Society is Built on the Foundation of Solid, Functional Familes
It feels like society is failing. Warnings against the disintegration of the family have come from respected educational, political, and religious leaders. More than 25 years ago, the leaders of my church shared a public warning about the trend towards family breakdown.
We warn that individuals who violate covenants of chastity, who abuse spouse or offspring, or who fail to fulfill family responsibilities will one day stand accountable before God. Further, we warn that the disintegration of the family will bring upon individuals, communities, and nations the calamities foretold by ancient and modern prophets.
We call upon responsible citizens and officers of government everywhere to promote those measures designed to maintain and strengthen the family as the fundamental unit of society.– The Family: A Proclamation To the World from the The First Presidency and Council of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, published September 23, 1995.
Other Christian movements support the same notion of family and its purpose. Rachel Scott, author of the book “Birthing God’s Mighty Warriors” made the statement in an interview with ABC News published in an article entitle, “Is Eight Really Enough” that “when good people stop having kids, society fails.”
As ominous as those warnings about family are, it’s clear that any society is only one generation from breaking down into the chaos that comes from the destruction of the traditional family unit.
"When good people stop having kids, society fails." - Rachel Scott (from ABC News article "Is Eight Really Enough?"
Whether you’re in the process of raising a big family and looking for some tips from someone else in the trenches or you’re just starting out with your family and wondering what it’s like, I hope this article provides you what you need.
“Lo, children are an heritage of the LORD: and the fruit of the womb is his reward.
As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth.
Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them”— Psalm 127:3-5
Several years ago I found myself carrying luggage and herding little kids through the customs section of the San Jose, Costa Rica airport. My wife and I had decided to move our family (the two of us along with our five children ranging in age from 9 to 1) from Utah to Costa Rica for a cultural experience that would include learning Spanish and studying the cultures of Latin America. We weren’t sure how long we were planning to be in Central America. Possibly for a year or so, possibly much longer.
Traveling with lots of kids is far from easy. Going through the airport security in Houston, the TSA agent noted how many kids we had and referenced the difficulty we’d have traveling with such a big crowd of kids. He was even thoughtful enough to mention that he knew of ways to prevent more kids from coming into our family. Certainly most people think we’re crazy for having a large family, and even more so for taking our family (all together) traveling, or out in public generally.
Having a large family is not a popular thing to do in the 21st century. The US fertility rate as of 2018 was 1.73, a 52.7% decline since 1960. Organizations like the American Economic Association are applauding the trend towards bring less people to this planet through childbirth. Their effort at “Promoting smaller families” celebrates the use of public health campaigns that “promoted the benefits of small families.”
My wife and I now have seven kids. We started out the next generation of our family with a girl, and she has been followed by six brothers.
Many times during our nearly two-decade strong marriage, my wife and I have wondered to ourselves how blessed we are to have the life that we have. Good health. Kids who love us and usually do their best be good kids.
I grew up in a family of seven kids. I was right in the middle of the pack. I had four brothers and two sisters. There were only ten years separating the oldest of us from the youngest. That’s right. My parents had 7 kids in a 10-year time span. You could call them crazy, and there are certainly memories I have that would validate that sentiment.
Growing up in a large family has its ups and downs, but we all survived somehow. We played lots of sports. My parents watched more baseball, wrestling, and football than they ever bargained for. We went to church most Sundays and spent lots of time together.
With five boys and two girls, there was definitely lots of fighting, but equally as much if not more getting along and enjoying each others’ company. Our house was full of noise, full of life. Sometimes it felt too full, but we all
I’m glad that I was raised in a large family. I couldn’t imagine my upbringing being any different than it was as one of so many kids.
Profile of a Large Family
Based upon my experience, there are a few correlations I’ve seen associated with large families. For mine, these are naturally hold true. I’ll explain why.
- Large families tend to be religious: members of my faith (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) have the most kids of any religious group in the United States according to a 2014 Pew study of religion and family.
- Large families tend to be conservative: preserving the traditional family (a husband and wife having children) is a staple of the Republican Party and
- Large families are more likely to homeschool: people who have lots of children tend to place a higher value on having influence over their children as opposed to exposing them more to popular culture, which is most often anti-family; homeschooling allows parents of large families to exert that influence and preserve the values usually found among large families.
The Judeo-Christian belief system that has formed the foundation of the culture of the United States of America for hundreds of years drives the desire to have big families. The type of persona that flows from the culture, traditions, and religious practices of the Bible is one who is naturally driven to follow the first commandment given to Adam and Eve: multiply and replenish the earth.
Why Latter-day Saints Have Large Families
As referenced in the section above, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (also often referred to as the LDS Church or the Mormon Church) have larger families than any other religious group. In fact, it is a well-deserved stereotype that Latter-day Saints are the most family-oriented group of people in America, and likely in the whole world. The teachings of the Church emphasize the eternal nature of families. Latter-day Saints are encouraged to have as many children as they can possibly support financially, emotionally, and in other ways required of parents as part of their intrinsic obligation to the children they’ve brought into the world.
It is understood in Latter-day Saint doctrine that the spirits of mankind are eternal, and that the children who can be born into their families currently live in a pre-mortal state, where they await their opportunities to come to earth, to be taught the true purpose of life, and to learn important lessons that will help them achieve ultimate perfection. With this context, it makes sense that Latter-day Saints would choose to invite these pre-mortal spirits to spend their mortal existence in a good home where the true gospel of Jesus Christ is taught as opposed to going to a broken home or to be raised in an environment that was less ideal, even very possibly one that is dysfunctional or abusive.
Another unique teaching (even among Christian religions) of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is that humans are literal spiritual offspring of God, and that this world was created as a place of testing and development that allows any who choose it to overcome the challenges of this life and the life beyond to become perfect. An important aspect of that perfection is developing perfect attributes with regard to parenting.
Having several children provides parents with more opportunity to hone those skills and attributes, including finding a way to be patient with little, sometimes uncooperative children, becoming better at disciplining with love and motivation, empathizing with personalities that are often very different from your own, and a host of other traits that develop among a set of parents, a male an a female, who are experiencing the real life family workshop together. In fact, there ends up being no other way to develop the skills of parenting than having children, and lots of children is better than less children for those reasons.
Managing a Large Family
Managing a large family is in many ways, similar to running a company. There are roles to be filled, assignments to be completed, expectations and accountability to be held. However, especially when there are young kids involved (a situation my wife and I have experienced for 14 straight years), the family management approach can get really tricky. Kids under four years old just don’t often know how to be respectful of the 8am daily planning meeting you have scheduled for the family to get on track for the day.
Managing the day to day activities of a large family can certainly be complicated. Careful planning and being intentional about the large and small details that comprise any given week, day, or even hour is important. The responsibility of parents to keep their children safe from harm is difficult enough when there are only two or three little ones. When we went from a one-on-one defense (with just two kids) to a zone defense (3+ kids), we’ve had to make adjustments to our strategy for making sure all the kids are safe.
For instance, when my wife is taking my daughter (our oldest, a 14-year-old) and our fourth son (a six-year-old) to violin lessons during the middle of the day on a weekday (which happens almost every week), I understand that I need to take a break from my work (I work from home, more on that later) about 15 minutes before it’s time for them to leave so that I can help with getting shoes on whichever little ones were going along, loading up the car with musical instruments, and confirming which parent would have responsibility for which kids over the next five hours. The conversation also involves me asking my wife what is left on the checklist of to-do items for each of the boys left at home with me. This kind of scenario plays out on a daily basis, and it requires lots and lots of communication to pull it off.
I will point out that, in my experience, the management of a large family tends to necessitate a fluid schedule, flexibility, and the ability to execute contingency plans, then other contingency plans when those contingency plans don’t fall through.
It is clear to me from these experiences that raising a large family is one of the most direct ways of developing the attributes we associate with a loving God, who we consider to be a literal Father, who the Bible teaches us numbers the hairs of our heads and who wants to give us good gifts. My wife and I often discuss how the stresses and difficulties of looking after the welfare and safety of all of these children that have been entrusted to us are preparing us to become like the God who created the spirits of all of us.
Having children (as many as reasonably possible) and learning to fulfill your responsibilities towards them as a parent is literally the purpose of this life.
From my observations, in general people who have large families tend to have more overall dedication to the concept of family generally.
Keeping the Marriage Healthy
As my wife and I have discovered, the relationship between a married couple changes when children are introduced into the family unit. In many ways, having children helps to unify the relationship. Miraculously, the gift of life for a new child comes from the combination of his or her mother and father. My wife and I often marvel at all the various combinations that have been created from the DNA of the two of us, including shared and unique physical characteristics as well as attitudes and perspectives that have been passed down from my wife and me to each of our children.
Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.– Genesis 2:24
On the other hand, it can be difficult while competing with kids to have the kinds of conversations that spouses should have on a regular basis. If a couple is not careful, fulfilling parental duties to kids and their needs without regard for the source of the very existence of those kids (the marriage relationship) can begin to cause damage to the marriage itself. The progression from being a happy couple to a happy but somewhat sleepless and stressed couple with kids to an unhappy couple to a broken family plays out far too often in American society.
My wife and I have gone on dates almost every week since we were married almost two decades ago. Sometimes we’ll take one of our kids on a date with us, but most of the time it is just my wife and me going to dinner to chat or finding another diversion from our parenting duties. These 2- to 3-hour sessions during the week give us a chance to renew our relationship, discuss things we don’t have opportunities to discuss in other settings, and ensure that our big family remains a healthy family.
About once a year, my wife and I also take a short trip together. This annual vacation without our kids gives us an extended opportunity to take a break from the daily scenario that involves crying children, demanding schedules, and other things that cause stress. Having a two- or three-day trip away from dealing with those daily situations allows us to be more focused and energized when we get back home.
Financing a Large Family
Providing financially more kids is obviously expensive than providing for less. As with any size family and with individuals generally, financing and providing for a large family depends upon two things: increasing your income and limiting your expenses.
Again, this aspect of raising a large family requires a person, a couple, even the entire family to be intentional about their approach to finances.
Because of the internet, which allows me to work from home and make a good income without consuming all of the time in my day.
I have built my career by building internet businesses, which provide me and my family with more than enough income to meet our needs while allowing me a lot of extra time to spend with my family. If you’re interested in learning how to operate your own online business, here are some resources to help you get started.
Educating a Large Family
Besides providing for a large family, another significant responsibility is teaching each of your children to be able to provide for themselves. Education is obviously critical for kids’ development while they’re growing up, and it sets the stage for their success as adults.
With time available for kids being divided with so many, how is it possible to ensure that each child is being educated?
In our household, we do our best to teach our kids to be self-reliant with their education. We spend lots of time helping them to read when they are 5-6 years old. After that, we provide them with whatever resources they want or need to educate themselves as much as possible, with oversight of their learning done mostly by my wife.
We make sure that our kids are learning the three pillars of education: reading, writing, and arithmetic. Outside of that, their educations are highly customized based upon their respective natural propensities.
As evidenced by the lack of success experienced by teachers in many public, charter, and private schools who have large class sizes, when the students are highly dependent upon the teacher, the environment doesn’t scale very well. If, on the other hand, the child is taught to love learning (which is a natural way to be for most people), and if a child is given the resources, learning will happen spontaneously.
This concept of self-education segues into the next topic that’s important among large families. There is a high correlation between larger family size and the tendency to homeschool.
As we have learned over the past eight years of homeschooling (a path we started on with some help from the religious private school my children attended when they first became elementary school aged) the approach to education used by the majority of homeschooling families is an entirely different paradigm than what is experienced in government accredited public, charter, and private schools. The homeschooling system doesn’t spend nearly as much time worrying about standardized tests and conformity among the masses of children. Instead, homeschooling is a much more tailored approach that works well among large families for a couple reasons.
One reason homeschooling is popular among large families is the one I mentioned above. When parents have limited time to spend on teaching specific curriculum to each of their children, the best alternative is to focus on helping the kids learn on their own, then facilitating their access to learning materials they can use to learn. The difference between modern homeschooling (which is becoming more popular by the day) and the formal settings of public and private schools is a fundamental one. On the homeschooling side, the responsibility for learning is transferred as much as possible to the child, who is able to use the responsibility to develop more quickly. On the public school side (which is failing the majority of its constituents), the attempt is made to coerce a mostly one-size-fits-all education on kids who tend to reject it.
In our household, we spend a lot of time on two specific areas of education that we feel are highly important outside of the core education that will ultimately provide our kids with the skills and experience they need to support their own families and to actively contribute to the society of which they are part. These “extracurricular” areas of focus are music and sports.
We feel strongly that participation in both music and sports is critical for developing well-rounded children. For that reason, our kids play on sports teams and they take music lessons. I’ve written before about how kids’ education can (and should) involve both sports and music in order for kids to develop confidence, resilience and other qualities that will benefit them as they grow into adulthood.
Large Families Require Teamwork, Discipline, and Efficiency
One thing that has become increasingly clear about raising a large family as my wife and I have built ours from just the two of us as newlyweds into the family of nine that we have now is that raising a large family requires discipline. It requires living intentionally, working together as a team to accomplish the goal of fulfilling lives for all involved. Raising a large family well can’t be done with a lot of wasted time. Our kids don’t play many video games (outside of occasional family Tetris tournaments) and we are cautious about having them spend time watching shows. Most of what we use computers and our televisions for involves educational programs or intentional recreation downtime.