now, the most common reason we hear for encouraging large families these days, is the Mark Steyn-esque argument that we need to outbreed the Moslems. I think that's one of the least compelling, and the worst reasons, for having large families. First, can we, who are a dwindling number globally, out-reproduce the teeming Third World? Remember we are far outnumbered, and also keep in mind that this teeming Third World is knocking ever more insistently at our doors and windows. Those who are not already in our midst are on their way or planning to be on their way or trying to find out how they can get here, wishing to be somewhere in the 'rich world', as they call it in The Economist. So hoping to outpace the Third World in reproducing is a far-fetched hope.
There are better reasons for having large families, the best being that we love children and want to welcome as many as we can take care of into our already happy lives. And for Christians, we view kids as God's gift to us, and we want to raise them to know and love and serve and give glory to God.
As members of a large extended family called our nation or people, we want to raise our children to carry on the life of that group, and to continue our ways and our heritage into the future. Our children are the future for our particular line, and for our people.
Who should not have a large family, or perhaps any children? Those who don't want children, who are not prepared financially to care for them, or who are in some way not good candidates.
People should not reproduce carelessly and should not have children by accident.
But apart from all this, what are the advantages of big families?
Over the last 30-35 years, we've seen the triumph of the leftist-feminist idea that large families are harmful to women, who are thereby made nothing but domestic slaves to husband and children. Even many 'conservative' women believe this, and say as much. Once, only leftist feminists said and thought such things; now it's considered common wisdom among 'conservatives', sadly.
The other attitude that has won out since the counterculture days is the 'zero population growth' attitude, that somehow people having large families are irresponsible and backward and selfish, while having few or no children is the sure sign of an enlightened, environmentally responsible person.
Somehow, this ethic is never applied to the Third World peoples, whether they are at home in their native countries or whether they are here in our countries, breeding large families, at public expense.
Another argument that has been widely accepted is that couples cannot afford large families because today's world makes childrearing and stay-at-home mothering out of reach of 'average' people. I say this is not as true as we think; it's all a matter of priorities. It's only economically unfeasible for some people because they choose to spend their resources on pricey toys and gadgets, extensive travel, dining, and many other non-essentials while ruling out the 'expensive' family.
This is very much a 'live for today' attitude, which is at odds with conservatism or tradition.
Today we have much higher standards in terms of what we think is an acceptable standard of living. Many think poverty means having only one car, or living in a modest home rather than a McMansion, or shopping at a lower-price retailer (and I don't mean Wal-Mart) rather than having the trendiest, most up-to-date of everything.
In other words, many of us are spoiled and self-indulgent.
Most of us, myself included, could cut out a lot of the frills and nonessentials and thus have more money for the essentials. In this day of rising gas prices, and tightened budgets, we will probably have to cut out the fat.
But are there real arguments to be made for large families?
I grew up in a fairly large family of five children.
My parents were from large families, of thirteen and eight children, respectively.
Here's what I know from experience and observation about large families:
The children of large families are given more responsibility, usually through necessity, and they have to pull their weight and do their part. This encourages a work ethic and a mature attitude at an earlier age, as well as giving them confidence in what they can do.
They learn the idea of accommodating and getting along with others among a group of siblings.
Kids in a large family are each others' company and entertainment, as well as emotional support. You learn to interact with peers through interacting with your sisters and brothers. Granted, it's not always a bed of roses, but neither is life in the larger world. It teaches you a sense of reality.
"The great advantage of living in a large family is that early lesson of life's essential unfairness."
- Nancy Mitford
Older children in the family act as role models (in positive ways, and sometimes negative ways).
Older siblings can sometimes be an inspiration either to do good things, or an example to avoid, by bad example. Having younger siblings helps us learn childcare skills and responsibility, which prepare us to be parents in our turn.
Having many siblings tends to teach us not to be as materialistic, because resources are spread rather thinner in large families, and we learn to have regard for others and their wants and needs as well as our own.
Children in larger families have a less exaggerated sense of their own importance; in a larger family you are not going to be doted upon by your parents or grandparents as much as if you were an only child. You thus attain a sense of perspective about yourself and your value. You don't get the idea that the sun rises and sets on you, in a large family. It isn't all about you. There are other people to be considered, and everybody has to take their turn, and learn to wait.
I've noticed that many 'only children' have more trouble relating to peers, or that they tend to be more idiosyncratic, more inclined to be loners. That can be good or bad, but from an outsider's perspective, it seems rather lonely to be an only child. Friends somewhat take the place of siblings, but friends can and do come and go. They are not always there for life, as siblings usually are.
Now I can hear the arguments that 'brothers and sisters aren't always close; many times they can't get along, and even loathe each other.' That's as may be; no doubt it happens, but I don't see that in really well-functioning, loving families much. I didn't see any of that kind of conflict in my Dad's family; the bond between him and his brothers and sisters, and their loyalty to each other, overrode any squabbles they had, which were few.
Blood is, as the old saying has it, thicker than water. Friends can fall out and part ways forever, (and yes, so can family members) but especially with a large family, even if you are estranged from one or two of your siblings, there are plenty of others there for you. Large families present better odds of having supportive, loyal family members who will stick by you.
The same is true of parents and children. My beloved Grandma, with thirteen children and dozens of grandchildren and who knows how many great-grandchildren never lacked for someone to care for her at the end of her life. She did live a long and healthy and active life, and her health failed only at the very end. She was always surrounded by people who loved her as only family members can love.
Of course we can love those who are not kin. But there is a special kind of accepting, enduring, unconditional love that is found among close kin. We can see it also between loving spouses and among certain very close friends, but the family circle is the main source of such love, and after all, it's within the close family unit that we first learn love, acceptance, cooperation, self-sacrifice, and compassion. We also learn patience, and contrariwise, we learn how to stand up for ourselves, if we have contentious siblings.
The family is a microcosm of the larger world out there. It can prepare us to succeed and prosper, given the right conditions. Even a less-than-ideal family can teach us useful lessons.
And surely having large families, with many caring relatives is better for society, especially when seen from a conservative or traditional perspective. In the future, given the prevalence of small families, there will be many, many older people who will rely on nursing home care, and on the ministrations of strangers and the government to help them as they become infirm.
In past eras, when there were large families, siblings shared in the care of the elders when they could no longer take care of themselves, and there was less need for the old folks to be warehoused in nursing homes as they aged and their health failed. Usually, one of the many children could take in the ailing parent and care for them at home.
From a conservative point of view, smaller families and many childless adults will one day mean many frail elderly having to be cared for by the state and by strangers in the relatively near future. If our ideal is smaller government, and a shrinking of the 'nanny state', small families are counterproductive. The presence of strong (and large) family support systems means far less need for entitlement programs and institutions for the elderly.
Likewise, the leftist-feminist agenda has created a need for more day-care centers and has led to a tendency to put toddlers in 'pre-schools' at earlier ages, in the care of the school system.This contrasts to the customs of the past. When I was a child, most of us did not leave our mothers until age six, when we were required to start first grade. Now, at age six, most children are already veterans of the 'system', and fully acculturated to the public school institution.
So the smaller family tends to mean more isolation, early in life and late in life, with the reliance on the rather impersonal institution rather than the loving bosom of the family.
There are many reasons why the left pushed the idea the desirability of few or no children, and of the 'village' raising our children, as opposed to parents and the extended family having control over their children's upbringing. Overall, the agenda has weakened the family and home and the influence thereof, in favor of the influence of the state and debased popular culture.
And speaking of debased popular culture, has anybody noticed how much our popular culture tends to disparage and ridicule the family unit, especially the traditional family? Many sitcoms and movies tend to portray 'dysfunctional' families with obnoxious, boorish parents and malicious siblings. The family is treated very roughly in our entertainment media. I think this is intentional.
People in a society with mostly small families and a weakened family unit are often people with few close ties, people who are rootless and disconnected and more prone to alienation and anomie. They might be possibly more inclined to find 'surrogate families' in weird places, like cults, or political causes, or perhaps simply to remain permanent adolescents, doing adolescent things into middle age or beyond. We often read the standard excuses made by liberal sociologists and journalists about how fatherless kids, (of whom we have many now) or kids with weak family bonds, join gangs, and find their support system there. We are social animals, and people who lack the most primal connections will either tend to find some substitute, or perhaps just become isolated. There does seem to me to be a larger number of isolated, lonely people in today's America, compared to the past.
On WikiAnswers, someone asked about the advantages and disadvantages of a large family.
The only response was this:
If someone decides to have a large family that's their business, however having a large family you better have a good salary or both parents working as the cost of having a large family today is expensive. With a small family the costs are less.''
Is this what it really comes down to, dollars and cents? It isn't possible to count everything in economic terms. Doing so, or even attempting to reduce everything to the naked economic calculations, shows a kind of soullessness that is the unique product of our spiritually impoverished time.
Our parents and grandparents raised families, often large families, in less prosperous times than ours. If they did it, so can those today who want families.
It all comes down to priorities.
"He that raises a large family does, indeed, while he lives to observe them, stand a broader mark for sorrow; but then he stands a broader mark for pleasure too." - Benjamin Franklin

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