Think big families use too many resources? Find out why having a big family is not ruining the planet.
By Daja, Contributing Writer
Last I counted I have nine children. Nine wonderfully loving, compassionate, clever, responsible children, who we hope and pray we are raising to be loving, compassionate, clever and responsible adults.
When we go out, of course, we get questions and stares and the timeless question, “How can you afford it?” and “You have your hands full!” It’s fine really. Most of the time we just smile or laugh. One comment that always gets my goat though is the assumption that by having a large family we are somehow damaging the earth and overusing our allotted resources.
Big Family, Small Footprint
This is especially irritating as it has most often come from someone drinking a wildly overpriced cup of non-fair trade non-organic coffee from a disposable cup or carrying their designer handbag made is a sweatshop in an exploited country or someone accustomed to driving alone in the carpool lane.
They may not like the message, but here it is: Our whole family of 11 likely consumes less resources than the average First World single person or childless couple. That’s just the truth. How is this possible?
1) We share practically everything and
2) We produce more than we consume.
Sharing Practically Everything
Example: Someone making a meal for one person can heat their oven, cook dinner for 1 hour and used approximately 2.0kWh of electricity. You cannot just multiply this to say that a family of 11 would use 22.0kWh of electricity. In the same amount of time, with the same amount of electricity it takes to feed one, I can feed my 11.
This goes for virtually everything. Clothes are not worn for just one season or for a year or for one person. They are shared around and passed down until they have fully served the noble purpose for which they were made.
We all sit in the same room in the evenings, sharing the electricity to read and play games together. Everyone does not simply disappear to their own rooms to hide in Netflix binges.
We share space in other ways as well. There is a boys’ room, a girls’ room, and a parents’ room. Any misguided feeling of entitlement to one’s “own room” melts away in the unselfishness of learning to accommodate others, communicate, and late night giggles.
The very nature of having a big family forces creativity and the kind of frugality that gives birth to eco-responsibility. If conviction and principle don’t inspire you to be earth-friendly, cost and convenience will. We don’t buy convenience food, fast food, or virtually anything that comes in little plastic packages. We buy flour that comes in 50-pound brown paper bags. Absolutely no waste–not even the packaging. We reuse and up-cycle everything possible. Our kids don’t have the latest plastic gadget toys that require batteries and upkeep. They play outside. With one another.
This is life. Nay, this is the good life.
Production vs. Consumption
I confidently propose the idea that we do not have a resource problem on the earth, but we definitely have a consumption problem.
According to the USDA it should cost me $304,480 to raise a child to the age of 18. [source] If you just take that at face value, it would cost me $2,740,320 to raise my brood. Being that I am not a Rockefeller, this would seem out of the realm of possibility. The sheer amount of resources is staggering.
But, these projections are largely calculated by calling “essential” things that are actually optional. Not every child requires hospital birth, new baby clothes, disposable diapers, formula, baby food, baby gear (e.g. crib, high chair, swings, strollers, etc.), special classes/clubs/schools, brand new clothes, electronic gadgets, etc.
Life in a big family often (usually?) includes thrift store shopping, hand-me-down clothing, carpooling, cooking from scratch, growing a garden, multi-use tools and rooms, minimizing waste and sharing resources.
This isn’t a drag. It really does not bum me out. I have learned to view my home and family as units of production and not units of consumption. I can say, “How much will it cost to have a family?” or rather “How much good will having a family produce?” I can say “How much will all these children eat?” or I can say, “Our goal this year is to grow more food than we consume so we can share with others.” Unrealistic? I don’t think so. In ages past, this was how it was. Families all produced something–produce, eggs, milk, art, music, community. Their focus was not on how much they would or could consume. They were forces for good in the world.
I can say without exaggeration that my large family forces a frugality that births a healthy eco-responsibility.
“…above all, [Radical Homemakers] were fearless. They did not let themselves be bullied by the conventional ideals regarding money, status, or material possessions. These families did not see their homes as a refuge from the world. Rather, each home was the center for social change, the starting point from which a better life would rippled out for everyone….More than simply soccer moms, Radical Homemakers are men and women who have chosen to make family, community, social justice and the health of the planet the governing principles of their lives. They reject any form of labor or the expenditure of any resource that does not honor these tenets. For about five thousand years, our culture has been hostage to a form of organization by domination that fails to honor our living systems, where “he who holds the gold makes the rules.” By contrast, Radical Homemakers use life skills and relationships as a replacement for gold, on the premise that he or she who doesn’t need the gold can change the rules. The greater our domestic skills, be they to plant a garden, grow tomatoes on an apartment balcony, mend a shirt, repair an appliance, provide for our own entertainment, cook and preserve a local harvest or care for our children and loved ones, the less dependent we are on the gold.” [Shannon Hayes in Radical Homemakers]
Simple ways a big family (or any family) makes a small footprint:
- Cooking from scratch
- Cloth diapering
- Avoiding environmentally harmful methods of birth control
- Creating our own entertainment
- Share space and resources
- Honor where our food comes from
- Grow our own food as much as possible
- Up-cycle everything we can
Tell Us, In What Ways Does Your Family Do its Part By Consuming Less and Producing More Good in the World?