Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Being Counter-Cultural

You could say that we live a counter-cultural lifestyle. This is confirmed for me regularly when I see the whites of people's eyes as I tell them we have SEVEN kids! To be honest I kind of get a kick out of the shock value, but it can also be somewhat tiring to answer the same question over and over again (you know what they're asking: "Are you done yet?" to which I now respond simply "We'll see") and to respond cheerfully to the constant comments at the grocery store that I'm "busy!" or that I "have my hands full".

As an only child I always vowed that I wouldn't do the same to any child if I had the choice (leave them as an "only" that is), and I am blessed to have been able to live that dream. The truth is that I always wanted a big family and I was quite happy to find out that the guy I wanted to marry also had the same idea. When we started dating we agreed that six was a good number, (we didn't broadcast that though because we had an idea that it wouldn't go over very well with a lot of people) but we've become less concerned about the numbers as we've grown.

I never started out to make any kind of statement by having a large family, it was just something I'd always wanted. However it appears now that I am unintentionally making a statement. Now that I think about it I think it's a good one. It's a statement that we are open to life as it is offered to us as a blessing, and a statement that we are willing to put in the work now to invest in our family for the long term. I read a book by Kimberly Hahn where she pointed out that the one gift that is only able to be given to children by their parents is a sibling. No one else on earth can give them the gift of a brother or sister and it's a gift that will benefit them throughout the many stages of life (although they don't always appreciate it when a younger sibling is taking their stuff!).

A friend of mine has recently been on the hunt for a daycare provider. She is a shift worker and as such has changing daycare needs from week to week. She needs someone who can do drop-offs and pick-ups at her son's school in the mornings. And because her daughter can't eat dairy or soy products she needs a place that can allow nuts in the diet. Admittedly not the easiest situation to accommodate. But in her search for suitable daycare she has also now come across another hurdle. Her children are too young! Being almost four and almost two she has actually been told by some daycare providers that they could not take her children because "it would be unfair to the older children already in the daycare to have young children around". This was implied by two daycare providers and openly stated by two more!

Have we gotten so selfish as a society that we don't want to teach kids how to share anymore, or how to relate to people of different ages. I know lots of people whose kids enjoy playing with really little kids because for one thing, they are so cute :) and for another it's fun to play with people who have no expectations of you other than that you might throw a ball for them to catch (or chase, as the case may be). It boggles my mind that it would be considered "unfair" to make children of different ages associate with each other and learn to get along. I wonder if people realize that this is actually a life skill that can serve them well when they get out into the world and need to interact with people from much wider demographics than simply an age difference.

It seems that people are increasingly surprised by any desire to have more than two children, and I think this is largely fueled by the current common fear that we are on an overpopulated planet. However if you hear the demographers in the documentary Demographic Winter you realize that the population explosion of the twentieth century occurred, "not because we started breeding like rabbits, but because we stopped dying like flies", which makes a lot of sense, and will inevitably lead to a drop again as the rates of birth and death stabilize. And then when you look at the countries in Europe and Asia that are facing a birth dearth, you start to see the long term ramifications of this mentality that says we shouldn't be having many children. There's been a lot of hype lately about "baby 7 billion" recently being born, and most of it has been laced with fearmongering. Wherever baby 7 billion is I'd like to send them a message that they are a welcome, unique, distinct individual, whose value is as high as anyone else's who was already here before them. They are not a drain on resources, in fact they may be the one who comes up with the next major "green" technology or medical breakthrough.

In fact as an only child, I'm very glad that we didn't stop at the conventional two kids. If we had done that I would have a horribly warped view of what siblinghood is about because our two oldest children are like oil and water, they just don't mix very well at all! It wasn't until we had three or four kids that I really began to see just how good it was for the kids to have each other around. Just your basic decisions that require compromise and negotiation exercise a mental muscle that you don't necessarily develop if you don't have to. And of course, just having someone to play with, to share your family experience, to share your memories of childhood as you grow older. I look at my children and know at we've given them priceless gifts in each other and I wouldn't have it any other way.

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