Usually when the phrase 'seven children' comes up in conversation, people inevitably ask me how I handle taking care of so many people. I generally shrug and admit that paying a housekeeper is an essential part of making life work. I've got a system and adding one more doesn't make that much of a difference.
I can't say that I'm any more stressed than I was when I had three children, and in some ways I'm a lot less stressed than I was a decade ago. But there are definitely some things that just get worse the more children you have.
So, for those of you out there who are considering having a large family (or just like reading about having a large family), here's my take on what is hard and what isn't hard about joining the all-star ranks of big families.
I've found that the stress of actual childcare hasn't really gotten much worse as we've pushed past four children. As we've added more small children, the formerly small children have gotten older. Older children are a lot easier to take care of than smaller children, and when they get even older they can help take care of the smaller children in truly helpful ways.
My household tasks have actually gotten less as I've gotten more children. I used to tidy up the house every morning (it started out as a self-defense mechanism to keep the housekeeper from hiding my stuff from me), which would take at least half an hour. My house is still tidied every morning, but I'm only responsible for my own room as the children are each assigned part of the house. I only fold my and Brandon's laundry, and the same goes with packing suitcases. I haven't bathed children in years. When I am taking all the children somewhere, I usually get to the car and find everyone dressed, buckled in, and waiting for me. After Sunday lunch, Brandon and I go and take a nap while the children clean the kitchen. I'm much more managerial than hands-on these days.
Homeschooling hasn't gotten much harder, as Kathleen and Sophia are almost entirely self-directed in their schooling (aided by a couple of online classes each) and Kathleen helps out with Joseph's school. My teaching time is taken up by the children in elementary school, which is only every three children at a time. And three children isn't that bad, especially when you're on the fifth time teaching some subjects.
Sleeping arrangements aren't tight either, even though our house only has four bedrooms (despite the house being 6,000 square feet). All three boys share a bedroom, and there is one bedroom for the big girls and another for the young ones. Even when we were on medevac and the bedrooms were fairly small, it wasn't difficult to fit everyone in. In a pinch we could fit in three bedrooms, although the big girls would protest most loudly.
However, there definitely are some things that are harder with more children.
One of the more obnoxious things is the fighting. Each child has six other children to fight with (okay, potential fights since Elizabeth isn't stealing clothes yet) which means that there are forty-two potential one-on-one fights and even more if there are three or four involved in the fight. We certainly don't have non-stop fighting, but there are probably at least two or three major fights and ten or more minor squabbles a day. Fighting is a normal part of sibling relationships, but I do really get tired of breaking them up.
With the fighting comes the noise. Brandon and I heartily sympathize with the Grinch as he complains about the noise noise noise noise noise noise. There isn't a day that goes past without someone screaming bloody murder about something. When the children met the neighbor kids, one of the commented, "Oh you live in that house? That house is loud." Six children trying to talk over each other at dinner can sometimes drive one crazy. Even worse than six children talking is four children talking, one child crying, and another child making continual noises. I'm pretty sure the only time our entire house is quiet is when we are all sleeping. And only mostly quiet because Joseph talks in his sleep a lot.
I've also found that more children equals more messes and more broken things. This is compounded by homeschooling, as the children are home all day to make messes and break things. Our house can go from spotless to trashed in under an hour. All it takes for everyone to drop five things on the floor to have forty-five pencils, shoes, jackets, toys, books, candy wrappers, and LEGOs clutter the floor. We clean up the house every morning, my housekeeper cleans it up throughout the day, and most evenings the house still looks destroyed. It's almost like magic. But not the good kind.
And, of course, there is the expense. The last time we saw a movie in the US was for Kathleen's ninth birthday, and that was $95 for a matinee showing. Going to the eye doctor is fun when six family members wear glasses - and the three that don't are five and under. I sat down a few months ago and added up how much we could potentially spend on college and felt sick for days.
But all of these calculations become insignificant when I stop to look at my children and think how each one has filled my life in their own special way. In this area of the world, parents who have many children are called 'rich mothers' and 'rich fathers.' When all is peaceful and I get to sit and watch and enjoy my children, I do indeed feel rich. Being rich in other things matters not at all when I consider all that I have in my children. There are days that are long, noisy, dirty, and difficult. But those days are, in the end, short and will be over relatively quickly. But I will always have the joy of being the mother of my children. All seven of them.