January 19, 2007

Freak-Out: Too Many Children

I went to a gathering of former co-workers last night, and one of them freaked me the hell out. He and his wife have six children, ranging in age from 8 to 22, and he was saying, "Five children, huh? Let me give you some advice: don't have a sixth." He was telling me stories of how difficult it is to have so many children, so many issues, so many expenses. They lock the pantry because otherwise the boys eat a week's worth of groceries in an afternoon. Someone always needs something expensive: braces, new glasses, lessons. There is nothing worse than a 13-year-old girl.

This conversation caused it to occur to me that perhaps having lots of children is easier when it's lots of babies than when it's lots of teenagers. I've been humming along thinking, "What's the difference, really, between three children and four, or five, or even six? It's just more of the same thing." I've even pushed this philosophy with Paul, who, if you remember, had a crisis over the discovery of this most recent pregnancy and had to be talked down. I wasn't just saying I thought five would be fine and not much different than four, I really did think so.

Now it seems as if our family of four children, with its convenient twins at the end to prevent one youngest child being left alone with the parents at the end, was the ideal family, and that we've screwed it up. In fact, it seems like we should have stopped at two like most people. Two children would have been a happier life. We'll never be able to afford the expenses of five. We'll never be able to rear them right, because we'll never have enough time and energy to teach everybody everything they need to know. We'll be one of those families social services keeps an eye on because we're so disheveled and disorganized and our kids don't even know simple things like not to drip pee all over the toilet seat.

Time to talk myself down. The first thing that comes to mind is that it's common for parents to be the doom police to other parents. I remember when I was pregnant for the first time and very excited about it, there were a lot of people who said things to me such as, "Yeah, it's really exciting when you're pregnant," and "Just wait until he's born: you'll never sleep again, you'll never go out again." Then he was born, and it was okay. There were some difficulties and adjustments and midnight crises and so forth, but nothing as bad as I'd been led to believe. When I said so, those parents changed track: "Sure, it's easy now, wait until he's a toddler." He became a toddler, and it still wasn't as bad as predicted. So the other parents changed again: "Sure, one is easy; wait until you have two." I had a second, and it wasn't as bad. And so on, and so on, and so on: every time I say something's not as bad as I'd feared, there's someone to tell me that that's because I'm a naive fool who hasn't yet experienced real parenthood. So my first possibly reassuring thought is that it could be the same in this situation: older children do come with their own set of difficult parenting situations, but it won't be as bad as the other parents are making it sound.

I'm remembering, too, that when Rob was a baby, Paul and I would freak ourselves out by wondering what it would be like when he was five years old. We would get upset about the whole idea to have children, because what were we going to do with a five-year-old? We didn't like five-year-olds. We liked newborns. Now we were totally screwed, because he wasn't going to stay a newborn and then we'd be stuck with a five-year-old. But by the time Rob was five, of course, it was fine: he'd gotten there one hour at a time, and we liked him just as much as when he'd been a newborn--more, in fact. My guess is that freaking myself out about the kids being teenagers is just as silly.

My last thought, and the most important one to me, is that it's not as if there's anything to be done about it now. Short of selling some of the children on the black market, I'm stuck with them. I'm a mother of five, and it's not as if I can go back in time and try it again with two. So there is no sense getting all upset about making bad decisions, especially since I don't even know if they were in fact bad. Maybe I will always be glad I had lots of children; maybe it's what I want, even though it isn't what someone else wanted.


Black Sheeped said...

I think it's going to be fine. You'll take everything an hour at a time, and it'll be fine. I'm not a parent yet, but my parent friends all complain about other parents trying to freak them out. I think it truly would always be something, with two kids or seven. Like you said, even when you were pregnant with the first, others 'warned' you about it.

I've no idea why people say the things they do.

Shelly said...

You are absolutely right. Why do people feel compelled to fill you in on the gloom and doom without mentioning that a dazzling smile and a tight hug can make the crayon all over your wall not such a big deal anymore? Does the bad outweigh the good THAT much?? It starts with pregnancy horror stories and just never stops, does it?

Swistle said...

The worst was when I was pregnant with the twins. People said things like, "Oh my god, good luck; I wouldn't wish that on my worst enemy." Or, "You'll have help, right? You'll have to hire help." Even the books published on the subject talked about how almost impossible it was to have twins. I hadn't done it yet so I didn't want to argue with anyone--but it turned out to be fine. There were difficult times (both twins crying, both with blow-out diapers or whatever), but mostly I've found it a satisfying task--and one that comes with triple the cuteness (cuteness of each baby individually, plus the cuteness of the two of them together).

Trena said...

I think alot of it depends on your perspective (glass half empty vs. half full). Sure, six kids is a full house, but I think you have to realize that in having that many children, you can't expect that you can have the children AND everything. Unless you're independently wealthy, there are going to be shortfalls and sacrifices etc etc. I guess, and this is naive, my way of thinking is that because you are the parent, the better person, that because you were blessed with those wonderful people (the children) that you suck it up. Personally, I don't think that the numbering of five is a mistake--I'm of the mind that everything happens for a reason. Would I freak out if I were to suddenly find out that I were pregnant with another (currently with a six month old)? You bet I would. However, I think it would eventually work out and sure, it wouldn't be the way that I thought things were originally going to be, but that doesn't mean that just because it didn't go according to my original 'plan' that it was a bad thing.
As long as you (and your husband) are happy with your choices--that's what's important

Swistle said...

I think you're right, Trena: I just need to re-find my "This is all going to be fine, so what if it isn't what we planned?" perspective. Usually I have that in full-force: even when the twins were 7 months old and I thought I might be pregnant again, I thought, "Hey, it would be fine in the long run."

Also, I need to remember that it is pretty normal to freak out during pregnancy--it doesn't necessarily mean anything is wrong.

Guwi said...

I know this woman in my town who has five children, the youngest being almost six (and twins in there, to boot). She is the most amazing mother, not in a crazy super-mom kind of way, but you can tell she genuinely loves kids, understands them, just gets them, if you know what I mean. Her older girls are now starting to babysit, and I hear they're great babysitters and all-around nice kids. They don't live in a mansion, they don't have tons of money though it doesn't appear they're suffering either, they do stuff like sell eggs from their chickens, cut down christmas trees in their yard that they planted years ago for that express purpose, they have framed artwork of their children all over the house. Their home is just warm and comfortable and inviting, and usually comfortably messy.

The reason I'm sharing this with you, is here's someone who has five children, how does she ever do it, I always wonder, and hers are growing up, hitting their teens and turning into good citizens, etc. She always seems a little chaotic, but not in a bad way. She just seems to love her choices, and her family, and they seem to make whatever comes their way work for them. (She's also an RN/lactation consultant, and I'd bet she would have loved more kids, she just goes nuts over babies.)

Anyway--thought I'd share a success story. :) You'll do great.

Swistle said...

Guwi, what a bolstering story! It's good to hear that there is a happy story to balance the bad one. Also, I'm way ahead of the game on the messy house issue!

desperate housewife said...

Hey, sorry to comment so late in the game- I was having an exhausted day. A day where I was feeling not so blessed to be pregnant again and feeling a little horrified that there was no going back. So just know that, as you said, it is totally normal to freak out when pregnant no matter what number of children you currently have. It passes, just like heartburn and morning sickness.
Also, I totally agree with black sheeped- I have zero clue why people find sport in torturing pregnant women! If anything, this is the time for kind lies like, "Hey, childbirth's not so bad," etc. Why the horror stories?!