Putting Families Together

There’s a longing in all people to belong. God planned that this longing should culminate in marriage and family.

Because we’re human and subject to the weaknesses and poor judgement of humanity,  the blueprint often gets messed up. Children are left orphans or are abandoned by parents. Marriages end through death or divorce. Families can get complicated.

When my first husband died, our young adult children were left with a dad-sized hole in their lives. After I married Hank, though he could never exactly fit that hole, he did his best to love my kids. And I did the same for his five children, each of whom had their own tales of hurts from the past. With all the relationships represented in the lives of each of these nine people (Hank, myself, and our combined seven offspring), there’s room for a lot of family building and rebuilding.

When he married Lois, Hank was raising four small children by himself. Lois had a toddler son, Nathan, born after her first husband abandoned her. Hank adopted Nate. Nate’s birth father went on to marry and father other children, but Nate did not know them until he attended college near where they lived. Then he met his half-brother and was delighted to find out how many interests and values they share. Now Nate spends vacations with his brother and family.

When my son Rob married, he also adopted his wife’s child, my granddaughter Marva. Lydia had a son too, who was being raised by his birth father. We saw him occasionally during his growing up years, but not until he was an adult and his father died, did he really become part of our family. He’s a wonderful, thoughtful young man, a grandson I’ve only recently been able to claim.

Hank’s daughter Carmen got married at age 18 to Ben, who was raising three children alone. Those children knew there were three half-brothers born later to their mother, but what they didn’t know until recently was they also had a half-sister who’d been given up for adoption and raised as part of a happy, stable family. Through the wonders of modern technology, Kendra discovered the three half-brothers and through them, the three siblings Carmen had raised and then adopted as adults after Ben died of cancer. We were there at the family picnic to meet Kendra, her husband and her children and watch the reunited siblings and their children get acquainted. What a joyful time!

Some years after our marriage, we attended a family reunion in Hank’s home town. An honored guest at that reunion was an 82-year-old cousin, Jud, who’d just been discovered by the family. Born during the depression to a destitute mother, he’d been given up for adoption to a loving family. He grew up never knowing he had six younger brothers and sisters living nearby, nor did they know about him. While his daughter was using the Internet to research family geneology, she discovered his connection to Hank’s family. We looked on as Jud and his siblings met and caught up on all the years of unshared history. Proof of relationship came through the uncanny resemblance between Jud and Hank’s cousin, John.

The Bible says God puts the lonely in families. I think it’s delightful to watch the many ways in which he does it.

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.