When someone hears that I have 5 boys, I tend to hear all kinds of responses. I could write a blog post entirely about that. Some responses are unkind, some are complimentary and some are a response of pure shock. I’ve had people call me “Fertile Myrtle,” I’ve had people ask if I know where babies come from (insinuating that it’s happening to me by accident), I’ve had people ask if any are twins (because clearly I wouldn’t choose to have five) and I’ve even had someone loudly proclaim that someone should keep my husband off me (in a professional, public setting no doubt).
The most common response I get is probably “FIVE BOYS(?)” (in a sometimes loud and nearly always shocked voice). Women who grew up closer to the era when people raised large families tend to follow that up with “bless your heart” or “you’re a saint.” Younger women stare at me for a moment as though they don’t believe me or they ask me how I do it.
And then there are the moms who also have five boys or have four or six boys. And it’s like we’re best friends from the moment we’ve met. It feels like a secret sisterhood almost. We immediately compare the worst thing anyone’s said in response to having five boys. We joke about the endless laundry, mud pies, sticky hand-prints all through the house, and how much they EAT.
For a long time, people just didn’t have that many kids. For a long time, having 1-2 kids was the “norm.” But it wasn’t all that long ago (our grandparent’s generation) that people had an average of more than 1-2 kids. In fact, my grandparents were one of 8 and 11 in their immediate families.
The truth is, I don’t regret my decision to have a large family at all and it’s truly not THAT difficult to raise a large family. I mean – it has it’s challenges, don’t get me wrong. But I’m sure that raising a small family has quirky challenges too. I know that when I only had my first child, it was a challenge to entertain him – because we as his parents were his only world. As we had more children, they became more independent with play because they had immediate best friends. Okay most of time they like each other (insert belly laugh).
Having a large family with five kids means my house is rarely quiet. There’s always someone chatting, playing, or doing something that makes noise. And some times (like right after Halloween), it can be a little high energy. I sometimes joke that the energy level in our house when it’s higher is kind of like the energy level at a birthday party. Only it’s not just one time per year, it happens weekly.
The benefit to that high-energy environment is that it’s a reflection of the fact that they are brothers. They are friends. They are socially engaged with each other every single day, multiple times per day. That social interaction that sometimes make me feel exhausted is also helping them develop strong interpersonal skills. And it’s usually high energy when they are having fun and enjoying life. Which makes my heart swell.
We are so quick to judge other people’s paths and in reality, we don’t know how challenging different paths truly are because we haven’t walked them. While I sometimes wish my life were quiet for just a few hours here and there, I wouldn’t change my reality for a second.
I certainly can’t compare the challenges of having high-energy and sometimes very challenging moments with the challenges of not being able to have children. Nor would I want to. The challenges that most people assume I have are challenges but they aren’t comparable to the challenge I would face if I didn’t have them in my life.
In fact, when I feel the most at my wits end, I try very hard to stop myself and immediately recognize that my frustrations are a reflection of the size of my blessing. Sure sometimes I yell and lose my cool. Sometimes I overreact because the kids drop 500 grapes on the floor 3 hours after I finished washing them off – because they were goofing around. And I holler and scold them verbally for being careless. I am human, let’s be clear. And my patience has limits just like any mom.
But then I remember the phrase “there’s no use crying over spilled milk.” I remember that (1) there’s not a darn thing I can do to magically transport the grapes back into the bag to reverse what just happened, (2) they are tiny little humans learning how to behave, and (3) the one thing I will regret most later in life is creating negative memories for them.
I try (really, really hard) to lead my life as their mom with gratitude. I try to lead with being grateful that I got them. Five amazing, funny, cute little humans that I get to hug and cuddle and tickle and love on until they are grown. I only get them all to myself until they go off to start their own families. And as my oldest has become a “tween” I realize I don’t even get them to myself that long. Because he’s off with friends learning how to be a little man already.
If I lead with gratitude, it puts the 500 grapes on my floor into perspective. So we wash them off, put them back. And on the days that I have lost my cool, I apologize. Because I want them to learn by my example. And the truth is that we all lose our cool every now and again – what makes us better is our ability to acknowledge our shortfalls and apologize. And someday, when they have offended their spouse, expected too much of their kids, or hurt someone’s feelings at work, I sure hope they turn back and apologize to make it right.
If you’re reading this blog post – whether you have 3 cats, 2 dogs, 7 chickens 1 kid or 10 kids, you’re probably thinking that you do the same thing. Because the truth is, raising five humans isn’t that much different than raising any new life. We try like hell and when we fall short, we try to make up for it.
Those moments of being patient and kind and gracious and grateful are the hard parts. Sure I have extra laundry, more food to prepare, and more bathroom cleaning than someone without five messy boys. But that’s just manual labor. The true hard parts of life are the emotional challenges.
But with every negative – there’s an offsetting positive. There really is a sort of balance to the whole world we live in. While I may have more emotional challenges that require a LOT of patience raising five boys, I also get five times the snuggles, hugs and love. And that is a blessing I can’t even put into words.