Friday, April 11, 2008

Does Size Matter?

Lois Greiman

Huh! Fooled ya again with the hunky guy pic. I’m actually talking about family size. Because I’m really torn about this issue. On the one hand, I love big families. Wish I had a dozen kids and they were all just like the three I have. On the other hand, I saw the documentary, Planet Earth; the scientists on the program seemed to agree that the planet, our planet, should be sustaining less than a million people. We have 6 billion and growing. Houston…we got us a problem.

My brother Gary has nine kids, because of religious reasons, I believe. They live on a few hundred acres out in western North Dakota with a handful of horses, a herd of Angus, and a zillion of sheep. Gayle, my sister in law, bakes all of their bread, has a garden the size of a small county, and home schooled all the kids. One of Gary’s sons is a professional sheerer. Another is a shepherd…follows the flock around all day, beds it down at night. He travels with a gun, a horse and a dog. It’s almost biblical. All of their kids live close by…most of them, in fact, are still at home. And to tell you the truth, I’m kind of jealous. It makes some kind of inexplicable sense to me. It seems right and natural and cozy.

But my daughter, my third child (ever free-thinking and prone to opine) says that as much as she appreciates everything we’ve given her…“you know…life and all that,” she should have never been created. Three kids are too many. Two. Two’s what each couple gets. Two and no more. And that makes logical sense to me too. Environmental sense.

But what if it does take a village to raise a child? Sometimes it’s difficult to come up with a nice village. And what about siblings? Growing up, I absolutely adored my sisters. I still feel guilty about not giving my daughter at least one. I have three. A veritable feast of sisters. They have to listen to you when you whine, you know. Even if they’re grouchy or hungry or rushed. They share your DNA, they have to listen. The rest of the village might find better things to do when you’re in complain mode.

Anyway, I’ve been pondering this lately. What’s the answer to our swelling population? With shrinking resources, how long can our entrenched planet produce enough food? Should we try to come up with some method of encouraging people to limit the number of children they generate? Some kind of financial incentive given to those who comply, perhaps? And why do people with less education tend to have more kids? I never attended college. Doesn’t that mean I should have my own brood? I kind of want my own brood. Then again…a viable planet might be nice too.

How many is too many? And what do we do about it? Thoughts anyone?


Betina Krahn said...

When I was teaching environmental science back in the 70's I wore a button that said "Stop at Two." Karma struck when the hubby and I tried for #3 and got zip. No number three for us. We tried and tried. Karma's a bitch.

Interestingly, my son now has three and I've got an up-close view of what it's like to be outnumbered. Aghhhhhhh! But ask me if I'd send any one of them back. No sireeeeeee!

Interestingly, stats show that as a society becomes more affluent, the birthrate goes down. Does that mean we find more/better ways to spend our time? Or that birth control is safer and more available?

Yeah, there are times I still wish I'd had one more-- especially a girl. Since I didn't get to have a daughter, I've written myself quite a little number of them. And this way, they all turn out lovely and spirited and smart and have HEA's!

Vanessa said...

I personally think those mega-families like the Duggars (17 kids) are a subtle form of child abuse. Those kids have no childhood because as soon as there old enough, they get to take over the family laundry or keep the pantry stocked or be responsible for a younger child. When her uterus falls down between her legs maybe she'll figure out she should of stopped after a couple kids. And sadly, all of them will probably repeat the cycle and continue to overpopulate the planet. That or they'll be serial killers because of there warped childhood.

Linda said...

Since my parents only had one (me) and I had none (by choice), perhaps it balances out.

Playground Monitor said...

I'm a MOOS, but have a granddaughter, so I finally get to shop in the pink department. We only wanted two kids and that's all we had. I don't understand how folks afford big families these days unless they're self-sustaining like Lois's brother. Even at that, how do you buy shoes and clothes for a dozen kids, take a dozen kids in for a yearly physical and flu shot, give each child sufficient one-on-one time, take a family vacation?

Women who are crack addicts, alcoholics or HIV positive have no business having babies. But how do you stop them short of forced sterilization? Sticky subject.


flchen1 said...

This is something that has been on my mind a lot. On the one hand, I don't know whether incentives work as intended (I'm thinking of China's one-child policy) but I also don't think it's a great idea for everyone to run amuck reproducing... In general, I think most responsible people stop with a reasonable number because it's too much work and expense and bandwidth to have more. And families like the Duggars really are few and far between in reality--most people won't approach that number even if they had unlimited resources.

We've three, and I've always admired large families. I've been torn about whether we might consider adding to our family, but I'm leaning towards probably not (even though it seems more common these days to have 3+ kids...) I'm blessed to be able to stay home with the kids, but it's still just a TON of work, and I'm not sure I'm personally able to cope with more without it really having a negative impact on our quality of life. Not at all to say that this is what all parents would think, but each family needs to decide what's right for them, and zero or one for some is perfect, and four is great for others. I'd imagine that more than that isn't workable for too many.

The question is how to deal with the irresponsible people (as Marilyn pointed out--people who really have no business having babies at all)--if I were queen of the world, forced sterilization or long-term birth control seems the way to go, but I don't know, really.

flchen1 said...

Oh, and BTW, my oldest at the moment thinks we should have stopped at two, also--not for population/resource concerns, but because our youngest is a thorn in his side. Ah, siblings! :)

Betina Krahn said...

Lois, what does the caption on your cartoon say? I tried to blow it up, but couldn't read it.

Anyone who mentions the benefits of bifocals gets a crack on the knuckles!

Michele Hauf said...

I'm happy with my two kids. How can parents of such large broods give each kid the attention it deserves, when it's difficult enough to do it with just two?

Kathleen Eagle said...

Good question, Lois. When I was a young teen I used to tell Mama that I was going to adopt because there were so many kids needing homes and too many people in the world. Mama gave me that "We'll see" look. I gave birth to 3. Had planned on 2, had the boy and the girl, and we'd decided on permanent birth control when the time came. I was still thinking about it and nursing baby #2 and not ovulating...or so I thought. #2 and #3 are 21 months apart. The first 2 were well-planned, born after school was out in June (I was teaching) 4 years apart. I used to say that God planned #3.

But you know what? I think God gives us a lot of tools, and we dither around about using them.

It's just as you and Betina pointed out: would I put any of the babies back in the bottle? No way. But 3 is a big number these days. As times change, people have to adjust their thinking. In places like North Dakota, families used to depend on their offspring for much-needed farm labor. Now young people are leaving the state in droves. They need more people, but they can't get them to stay. North Dakotans are populating other states.

I'm afraid if we don't start using the tools God gave us (the mind is a terrible thing to waste) nature really will take its course. And it won't be pretty.

lois greiman said...

Marilyn, uhum, I never meant to imply that my brother was ahhh self-sustaining. Farming is hard and with 11 mouths to feed, well...honestly, my parents went a long way toward supporting them. Which just brings up a bunch of questions doesn't it?

Vanessa, I think too that in big families the younguns gets raised by the olduns. I certainly was. My mother was always out in the field. So you have an excellent point because my sister worried relentlessly about screwing up and letting one of us fall out a window or something.

Helen Brenna said...

Coming from a family of 8 kids, two's enough. You want more, adopt.

There are things I loved about coming from a large family and things I hated. I think smaller is better.

These days, from my experience, for kids from smaller families, their friends become so much more important. That gives our family a more extended feel without the hassles, like paying for college!!

Christie Ridgway said...

Surfer Guy and I each came from families of 2 kids each, so that seemed a natural target for us. Then they were two =boys=. As Surfer Guy came from a family of two boys, that still seemed natural to him. Have to say, if I could have guaranteed a girl, I would have gone for three, I think. And I was still very sad when Surfer Guy went for the permanent B/C solution because it was kind of fun to think about what our DNA cocktail might come up with next...

But now they're older and I get so tired of worrying about them and how they're doing in school and if their little psyches are happy and what will happen to that if they don't play well in the next game and I think..."Thank God, just the two!"

But have to say, how =can= that Duggar mom physically have all those kids? I mean, really, aren't her insides all messed up?

lois greiman said...

Adoption--I really great idea. It's like recycling--but with people. :)

flip said...

Bettina, one of the news magazines had a recent articles about the new trend among the affluent is large families.

I have four kids. I think to point the world problems on the issue of family size is ignoring some other realities. The United States is the largest consumer of oil in the world. We consume over a 25% of all of the oil production in the world. We are 5% of the world population. Consider food, we consume 815 billion calories a day, which is 200 billion more than we need. The unnecessary calories could fee 80 million people. In addition, we throw out 200,000 tons of edible food a day. we consume 159 gallons of water daily, more than half of the world's population lives on 25 gallons per day. We have detroyed 50% of our wetlands, 90@ of the northwestern old growth foret and 99% of our tall grass prairies in the past 200 years.

Basically, I think learning to consume and use less is more important than family size. We need to rehab our planet.

I can't my life without my children. My role as a mother is my most important role. Mothering is part of my soul work in this life. There are studies that mothering and nurturing does suffer when family size gets to big. (Mormon families seem to be an exception). But those studies involved children born closely together. There is a minimum of three years between each of my children. I think that they have been loved and parented well. I had five younger siblings and I can imagine growing up without them.

lois greiman said...

Wow Flip, thanks for the stats! Terrifying but so important to hear. And I'm totally with you. We have to learn to use less. It seems like we don't even try.

My son just bought a hybrid--60 miles to the gallon. Almost twice what I get in my little Saturn. My daughter and her group has abolished bottled water on her college campus. Some good things are happening, but we need to do so much more.

Thanks all, for caring.

And Flip, I also agree, motherhood is the best thing in the world.

Betina Krahn said...

Interesting, Flip! You know when I was in high school I had an advanced Biology teacher who said people from educated well-to-do families should all have three or four children. I guess he thought increasing the number of educated people would help the world. I don't know how many of us took him seriously on that.

Interestingly, he had NO children. Maybe he was just longing for offspring he couldn't or just didn't have.

Liza said...

I don't have any kids yet, but would love to have at least 1, but no more than 2 one day. I think it is ok to have more children as long as you can afford to feed and educate each child.

Wow Flip, those are some scary stats. Thanks for all the information.

lois greiman said...

Sorry, Betina, I didn't even know the picture HAD a caption. That's how blind I am.

Chris M. said...

I know I'm chiming in kind of late, but late is the only time I get to myself because... I have FOUR boys. I can say from personal experience that it is hard to give each of them the attention they need. As our oldest has special needs, it becomes a bit of a juggling game where you hope you don't drop any of the balls. But, I think the coping we had to do when our oldest was so difficult to deal with, how we had to learn that the same type of discipline doesn't work for every single child, that each child has a different personality, those things have helped immensely in nurturing and teaching our younger children. Plus if you take into account that every child has a different personality... our oldest would much rather be left alone most days (his disorder is in the Autism spectrum) which caused me to want to love all over him until he was ready to scream... our second child is so loving I have to ask him to leave me alone before I scream... and so on so that we see that each child really is different and be careful what you wish for.

Now, granted I stay at home during the day with my children, and my DH is blessed to have a well-paying job with fabulous benefits, but that doesn't mean it's better or easier, just what we've found works for us in a city where child care is ridiculously high. I do teach ballet several nights a week and that is my spending/mad money. Wow, I think I'm rambling, sorry. I guess what I wanted to say was that I can attest to the fact that if it's one child or four, it's still hard but you work with what tools you're given. Also, if we didn't feel that we could care for our children we wouldn't have had any more. And no, I have no idea if I want to even contemplate trying for that girl... my luck I'll have twin boys!

I would have to agree with Flip about learning to treat our planet better... I can tell you in my house, we rarely have food thrown away (have you ever seen a boy eat?) and I've gotten pretty good at putting the right amount of food in front of the right child, although the growth spurts throw me off horribly!

Sorry, I know I talk A LOT! I hope that made sense.

Kathleen Eagle said...

Chris, don't apologize for talking at length because then I'll have to do the same. Your story is enlightening. I find myself--I'm saying in the interim, but who really knows--basically raising 2 little granddaughters--and I feel as though I'm past the child-rearing stage. I'm slurping up all the enlightenment I can get on the subject. So much has changed since my children were children. I'm shaking in my boots. I can't say "I don't know how people do it these days," shake my head and walk away. I have to understand how people do it these days.

So thank you for talking a lot. Don't stop.

Chris M. said...

Wow, Kathleen, I think it takes a lot to basically start over raising your grandchildren! At least you know that you'll do all that you can. You'll love them the same, teach them the same and still they'll have their own personalities. As long as you instill in them the values they'll need to make it on their own... you're ahead of the game! At least that's my belief, so hang in there... and don't let them see you sweat! LOL

Well, it's glad I am that you don't mind my horrible case of jabberjaws!

Linda Nightingale said...

As a sports car Knut from a way back, I saw the link and had to visit. Just bought a Z3 and we'll be going topless! Enjoyable post.

Ruth Hunter said...

Not long ago, I was told that you can fit the entire population of the world in the state of Texas, giving each person 600 square feet. If a family of 4 gets 2400 sq feet to live in, that's not a bad size house. If you put everyone in apartment buildings 10 stories high that will leave room for parks and gardens...this is just in Texas. There are huge sections of the earth that are unpopulated altogether. What we need to do is quit building on good farmland and start using useless land for general housing.

Lets begin to put things into perspective and not just jump on a bandwagon because someone tells us to.
Ruth Hunter