I was sitting at deli with my sister-in-law and our collective six children (three each) dangling around on chairs near us when she asked me, “Do you ever feel like you have to apologize or explain for the number of kids you have?” Both of us are expecting our fourth child at the end of this year, fall for her and winter for me.
“Yes,” I said. “Just yesterday, a waitress asked me the kid’s ages. I told her, Six, four, one and a half, and another on the way in December. But I barely let her congratulate me before saying, “And then we’re done,” as though it begged the question.
My sister-in-law expressed the same feeling, the same habit of apologizing or feeling the need to explain the choice of family size.
It’s tricky, really. When people are interested in your family, they want to ask questions and be involved. And you want them to! But it can get a little awkward.
So, I thought I’d offer five tips for interacting with big families:
1. Don’t ask if the pregnancy was planned. There is no good answer to the question, “Was this one planned?” that is not awkward due to the nature of conception. Also, the question itself contains the slight implication that the person asking considers the timing inopportune for some reason. Even if the child was unplanned, the parents may want to move past that and focus on embracing the blessing and responsibility God has given them.
Do: Congratulate the parents enthusiastically no matter what number of child they are having. Whether or not you think they should be having another child at that time is completely immaterial now that the child is in existence. The parents-to-be need all the encouragement and confidence they can get. As believers in Christ, we trust the Bible when it declares that “Children are a blessing from the Lord.”
2. Don’t comment on a pregnant woman’s body. Trust me, we feel self-conscious enough without people drawing attention to it. It’s the one time in life everyone feels compelled to scan your body for signs of the coming life. Understandable, but also awkward. And no one, absolutely no one wants to be asked if they are carrying twins. Nothing good comes out of this question. If she genuinely is carrying twins, she will tell you. You don’t need to ask.
Do: Just tell her she looks great. It goes a long way.
3. Don’t judge another family based on your own preferences. While I will soon have four children, I can completely understand the family who chooses only to have one or two. I know first-hand that having multiples changes everything about life for you and for the children. I would hope that smaller families would also give similar grace to bigger families, knowing the amount of energy it takes to raise and parent a child. With a gamut of reasons for people to have different numbers of children from infertility to financial to house size to spiritual reasons, really it’s best to choose not to judge either way. Romans 14:4 tells us, “Who are you to judge your fellow servant? To their own master servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand.” Each of us answers to God, not man, and those of us having many children should not feel we have to explain to anyone. We are God-pleasers, not man-pleasers.
Do interact with and befriend families of differing sizes. We can benefit from our differences and learn from one another. While it’s nice to be friends with families that understand your exact struggles, it’s also beneficial to get a perspective from someone completely different. You may find habits you want to adopt or unexpected blessings from the variation.
4. Let the parents know if a child is misbehaving outside their presence (children’s church, Sunday School), but don’t engage in unnecessary tattling. We have a sweet elderly lady who occasionally babysits our children. One of our children can be particularly stubborn and we are well-aware of the fact. But every time we go to pick up our kiddos, she just praises them and encourages us. She tells us what has occurred light-heartedly and with many assurances that they all had a good time. We trust her to share what we need to know, but we also know she makes the best of things. And you know what? Sometimes exhausted parents need that.
5.Big families and small families all need grace because parenting is hard, but sometimes big families might need more grace. Already, with three kids six and under, I feel like our family inadvertently puts on a show at restaurants (my husband and I say that we won’t even go out after the fourth is born, but that will probably not last). And, try as we might to contain it and to clean up afterwards, we do make a mess. Honestly, the most gracious thing anyone can do when they see a big family with small children at a restaurant, even if the kids are being loud or active or not particularly well-behaved, is to smile at the parents and say, “You have a lovely family.” It counteracts our sneaking suspicion that we are a menace to society (even if we are sometimes).