In Defense of Big Families

Delbert Rawlins and his five offspring, in the doorway of our “new” house.

Today, big families are the stuff of TV reality shows.
In my grandparents’ generation, they were simply reality. Grandmother Rawlins raised seven children. Grandma Schmidt gave birth to eleven, eight of whom lived to adulthood.

Those fifteen children raised smaller families, but still, having four or more babies wasn’t unusual. In the next generation, the size of the families dwindled to two or three children. And now our children are raising children…maybe. Of the five siblings in my immediate family, several of their offspring have no children. Four of the offspring have one child apiece. Only one had as many as four babies.

There are lots of reasons for this. Almost every mother is expected to work outside the home today. Children are not needed to help with the family workload like they were in their grandparent’s day. Young people expect to have a career and to make a good living before they even think about having families, and some wait until their biological clocks are on their last ticks.

Years ago I asked my dad why, when making enough money to live on was so difficult, he and Mom had had so many children, so closely spaced. He looked nonplused. “They just came,” he said.

I had barely turned six when brother David, the last of us, was born. Five children in six years and one month! Poor Mom scarcely had time to recover from the last birth before becoming pregnant again. She said she cried when she realized another baby was on the way. An aunt who prided herself at having stopped at two well-spaced siblings criticized our parents for having “all those children” so close together. “How do you expect to care for them when times are so hard?”

We children were blissfully unaware of all that. We didn’t even know that a new brother was joining the family until the evening Daddy picked us up from various neighbors who’d been caring for us for nearly ten days. He drove us to the hospital in Everett.

Daddy left us in the car with an admonition to be good. “I’ll be right back with a surprise,” he said. In minutes the doors of the hospital swung open. Light flooded out, and we saw a white-uniformed nurse pushing a wheelchair toward our old car. Mama sat in the wheelchair, holding a bundle on her lap.

Daddy stowed her suitcase in the trunk, then took the bundle while the nurse helped Mama into the car. He placed the bundle in Mama’s arms as we children crowded close to the back of the bench seat to hug and greet her. She turned around with smiles and a few tears at seeing us again. Of that moment, she later said, “I’ll never forget all those little round faces peering like moons over the seat back.”

Then the bundle squirmed and made odd little noises. Mama folded back the blanket to show us little-round-face number five, twisting itself into an outraged wail. We had a new baby, and with five children in the family, we would never lack for someone to fight with or have fun with.

Children are precious and should be treasured. There’s a lot to be said for big families.

Baby Grace Mooring makes new friends at a family reunion.

2 thoughts on “In Defense of Big Families”

  1. I have to agree that big families provide an endless number of activities and can be a lot of fun. But is it a question of whether all families should be big? I sometimes wonder if some people, especially people that have a greater calling and are away from home the majority of time, should not have children. Children are a big commitment who require a lot of time and work. I feel for single mothers who don't have a husband or one that doesn't share in the responsibility. (Single fathers too of course, but there are significantly less of them.)

    None of this is to say that I don't believe in large families. Of course I do as I am from one and I feel that children are a precious, valuable gift. So precious in fact, that I believe it is a privilege and responsibility to have a child and not just a reproductive right.

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  2. Having been an only child during the later years of the Great Depression, I realize that supporting a fmily was a heavy responsibility during the years your folks had their “fabulous five!” But as I looked at the little house your dad had built, I saw love in action. I admired the lovely dining set your dad had crafted and the lovely little chest he had created for your mom. Love surrounded all five of you. The pillow fights and the voiced tussles amongst all you siblings resulted in mental accuity not often found under the economic condition Del and Marie experienced in those days. Those two parents were creative, caring, and wise. They allowed creativity, in fact they both taught it by example. Today little time is spent with true family activity in many homes. Togetherness with love makes for better human relations all around, I truly believe. It's the quality of parenting, not the size of the family, that determines a child's future success and attitudes in later life.

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