My three-year-old daughter has been begging for a set of bunk beds for her room for months now. She shares the room with two of her older sisters, and it’s been a bit cramped with a crib, a toddler bed, and a regular twin-sized bed in there. Of course I doubt she minds the tight quarters so much as the fact that she wants to be like my four oldest kids, all of whom have bunk beds. We had decided once she was old enough that we would indeed buy a set of bunks, and the day finally came. Only we didn’t tell her we’d bought them, and made sure she was occupied outside while my husband assembled them.
Finally it was time for the big reveal. We grabbed the video camera and told her to come upstairs to see the surprise in her room.
If you can’t tell by the look on her face in the picture (she’s the blondie in the front), she was pleased as punch. So, so excited. Still talking, in fact, about how her “bunk bed is good!”–as if it were an old friend with a personality.
It’s not just her jubilation though that you can see from looking at the picture, if you study it closely enough. You’ll notice that my daughter isn’t alone, but surrounded by a bunch of smiling siblings who look just about as happy as she does. (More siblings were present, but they didn’t make it into the picture.) It’s the same group of smiling siblings that’s been present for all of her Major Life Moments, like when she got to pick out big girl undies at the store last month or when she graduated from a crib to her toddler bed last year. They make her cards and sing to her on her birthday, help her find pjs before bed, and hold her chubby hand in the parking lot.
It’s funny because I’ve heard people–and not a small number of people–suggest that parents-to-many-children (like myself) are the equivalent of human hoarders, selfishly putting the desire to ”have a lot of kids” ahead of the good of their kids. Because, don’t you know, you can’t possibly have time to properly love and nurture more than two–or maybe three–children, resulting in all of them missing out on the affection and attention necessary to the human condition.
Not only do I think these claims are ridiculously unfounded, I also think they’re looking at it all wrong. The whole “how do you give your kids enough one-on-one time when there are so many of them?” question presupposes that children are primarily looking and longing for individualized attention from mom and dad. In a vacuum. Which sometimes they are (and I suspect this will increase as we approach and enter the teen years–cue up heart palpitations and nerve-riddled twitching), but on a general day-to-day basis, give me a break. If you ask my kids, everything’s more fun with a crowd of buddies. Catching grasshoppers and dragonflies, playing in the sprinklers, drinking hot chocolate on a snowy day, all of it. They rarely request to play or be alone, to the point where I occasionally have to enforce them having some alone time. (“If you’re not getting along today, why do you insist on continuing to play together?”–I find myself asking this at least a couple of times a week. In a really frustrated voice.) They’re all fiercely independent, and yet when push comes to shove, they genuinely like being together.
I used to think it was a funny myth, this notion that moms and dads in large families can’t give their children as much of themselves. But now I think it’s actually a deceitful and strategic lie, straight from the devil himself. Because if you think about it, we are giving our kids the very essence of ourselves: another human being to love and to be loved, the most tangible expression of love that is the result of a generous and flourishing marriage. Security, new life, beauty, renewal, joy, vulnerability, responsibility. All gifts that our kids receive in being a sibling. And my children receive untold attention from me, possibly more than they’d like, in a typical week around the house.
No mother or father ought to ever feel guilty for raising more than a handful of kids, and no family should worry that their children are missing out on something by having brothers and sisters. I really believe that just as we parents are blessed by a new child joining the family, our kids are gaining something too. I may feel way in over my head sometimes (please tell me that you do too), but then I would imagine that’s all moms, not just moms with eight kids. And learning how to navigate that tension of caring for oneself, managing stress, maintaining a peaceful home, and properly tending to one’s duties as a wife and mother is a most necessary life skill that my children will best learn from watching me. Real life means they should see me throwing up my hands and saying I can’t do it all, because that is me demonstrating my intense need for Jesus, prayer, and the Sacraments. That is me being given an opportunity to point my children (and myself) towards holy saints who have run the race with perseverance, to the end. If things are always easy and simple, how will any of us learn to suffer and live with grace and hope?
Having someone to share in your joys and your sorrows is no small thing in this life, especially as our culture is becoming increasingly marked by isolation and loneliness. So I hope that if nothing else, I am giving my children a home filled-to-the-brim with loud and crazy love, and a hands-on crash-course in truth and virtue. It felt great surprising my daughter with something she’d been wanting, but as I sat looking through the photos I was reminded that the very best thing you can give your child is love. Period. And judging by the brothers and sisters smiling all around her, neither my little girl nor her siblings will ever be lacking for it.