Big Families: Nice or Nuts?

Last night our family finally got around to seeing the recently released DVD ‘Yours, Mine and Ours, the story of a man with 8 kids who marries a lady with 10 kids. We found it quite enjoyable and laughed lots. I also coveted the house which is a gargantuan three-story affair with an attached lighthouse. I was very disappointed to find that the thing was computer-generated and didn’t actually exist, as I was instantly trying to figure out how in-debt we’d have to get to own it!

But our overall as-a-family impression of the movie was incredulity. People not familiar with real-life big families might get some crazy notions about big families from this movie. The mass chaos that ensued when the parents left was just unbelieveable. No big-family teenager in his right mind would randomly spray a paint sprayer or a hose in the house, even if a sibling was being horrid. And in any large group of children, there is always either
a. a responsible one, and/or
b. a tattle-tale.

At the first sign of paint-fight at my house, the responsible ones would be taking 2 or 3 paint-slingers by the shoulders and handing them wet rags, and the tattle-tale would be calling mom pronto. Not that messes don’t happen– they do. But usually they are nipped in the bud before they even get to be photo-ops.

And in general, the parents in large families develop at least a certain level of organization– probably in most cases not as rigid as the dad in this movie. But you would just go nuts if there was not some kind of plan in place to get the basic work in the home done.

I know that a lot of people are very comfortable and very certain that they will never venture into the realm of large-family status. But whether or not you’re interested in having a laerge family yourself, I hope you’ll read a couple of posts I’ve read recently.

Barbara at MommyLife wrote Must every baby be wanted? where she talked about the younger children in large families who so enriched the world, and what a loss it would have been to the world in general if they had not been born. I am the oldest of 8, and though I was not thrilled as a teen that my mom was still having babies, I now cannot imagine my family without my two youngest sisters. They enrich our family so much.

The other great post I read recently is by Selkie: Ethics and Family Size. She talks about the myth of overpopulation– underpopulation is actually a bigger concern these days– did you know that? And she talks about the way large families through recycling and economical living tread more lightly on the earth’s resources than you might expect.

She included the link to a Earth Day Footprint Quiz that is very enlightening. When I took the quiz, our family had a ‘footprint’ of 16. If anyone else decides to take the quiz, would you comment and tell me what you got? Just curious…I’d love to hear from a bunch of people!! Comments make my day!


  1. Maybe later, I'll read the links and take the quiz, but for right now, I have to answer an e-mail to my good friend Sue, who is the 7th of 9, and whose older brother is having medical problems.
    She comes from such a big family, but I can't imagine my world if she weren't in it.
    ~~love and Huggs, Diane
    ps My husband often teased her about 7 of 9 when that Star Trek character was on tv.

  2. Amazing comments regarding the abortion issue.

    I took the footprint test and scored 20. Not very impressive compared to your 16, considering I only have a family of 3! At least I am under the national average of 24.

  3. I love that article from Mommylife–I've forwarded it to several people myself!

    I enjoy your thoughts on this subject. You inspire me!

  4. Martha Buckwalter says:

    I love your blog and visit it regularly! My husband and I are looking to adopt someday, and I enjoy collecting research 🙂

    I just wanted to say that I am very suspicious about the concern of underpopulation. Like Selkie said, consumption matters more than numbers, and my husband and I are concerned about overpopulation and the massive consumption that characterizes Americans.

    I really believe that overpopulation and excessive resource consumption is a MUCH bigger issue than underpopulation will ever be. From what I have learned in my environmental studies classes, overpopulation is already threatening the world's resources. Yes, the earth could support many people, but with a HUGE loss of biodiversity, the loss of many natural areas, and the conversion of almost all usable land on the earth to human purposes. But is that what we want?

    Underpopulation may be an issue in the developed world, but I am sure that there are millions of people who would love to get jobs on the developing world! I think the world's economy is safe.

  5. I scored 14 and we have seven kids at home. I was surprised that a.) mine wasn't higher and b.) that our national average was so high!

    I haven't seen that movie yet, but I know when we saw Cheaper By The Dozen my kids were rolling their eyes. There is NO WAY we could let that kind of chaos go on!

    I hear you about loving the house. We live in an 1800 sq ft house with two bathrooms and it is not enough!!

  6. I scored a 14. I haven't seen that movie yet. maybe this week-end.

  7. I scored a 19, which is rather pathetic for a family of 3. I am planning on seeing that movie, but large families are always protrayed in the not best light.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Very, very interesting, Mary. I read those blogs, their posts, and took the quiz. I'm embarrassed to tell you the number–apparently we will need 7.3 planets to support a world full of people like me, and I'm the youngest of 8 kids! hmmm…serious food for thought. Thanks for the great blog.

  9. regarding over/under population issues…. from the studies i have read the world population actually exceeds a sustainable level when you take into account all the resources used and so forth. If you have ever been to Bombay in India you may truly feel one of the largest population densities, and also get a feel for how unevenly populations are distributed on the planet. Additionally, in rural settings in India, the high population density has resulted in deforestation, which can cause all sorts of climate change (drought, heat, etc)

    While the United States actually has a relatively low population density comparatively, it is true that the United States uses an unporportionately high amount of the earth's resources.

    So even if the US or other similiar countries claim to be "underpopulated" I think that may be looking at it from a narrow scope, and it is more effective to understand it in a global sense.

    What do I think about big families? Well I think it is wonderful that you adopted so many children and gave them a loving home. Additionally, I wouldn't argue that adopted has any effect on population whatsoever… seeing as how the children exist, whether or not you adopt them.

    I would not argue against allowing people to have many children by birth, but I would also advocate to give more women around the world a chance to plan their families as they need. With better health care, education, birth control, and such, many families would be able to plan a family they could care for with their resources. Unforuntately, in many poor places, women has little reproducive control, and families end up much larger than the parents wish or can care for. Really, I feel that the choices should be left to families, but that more resources should be made available around the world.

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  11. also, my household footprint in the US is 12… for fun, I did it for myself and the women I stayed with when I stayed in rural India last year for 2 1/2 months.. for that, our footprint as 1.4….. which included, me, Jessi, and 25 young girls in a boarding school! If we all managed that, we would only need one world to live on… phew…. I wonder if american's could do it?

  12. We received a score of 12 for a family of 8.
    Much better than the average 24!

    On our street, we are the only house to recycle, which makes no sense to me.

  13. I just find it sad that divorce, gay marriage, neglecting children, violent games & movies, indiscriminant sex, alcoholism, and over consumption are all pretty acceptable in our society but, people feel free to say really negative things about big families.

  14. moe, whats wrong with gay marriage? I know may gay married couples doing a wonderful job raising their families.

  15. Hm. I'll not comment on the family size thing (though I do think big families rock and well, generally agree with everything in your post.) What I did want to comment on is the movie…my recommendation is to see the original with Lucille Ball and Henry Fonda. So much better than any re-do could possibly be (and no paint fight.)

    Same goes with original Cheaper by the Dozen and sequel (Belles on their Toes).

    Main difference is that those movies are based much more stringently on the books written by the families. And the stories are better for it.