What’s the hardest number of children? Have you seen this topic, lately? After watching it run across my Facebook newsfeed a few times in as many months, I’ve started to ponder the question. What is the most difficult number of children? And, more importantly, why would someone even think to ask that?
The short answer, I think, is: “However many you think it is–that’s the most difficult number.” I chortle a bit at those bloggers who have estimated the lucky (or unlucky) number at three. Because, of course, all those estimating three to be the hardest number actually have three children. But what do I know?! I never had three kids. To be honest, though, I do not imagine five to be the hardest number. I think five might be just enough to let me in on a simple fact of addition and multiplication: the more children you have, the harder it’ll be (especially until they are old enough to take over the farm or take care of each other). One could add a dozen children to my home (to babysit), and I wouldn’t find it all that difficult. This mother of five has learned to coral kids, cook in bulk, play drill sergeant, etc. with the best of them. But what I’m really asking myself is: What’s the hardest number of children to mother (pray over, study, discipline, talk to, raise)? I believe that each individual child requires intentional, individual time (even if you can’t give them as much as you’d like to). So hats off to you and your sixty-nine kids, Mrs. Feodor Vassilyev. Oh, and hats off to Mr. Vassilyev as well.
The reason that three is perceived to be harder than one or two and harder than four or more is not baseless, though. It actually makes a lot of sense. From my experience watching friends and quizzing readers, mothers of less than four often have very high expectations. Their children are regularly dressed to the nines, and they participate in everything. Wow, it wears me out just to type that. Now, I know that any generalization is going to miss the mark quite often, but I think mothers of four are at least a little more likely to say to their children, “OK, pick one extra-curricular thing you want to do. This year.” This likelihood increases exponentially with the number of children (of course the need for outside activities exponentially decreases, because there are sports teams forming in the backyard).
It’s not true for everyone, but I think the average mom these days was at least slightly prepared for the number of children she would be raising before ever having her first. Many moms of “more” dreamed of a full-house long before filling theirs up; because of this, they’ve probably structured their lives to accommodate the lack of perfection, money, and time. Ummm…or is that just me? Motherhood is chock-full of opportunities for failure; where and how a mother surrenders to and accepts her own failure goes a long way toward embracing her joy. Mothers of more might seem less stressed simply because they envisioned parenting in organic simplicity. They weren’t planning on perfection (or they’ve long since abandoned their ideals). Often times, they weren’t planning on doing anything but parenting with their twenties and thirties (and forties?). This might sound like a terrible dunk in an icy tank of drudgery, but this mom of “many” might feel the same way about trading lives with anyone else.
For those who have hypothesized that smaller families are harder to raise than bigger families (based on watching the Michelle Duggars of this world and imagining that grace comes with the territory), here is my response to that: Here are the things that multiply with the addition of children:
I don’t know if any mom relishes the job of laundry. It’s never ending, and the washing is the easiest part. Once it’s clean and dry?! Fuhgettaboutit! So, I refuse to wash my children’s clothes until they are dirty. And many days I just order them into new underwear, cause the clothes (or pjs) from the previous day look and smell just fine. This is one of the many perks of homeschooling (nobody is gonna pick on them for wearing the same thing two days in a row). And, yeah, I take full advantage. If I were to wash my children’s clothes after every wearing, I’d be washing at least 70 articles of clothing (not counting socks and underwear) every week. That’s compared to the minimum of 42 articles required to clothe 3 kids. That’s the power of multiplication!
See laundry. Except, the dishes are all cleaned after use.
This year I bought my kids Hanukkah presents (Hanukkah doesn’t require gifts, but who doesn’t like buying their kids things!). That’s forty presents just to do something minimally! Shoes, clothes, groceries, mommy dates…this same multiplication is true (and terrifying) with everything.
Same as above.
There are some things that decrease with the addition of children, though, and it’s these decreases that might cause moms of a few to guess that moms of four or more have it easier. Come to think of it, maybe we do–though this secret is available to all moms. (Come on, friend, hand over the piping bag and the Pinterest list. It’s going to be okay.)
Of all the things that have increased in my life since having children: noise, love, stress, joy…the thing that has decreased is my expectations (see my rules for washing laundry). But oh, they started so high. Sometimes I shudder to think of the maddening run my life would be if I’d had few enough children to make my dreams remotely possible. Instead, God placed four babies into my lap within sixteen months. Then He chuckled and hid for a bit. I had to look to find Him.
Find Him I did, and I found Him in quiet moments with children who require little more than food, clothing, and shelter (both physically and spiritually). I still find Him while lying in the darkness and praying over each soul placed in my care. Time has decreased and each moment has become so precious. Standards have fallen, and grace has filled in the gaps.
Each day of parenting young children is like digging a swimming pool (the same one again and again). I wake up and begin to dig through the same ground I broke the day before. My shovel clanks against the same rocks. As the sun rises on my back, I begin to sweat. The frustration over repeated digging is almost too much to bear. “I just did this yesterday!” I sometimes moan. But by late afternoon, the water begins to run and the pool begins to fill. I can hear it gushing, but it’s not time to swim. Not yet. As the sun rides a cloud to the underside of the world, I dip my feet into the water. And as darkness comes, I float. How I love to float with my children. Of course, the morning sun will rise to reveal the same unbroken, thirsty ground…the same shovel for my blistered hands. One day, not too long from now, I’ll wake to indented ground; it’s already beautifully tilled and scarred. And someday in the future, I’ll blink sleepy eyes at a pool filled with sparkling water. Someday all my effort will show–it will stick. But not today; today it’s still time to dig.
I believe that the number of children one has does not determine the ease they’ll find in parenting them. That ease, that grace, comes only through surrender to something so hard it will break you, and something so beautiful once it finally does.