My husband and I recently started talking about a subject we never really thought we’d entertain: having a second child. Before you type that comment, we know it’s early and we have no plans to start trying for #2 any time soon. But we do talk about all the peripheral things that need to happen before Charlie gets a brother or sister like paying for daycare for two, buying a bigger house to accommodate a growing family, and whether or not we want the added responsibility of another little person. While we’re pretty sure that we’ll give Charlie a sibling if finances and timing work out, we are also very concerned about our footprint as a family. Even though it seems like the press prefers to focus on Kardashian marriages, there is quite a bit of information out there about the impending water and fuel shortages, not to mention climate change, that could plague this planet if our consumption rate of these resources continues to grow at such a speedy rate. (And for the record, I think Kim and Kris should give it another shot.)
My sensibilities about family size were inflamed by the announcement that Michelle Duggar is pregnant with her 20th child. For those who don’t know, the Duggars have a show on TLC all about their gigantic family. They have 19 kids, ranging in age from early 20s to their youngest daughter, a 2 year old, who was born prematurely at 25 weeks. That pregnancy posed great physical risk to both mother and child, as each of them faced long and difficult post-partum recoveries. There is a religious element to this story, but I’d prefer to focus on the element that I think is most important in all of this: social responsibility.
It is certainly not my place to judge and I wish Michelle Duggar a happy, healthy, and safe pregnancy. And as a staunch feminist, I would fight to the ends of the earth to maintain her right to have (or not to have) as many children as she chooses. It’s the choice made that bothers me. The good side of all of this is that the Duggars make a hefty living off their TV show, which pays for their large home, food, and clothing for all their children. They also home-school, so the local school system is not burdened by the cost of teaching 20 children for a family whose property taxes are the same whether they have 1 child in a school system or…20.
But this is where the positive points end and the logistical questions start to pop up. What happens when the finicky entertainment industry decides they are no longer entertaining enough to have a show? Look at Kate Gosellin (the mom on the recently canceled “Kate Plus Eight.”) She has struggled to support her eight children since her show ended. How do the Duggars justify the amount of trash that a household of 22 (plus the wife and two small children of their oldest son) generates and then dumps into landfills? Or the gas they consume to power the extra large, multiple vehicles they need to get everyone from one place to the next?
But more importantly than any questions about their environmental impact is the one about how they can possibly give the individual attention and nurturing that each child needs when they have 20 of them. Generations ago, we had large families because a) there was pretty much no birth control and b) most families had farms that needed to be tended, so more kids meant more farm hands. Today, that’s not the case for most of us. We know a lot more about child development and what love, attention, encouragement, and one-on-one time mean to a kid. The older children in the Duggar house do a lot of the parenting, and they shouldn’t be! Reaching the age of “babysitter” shouldn’t also mean reaching the end of childhood. I worry constantly about whether or not I will be “enough” for Charlie and he’s my only child. From the limited exposure I’ve had to the Duggars’ world, what has stuck out most to me is their seemingly cavalier attitude about the emotional needs of their many children. Appearing clean, well-mannered, and calm does not always mean that a child feels truly loved.
I have had many conversations with my husband about making sure that adding another child to our family won’t limit our ability to make Charlie and a sibling both feel loved in their own very special way. Perhaps it is because we both grew up in households that went through periods of instability which makes us sensitive to it, but we feel that part of our social responsibility as parents is to raise future-adults who are self-confident, smart, and worldly. All of those things come out of being loved as an individual, in our opinion, not as just one member of a brood.
What do you think about the Duggars? If you are from a large family, how did your experience shape who you are? If you are a parent to a large family, I’d love to hear what you think!