Burnout Fears


My husband and I met and married young and are open to life, therefore, we will most likely end up with a big family. This intimidates me. I did not come from a big family and really have had very little exposure to the inner workings of a family with any more than three children. Consequently, I am always in search of role models. Of course Maryalice is my number one (shout-out, hollar) - but we live several thousand miles apart.

I have to search out local mothers of large families to see their approach, size it up, take pieces of it and implement them in our home. Recently I had a troubling conversation with a 36-year-old mother of eight at one of our local playgrounds. She is an Army wife like me and her husband is currently deployed to Iraq on a 12-month tour. Her eldest two children are 18 and 14 year old girls. She has homesechooled all seven children (#8 is in utero) and everyone appears well-adjusted and well put together. As we watched our children play together, I took the opportunity to shamelessly pick her brain on all topics from lunch-preparation, to curriculum design to cloth diapering. I guess my questions inferred that her two eldest daughters helped a lot around the home because the mom felt the need to clarify that a)She did most/all of the food preparation and b) she rarely asked her older children to babysit the younger ones, but took them along with her instead. She went on to explain that she knew too many adults who had grown up as children in large families and were now "burnt out" from all that had been asked of them as children. They were reluctant to have many children themselves because of how much had been asked of them growing up. By shouldering more of the chores herself, this mom believes she is protecting her children from burning out.

Immediately this struck me as odd. I ask a lot of my eldest (5.5 yr.old girl), and she doesn't seem resentful, but rather, empowered. I have always figured that as long as they don't see me reading _Cosmo_ and painting my nails (I do that when they are sleeping, yea right) - they understand that we are all in this together and that we will have more time for fun together if we do the hard stuff together. They are already well familiar with my sing-songy "work before play" mantra. Yet, there seems to be a kernel of truth in the playground mother's fear. I cannot think of many people who have emerged from large families with the desire to be a parent in one themselves, especially girls. I want to hear from you - how do we find the balance of raising helpful, responsible children without turning them into nannies or cooks? Are any of you the products of large families -- what did your parents do to make growing up a great experience, even with siblings sandwiching you in every direction?

44 comments:

AWOL, GREAT question and topic. I have often wondered about this myself. And, like you, almost all of the time, my mom friends who require a lot of work from their children grew up in small families, and ladies who grew up in large families aren't that eager to get to work caring for their own large family. In my experience, if women from large families are planning to have large families themselves, they are FAR from idealistic or starry-eyed about how it will go, how we'll all work together and sing cheerful songs while we nest. My five sisters-in-law seem to be one exception, but only one is a mom so far, so I'm not sure what they'd say.

I do often wonder if there's some burnout, or loss of interest at least, on the front end when one grows up contributing a lot to a bustling large family or origin. Thank you for asking this question, and I am really looking forward to reading some (encouraging) responses.

June 10, 2010 at 6:13 AM  

Oops, in the second paragraph, I meant "family OF origin".

June 10, 2010 at 6:14 AM  

My mom had us three kids and I totally burned out. (I was the eldest.) The thing is, it all comes down to your additude. If a mom uses her kids for free slave labor and cuts the kids down every day because they aren't doing enough, it's not good enough, they are lazy, they are filthy slobs, blah blah blah then yes, they'll come to resent every ounce of effort they put into YOUR home and YOUR other kids.

But if you are joyful and also appreciative then who can resent that? And it all becomes everyone's house, everyone's family ~ the parents are not just standing there yelling, quick to slap and criticize, like some kind of overseer.

You want to be mom, not slave-driver.

My mom later said to me, when I was an adult, "I was so hard on you as a kid. I feel like you spent your childhood cleaning." She was right: I did. But her words healed deep resentful wounds in my heart and I resloved that I would try to achieve balance with my own kids. I want them to grow up feeling like a viable, necessary part of everything, not just workers sent out to hack away at distasteful chores.

June 10, 2010 at 7:23 AM  

AWOL, This is a great topic. I am also curious if there are Mothers of large families out there who don't burn out? Haha, Seriously, raising kids is a LOT of work, and we all go through periods where things are really hard. I don't really know any mothers of large families that have not gone through periods of burnout!

But back to your topic, isn't it interesting that the older children of large Catholic families seem more inclined to have a vocation? I think they get a more realistic view of family life (marriage isn't the easy way out) and realize that no matter what vocation God calls us to, we are called to serve and work hard. As a result, I think the older children in large families tend to be more open to a vocation other than marriage.

I do agree though that our children need time to be children, not slaves! While a lot of it is about your attitude, some of it is also about the number of tasks you ask your children to complete in a given day. We knew a family of 10 children growing up, and while their mom was always very nice to them, they were never allowed to participate in any activities because the mom just had too much to juggle with the children. I always thought this was sad. It is important to find a balance.

And, this may be controversial, but I don't think all Catholic women who marry young are called to a large family. I don't necessarily even think it should be the default. We are all called to give of ourselves and serve, but God may ask us to do so in different ways. If through prayer you discern you are called to have another child, and then another, I know God will provide a way to raise those children without making the older ones slaves, haha! We have to just take it one kid at a time, and often, when we are hitting our limit, there are signs in place and we then have to exercise the discipline to keep our family at it's present size so that everyone can have a healthy emotional situation. ;-) Just my 2 cents!

June 10, 2010 at 8:29 AM  

I think all homeschooling moms of large families burn out at some time, but those who try to do ALL the food and ALL the cleaning and ALL the childcare either have special graces bestowed on them or else they burn out faster.

I've got five, ages 6-15, and we go through waves when I realize either they're doing too much (rare) or too little (more frequent). We try to engender an "we're all this family together, so we all contribute" attitude. That means aiming to have each child contribute what's appropriate at his or her age. By four or five, I expected them to be able to make a sandwich, pick up and put away clothes, and do a simple chore. By the time they're eight, they should be able to make mac 'n cheese (not from a box), hamburgers, scrambled eggs, and pancakes. I should be able to assign one to entertain a younger sibling, get a toddler's shoes on, etc.

I think the key thing is recognizing the warning signs of burnout and the warning signs of having kids do too little. The hallmark of the latter is an attitude of entitlement. The hallmark of the former is lack of energy (in you) or over-docility in your child. Just as you do a bi-annual checklist of character issues for each child and decide which one to focus on for the next six months, do a reality check on how much each child is doing. It can be eye-opening.

I do think that if the possibility of burnout is on your radar, you will be attuned to the warning signs. The thing is, even when you swing too far in one direction, it's fixable. And if you ever have to go to one of your children and say, "I think I've been asking too much of you", he or she will love you all the more for seeing that and addressing it.

June 10, 2010 at 9:23 AM  

Both my husband and I are the eldest of large families (9 and 7 respectively). Neither of us feel restentful about our childhoods, even though both of us were asked to help out quite a bit. In fact, I think we both feel we had it better than all the rest. While the oldest child usually works the hardest, they also generally get the most praise/attention from their parents. They are the first to do everything, so naturally when they first learn to read or ride a bike or learn to swim it is a bigger deal to Mom and Dad than when number 5 does it. It's not quite as exciting after you've experienced this milestone several times. And don't even get my younger siblings started on photo albums and baby books! There are several of me; my youngest sister has about two pictures of her under age one. Every kid can have their gripes, no matter where they are in the line-up.

My parents focused on instilling in us the idea of family as a team. All of us would have different roles, but we were all working together towards the same goal. We were not all going to be treated equally all the time, but we were all equally important and loved. If the parents love their children, work hard themselves, and create a loving family atmosphere, I don't think many eldest (or middle or younger) children will resent their childhoods.

I will say that I was a little burn-out from childcare by the time I went off to college. In fact, I was planning to enter a cloister after college! While this wasn't a direct reaction to burn-out, I think the cloister was a more attractive than it would be otherwise. I think the burnout was a little more intense for me than my husband since as a girl, I was asked to help out with babies more than him. Still, if the worst that my eldest suffers is a little push to the monastery because of too much chaos, I'm not going to complain!

June 10, 2010 at 9:24 AM  

Hmmm. I'm a single child, so this is all second hand....but I've had friends from big families at both extremes. One dear friend was a middle girl from a family of 9 and plans to have a bunch of kids. Her extended family is close and I know several of her sisters are also having lots of kids. The closest to a complaint I've ever heard from her was that she didn't learn to cook because her mother only taught the oldest girl & didn't have the time/energy to teach more of them. And my friend is a great mom.

But the other one was a high school friend, the oldest girl while her mom was still having babies. Unfortunately, it was one of those situations the Margret Sanger types like to talk about--no NFP/discernment at all, husband totally unwilling to be involved after conception, mother's health wrecked by so many babies. It was awful for her, and the school actually intervened because she missed so much school her Sr. year when her mother had to be hospitalized several times after birth complications. Her goals at 17 were to get as far from her family as possible, delay marriage, and have only 1 or 2 kids. I'm pretty sure she succeeded.

Don't mean to be a downer here! But to me the biggest difference between my 2 friends' experience was in the mothers' health. The father wasn't involved with childcare in either family, but when my HS friend's mom started to have serious health problems, her husband wouldn't learn NFP or abstain & 2 babies later was basically disabled. So I think any discussion of this needs to include the father's role/attitude/model and not just whether or not MOM makes the oldest girl a slave.

Anon4

June 10, 2010 at 10:48 AM  

Coffee Catholic is spot on. A lot of it has to do with the attitude of the mother. If the children are pushed too hard or criticized all the time (because the mother isn't coping), they'll grow up hating it as I did.

I was the eldest of 6 (8 pregnancies, 2 miscarriages, 6 kids). By the time I was 15 I had no desire to be a mother at all. When others my age would fawn and coo over babies in the street, I'd walk away feeling jaded. I wanted to be a religious rather than a mother.

Babies, I thought, were huge saps on time and energy - all they did was sleep, poop and feed. My mother was miserable and stressed out (post-partum depression among other issues) and my brother and I had to do a quite a bit of cleaning and baby-sitting in addition to a rigidly enforced expectation that we would excel at school and sports. She was very strict.

I was definitely burnt out. By the time I got to university, I was completely career focused. I couldn't wait to get out of working class Sydney and then Australia in general. I had no plans to have a large family at all. I remember thinking that if I didn't become a religious then I'd get married but not until I was 35 (that way I'd be limited in the number of children I'd be able to have without contracepting).

It took a long time for me to understand the church's teaching on contraception. Initially, I resented it and accepted it only out of obedience.

After a time I saw that the problem wasn't a lack of contraception but one of values, attitude and priorities. I think things would have been different if our home life (basically, our mother) had been happier and more chill. My mother didn't need to be so hard on us. She didn't need to push us and herself so hard to be perfect all the time.

Now, I'm grateful for my parent's generosity. I would go through all that suffering and sacrifice again just to have each of my brothers and sisters. I love them so much that they make all of it worth while.

As an aside, I'd like to note that the problem wasn't with my father - he was very involved and helped out more than any other father I've seen with the cleaning and child raising. My mother eventually walked out on the family (the youngest was then 13). For the last 10-15 years at least he has done all the child raising, cooking and house keeping. He is my hero.

June 10, 2010 at 11:54 AM  

Its a tough question, and one that I ask myself often. I grew up the oldest of 11. I worked constantly as a kid, I did everything, cared for siblings, cleaned to house, made the meals, I still love children, and hope to have a fairly large family of my own, but I never want to burden my children as much as I was. I think it is so so important that the mother stays healthy, the father is an involved parent, and you abandon perfectionism. I remember being depressed and exhausted and feeling so very lazy because I couldn't complete the insane amount of work I was resposible for each day.

June 10, 2010 at 1:46 PM  

I love how people are commenting that it's all about the attitude, not just the situation. Bare-bones facts like number of children doesn't tell you much about the atmosphere in the home, the mental health or parenting style of either parent, the flourishing of the children, etc.

Also, I think it's worth mentioning that when children or parents are on the verge of "burn-out", it can really affect other families too. My parents constantly found themselves helping this one family with nine children because my brother was the same as their first boy. He would show up to class trips with no money for lunch, he would miss sports practices because his father forgot to pick him up, he would be hiding C's on tests in his backpack and showing them to my parents instead of his own. My parents talked to his parents and they said they weren't getting enough sleep and were having a meltdown. The boy would come to our house and burst into sobs if he dropped crumbs onto the floor, because he was "making trouble for others, and I want to be a good boy."

It was terrible. We offered to take some of the kids off their hands once in a while, go on a day trip on a Saturday for instance, and they said they would figure things out on their own.

June 10, 2010 at 2:02 PM  

I think the kid-burnout issue is fascinating. I have two friends from very large families: 1 who is the oldest of 15, and 1 who is the youngest of 11. The first has no children, the other has 2. In both cases they are vehemently opposed to having more children. Their own childhoods were reasonably happy I think, but the oldest girl did so much childcare as a young person that she is not interested in doing any now. The other friend is a guy and his motivation to stop at 2 seems to come from seeing his own dad stressed and overworked by the financial pressures of being the sole support of a large family.

June 10, 2010 at 2:11 PM  

Awesome topic.
I am the oldest of 8 children. I did a lot of babysitting. Less cooking and laundry. My mom, though she relied on me for tasks, always was appreciative. Though I did not get paid for sitting, NOR an allowance, she always picked up a little something for me randomly (a book, small token of thanks, etc.) Perhaps during a few of my teen years I didn't feel burdened per se, but just that my parents were a little bit consumed at home. I felt weird that my parents were having their 8th child, and none of my secular friends were in the same boat. Of course,looking back, I am so happy I have that sibling and realize my teenage issues were not important at all!

So, I have never had this worry for my own family- that I will over-burden my children. It seems the woman you met at the park is perhaps a little extreme-- esp. having her husband deployed (been there, done that) that's when everyone needs to band together for the good of the family.
We've been blessed with one child, and hope for more. And, I think every family, big or small, should and can have TEAM approach. Running a household is difficult and everyone needs to pitch in- but with the appropriate appreciation. I have a close friend from a small family, yet before I knew her well- I always thought she had more siblings b/c she had this attitude of being open, cheerful, and generous-- virtues we all want in our children no matter the family size, correct?

Thanks for bringing up the topic!

June 10, 2010 at 5:20 PM  

As the oldest of nine I can say honestly yes I felt wary of a big family for myself because I know how much work it is. God knows what's best because we have only been able to have one baby in five years of marriage and while I struggle with this other extreme there have been moments of relief that we are not an extremely fertile couple like my parents.
Finally though, when you look into your new child's eyes and begin thinking of all the other tiny people that you might be so lucky to one day conceive and then meet, it's kind of like everything else melts away and you think I would do anything to have the priviledge of being your mother.
So while yes I think big families can and most often do burn out the older children, it finally comes down to individual dispositions and God's plan for your life.

June 11, 2010 at 1:30 AM  

I was one of 6 (a middle child). I can say that my oldest sister had waaay to much responsibility put on her - but I'm not talking chores. I'm talking responsibilities on her shoulders like childcare and other things that were way beyond her capacity at that age. She could handle it - but it was a LOT of pressure and she still feels resentful at times. My dad was never around and my mom had absolutely no other help, plus she and my dad were having marital problems, so it was just a bad situation all around.
All that being said, my sister wants as many kids as God will give her. She struggled 3 yrs to have my nephew, struggled 6 yrs to have my niece and hopes to continue to add to her brood, by pregnancy or adoption.
I would love to have a dozen kids if I could! A large family is a blessing. We all were expected to help around the house and had jobs and responsibilities that most of our friends didn't have, but that just made us hard-working, responsible adults! My cousins have 9 - the oldest definitely helped with the youngest, cooked, cleaned, helped with schooling, and there is no resentment there. I think it's all in how the parents treat and respect the children. You're not going to help your children or your large family by never requiring the kids to contribute!

June 11, 2010 at 9:13 AM  

I am the second oldest of eight children and I have four children now. Here are my thoughts:-

Having a large family is a vocation within a vocation. My mother loved it. She was physically strong and made pregnancy, childbirth and running a household look easy. And by and large, it was for her. This was what she was born to do.
She was the love of my dad's life and he did whatever he could to support the family. Their love for eachother made it all possible.

We had a happy life. We were comfortably upper middle class. We had cleaning ladies and full time nannies, so there wasn't this burden put on us to be little mothers.

That being said, my sister and I have the largest families so far (4 children). Another sister has 3 and had no desire to have a large family. Honestly, as much as I loved growing up in a large, bustling loud household, I really do like my situation now. I feel like I have more time for my children than my parents had for us. Don't get me wrong, as a teenager I loved that freedom, but it's something that I want my children to have.

June 11, 2010 at 9:19 AM  

oops, last line should read "but it's not something that I want my children to have".

June 11, 2010 at 9:21 AM  

Some thoughts on the comments by JMB - I think it might help to be able to get 'help' - with cleaning, cooking and child minding etc. Unfortunately, this is a privilege of the very few. It just isn't an option for everyone.

Can I ask whether anyone else the eldest of a large, better-off family able to afford help? Do you think it kept some of the pressure off the eldest couple of kids? I'd be interested to know.

June 11, 2010 at 11:23 AM  

I found what callmemama said very interesting. I didn't resent the work I did as a child persay (although I do think I had to much resposiblity as a child)but there was a definite lack of respect in my house growing up. Especially towards children.

O, and when I was 9 my dad had a cleaning service come in once a week to wash the kitchen floor and the 3 bathrooms. It helped ALOT! I took over when I was 11.

June 11, 2010 at 12:16 PM  

Great topic. I think a mother's intention is important to think about as well. If I start thinking to myself, "Oh good, so and so is home so she can watch the baby while I get some stuff done." then it is probably time to think about what I am asking of my children and why. I give my children responsibility to help them to grow into healthy responsible adults and to make them an important part of the family not to make my job easier. Although if giving them responsibilities does make my job a little easier then so be it.

My mother was the oldest of 8 and had to A LOT of the mothering duties put on her. She fed, bathed, clothed, and did pretty much everything else but birth them! She was never (and I mean never) allowed to go anywhere without taking along all of her young siblings. She still had 5 children herself so it clearly didn't have too much of a negative impact. However, in her own family she was careful never to ask too much of us. We all had chores and had to watch younger siblings occasionally but the bulk of the mothering was on her. I remember asking her why she didn't ask me to watch the kids more. She responded that she remembers how she felt when she was young and didn't want to put that burden on her own kids. She said it was her responsibility to watch us not ours. I always remembered that and try to keep it in mind with my own children.

June 11, 2010 at 12:41 PM  

Another thought that I had- my mother says that it is harder today to have a large family than it was when she was doing it (60s & 70s). For one thing, the cost of housing wasn't astronomical. My parents were able to buy a large house in a nice suburb of NYC for what now would be the cost of a midsize car. Speaking of cars, there were no carseats or if they existed, we didn't use them. I remember sitting in the back seat holding the baby while my mother drove. Thirdly, we had busing which makes a huge difference if you send your children to school. Fourthly, the cost of our parochial school wasn't in the $1000s like it is now, nor were their property taxes overly burdensome. To keep things in perspective, our oldest is going to a private all boys Catholic school next year. His annual tuition is less than what it cost to send me to a private Jesuit university back in the early 1980s.

June 11, 2010 at 1:51 PM  

There are pluses and minuses to everything. Some of the burnout may be due to attitude. Serving can be a joy, but everyone has their limits to what they can do too. We can burn out our kids in academics, but that doesn't stop us from giving them a good education. I think a parent of a large family would have to be sensitive to certain problems, just as a parent of 1 has different issues to be sensitive to.

Children can tend to reject a lot of their parents actions/ideals. Why do children raised in a Christian family walk away from their faith when they grow up? So, perhaps it depends on how the large family is handled and how the vision for HAVING that large family is cast. For example, I think my children have caught my love for babies :-)

My husband's parents both come from large families (6 and 9), and I think the largest family among his aunts and uncles is 4.

I would like to add that I think few people set out or feel called to have a large family (given average # of children in a family has dropped 2.5 to 1.8 ??). It is not exactly an encouraged lifestyle. People look at me like I am crazy when I tell them we are adopting a 4th child. So this may play a large roll in those who come from a large family growing up not to have a large family themselves.

June 11, 2010 at 3:04 PM  

As Catholics, “open to life” means following the Church teaching on marriage and family life… NFP for instance, should only be used for grave or serious reasons. The default shouldn’t be to use NFP, then choose when to have Children. A couple when open to life and following Church teaching doesn’t use NFP to reduce the likelihood of pregnancy until they have a serious or grave reason.

http://www.ewtn.com/expert/answers/nfp_serious_motives.htm

June 11, 2010 at 10:02 PM  

One more resource on marriage, life, and even openness to large families... One of the best books that relates to this topic is the following (which can be read online):

http://www.cormacburke.or.ke/book/Covenanted_Happiness

This book was written by an Opus Dei Priest on the Roman Rota (Vatican Marriage Tribunal. A must read to any Catholic...

It is also available on Amazon...

June 11, 2010 at 10:24 PM  

Thank you, Anonymous.

Yes, Covenanted Happiness is in a category of excellence all its own. Among other things, it reminds us that we're called to heroism in our vocations. And often, just that reminder of the glory of openness to love and life by one couple, and the way it spills over to change the world, is enough to set my frustrations or burnout aside and encourage me to go on living with passion.

June 12, 2010 at 2:45 AM  

Also, Mrs. C., on the topic of hiring help... I have said this before, but I don't think that hiring help should be an upperclass privilege. I think that setting money aside to hire help for mom is possibly the second most important financial commitment to tithing that a family can make. Tithing is a matter of obedience and abandonment, for the soul of the family. Hiring help for mom is a matter of keeping the heart of the family healthy and thriving. We have been a student family since our marriage began, and I stand by this, even in our income situation. For those making financial planning decisions with more money, that larger house with a fourth bedroom or that family vacation is almost certainly less important than having regular help for mom. What's an extra bedroom or a vacation good for if mom is struggling every day to cope and bringing the whole ship down with her? It's a matter of good financial planning up front, but absolutely necessary. If mom has personal space to thrive as a human and a Christian, and space to appreciate the gift of her family rather than being constantly battered by the stress of it, then (first and foremost) her marriage is healthy, and that trickles down into a deep happiness and security within the children. Homemaking is great, but Mom's time is simply NOT best spent scrubbing floors if scrubbing floors exhausts her too much to have the personal space and energy to love her children.

Also, regular weekend night babysitting isn't expensive and is crucial, at least for us. 13 year old girls do a great job (usually after at least the youngest two kids are in bed), and 3 hours is enough, and the date doesn't have to be something expensive. It's a matter of stewardship of our marital love.

June 12, 2010 at 3:25 AM  

Interesting. As the eldest of 7 married to an eldest of 7 and willing to have a big family if God allows it, I would say that burnout is always a possibility but it is all going to depend on what the attitude is in the family. If children are treated like slaves then of course they are going to be resentful. If children are raised with a spirit of service, and a big family makes that much easier to teach, then they are going to understand that we all have to work together. Regarding the case that started the conversation I would say that every mom parents with an eye to what she thinks her parents did best and worst and crafts her style accordingly. I had to work a lot, but we all had to work a lot, and I was never prevented from pursuing other interests (within reason) because of my obligations to the family. Regarding big families vs. small families I would just reiterate that death to self, service, and generosity are the hallmarks of the catholic family and I would wager that lacking serious physical, mental, and financial constraints many faithful catholics will find themselves with a family larger than the societal norm.

Regarding being the older children and vocations, I haven't seen anything to that effect in any of my close friends and family. Every catholic child should certainly be encouraged to find out what God's will is for them from a young age.

In sum, each place in a family, no matter what size, has its advantages and disadvantages. I have heard of some younger children in big families struggling with a feeling that by the time they got to be big kids that 'the party was over'...all the older kids had moved out and were doing their own thing, etc. etc.

June 12, 2010 at 3:50 PM  

Juris Mater- I really like your last reply about hiring help. I often feel like a failure if I can't have the large family,homeschool, keep a clean house, cook healthy meals, etc for my largish family (pregnant with #4!)... but I do feel overwhelmed quite often. At the end of the day when my husband and I talk about burnout and I bring up getting help it always comes down to whether or not we want to "splurge" but honestly, at this point I don't think it's a splurge so much as a necessity and we are not "upper-class" in any way... I'm going to have to take another look at our budget and see what we could do.

June 13, 2010 at 1:13 PM  

Juris Mater's sensible comment about how hiring help for Mom is a priority made my eyes fill with tears. Could we get our husbands to read this blog and have more compassion for us instead of thinking we're wasting money or being lazy or just plain not being as competent as other mothers out there?

June 13, 2010 at 4:44 PM  

My mom had a saying when we were growing up which was: "When you stop banging your head against the wall, it feels good!". Hire the sitter. We had help since day one when I had my oldest child. We were not, nor are, rich. But we were able to squeeze $60 out of our budget to have a standing sitter. Just do it, you will like it and your family will be better for it. There's no need to complain.

June 13, 2010 at 8:05 PM  

It was our Wedding Day. Pure bliss. God's love so present. Little did we know , God's love was working in an amazing way with those in the Church as well. We were told of the following incident some time after we were married.

Before Mass, as people were getting seated, friends of ours who had six young children, sat in front of an older couple. The older couple upon saying something pleasant to this "larger" family, struck a pertinent subject, as the mother responded that this was probably "it". The older woman, in Her humble, but faithful manner, responded that you shouldn't say that, because if she and her husband would have interfered with God's Will many years ago, "the priest presiding at this Wedding Mass wouldn't be here."

I share this beautiful incident because it really had an impact on our friends, who were hit hard with the wisdom from this beautiful Catholic Witness on the sacredness of letting God be in control of one's fertility. The priest who celebrated our Mass was the youngest from a large family.

St. Catherine of Siena was the 23rd child born in her family. Yes, God calls all of us to be saints, no matter what amount of children you are blessed with. But, I just seek to remind all of you Catholic Moms and Dads of our Holy Mother Church and her infinite Wisdom on this subject. NFP is to be used IF there is grave or serious reason involved. Don't let your current state of being overwhelmed (at times) with many children prevent you from following God's laws for life.

How do you know the "right" size family? How do you not know someday you will miss that one soul that might have been? Our Heavenly Father knows. And He will never disappoint. Trust Him.

On this feast of the great St. Anthony of Padua, let us heed his quote, "We do not always know what is necessary or good for us, but our Heavenly Father does know."

June 13, 2010 at 11:01 PM  

I will chime in here to say that Providentialism is not what the church teaches with regard to NFP. To the last Anonymous (and you should just use a name, any name will do), you state, "one soul that might have been" as though there are a bunch of souls out there waiting for bodies? You advise us all simply to trust God. Is there a place for human reason here? If we are burned out, or our older children are burned out, we should just trust God and do what? keep having children? Or do we trust God to give us a life raft (NFP) and have him help us through this natural method?

I believe human reason is needed here, and our reason, guided by the church's wisdom and teaching, lets each couple discern what constitutes a serious or just reason for the use of NFP.

I'm not saying that God doesn't call certain couples to have a large family, as he certainly does. I'm also not saying that a state of being temporarily overwhelmed is an excuse to stop having children. What I am saying is that burnout can be a serious issue. Your reminders that we need a serious issue to use NFP seem to suggest that burnout isn't serious?

We were having a GREAT discussion here about burnout or potential burnout of both mothers and older children in large families. These are real issues and I thought most of the women in this conversation did an excellent job providing real and very helpful insight to all of those still reading the comments. Thank you all!!!

June 13, 2010 at 11:40 PM  

Thank you Red for bringing the conversation back to the central issue. I think that you do have to watch out for burnout in your children, and this can happen in smaller families, too. Chores and responsibilities are good, but your children are not partners who should work as hard as you and your spouse on childcare and household maintenance. Since most of those who respond are women, we should also keep our sons in mind and not turn them into little fathers, handymen and lawn maintenance workers. This is not to say that they shouldn't mow the lawn or shovel the snow, but the primary responsibility is on the parents. And having help is a huge priority in big families. Not only will the bathrooms be clean, but Mom and the kids won't end up in therapy. AWOL Mommy, since you are aware there is a possible problem here, you will probably avoid it. It sounds like you are all such thoughtful mothers, I know you are doing a great job!

June 14, 2010 at 10:44 AM  

I definitely agree with the hiring help if necessary and that it shouldn't be considered a splurge if it means saving mom's sanity. I've already started saving up some money for when the next newborn comes around. My husband helped out A LOT with the last one. I didn't do any cooking, cleaning, or grocery shopping for the first two months! He was amazing but he has more on his plate now so I don't want to burden him with too much. I figure a cleaning lady once every other week for the first four months is worth my sanity and his :)

June 14, 2010 at 3:08 PM  

I grew up in the middle of 11 children and I don't think that the chores are as much of a problem as the lack of actual parenting that happens in large families. At some point it is simply impossible to keep up with your children and really know them and parent them. The number is different for different people, but there is always a cutoff.

So many children in large families do not resent the amount of work they had to do until they are old enough to realize that they were required to be little parents rather than being allowed to be children who had parents with time and energy to invest in them as individuals.

Some people are called to have so many children that they can't really parent them as individuals, but I am convinced that one must be aware of the choice that one is making.

Young children should not have a problem with this because they are far too young to understand it.

The best thing that I have seen is parents who spaced their children out. My husband is the oldest of 6 and did a *lot* of work (including staying up at night with the baby so his mom could sleep while his dad was gone for weeks at a time for work). But the children were spread out enough so that his parents could actually have some clue about them as individuals and my husband and his next sister have expressed no resentment whatsoever.

My mother morns the loss of her oldest (emotionally). She says that my sister was her great helper etc. until she was a teen. But now my oldest sister plans on never having children and the other girls mostly plan on 2 or 3.

Please, please, please follow your concern and do not reassure yourself that your daughter is empowered because she is happy as a 5 year old! Chores are fine, allowing her to subtly turn into a mother for your future children is not.

June 14, 2010 at 10:15 PM  

Right Said Red, while I understand your point about burn out being a just cause for NFP, be careful how you use the term providentialism. You throw it out there without a definition and it can cause confusion. Just because you don't use NFP as your marriage default does not make one a providentialist, nor does bringing a child into the world in less than ideal circumstances. The Church's teaching on marriage has been around long before human reason understood a woman's ovulation. We can be grateful for the knowledge we have at our disposal here in the West, but we can't go around judging burn out mothers of large families as undisciplined, anti-human resaon, providentialists. God's call to life and love is not without some crosses and messes. Sometimes, we think the stars have to be perfectly aligned before we can welcome a new life. How many women have been told by their reason-loving doctors that they should never ever have any more children, yet bravely they follow the Churches teaching and refuse to sterilze themselves and come up pregnant even while practicing NFP. That couple needs to foster as we all do complete and utter trust in God and abandonment to his will. I don't want to turn this into a heated discussion, but I think it is important to remember that NFP is only a recent development and in many developing countries access to thermometers are not easy to come by. Many holy sisters of ours through out the world may practice what in your eyes is Providentialism and are a bit worse for wear because of it, even to the point of struggling to feed all of their children. Or when I think of the brave women who disobey China's one-child policy as the risk of being take from the child they already have. These women bring children into the world in less than ideal cirsumstances, trusting in God's grace and help. I don't think that is providentialism or lack of the exercise of human reason, I think that can be a means of their sanctification.

June 14, 2010 at 11:23 PM  

Setting aside the NFP debate for another time, I think in parenting we also need to really consider the temperments of the children. My oldest is a boy and he seems to do his chores and be a generous, kind member of the family, without taking on too much stress about it (he stresses about other things), but my next child, a girl, is now taking TOO MUCH of the parenting on herself. These are not burdens that I place on her, but she will correct her younger siblings, or choose to push them on the swings rather than play at the park, etc. Some of it is cute, some is good for them all, but I have to be careful to encourage her to play herself and to preserve the very wonderful sibling relationships that she has -- the young ones are bothered by her nagging parenting. So, it turns out that while she would probably be a great babysitter for other families when she is a young teen, if the pattern keeps up I will probably not want her to babysit for her younger siblings, because I do not want to re-inforce her authoratarian relationship with them.

June 15, 2010 at 10:34 AM  

Can I just also say, with all respect and without sarcasm, that women who do not have access to thermometers also have very different pressures and expectations on their lives. I would imagine that they do not spend as much time as I do trying to make sure that my children have on shoes before we go to mass, or teaching the multiplication algorithm so that the child will be prepared for the sort of career that will support a family in reasonable fashion in the United States. I am not saying that these women have it easier than I do, just that it is apples and oranges, and so while I do think that there is a conversation to be had about openness to life amoung college educated American women, I don't find that particular line of reasoning helpful.

June 15, 2010 at 10:45 AM  

Awol mommy asked about life in a big family and how to make that enjoyable for children. The discussion was sidetracked because people started talking about how some people aren't called to big families which in turn led to the NFP use discussion. I love this blog but the best way to discuss these issues of when NFP is good is really with friends one on one. You know their circumstances, you know their level of formation on church teaching, etc. I would appreciate it if terms like 'providentialist' weren't used in discussion. I can't recall a church document that uses that term and it certainly belittles people who feel that in their circumstances responsible parenthood, at that time, means no NFP. I think that is the fundamental issue...as Catholics, barring extreme circumstances, we really can't just say 'we're done." Getting back to big families, I think the attitude of the parents is paramount in setting the tone. If kids are viewed as burdens and crosses they will feel like them and react accordingly. From what I have seen in families that have seemed to be successful in raising well adjusted catholic adults there seems to be an emphasis on the mission, the mission of becoming saints and trying to do it joyfully. Also, it seems to be helpful to acknowledge one's faults and weaknesses when they occur and apologize accordingly.

June 15, 2010 at 3:03 PM  

JDMom, I think that is some VERY good advice, both about the NFP conversations and the mission and life of a family of any size. I would add one caveat...it is very easy to feel pressured to have another child or not based on the circumstancesor advice of your (well meaning) friends or faith community. Friends can be a help in discerning about these issues, but spiritual direction with a priest and prayer, together and alone, for both parents is crucial.

June 15, 2010 at 3:31 PM  

I would like to second MaryAlice's suggestion that couples get spiritual direction and pray together and alone when making family planning decisions. Despite the best advice of friends, the decision to practice NFP is best left to the spouses and God. I have often found that well meaning friends/acquaintances can be particularly judgmental when discussing these issues. MargaretJDMom, I'm glad to know you have a good support system with friends you can trust!

As for my use of the term providentialism, while a heated word, I felt its use justified because of the dismissive nature of several comments regarding NFP and "grave reasons." The NFP police seem to jump out of the woodwork anytime one mentions limiting family size as a possible solution to family difficulties. As if the abuse of NFP were the primary problem in our church today!?!

There is a difference between openness to a large family and providentialism. The one is a discerned and prayerful decision, the other is a belief that the couple should not have any control in regards to their family planning. Obviously there are those who feel called to just be open at all times, and that is wonderful! There are others, who through no fault of their own, do not know NFP and so by default have as many children as their bodies will bear. But most modern American women have access to NFP, although they may refrain from learning it.

I think in a developed nation like the US, with the advances we have in medical care, a VERY high percentage of women who marry young, and do no child spacing (other than breastfeeding) will wind up with very large families. Praise God that our medical care is amazing, as is our standard of living. Historically, and currently in developing nations, women gave birth to many babies who died. Large families were not as "easy" to come by from a medical perspective. It was a rare, rare thing. Nowadays, most women who marry young can physically have many children. Just because they physically can doesn't mean they should (my point here is that some discerning is involved). The emotional and spiritual health of the family is very important, and these reasons for practicing NFP shouldn't be so easily dismissed.


In sum, when we have the ability to make a decision with regard to family planning, and we choose to avoid that knowledge, or avoid applying that knowledge, we are in fact still making a decision. We are making a decision to not get on the life raft--and that raft may be the very thing God sent to help us out.

And this relates to the original post on burnout because one possible answer to helping our children and ourselves avoid burnout is the practice of NFP. I didn't mean to get into an entire NFP discussion, but it is relevant to avoiding burnout.

June 15, 2010 at 4:27 PM  

Some thoughts:

I think this blog is at its best when it tackles issues like this head on. Great topic, great question!

One of the arguments I hear most often against large families is that children of large families resent being in them. One hears this especially from the so-called "greatest generation" in which large families were the norm (and I hear this all the time from grandparents, in-laws, most of which are of Italian descent). They really seemed to hate it, and I take them at their word. So, obviously, having a large family CAN be a negative experience for many, many people.

However, it clearly doesn't have to be, and this I think has to be with our evolving concept of family. My biggest worries about having a large family are mostly financial, though the concern about burn out is real too. I suppose it is less of a concern for me personally, for the following reason:

(1) my husband and I try to be equal parents as much as possible. since he is the primary breadwinner I do more, but he does all that he can to help me and to be a great father. He spends an incredible amount of time with his children (even during the week), and he knows how to cook, clean, etc. He is awesome!!

(2) I work part time and my kids go to school part time, so our lives are not completely ruled by what is going on in the home or by these domestic power structures. I think homeschooling is awesome, but its not for me, and I think that considerably lessons the pressure of burnout all members of our little family.

(3) I don't try to be a supermom. I don't freak out if the house gets messy or if dinner is less than perfect. Nor do I expect my children to meet some ridiculous standard of perfection. We have rules and expectations, of course, but these are general guidelines, not unbreakable commands.

(4) I choose my battles, with my kids and my husband.

(5) For all my problems, I don't have control issues. I am happy to let others help me parent (including neighbors, family, friends), and to let my children be pretty independent.

Obviously, I don't have much advice for the SAH mother of nine. But I think no matter what one's situation, the key thing to remember is that children deserve a childhood, and should not be made into young parents. Of course, they should have chores and learn to help, but they should also be free to be kids to a large extent! If one finds oneself in a situation where this is impossible, changes need to be implemented (and what those changes are will depend on the situation the family is in)! I think that earlier generations just didn't see burnout as an issue, and also had very different attitudes about the family and childhood. I also think that the older model was largely a failure, given how many people who came from that model completely reject it. At the same time, I just want to say that I know many big families from all backgrounds and arrangements (including those where the mother worked outside the home) that are really lovely and truly inspiring. There is no one way to do it, and no matter what it will take much prayer and grace....

June 16, 2010 at 9:42 AM  

Can I just add that although many of the members here are young mothers, not all of us have had the experience of getting married young and starting families in the early & mid 20s. I'm almost 44 and most of my friends got married in their late 20s and early 30s. My sister just got married at 35, and at 38 had her first child.

We are called to "be open to life" and that may mean just 2 or 3 children in the span of our fertility. So much of this is really beyond our control. It is not for us to judge one another. God has a plan for each of us, for some it may mean a large family, for others it may mean a smaller one.

June 16, 2010 at 10:10 AM  

Instead of answering the question, it seems as though this is another big family bashing session. Our kids have chores and are required to help out because they are part of the family. We all have chores and then we all have fun. Small family kids burn out, too...on overinvolvement in sports, activities, pressure to excel, etc.

We could also recognize that we would not even be debating this if we lived in a third world country. Survival would be your main concern, not arguing on the internet over who has the best size family.

June 16, 2010 at 5:24 PM  

I don't think anyone was bashing big families, especially considering most of those writing came from or have a big family themselves. Since that last comment changed the tone of this conversation a bit, I'm going to close comments. Thanks to all of you wonderful women for your honest and thought provoking comments.

June 16, 2010 at 5:58 PM  

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