This is a post I’ve really wanted to write for awhile, but something that happened the other week inspired me to write it now.
It was early afternoon, and we’d had a late breakfast, so we headed out to do a little shopping before lunch (me and the kids and my mom). I went through Joann Fabric’s red tag fabrics, which were 50% off, looking for all of the cheapest cotton and flannel to make new wipes, napkins, and blankets for our home. Even buying off the clearance rack on sale, it cost a lot of money.
Towards the end of the trip, my 18-month-old was losing it. Like, really losing it. Even if I held him, or my mom held him, he was just screaming and screaming and fighting to get away, because he was so tired and likely getting hungry too. He’s big now, so when he throws himself around it’s hard to hold onto him. I felt frustrated and annoyed by the situation, and was trying to finish up the transaction as fast as I could so that we could get home and solve the hungry-and-sleepy problems.
But it made me think: there are people who would say, “Don’t have so many children. Don’t have more children. Then maybe your life would be easier.”
That made me mad. That’s treating children as commodities, not as people. And I don’t like it.
Do Fewer Children Make an Easier Life?
Thing is, would having fewer children — or at least, not any more than I currently have — make my life easier?
I don’t think it would.
I mean, in the short term, having fewer children can make some things easier. Pregnancy, babies, and toddlers are a lot of work. Babies and toddlers require a ton of hands-on time to carry them, feed them, help them sleep, entertain them, and so on. They have to be watched constantly. And as adorable as they are, they don’t give a whole lot back. They make messes but can’t help clean up (much). They might even stop you from cleaning up because they want to be held constantly. They can’t really talk to you or be “company” for you. It’s pretty one-sided.
But they grow up. This is what I always say to people who tell me having so many young children is a lot of work. (First, I know. I live it every day.) It won’t always be this way, with the heavy hands-on work. My oldest two still require general supervision, but no longer need so much hands-on time (they are 5 and 6) so I know the difference. I know it changes.
Of course, if you have lots of kids, then you have the baby-and-toddler phase longer. But it’s different when you have older kids too. “Hey, play with the baby for 10 minutes so I can take a shower” is an option, rather than having to take the baby with you or waiting for another adult to be home.
And no matter how many children you have, there are trade-offs. Fewer children does mean doing fewer dishes, less laundry, less cooking. It may mean less driving to activities (depending on how many activities you allow). But this type of “work” doesn’t necessarily make for an easier or harder life! Because “easy” is defined in a totally different way…
What Makes Life “Easy” Anyway?
The thing is, chores never go away. It doesn’t matter if you are a single person or a large family, you still must wash your clothes, prepare your food, and clean up the home. It’s hardest for a family with a bunch of littles, where there’s a lot of work and it mostly falls on the parents. But that’s just a season. As the kids get older, they can help more and more, and caring for the home may actually be easier in a home with lots of people rather than fewer people.
But of course, life isn’t just a series of jobs. And our lives aren’t easier or harder based on how many jobs we have to do. Our lives are easier if we’re surrounded by people who love us, and harder if we don’t have many close relationships. Our lives are easier if they are filled with satisfying work and sources of joy, and harder if we feel trapped or like we’re struggling.
“Easy” and “hard” are really defined more by whether we’re doing what we want to be doing or not. A life that’s easy to one person would be hard to another because they want different things. How much work we’re doing isn’t really that important, as long it’s what we love.
Do we really define our lives, and our family size, by how much work it takes, anyway??
Children Are Not a Job
I don’t want a lot of children because I want to do a lot of work, although I know that that does come along with it. I don’t want them because I want to “collect” people. Nor do I want them to prove something to anyone else.
My children are not commodities.
My children are not burdens to me. They are not sources of work for me to do. They are not increased cost of living. They are not “things” that behave or misbehave and which are difficult if they don’t behave as anticipated or preferred. And I run into this attitude all the time.
- “Your children have so much energy”
- “You must have so much work, having to clean up after them”
- “It’s harder to go places or do things with so many children”
- “How can you meet each of their needs, with so many?”
Others see them as a unit. A pack. My little commodities.
They are people.
I see each of them as individuals. I see the relationship I have with them. I make decisions about how many I want based on the number of awesome little people I want to know and raise — not how much energy they have, how much work they are, or how much my life is limited in other ways. Because that’s what I want. (And that’s what they want, too. They miss their siblings if they’re gone, and they constantly ask for more babies.)
It’s all about the relationships.
Yeah, we have bad days. Just like I described at the beginning — it wasn’t fun for me, or my 18-month-old, to be at the store at that moment. It wasn’t something that I enjoyed happening or that I look forward to happening again. But it’s a part of life. Not all of life is fun. Not having children, or having fewer children, doesn’t mean there won’t be annoying or difficult moments. They might be different annoying or difficult moments, but they will still exist.
And you know, even in that moment, even as I acknowledged — this is annoying — I still thought, I wouldn’t change it. I still love my babies. I still want my babies. Because they are awesome little people who have occasional hard times. Just like I do.
Why do we keep forgetting that children are people? Why do we limit the little people in our lives because of things like “work” or other things that are only a season?
If you honestly only want one child or two children, because that is the number of relationships you want in your life, than so be it. I’m not criticizing anyone’s family size here. Everyone’s ideal family is different, and that’s okay.
But why tell others not to have children because of how much work they are? As if they aren’t people…only commodities? Only a job? Only a burden?
They’re so much more than that. So much.
There are bad days. Days I wish they’d all go away for a couple hours so I could have some peace. Get more sleep. Eat something before noon.
But after a few hours, I miss them. I want to talk to them, to hear their little voices, to know what they’re thinking about and what they’re planning. What they’re passionate about. Who they are. I love each of their unique personalities and talents. Maybe I miss some of the “physical” details (like how much they’re eating, if they bump their elbows, etc.) that I might have known if I had fewer, but who cares? I don’t miss their excitement, their talents, their intelligence, their emotional needs. Those are so much more important.
Create The Life You Love
Have the children that you want to have, whether that’s none or twenty. Enjoy the relationships that you want to enjoy. All that work and other mundane “stuff of life” will happen and be fine. Heck, you can hire that stuff out, if you want. But you can’t replace or hire out the relationships.
And yeah, children are expensive. But there are ways to cut costs down, experiences to be had for free, and why should we make decisions on how many kids to have based on finances? (From a mama who is debt-free and considers financial decisions important in general. But not as important as people.)
I hope we can move on from this idea of children as commodities. I hope we can stop seeing families as some sort of ‘unit’ instead of a group of people. I hope we can stop criticizing large families because we don’t understand why.
Please, if you’re unsure why someone makes the choice they do about having or not having children, just ask. Nicely. But I’d rather answer an honest question than listen to an ignorant judgment.
Create the life you love. Not based on how much “work” it is. Not based on how “easy” it is. But based on how much you want it and feel called to it.
Do you think we treat children as commodities?