The Beauty of a W I D E Family

I've been sold for some time on the benefits of a big family: many hands with which to share the work, plenty of folks for games and conversation.

But, really, the benefits I appreciate most in my big family, are actually because it's also a wide family.

Having a baby when your eldest is one and a half or two is what you're "supposed" to do. It's also, um, super-duper hard.

Having a baby when your eldest is seven, or ten, or . . . a teenager, well, folks are going to look at you funny. But that's just because they don't know how awesome it is.

Having done both, I'm here to tell you that the former is good, but the latter is even better. It is awesome. For me. For the little kids. For the big kids. It's awesome all around . . .

1. Having a wide family is lovely for moms.

My older kids are able to be actually, no kidding helpful. Not the kind of "helping" that gets a third of the batter slopped over the side of the bowl by adorable enthusiastic little mixers. Not the kind of "helping" that actually kinda makes every task take twice as long and then have to get quietly redone by me once they lose interest.

No. No. No.

Being the mother of a wide family means I now get the kind of help that lets me stay in my glider nursing while dinner gets made by someone else.

Having older kids AND babies and toddlers means we can divide and conquer. At nap time, I get the baby, and the big kids can take care of story time for toddlers.

'Tweens and teens in the house means there's someone to watch the baby for me so I can bathe regularly. It means I can run errands without loading all the kids in the car. It means the husband and I can have a date night without hiring a babysitter.

Older kids mean I'm not overwhelmed and isolated like I was with my first couple of babies. Of course, I have more experience as a mother now, so that helps. But mostly, it's because of my older kids. We work together to keep the house running and the little ones looked after. We have each other for company.

So much of mothering with my first babies was just survival. I didn't have the luxury of being able to enjoy their babyhood. But, now, with a wide family, I really can. I have NEVER enjoyed my babies like I have these last two. I get to stare into their little eyes and sniff their little heads like I never have had the time to do before. With my first, I was too stressed out, and with all the babies in between I was just too busy. Having older kids and a baby means I have the experience AND the opportunity to relax and appreciate babies being babies.

2. Having a wide family is fun for little kids.

My little kids get blown off WAY less than my big kids did when they were little.

I make a point of doing stuff with them and for them, really I do. But there's only one of me. And I have a lot of obligations around the house and a limited tolerance for multiple readings of The Poky Little Puppy.

My big kids are willing and able to do all the things I can't, like get a cup of water for the toddler when I'm nursing a baby. Or won't, like figure out how to get the last piece of the train track to connect.

My little kids get love and attention from their mom and dad, but they also get nearly the same level of devotion from their oldest siblings. There are more people to admire their scribbles, and laugh at their not-quite-jokes, and pick them up if they skin a knee.

3. Having a wide family is good for big kids.

A little hero worship is a wonderful thing. And that's what my big kids get -- hero worshiped. Their much younger brothers and sisters look up to them in a unique and beautiful way.

Sure, they can occasionally be . . . pesky. But, mostly, my kids' frustrations with their siblings happen with kids within three or four years of one another. Beyond that, they just don't have that same rivalry. They're not in competition for the same toys, or for the same type of attention.

My thirteen year old son makes obstacle courses in the yard for his three year old brother. He swipes his dad's iPhone to record backyard dinner parties with his one and a half year old sister (no sticks).

Folks talk about what a blessing it is to be a grandparent. How you get all the fun and adoration of kids, but when it all gets to be too much, you can hand them back to their parents. My big kids have the same thing going.

My eleven year old daughter and her little group of girlfriends like to spend parties toting around their various baby brothers and sisters, grudgingly returning them to their mothers only as a last resort. They bounce them and pat them and show them off and shift their positions when they get fussy, just like old pros.

A friend told me that she heard a Kimberly Hahn talk in which she posited that many teen pregnancies might be avoided if more teen-aged girls had baby sisters to dote upon.

Tween and teen girls with babies at home get to experience just the right amount of that joy of caring for a baby, but also get a realistic picture of how much responsibility is required.

Betty was there for the births of both of her youngest sisters. She and Jack can change diapers and kiss boo boos. They can negotiate with hostile toddlers for the release of objects held hostage. If necessary, they can speak in that low, firm voice that lets toddlers know you mean it when you send them to sit in the corner.

Empathy, authority, compromise. These are life-skills many kids their age haven't had the opportunity to learn.

For my bold, demanding son, having much younger siblings has helped him grown in gentleness and compassion. For my quiet, nurturing daughter, having much younger siblings has helped her grow in confidence and responsibility.

And none of this is limited to families that are both big and wide. The husband grew up as one of three, six years older than his sister and ten years older than his brother. His almost paternal relationship with them as a teenager helped prepare him to be the awesome father he is to our kids. And, as they all became adults, they grew into a relationship of equals.

I just have one sister, who is three years younger than I am. So I never got to experience that, myself. But it's been amazing for me, as a mother, to witness those relationships between my biggest and littlest children. It truly is a thing of beauty.

not all mine. there are a couple cousins in there.

You might also enjoy . . .

Are Older Siblings Overburdened by Responsibilities? Or Are They Empowered by Them?

To Moms of Only Little Kids: psst, the magic number is ten

Before I Had a Seven Year Old