In response to my post, "Blessings of closely spaced children", I received several comments stating that when there are many children in a family, close in age, the older children are forced to grow up too soon, by necessity, and thus are essentially deprived of their childhood.
After reading the impressions of several different people, all along the same lines, I felt the need to write a follow-up post and say that I'm all for children being children. Children should be given the gift of a carefree childhood, with plenty of time to explore and create. The main burdens of a family, of teaching and training the little ones, should not fall on the children's shoulders. Children, even older ones, are not supposed to serve as a substitute for parents and such a situation would not be healthy for anyone.
However, I don't think it's right to say, "it's irresponsible to have many children if you cannot do all the housework yourself", or "children should be free from responsibilities". Children love to help. Children want to help, and there's nothing wrong with delegating age-appropriate tasks. It will allow children to feel important and valued members of the family, and will give them important practical skills which they will be so thankful for in the future. If a child is taught to pick up after himself, he will think twice before throwing heaps of clothes, toys or books on the floor. If a child dislikes eating vegetables, he might be more enthusiastic if he is encouraged to participate in making salad. You might ask why I am so certain; well, I simply remember myself as a child.
I wasn't taught early enough to work around the house, and being an only child didn't help either. And so I reached the age of twenty without knowing the basics of cooking, cleaning or laundry. I was still living at home and at that age, I could have been a great help to my mother for a number of years already; instead, I was still a burden. I'm so thankful that I had the inspiration to spike up my homemaking skills shortly after that, and reach marriage (only two years later) knowing at least the basic essentials.
In my opinion, it's all about finding a balance. Participating in running a home and teaching younger siblings is good for a child; becoming a parent substitute is not. When an older daughter becomes her mother's right hand, she's not being exploited, she's preparing for marriage.
I don't mean to say, either, that an only child will necessarily be spoiled and irresponsible; I have seen many examples of the contrary, too. And if children aren't spaced closely, it doesn't mean they won't be friends; my husband is one of five, none of whom are spaced closer than 3 years, and they are all great together. I love being to family gatherings with everyone; the gift of nieces and nephews, through marriage, is something I didn't know I would have.
It is my most sincere wish that, no matter how many children we are blessed with - whether Shira will have no siblings, or a dozen - we will raise them for the glory of God and enjoy many years of tender love and friendship together as a family.