Everyone knows there are disadvantages to having children in quantity. We happen to have had seven. One day a neighbor child said to me, “My mother doesn’t know how you stand it with all those kids.” Another woman said , “How do you do it?” meaning “How do you manage to keep them all fed, clothed, and reasonably clean?” Others would ask, “How can you afford it? We have just the two and we never have any spare cash.”

These people are voicing the three main objections to children. The noise and constant demands of children can be nerve-wracking; caring for children requires a lot of hard work when they are well and even more when they are sick; children are expensive.

There are, however, advantages to having children in quantity which do not seem to be as obvious. I propose to look solely on the bright side of having four or eight or sixteen kids.

Someone once said, “Before I married I had five theories about raising children. Now I have five children and no theories.” Similarly parents of one child are inclined to think they know all about raising children when what they really know about is one child. What will work with one will not necessarily work with another, and it is not until parents have several children that they realize there is no cut-and-dried formula applicable to all. The abilities and potentialities of each child differ, and all cannot be made to conform to the same mold. In a large family, I think parents are more likely to allow a child to develop his own abilities rather than the ones they might choose for him.

One nice thing about having many children is that both parents and children are on intimate terms with different types of personalities. In talking about her offspring, a mother of ten may say, “Joe, he’s the smart one in the family. Tim’s not so bright but he’s friendly and popular. Susie would give you the shirt off her back, but Sally’s prettier.” And on down the line. The parents rejoice in the good qualities of each child and are content to let each develop in his own direction. They do not expect one child t be the epitome of all virtues, both quiet and outgoing, studious and sports-loving, smart and pretty. Each child is loved for what he is, each is different, and the talents and faults of each are recognized and dealt with accordingly.

If one child is considered a bit on the quiet side, still he’s a welcome relief from another who talks a blue streak. In our family we had one youngster who seemed to have an idea minute, so that we sometimes wished she would just do as she was told, when she was told, the way she was told to do it, and stop using her brain for a while. On the other hand, another was always asking, “What can I do now, mother?” She invariably hung up her coat when she entered the house and she never forgot her blessing before meals, simply because she was told to do these things. We might sometimes be tempted to say, “For heaven’s sake, think for yourself for a change,” except that we love her this way. In a large family you will find many examples of many virtues and many faults. The family is the child’s introduction to the world. When he goes out into the world he will use the techniques for dealing with others that he has learned in the bosom of his own family, where mistakes are expected and the stakes are small.

Occasionally, it becomes necessary for a parent to scold or to discipline a child. Happily, in the large family, it need not always be the same child. When the guilty party is lectured for leaving the gate open and letting the two-year-old wander into the street, everyone within hearing distance gets a lesson in responsibility and safety. When one child is punished for sassyness, disobedience, lying, or the like, the other children pick up a few ideas about what is acceptable and what isn’t. On the other hand, I have seen youngsters in a flurry of housecleaning because one child was praised for a little unasked-for assistance. Thus they profit by one another’s experiences as well as by their own.

“Many hands make light work” is never truer than when a bunch of kids pitch in to get a job done–and there is a pleasure in teamwork that makes even chores fun. If many children can make short work of messing up a house, they can also make short work of cleaning it up again. When our gang cleaned up the yard, one picked up toys, one raked, one swept, one carted away the leaves, etc. It does not take so long and it is not drudgery when they can see the effects of cooperation.

There is no “made work” in a large family. There is always plenty of real, necessary work for the children to lock horns with. A mother of many does not merely tolerate the six-year-old’s helping to fold clothes–she welcomes it! The eight-year-old does not do the dishes because it is good for her–she does them because Mom actually needs help and she has a valuable contribution to make to the smooth running of the household. There is no inventing of jobs for the good of the children; the children work for the good of the family, and it makes all the difference in the world in the child’s attitude toward work.

It has been my experience that, as a family grows, limits become more clearly defined, but the children have more freedom within those limits. The mother of eight is too busy to be always hovering over her children. It is physically impossible, besides. After all, the essence of parenthood is to teach children how to behave when they are on their own; and they can only learn this by being on their own every now and then, with periods of self-reliance increasing as they mature.

I learned (sometimes) to mind my own business. When we had only two children I was right in there, settling every squabble. Later, when I saw that Johnny, two, was giving Teresa a hard time by running off with pieces of her jig-saw puzzle, I tried waiting and watching a bit. Who knows? She might solve the problem by herself. She could put the puzzle away until Johnny was napping. She could go off and do it behind a closed door. She could swat Johnny and he could learn it is better not to snitch puzzle pieces. Why step in before she had a chance? If she came to me with, “Mommy I can’t every do anything with that Johnny around! Why did you ever have to get him?” I am obviously needed. But frequently I would overestimate my importance as peace-maker and the little ones would work out their own differences.

They learn self-reliance in other areas, too. For example, when I was bundling up the baby and the two-year-old to go out on a cold day, it was pretty obvious to four-year-old Katy that she’d better try to put on her own boots. Mommy might be willing but she was severely handicapped by having only the customary two hands. Parents of one or two children frequently commented upon our toddlers’ ability to clothe themselves, remarking that they were still buttoning and booting their babies half-way through grade school.

When a three-year-old dresses himself and goes out in the yard to play with his shirt on backwards and his socks inside-out, a mother of eight is not apt to criticize. She’s glad he’s learning and nothing will be hurt but her pride. It is good for Sonny’s ego and won’t hurt his health at all.

It is my impression that most members of large families want to have large families of their own. However, I have heard of those who considered themselves deprived in their childhood and who want to limit their families so that “my children will have the things I didn’t have.” Probably the key to their dissatisfaction lies in that word things. But there is much for parents to give children besides buy-able and display-able things.

It is true that the children in a large family may have to do without some of the here today, broken or worn-out or out-grown tomorrow type of possessions. But he has built-in playmates that are beyond price and, where there are playmates, a jump rope, a ball, a deck of cards, or just imagination provide the ingredients for a wonderful time. He receives treasures that will last a life-time if he learns the joy of sharing and of working together, if he acquires a sense of responsibility and of fair play. He may even receive the priceless gift of contentment, the ability to be happy with what he has.

Which is more important, to be able to pay for a college education or to help the child develop the initiative, perseverance, and acceptance of just plain work, so that he may get his own college education if it becomes desirable? And what a wonderful opportunity he has to acquire an education for parenthood, that job which so many of us jump into without any training whatever. As the parents have additional babies, the older children learn to care for them; then marry and care for their own. The younger children in the family will not have baby brothers and sisters to practice on but there should be an abundance of nieces and nephews whose parents will appreciate the help.

As for that bugaboo, sex education, what could be more natural than for the little girl to learn about boys by helping to diaper baby brother; for young children to bathe together; for youngsters to learn where babies come from by simply getting answers to the questions that arise when they see mother heavy with child? How better to find out what breasts are really for than to watch mother nurse the baby? As Father Blaise Hettich wrote: “It is better for a boy of eleven to be accustomed to seeing his older sisters in their underwear than to go through an agony of peeping-Tomism at the age of thirteen.”

Are children in a large family deprived of attention? Perhaps our sixth child did not get as much attention as the first but she had parents who seemed to enjoy each new baby more than the last, and a brother and sisters who doted on her. She will, however, learn early that the universe does not revolve around her; that she will have to wait her turn; that other people have rights, too. I think it is better that way. She would find out later anyway and it might come as a shock.

As for the other children, I doubt that they suffered from our inability to keep them always spanking clean and crisply starched. They got dirty regularly and clean regularly and we didn’t make much fuss about either. There is a kind of attention that is important, however. Though he be one or fifteen a child does need a parent who has time to show him affection and time to talk to him.

The mother of the large family has her work all cut out for her. She does not seek “fulfillment” outside of the home and, short of stark economic necessity, does not seek outside employment. She may be busy, but she is there, ready to drop whatever she is doing to attend to her child’s pressing need. It might well be possible that each of a dozen children in a family would receive more individual parental attention than the only child of a working, golfing father, and a working, club-woman mother. I think this is an area, though, in which, regardless of the size of the family, each child will receive as much loving attention as the parents deem important. Here is where the mother and father of any number of children must take a long, long look at their values and judge which should take precedence–-the night out with the boys, the TV, the bridge game, the beauty parlor, the window washing–-or the needs of another human being, their child.

It is a strange thing, but even those members of large families which considered themselves deprived as children, who look upon their brothers and sisters as rivals for their parents’ affection, and rivals when the cookies were handed out, change their tune as they grow older. In a world where true friends may be hard to find, he finds himself with true friends in his brothers and sisters. Though they be married with children and troubles of their own, they are there when he is lonely; they are ready to help out when he needs a sympathetic ear, a small loan, or some one to look after the kids while Mom is in the hospital. If he is a bachelor uncle, he would rather be a bachelor uncle than just a bachelor. What forty-year-old (who is not greedily awaiting his inheritance) would say he wished he had fewer brothers and sisters? He is glad his parents provided him with this kind of insurance against loneliness and want.

Some will concede that perhaps, after all, there are advantages to being a child in a large family. But what are the advantages of being the parents of a large family? First of all, let us admit that being a parent does not mean that one is mature. Some of us still have a lot of growing up to do. It would be a sad thing if the world were made up of only first and second children, the “practice children.” Parents do learn with experience, and as they welcome and enjoy additional youngsters they look back and wonder what was so hard about raising the first ones.

When there are but one or two children in a family, it is possible for mother to take care of all their needs and see that they “don’t bother Daddy” when he comes home. As a consequence there are some fathers who are paychecks rather than members of the family. However, as a family grows, Daddy is drawn into it, like it or not. (We are not, of course, talking about the type of father who takes over the baby-bathing from the start, but, rather, the kind who thinks children are a woman’s work). It would be an unfeeling man who would let his wife cope alone with four children with the measles day and night. When Mommy is busy nursing the baby, he can put Sonny on the toilet. When the family goes out, the children are divided between the parents. Gradually, the children turn to Daddy with their needs, at least on occasion. “This is an advantage?” a man will ask. But if he has become friends with his children, he knows that it is.

Perhaps it is only my imagination, but it seems to me that women who have spent their childbearing years bearing children are less apt to fret about their passing youth–and certainly do not think of their youth as wasted. I am reminded of the doctor in the newspaper column who said that, while many women past the age for having children told him they wished they had had more, he had never met one who said she had had too many. Woman was designed for motherhood and she must, in some way, be a mother in order to find fulfillment.

Then there is the aspect of parenthood which will appeal to even the most self-centered: children represent security in one’s old age. So often the parent of one or two children finds himself living out his declining years alone in a nursing home. Perhaps one child has died and the other lives in a distant town, or is ill, or hasn’t the means to help out. Contrast that picture with one recently described to me–a woman dying slowly of cancer whose three daughters gave her “the kind of round-the-clock care that money cannot buy.”

It sometimes seems that people with a couple of healthy youngsters, a home, money in the bank, and the “niceties” of life have planned things very wisely. They apparently get along quite well–without God. One final advantage we might consider of having children in quantity (and it may well be the greatest advantage) is that one is almost certain to run into some tough times. As the size of the family increases, there may be financial insecurity, illness, landlord trouble, or social contempt to content with. Confronted with the awesome responsibility of raising a large family, the parents look at each other and know that “this thing is better than both of us.” Sooner or later, because of their children, they are turned in their need to God. And if their children do nothing more for them than turn them toward God, what more can they ask?

Whatever more or however little we may give our children, we have given them the gift of eternal life. If we can follow this up with generosity in the giving of ourselves, we are rewarded with a peace and joy that persists through trials and suffering. When the children are finally all asleep at night, when quiet reigns and parents have time to pause and reflect, they will look at the faces of their many children and know that they would not have it otherwise. As a woman once told me who had both children and troubles in quantity, “I wake them up kissing them.”

(In the interest of full disclosure, let me say that this article was originally published in 1960 and has been updated. My memory is not really so good that I could have written it today.)