Who says what?

Novelist, mother, minister, and yoga teacher muses on books, babies, motherhood, and what matters with reverent humor.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Why Size Has Nothing To Do With It

So the Duggars are back on TV which means I have something to watch and all my friends have some ammunition for making fun of me.

I have been open and honest about my love for the Duggars for years. I think it could make a great headline: "Feminist Liberal Loves Conservative, Republican Clan-Family." It's also nice to give my friends and family a reason to think I'm crazy because then they can feel better about themselves and, as everyone knows, I'm all about helping people feel good.

Quick re-cap for the Duggar-trivia impaired. They are a family with 19 children born from the same woman. They have fans (for their TLC show and two books), and they have detractors. When I first learned about them my husband said to me, "Google 'my vagina is a clown car.'" The kind of outrage they inspire is not hard to imagine.

One of the criticisms against the family comes from those who say that no child in a family of that size can receive the love and care he or she needs. Often those who oppose the "Duggar lifestyle" go on to describe their own experience coming from a large family and how terrible it was.

I have a friend who came from a family of eight--neglect, alcoholism, abuse. She hates large families. I have another friend who came from a similar family of eight (similar in culture, religion, age), and she loves large families. She felt cherished and enjoyed having so many siblings. I constantly ask the people I meet who come from larger families: what was it like? My conclusion based on this very casual research: size has nothing to do with family happiness.

Do you know anyone from a small family who had a bad childhood? Who felt unloved? Neglected? Overlooked? Ignored? That their parents didn't have time for them? It is very clear to me that what matters is not, in any way, the number of children, but the parents and family culture (as well as the personality of the child).

Recently I read the fascinating memoir, Call The Midwife, about a midwife working in the London dock community in the 1950s. Family size, in that area at that time, averaged six or seven. She even writes of a mother of 25 children. Yes, 25! And she says that this was a happy family full of happy children who she never heard argue!

The revelation to me (and confirmation) in the book came around family-size. Most of the families she served endured such unthinkable, impoverished living conditions that you shudder just to read it. Families with the exact same circumstances had wildly different attitudes to life, happiness, children, the world.

Frankly, I don't think a child feels loved or unloved based on the number of siblings. And if you don't believe me, go talk to your only children friends. By that theory, all only children ought to grow up feeling the most loved, secure, confident and cared-for of any children. We all know how untrue that is! Only children grow up to experience sorrow, depression, frustration and anger at their parents (um, just like people from every other family size). The Duggars are an exceptional family, but not simply in their number. The kind of industry, ambition, collaboration and ethic they live (whether you agree with it or not) justifies their popularity. They really are unique.

What do you think about family size? What was your experience in your family? I'm collecting date, so please tell me! I truly want to know.

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