Tuesday, June 2, 2009

To be children

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.


Miss Rose Virginia said...

I completely agree with you, Anna! I remember asking my mom, when I was little, if I could sweep or vacuum or even mow the lawn! With the mentality that I should remain a child as long as possible, my mom didn't let me help out with her chores, but now she realizes it was my inborn nature to do the real work of a woman at home. This is what I've been called to do, and she encourages it wholeheartedly. Of course, I'm 21 now, but I think she knows that if she'd taught me homemaking skills earlier in life, she wouldn't have to be teaching me now.

Anyway, God bless you and your family, as well as the lessons you'll give Shira on being a wonderful wife and mother.

Anonymous said...

You have a good attitude, but it's a fine line to walk.

I find little children love helping, but the older they get (and theoretically, the more useful), they like it far less.

I agree it's important they help though. I have my kids help wash the floor (we flood them here in Israel) before Shabbat, help make vegetable and fruit salads, etc. But on the whole, day to day, school work is their number one job. And they have friends over often, which I encourage. So they're not exactly drowning in chores.
It is a struggle to have them help; they know it's important, but just don't feel like it, generally. I think most parents who are honest will admit their kids aren't yearning to do housework (we're not talking about some fun baking here and there, which my kids love, but daily chores). Some chores are more popular than others.

Anyway, I think the biggest challenge with having a big family is not how much work you give each kid, but how much attention. I 'only' have five, and I know first hand that it is very difficult to give each child the time s/he needs, particularly if you have a difficult or needy child.

Mrs. Amy @ Clothesline Alley said...

Peapod has been helping ever since she could first walk and there is no way she wouldn't help. ;o) She enjoys trying her hand at everything and is proud to don her apron and tell everybody how she is a "wittle helper" Far from taking away her childhood, teaching her responsibility has allowed me to have more time to spend with her as there is less mess to clean up and task get done quicker. The faster we get the laundry put away, the faster we can get out to the playground, the paint your own pottery store, the pool, or whatever else the day might have in-store.

I absolutely believe, as do my mother and grandmother, that giving children age appropriate tasks and allowing them to help prepare meals allows the child to give a meaningful contribution to the family, which in turn helps them feel valued in even more ways than they did before. They can see their hard work pay off and they can look with a smile on the muffins they just helped bake and see how fun such a simple task can be. Peapod oftentimes wants to cook & bake rather than play with her toys. The poor girl just doesn't understand we can't bake all day everyday. ;o)

To be fair, I don't necessarily believe some of the concerns shared in the comments were unfair, for I have seen such issues played out before my eyes in real life, but neither were the ideas expressed about only children fair, either. The notion that parents of onlies put no forethought into teaching their children nor do they instill values in them at a young age is more than a little outrageous, especially as these parents often have to work harder to teach children to share and play nicely with others, for they don't have the convenience of a sibling to naturally help with such a task. With all things, there is much to consider and acknowledging both of these possibilities can prevent these realities from unfolding in families. Stereotypes shouldn't be used to judge others, however they can serve as a fine example of what to seek to avoid yourself.

Tracy said...

That's really what it's all about: raising them for the glory of God.

My children have all learned to help from an early age, and truthfully they love it. My 14 year old son just loves to find new ways to help without even being asked. He cooks, he cleans and does laundry. He's wonderful with babies and the elderly. He helps my husband fix cars and mow grass. And he never complains. And when his work is done, he plays. And he plays HARD! That's what being a child is about, not having no responsibilities. Those who think children shouldn't help are doing their children a serious disfavor.

Joie said...

I don't agree with about 90% of why you do what you do BUT you it the nail on the head here. Teaching children to do basic life skills is most necessary. My husband was working at a Starbuck's one summer while getting his Ph.D. and when he told one of the workers to mop the floor, the young, spoiled man said he didn't know how because he never did that at home.

You are right, they love helping mommy (and daddy!) around the house. My son (and probably only child) loves to help me dust with his duster, sweep with his broom, help us cook when appropriate, give the dog her meals, help water plants....and he's only 2.5. I even have a housekeeper but I show him that he has to pick up after himself by doing the same and by working with my housekeep when she is here.

Our job as parents is to raise men and women who can be happy, healthy, productive members of society -- who can love and be loved and not be spoiled older "children."

If your posts are indicative of your reality, I have no doubt your children will be both responsible people but also have time to just "be." And I sincerely hope you will teach any sons you may have how to be good housekeepers and cooks as well.

Heather said...

Anna~ I agree that children should be taught to help, it helps to teach them responsibility. My boys love to help me and at times fight over who gets to do what.

That said I don't think that once they reach teenage years they should automatically be required to look after younger siblings.

Anonymous said...

My two year old son spends every morning doing "chores" with me - washing dishes, sweeping, folding laundry, baking bread, watering plants, etc. He is very engaged and loves it all. When I have to actually do some chore he can't participate in, and he is on the "wrong" side of the baby gate, he wails and cries and wants to come to me to help. His one year old sister is quickly following in his steps. They love to feel like a contributing member of the family and if they spill something, even the one year old knows where to get the towel to wipe it up. When I was little, my mom didn't want me to help out much because I made chores more difficult and I misplaced things, so as a result I didn't really do any housework until I moved out on my own after college. Luckily I had plenty of opportunity to catch up since, although those first few months were tough! I think if you have the patience to put up with little hands learning to do housework, you will be rewarded in the future, as will they.

Becky said...

I was (am) the oldest of 5 children, and the four oldest of us were closely spaced.

I think the idea of helping around the house causing kids to grow up too early is just silly. As the oldest child and only girl, I LOVED helping my mom out. I also had *plenty* of time for play.

I don't think I grew up too fast at all. In fact, I think my youngest brothers were the ones who "grew up" too fast because they had us older siblings teaching them things that we learned at a much older age.

Just my two cents! :)

Mrs W said...

I really think that worrying that children will "grow up too quickly" is really a result of self-indulgent me-first culture. I don't believe there is anything wrong with a child growing up with responsibilities etc. I have a problem with the "they are children let them be children" philosophy. The children need to GROW! Growth is what it is all about.

That being said, there is NO WAY I'd have my children babysitting my other children. Or anyone else's children for that matter. A child of thirteen is still a child and I don't think they can really be trusted to watch other children alone.

Jenna said...

I also completely agree! While it is valuable to learn responsibility from an early age, I believe it is equally valuable to allow children to be children. Not only that, but encourage them to maintain some elements of childhood through to adulthood. Always having childlike faith and being carefree, able to forgive easily, playful... Life can be quite serious at times, but children do not need to be robbed of the joys of life. As you said, it's important to find a balance -- hard to do!

Jan Hatchett said...

I absolutely agree! I was an only child who went into marriage absolutely clueless about the domestic realm. I really wish I had learned more as a child.

Mrs. White said...

All children should have a happy, carefree childhood. They should feel safe and secure and protected within their family. This doesn't mean they shouldn't help out at home, or help care for siblings (by playing with them and such). It all works well together.
Mrs. White

jAne said...

You're right...of course. :o)

Excellent post, AnnaT.

jAne at tickleberryfarm.blogspot.com

Aelwyn said...

It is all about balance I think. I was the youngest of eight and did not do chores very often. It did make adjusting to married life and housekeeping difficult. On the other hand, I have seen large families where the older children are the "second parents." Sometimes this is good, but I also see it sometimes leading to resentment on the part of the older child.

We need to continuously ask God for his wisdom through prayer in this parenthood journey.

Anonymous said...

I blogged about this in response. :)


Undersharing said...

I'm not sure if you're familiar with the Duggars, but as an overview they're an Evangelical Christian family from the US, known for their (currently) 18 children and system for raising them. They borrow a lot from the concepts of "Cheaper by the dozen" and have written their own book on managing a large family.

They do an excellent job with thrift and their children seem happy and well-adjusted. They do a surprising number of things right and I know some people who were friends of the family when they lived in Arkansas and they have a lot of respect for the Duggars. Pretty much the only fault I find with them is their system of pairing an older child with a younger one. This sounds like a good idea, but it gets taken to such an extreme that it's almost like turning all the older children into teenage parents of their own children. This system goes beyond expecting older children to look after the younger ones or occasionally babysitting when the parents are gone.

I'm not criticizing them in general, just this one aspect of their system. I honestly don't know what I would do with around 16 children under the age of 18 in the house at one time, but I do think that you're not really parenting that many children if you're turning the older ones into deputy parents.

As a side note, having 10+ children is actually a pretty new thing so maybe this is why there's so little known about how to do it. It wasn't until the last century that you could reasonably expect that many children to survive, so even if a woman gave birth to 12 children it was unlikely that more than 8 would live.

John and Debi said...

Anna, I only have 4 children, and they are all very closely spaced. They are helpful, and I hope will be well-trained mature adults when they enter marriage. I think our culture breeds immaturity---think of the responsibilities children had even 100 years ago !! Sadly, we now bring up children to be entertained and "have fun". Or that is my opinion anyway. I'm not trying to tell anyone else how to raise their kids, but I surely do want more for my own children than to know how to text on a cell phone or play to the next level on a video game !! It's hard to find the balance, but God will help us !

Terry @ Breathing Grace said...

I think as the mother of teens and toddlers, I can add a bit of perspective.

Tammy was right about one thing: the older they get, the less enthused they become about helping. My older children have assigned chores, which they do without being told. After that, I enlist their help in ways that won't be drudgery for them. I have one who likes to bake, so I steer her towards that when I need a hand. One who like to do things outside, and another who enjoys helping bathe and dress the babies. Which brings me to my next point...

We do NOT allow our older children to babysit the toddlers. Ever. They help out from time to time when I need help. Yes, they sometimes change diapers and sometimes give a bath. That's how families work. We help each other. It's not a reflection on my mothering skills because I ask them to help out. Besides, I handle most of it myself anyway. They NEED to learn responsibility. What we don't do, is allow their lives to be upended by the fact that we have babies in the house now.

This whole notion of kids growing up too fast is just as Mrs. W said. Funny thing is, we allow them to be bombarded with things they are not emotionally mature enough to handle (dating, etc.) saying they should do it because they're young. In reality this causes them to grow up much, much too soon in all the wrong ways. Then we withhold from them experiences that will help them to be stable and mature (i.e. responsibility and work), and say we're doing that because kids should be kids.

Can you see how backwards our society is? Heaven help our kids!

Anonymous said...

I don't think that anyone should ever dictate or moralize about how many (or how few) children another woman has, how they are spaced, or when the woman has them, as long as the children are well cared for.

I trust women to make wise decisions about when to have children and how many to have. I do worry about children as well as women when women's choices are taken away from them.

-- Pendragon

Anonymous said...

I am surprised by the commenter who said that a child of 13 is too young to babysit. You may be right, but I don't know. It seems taken for granted that age 12 is old enough to start babysitting.

When I was 12 I had a long list of babysitting clients -- though I have to admit to wondering why on earth these parents trusted me with their children!

-- Pendragon

Mrs. Rabe said...

I think it doesn't matter whether children like to help, it is important that they do help. It is not just giving them some "token" chore, but to have the sense that they are really contributing to the family.

A homemaker/mother's role is not one of maid or house cleaner. She is the manager of her home. She sets the schedule etc.

I find it faulty thinking to think that children should only play, study and spend time with friends. When will they learn to love to manage their homes and families, to cook and clean and teach there children? It doesn't magically happen at the point of marriage or parenthood!

When children grow up helping and participating in the real work of the family, they can learn about serving others through what they do.

This of course doesn't mean that THEY become the maids of the family, either. But the family all works together.

My children do alot around our home, and have done age appropriate chores since they were young. It has lead to mature, well adjusted children. They do well with their schoolwork and love to spend time with their friends!

It seems the prevailing thought of so many is that childhood is a time for school, and playing for children - no responsibilities. But as I said before that does not prepare them to be adults who know how to handle responsibilities!

Sorry this was so long, AnnaT. I agree with you!

Rebecca Grider said...

I was one of the original posters who was not in favor of "training" children to be helpers at an early age or expecting that they should take on the responsibility of being mini-parents. So I was very pleasantly surprised to read this post and realize how I must have misread the intention behind the original post and how what Mrs. T writes is exactly what I agree with.

Yes, children need to learn responsibility and it is important for them to learn homemaking skills - no matter one's goals in life, everyone should be able to wash their own clothes and make decent meals - yet, as Mrs. T finely states, it's important for children to dream, create, learn and be free of adult responsibilities.

Thank you for illuminating your thoughts and giving more insight into this issue, which is one I feel strongly about considering my own childhood and how it's affected me. You all sound like you're walking that fine line that allows children to grow and learn and grow up to be responsible yet retain that innocence and carefree nature all children should be able to experience. How wonderful!

Anonymous said...

Anna, I agree 100% with you. Children NEED age-appropriate responsibility, but they also NEED to be children and run around, play, use their immaginations, fall over, learn things first-hand etc. Being a parent is about preparing the children for what will meet them in life, that does not mean that a child of 7 should be in charge or running a home however it does mean that they need to understand that a family works together - each person doing their own part. My husband and I are both the eldest of 4 and as twe were both 8 years older than the youngest, we had our share of dirty nappies (diapers) to change and so on, we both took a lot of responsibility and not all of it was perhaps appropriate, however we are both responsible adults and we can also choose in a balanced way to do things differently from our parents if we want - choose what they did right and do differently what we experienced as "wrong", yes we will make our own mistakes but we like you and most other parents will do our best.

Persuaded said...

i think sometimes we tend to forget the real purpose of childhood... it is to prepare for adulthood. of course, it is wonderful to have a joyful and secure childhood, but children can work hard and assume responsibility and still have a very fulfilling youth. the idea that requiring our children to be diligent and industrious robs them of joy is just foolishness.

i think the real concern about having many children is not the issue of too much work, but rather too little adult attention at times. i think it's a very good thing if work is done together as a family... then it can be enjoyable too!

Anonymous said...

Hi Anna! I just wanted to write a quick post about today's blog topic. It is related to a subject that is very close to my own heart. Both of my parents came from large families (10 children on my mother's side and 8 on my father's side). They were each among the older children in their families so they learned how to help out from a young age. My mother always said that it helped her because she ended up being a young mother of 3 closely spaced children of her own. She was married at 18 and well skilled in the basics of homemaking thanks to my grandmother. In reference to my father he feels it gave him an outstanding work ethic! He has had the same job at the same company for 40 years now...which is longer than I have been alive.
There is nothing wrong with having closely spaced children sometimes it can end up being a true blessing for the whole family.

messy bessy said...

I did not see the earlier post or read those comments, so I'll just say that large families, with many children close in age, can look one way and actually be another.

Our six are all spaced about 2 years apart -- it just happened that way -- and now are 12 and under. To an outsider it might seem that they don't individually get very much attention, or that they are required to do "too many" things around the house, or that they are unfortunate in some way. (We are quite poor, so we don't have money to fix up our house or yard; it is hard to hide your shortcomings when you have six kids and no money!)

But the interior life of the family is quite different. Our kids get the attention they need, and if they don't, they let us know! And further, they become a community of friends for each other in all kinds of unforeseen ways.

From the outside, it might seem that they don't have quite the typical "childhood" -- if by that we take a two-child middle class American family as the norm. They do have several chores each day, and they don't have the level of privacy that we have come to regard as normal. But then, many Asian and African children are quite similar in this respect; many children grow up working right alongside their parents and relatives in the fields or workshop.

It just seems to me that childhood means bringing the child alongside you, nurturing, protecting, guiding, allowing them to grow at their own rate. This can be beautifully done with one, and beautifully done with many.

If anybody out there is wondering whether it might be the Lord's call for her and her husband to have a larger family than seems "normal" please accept my encouragement. God supplies the love where a mother and father are willing to trust His guidance. And for those who feel God calls them only to one child, may His blessings be on you!

Mrs. Taft said...

I think this is right on :) And I don't think it should be about whether or not kids "like" to do things, it's ok if they don't like to do housework. As long as there is a healthy balance of things they DO like, we shouldn't shy away from commandments and activity because they don't like them...it's a very important life skill to learn how to do, if not cheerfully than with determination and peaceful acceptance, things we don't want to do.

tales_from_the_crib said...

I agree. As the mom of a toddler and a January 2009 baby, toddlers can and do like to help out around the house. Amazingly early in fact. Although as the oldest of four, I can see where some people could worry about kids losing their childhood, I'd say it's a balance that the parents have to reach on their own and that the solution shouldn't be babying the older kids just because they're older. Keep these good posts coming!

Jenn said...

A part of our responsibility as parents is to teach children how to function as adults. In the real world, most individuals need to do their own laundry, cleaning, cooking, and simple home maintainance. We need to be teaching children how to do these things while they are at home with us.

Like you, I didn't learn how to care for children or maintain a home when I was a child or teen because my parents divorced and my mother was forced to work 2-3 jobs at a time. For the first 5 years of my marriage I was clueless. I didn't clean unless we were getting ready to move to a new apartment, and my husband and I shared food preparation. By the time we decided to have a family, I had to teach myself how to clean and cook.

My boys are learning how to do all sorts of things, even cooking, cleaning, and laundry, so that even if they aren't married they will know how to care for their households.

Of course, some parents can go overboard by expecting too much from their children, but discernment is needed. It's unfair to say that all older children of large families are taken advantage of and forced to give up their childhood.

Sildah said...

One of the excellent ideas here is that of easing into adulthood. Chores were an expected part of living in my family and learning to love each other by taking care of our own things and helping make the household run smoothly. As we grew older into those reluctant helper years, it was made clear that we weren't "slave labor" and that we were being taught (alongside our parents) how to do the wide variety of tasks associated with being an adult and having our own home. What I primarily remember at this point is a childhood full of play, however. It did make a difference that my parents didn't ask me to contribute financially until I graduated from high school--and then it was only to work for my books and plane flights for college.
Interestingly enough, my husband was essentially an only child (being so much younger than his sibs), and he was very seldom asked to do anything around the house--sometimes in the name of keeping childhood and sometimes because it can be faster to just do something yourself. Of the two of us, he has more difficulty by far both feeling like he is an adult and playing with delight and abandon when it is appropriate.
It could just be a personality difference, but we now believe that it will be beneficial to have our children help alongside us and for us to sometimes play with them and doing so will not be taking away their childhood but allowing the fullest expression of it.

Anonymous said...

Hi Anna,
I too was brought up without having ANY responsibilities in my childhood home. I learned at an early age that if my mother asked me to clean my room, if I waited long enough she would just do it herself. Now as an adult with my own home responsibilities that training is diametrically opposed to what I MUST do each and every day! Not only do I have to constantly fight my early childhood training, but I have to 'at the same time' re-train myself in what I should have learned as a child!

Those very chores are also one way we can teach our children diligence, perseverance and to work with a cheerful attitude as they are required to perform a chore that may not be well liked. THAT training will be essential no matter what they grow up to do as adults. In every 'job' there are tasks that have to be performed that are not well liked, hated even. But these things still need to be done. How much more pleasant for everyone around them for those tasks to get completed by someone who is cheerful instead of a grumpy bucket, snapping and complaining all the while.

We were created to work 6 days a week! It is a disservice to children to raise them with the mindset that they are 'entitled' to endless play. I am not saying that these children cannot have fun, or playtime. No not at all. What I am saying is that their childhood is a training ground for the adult life. Here in childhood is where the baseline attitudes and assumptions in life are set. Is that how we want them to view their necessary tasks while raising our grandchildren?? That if it is not somehow fun they can avoid 'it' or get someone else to do it? What a burden for them to have to overcome as an adult when they come up against the reality that they will have to work (5 or 6 days a week) in order to provide for themselves and whatever family they have or would like to have!!

It all comes down to a mindset we ourselves possess. Are we raising children... or are we raising adults? No, children are not 'little adults', they are children. They are being raised to become adults. When we plant corn, apples, flowers or whatever do we say, "I just planted corn sprouts". NO! We say, "I just planted some corn" and we expect that those dead seeds will sprout and grow to become that very corn albeit much later!

Let us raise adults who will bring glory to our Creator!
~Evelyn Mae

Anonymous said...

As the oldest of eight, and mother of two --years apart, without planning so, all I can say, is that children are: offspring, raised by parents to find their place as adults as the next generation. Whatever we can do as parents to help children become the best they can be as adults and enjoy childhood is the intent--whether occurring by happenstance of birth order or sibling interval.

That being said, it's my firm conviction that parents need to make 'choices' in reproduction that will free them up to provide decent childhoods from birth through adolescence, whether by providing adequate love, guidance, and solid values in family support, or substituting monetarily with boarding schools or sending to grandparents or other extended family members to live.

Too many people espouse homeschooling and memorizing Bible verses as a way of life, but find no substitute for maintaining a framework of family within marriage, later on, when circumstances change e.g. parent dies or leaves, financial situation changes drastically, house burns down, so in effect not providing a basis for resilience for when times get bad, thus providing the children with a sham of whatever extremism that they've been subscribed. Then, these children who've not experienced much outside of a rather 'totalitarian regime' are void of life experiences to draw from, ensuring balance as adults.

Bailey said...

(Very late - I'm sorry. :{)

I'm fourteen years old, oldest daughter of (soon to be) nine children, little sister to one and my mommy's right-hand man - woman. Girl. I couldn't help watching these last few posts about children growing up too fast and becoming little parents without amusement. I teach two of my sisters piano and one her second-grade math; I clean, cook on demand and babysit to my heart's content. We have a two-year-old whom I, and my sisters, love to death. We are not his parents - we are his older sisters.

I love mentoring my younger sisters. It's my greatest joy to teach, train and smother my young-young siblings with an eldest sister's love.

It's not abuse. It's a blessing - it's my calling; it's my gift. There is nothing that gives me greater thrill than to be given a chance to make a younger child smile, to get a hug from my baby brother, to change diapers, start baths, read stories and push swings.

My family is my life. When I used to play, I played - hard, loud and long. There was never a complaint from my mother. But it was, I think, the chance to be Somebody to my younger siblings, to be looked up to and to lead that matured me.

I live an active, creative life (author by trade, graphic designer/cinematographer part time, grammar geek and student full time) but it's because of my big family, not in spite of it. I have never felt hindered or unloved. I look at Sarah sitting blissfully in my lap or Daniel ringing off my name and know it to be so.

I do it because I see my mommy in need of help, from time to time: she's only human. I do it because I would not choose otherwise. I was placed in a large family as the oldest girl for a reason.

I will gladly take that I am not a woman; I'll withstand the doubt that I'm not "old enough" or I have "too much responsibility" for my age. I don't see it as a burden. Only a great blessing. There is no daughter more blessed than I, and I am painfully aware of how little I can truly give back.