In this episode, I share my experience with sleep training my children and I rant about the inadequacy of healthcare for mothers of large families.
Hey! Thank you so much to those of you who are still reading these posts and watching the clips while I work on re-launching my blog. We’re making some progress, with lots of ideas and little time to implement them. But we’re moving forward, which is always better than the opposite.
Come visit me on my new You Tube channel! Today I introduce myself and answer everyone’s burning question: how do you match socks when you have 18 feet?
Last week’s post was all about our favorite Thanksgiving Recipes and this week’s post will not be too much different: we literally ate leftovers all week. Instead of showing you the warmed-over version of what I cooked, I’m giving you the pictures from the day it was served. It looks a lot better that way.
I am still blown-away by how generous people were to our family after my miscarriage a month ago. I’m emphasising it because we’ve had meals prepared for our family for a month now and… How can I say this… It’s been eye-opening and humbling. I have never brought a meal to someone who has miscarried. I remember once dropping something off at the house of an acquaintance who had recently miscarried. It was on recycling day and her curb was covered,I mean covered, with empty pizza boxes. It was as if my family had kept all the pizza boxes for two years in the garage and suddenly put them out to the curb. I remember thinking (yes, I am that aweful of a person) “Really?” It just seemed so extreme to me. In the back of my head, the thought that maybe someone was taking advantage of the situation might have reared it’s ugly head. Now I can tell you: yes, really. A dear friend who sent us a gift card for M&M wrote in her card to expect a complicated miscarriage to have the same footprint as a full term pregnancy. I’m starting to believe it. Long story to say: people have been feeding us, people are absolutely amazing, it is as appreciated as it is needed.
Thanksgiving has marked the end of my post-traumatic love fest with comfort foods. Now is the time to get serious with health and wellness, starting with cleaning-up my eating. My eating is pretty clean already and I am researching to what extent claims that gluten and dairy can worsten a thyroid condition may be trusted. Separting the wheat (ha!) from the pseudo-science is an extreme sport, let me tell you. I’d love to read your experiences with food elimination and if you were successful in turning-off the little voice in your head telling you that there is no medical basis to gluten sensitivity. I’m so eager to feel good again and I’ve received such confusing and inappropriate care from my doctor that I feel like any twerp on Facebook with a made-up degree could sign me up for a kool-aid retreat if it promised results.
I made Artisan Bread. I’m not very good at it, especially at getting the crust just right. I love how the kids all made turkey sandwiches right off the bat. As they say, leftovers are the best part.
For veggies we had lettuce, cranberry apple orange sauce and boozy squash. Oh and sinful Brussel Sprouts, with cheese, bacon and onions. My husband made mashed potatoes and we researched on Google why mashed potatoes get gluey. Answer: overcooked and overworked. Turns out potatoes are fragile little things. You need to gently coax the starch out lest it comes out galloping and turn your mash to glue.
Once we were all turkeyed out, we went for a walk. You know the nice thing about being completely wiped-out-of-shape? You can take a 4km slow walk and you’ll feel like you just run 12km.
Isn’t my country road absolutely stunning?
A blogger I follow on Facebook recently mentioned GOMI and why she didn’t want to know what people said about her on the popular forum. GOMI stands for “Get Off My Internets” and is a blog about blogs. The blog itself follows the big names on the Internet but wading in the forums will show you the second tier bloggers, popular enough to annoy people but not so much that they would land a mention on the blog. And oh my goodness, “wading” is the proper term.
I first went wading into GOMI forums out of curiosity. My husband and I are preparing a re-launch and re-branding of this blog with the hope of building an income-generating website. Reading GOMI was first shocking, then amusing, then I figured that I could probably learn a thing or two about what pushes people’s buttons. Not being popular enough to register on the GOMI scale also means that I am not popular enough to have dedicated haters. There is something about popularity and envy that draws people to read something just to get their buttons pushed. I’m not sure I understand this about human nature but I’ve been around the Net enough to know it’s true. I think that people who don’t like my blog simply stop reading it. That’s the advantage of being small fry. Of course the disadvantage is that I don’t earn income from my writing.
Freed from the fear of finding my blog mentioned on GOMI, I was able to find a groove reading people’s beef. I focused my attention on the “Mommy/Daddy Bloggers” and the “Annoying Catholics” sub-forum found in the “Fundie Blogging” (Fundie as in fundamentalist as in “cults or extreme religion” which in reality means “Christianity writ large with a sprinkling of Mormons”.) I don’t think I broadcasts my beliefs too much on this blog but as a practicing Catholic homeschooling mom of 9 children, I think that I get an Annoying Catholic mention just by getting-up in the morning. I swear that’s not why I do it.
I learned a few things about the treacherous waters of mommy blogging, and the even riskier waters of Annoying Catholicity. How do you feel about each of them? True, false, OMGoshNailedit!?
- There is a fine line between showing your children and exploiting your children. The raison d’être of family bloggers is to let readers peek into their lives but readers will turn on their favorite bloggers if they cross the line into exploitation. If it looks like your children are making the money and you’re just using it, watch out. Think Kate Gosselin.
- Bloggers should respect their children’s privacy. Think about your 2 year-olds as job-seeking 25 year-olds. How will they feel about having their anal retentiveness expounded over a Google-searchable 10-posts series? You can write about potty training challenges without naming names.
- You should be “relatable” but not too real. That’s a tricky one. If you are a lifestyle, food or fashion blogger, you have to look perfect. However, if you are a mommy blogger you are expected to perform a tightrope act between looking like you have it all figured out (condescending) and being too whiny (get off the Internet and figure it out). This is especially true for Annoying Catholics who do not use artificial birth control. If you make having 10 children in 8 years look easy and fun you are obviously hiding something (like a full time nanny and a six-figure salary). If you make having 10 children in 8 years look difficult and challenging then you should start thinking for yourself and get an IUD.
- The way to make money blogging is through sponsored posts. A sponsored post is a post for which you are paid by a sponsor. It is usually written by the blogger although it can also be written by the sponsor and published on a blog. This is another tightrope act: it’s ok to make money blogging but you can’t be too obvious about it. You’re damned if you read like hired PR but you are also damned if you bite the hand that feeds you. In other words, if some clothing company flies you and your family someplace warm for a holiday-photo-shoot and you publish a sponsored blog post that is both crass and poorly written, and the sponsor gets angry and withdraws its sponsorship and you whine about it ceaselessly on your blog, you’ll end-up on GOMI. We’re not even close but I promise that if you fly my Annoying Catholic family anywhere south of Ottawa, Ontario, I will write you the best and brightest write-up you’ve ever read. I don’t even care if it’s for cat shampoo and we don’t own a cat.
- People want drama. But not too much drama. People want drama they can consume with their popcorn. Nobody wants to be privy to a train wreck in slow motion. It’s better to take it off-line for a little bit and write about the experience in hindsight (and with a little bit of perspective) than fall apart in public. It makes people squirmy and it makes the popcorn soggy.
- Finally, all of the above can be forgiven if you are a really good writer.
In other words, I will never get rich writing.
This week’s dinner round-up was delegated to the generosity of others. I bring meals to others in their time of need, that’s my shtick, and it has been a singular blessing to have my family fed by others as I recover from last week’s health crisis. Feeding the hungry is at the top of the list of corporal works of mercy in the Catholic Church, it shouldn’t be surprising that a hot meal in a time of need feeds the body as well as the soul. Still it’s one thing to bring a meal to a friend in need and another one to receive it. Words cannot express the gratitude felt when someone takes-on the intimidating task of feeding a family of 11.
The days of the week have all been mixed-up and I can’t really remember what we ate when. I also wasn’t home for 3 days and goodness knows what happened then, food-wise. All I know is that some pizza was ordered and when I came home from the hospital one of my children exclaimed: “We were like orphans! It was AWESOME!”
ON THE FIRST DAY
(Which might have been Monday? Or was it Sunday? Yes it was Sunday because I missed Mass.)
When I came home from the hospital, I could barely put one foot in front of the other. My oldest daughter had been to Mass that morning and asked our parish priest if he would come to our house to give me the anointing of the sick. It was the first time in my life that I was sick enough to receive the anointing of the sick and it deeply moved me. He also brought me Communion and pizza for the kids. Corporal and spiritual works of mercy in one fell swoop, he’s an awesome guy.
ON THE SECOND DAY
My mother came to spend the day with me. Sometimes a girl just needs her mama. My husband made me some liver and onions. Of course, the kids were not too eager to share so we still have leftovers. Anyone? Sadly, 3 meals of liver and some pretty hardcore iron supplements didn’t impress my hemoglobin much. It went down further and I was back in hospital on the third day.
ON THE THIRD DAY
I wanted to post a picture of my hand and my IV pump but I thought that the sight of blood and a big needle might make some of you squeamish. Instead, here is the picture of me before the transfusion and after the first unit. That’s just the difference it made on the outside. I was also given some delicious hospital food. A friend came to pick me up at the hospital and drove me home. I felt like a blood-doped athlete and joked about starting my marathon training that evening.
ON THE FOURTH DAY
A friend who always has a lot of common sense wisdom to share suggested that I eat ice cream 3 meals a day until my heart felt better. I might have done that on the fourth day. I might need to find a way to do that without needing to wear maternity clothes because that ain’t helping much. See “marathon training” above. Training starts with “waking and talking at the same time.” The things we take for granted, I’m telling you…
ON THE FIFTH DAY
I received a visit from two dear friends who brought me soup, casseroles and chicken broth. In case the first 4 volumes of “What’s for Dinner” have not made that point clear, feeding a family of 11 day after day after day is hard work. It looms really large in my daily horizon. It’s more work than homeschooling, it’s more work than breastfeeding, it’s more work than laundry, it’s probably 50% of my daily effort expenditure, 365 day a year except for that blessed week at Family Camp when we hire a camp cook. If I were to leave for a weekend away (*snort* like that ever happened), I would need to make or plan all the meals in advance. When I give birth, I make sure I have a month’s worth of dinners in the freezer, make that three months for twins (we bought a second deep freeze for the occasion, if you are expecting twins do it, it will be worth every penny and you’ll make it up in savings on pizza and take-out, take my word for it.) When friends bring me meals, it is the single most helpful thing they can do to keep me off my feet. Because even when I’m supposed to be resting — as I am now — the question “What’s for supper?” invariably lands on my desk every day around 4 pm. It’s just the way the world goes round.
ON THE SIXTH DAY
It was the twins’ 4th birthday. There’s always a party here to keep your mind off what ails ya.
No hair was burned in the making of this collage.
ON THE SEVENTH DAY
My mother will be back to make some meals to get me ready for next week. Because that’s the beautiful thing about feeding your children: IT NEVER ENDS! Not only is my mother still feeding me, she is feeding me times 11! Except that now it’s different. I know because I have children and someday they will still need me. And I will still be there.
What did we eat this week?
Monday was Labour Day. My husband took the children to visit family but it was David’s turn to process our family’s friendly virus. I took a pass and stayed home with the sick and the underage. We had chips and ice cream for supper. Yes we did.
Remember the Thai squash soup with coconut and shrimp I made last week? I usually buy a second bag of shrimps to add to the leftover (because there is soup leftovers but never shrimps). Then we have a second round of squash soup.
Last weekend I mentioned making Spicy Peanut Chicken (with pork) in the slow cooker. I warmed it up on Wednesday and we ate it with fresh corn. My 9 year-old son announced that he was thirsty so I asked him to go get the water jug for the family. Without missing a beat he told me, very matter-of-factly: “No, I’m just going to get water for myself.” Err, no buddy, please bring back the water jug for the family, said I. “Ok then, I’m not thirsty.” he replied. “You can still get the water jug please. Which led to him saying no, me taking away his plate until he came back with the water jug, and he stomping away to get said water. Friends, if you wonder how we can raise such self-centered children in a family of 11, imagine if we had stopped at 2! Believe me, the world is a better place because we have 9 and it’s not because we are superior human beings. Pride runs strong in that gene line.
Spaghetti sauce day. My children and I are not fond of chunks in our spaghetti sauce. I like to put all the veggies and herbs in the food processor and give them a whirl. I don’t puree them to soup level but I find that along not having chunks, it mixes-up the flavours nicely. This specimen has red bell pepper, cremini mushrooms, onions, carrots, celery, garlic, fresh herbs from my potted garden (basil, chive and parsley), dried oregano and sage. I saute the veggie mash in olive oil, add an entire Costco pallet of tomato sauce and 3kg of ground beef. I stir until the meat is all separated and let it simmer forever. Add salt and pepper to taste et voila. That day, I also made orange cranberry muffins and oatmeal chocolate chip muffins. Our homeschool had to be on auto-pilot and we didn’t get around to do history and science. Note to self: you can’t cook up a storm and homeschool at the same time. I use this recipe for the cranberry orange muffins. I use frozen cranberries instead of fresh and it works fine. Just a note about the streusel topping: it’s a simple mix of sugar and orange rind. I prefer to put the orange rind in the muffin batter. The streusel falls apart when freezing anyway. On a more positive note, sugar mixed-up with orange rind and left to sit on the counter for a day can be eaten with a spoon or melted over a candle and shot-up your arm, oh my goodness, someone make it stop!!
When I did a Whole 30 back in January I had to stop eating pasta. I discovered zucchini noodles and I actually prefer them now to pasta. I don’t have a veggie spiralizer so I use my veggie peeler and peel the zucchinis until I am almost peeling the tip of my fingers (sometimes I do.). Lucas enjoys chopping the leftover zucchinis with a big knife. As an aside, I used to pay a whole lot of money so my kids could do just that at a Montessori preschool. Which brings me to homeschooling preschool: stop worrying already!! If I got a dime every time a stressed out mom asks about a preschool curriculum, I could retire happy. Preschools need a curriculum because they are accountable to their clients. Preschool is just life. You need to live with your children and engage with them positively. Read to them, snuggle with them, let them help with cooking if you have the patience to do so. Take them outside and show them the dirt: here’s your preschool curriculum.
Back to the zucchini noodles… I slice an onion or two in very thin slices, smash some garlic and saute everything in olive oil with salt, pepper and dried oregano, then I cover for a while to let it steam a little. Zucchinis lose their water like nothing else so 6 zucchinis is barely enough for two adults. Unless they are the giant ones that neighbours leave on your doorstep.
My teenage daughter announced that she would make crepes for supper. I said: “Fine!” She used the recipe from Ricardo but I prefer Josee di Stasio’s recipe. I usually quadruple it — that would be 4 cups of flour and a whole dozen of eggs — add beer to the milk and keep it in the fridge in an air tight container. The kids will make crepes for breakfast, snack or lunch using the batter all week.
Et voila, this is it for this week. I’m sparing you the weekend because it ended-up in take-out pizza.
When I started homeschooling, I encouraged myself by thinking that I wasn’t the first one to do this. Not the first one to homeschool with an infant. Not the first one to homeschool with toddler twins. Not the first one to homeschool with a large family. Not the first one to homeschool 4 different grades. Not the first one to homeschool kids who don’t want to homeschool. Not the first one to homeschool outgoing, extroverted kids with two volumes settings: loud and louder. Not the first one to homeschool children with a lot of energy and big feelings. Not the first one to homeschool with a husband who works long hours and cannot help with homeschooling. Not the first one to homeschool without my family’s support. Not the first one to homeschool in a language other than English. Other people have done it, right? So it has to be possible. Well, I’m not so sure anymore!
It’s getting lonely at the top. I see people quit homeschooling every week for one of the reasons I listed above. And when I hit the Internet looking for help, I find people with any combo of one or two of my challenges but never all of them. There’s Sarah from Amongst Lovely Things who has toddler twins and recommends lowering expectations. But expectations can only be lowered so much when you are homeschooling highschool. We lowered our expectations so much this year, we nearly dug a hole to China. I wish I could curl-up on the couch and read to everyone from the grade 10 chemistry text book but THEY WON’T STAY SEATED!
And then there’s the lovely — lovely! — Kendra from Catholic All Year who has a large family and gets by being pregnant, breastfeeding and homeschooling by having naps and exercising. And how do naps happen? By putting the baby and the toddler down for a nap at the same time and then giving the other children a quiet activity to do. This makes me want to cry. My almost 4 year-old twins have not napped since they were 2-and-a -half and a quiet activity for the four youngest means that I have to physically restrain them, usually by sitting on one and keeping the door closed on the other. It’s great. We have a quiet time daily to the sound of children howling “HOW MANY MORE MINUTES?” every 30 seconds. My husband thought I would feel better if I exercised so we started getting up at 5 am — because that’s how early we have to wake-up if we want to wake-up before the kids. Since we have teenagers who are up until 11 pm, it gives me 5 interrupted hours of sleep on which to keep my wits, my household and my homeschool running smoothly. It gives a brand new meaning to the quip: “I’m in no shape to exercise” believe it or not.
It’s not that I’m jealous of people who have children who are temperamentally disposed to sit down and stay quiet. After all, my four oldest children were pretty easy. But it does make me realize that homeschooling is not going to be easy for us and sometimes I’m a big baby and I shake my fist at God and say: “If you were going to call me to large familyhood, why couldn’t you have sent me the kids who slept in my fourties instead of my twenties??” (then God laughed and sent me twins who didn’t sleep for 15 months and stopped napping at 2.)
And then there’s Julie from Creekside Learning who has a ton of great suggestions for homeschooling with a busy toddler underfoot. Julie adequately describes my life when she writes:
But when he was not-quite-two, I typed “how to homeschool with a toddler” into a search engine and found things like this: “Give your child a copy of the worksheet your older child is doing so he will feel included.” That was good advice but it was just not going to work with my super-active, sweet boy. He was the kind of toddler who tore up worksheets with his teeth, spit them out and looked at me like “What else ya got?”
Julie makes realistic suggestions for the mere mortals but she has 3 children total and I have 3 children *under 4*. And 4 different grades to teach. And 11 people to feed. And a house to keep from getting shut down by public health authorities. We can’t explore our way through algebra outdoors by counting puddles and spiders. Homeschooling at odd hours is impractical for the elementary school aged children who are tired after the twins are in bed and having a slack year will only work as long as it’s an exception, not your way of life (see “homeschooling highschool” above.)
(As I was writing this, I saw Ève apply something to her face from the corner of my eye and I asked “What are you doing?” She answered: “Putting my make-up.” I asked “With what?” She replied: “Butter.”)
There are so many “turn key” homeschooling curricula allowing lucky parents to crack the books open and let the magic happen. Some even have teacher assistance and tutoring. But all these wonderful options would require us to give-up on French instruction. So I’m still here, fighting my way through a makeshift French curriculum while guarding the fridge and making sure the twins don’t set the house of fire. My homeschool days start early and end late and my kids are even less thrilled about homeschooling then they were when we started (which brings the enthusiasm level down to “cadaveric”). Onward and upward!
Are we going to keep homeschooling in light of this difficult first year? In a nutshell, yes. For all the difficulties that we have faced, we have also seen positive changes in our children that we want to see blossom. I can see that the challenges associated with parenting 3 year-old twins are temporary and age-related. I can also see that many of my challenges are due to learning to homeschool and the process of “deschooling” . My teenagers are still affected by the homeschooling stereotypes they have heard while attending school, especially in the year prior to our move to homeschool. They are also not as independent and autonomous as they would be had they been homeschooled from the start. Part of my problems with homeschooling — and the reason why other homeschoolers with large families have better success — is that I have children who should be old enough to work autonomously but don’t. When my teenagers run our of work or encounter a problem they cannot solve, they revert to school mode and stop working. This means that all 7 children present at home during the day need me to be physically present by their side while working or living. That’s not a normal occurrence in large homeschooling families unless they have children with special needs. My children, especially my teenagers, have yet to take responsibility for their learning and their socialization. They are quick to criticize what I throw at them but in true school manner, have not clued-in that they can affect change by getting involved. There is still too much room for improvement to call it quits at this point.
I always tell parents that they need to raise their children with the end-game in mind. When I look forward, I like what I see. I can imagine the fruit before it matures and the fruits of homeschooling are the ones I want to harvest.
(As an aside, if you have suggestions that don’t involve hiring a butler, a maid, a driver and a governess, feel free to shoot them my way.)
It started innocently enough with an online sale. The kind of online sale that let’s you meet likeminded parents: cloth diapers, children’s bikes. This one was for a ring sling. While teaching the buyer to use my ring sling, we had stricken a conversation about twins. This young mama had 6 month-old twins, her first children. I looked at her with the confidence of the mother who has it all figured out and said: “I know how tough it is right now but don’t worry: they’ll sleep someday, it gets better.” She said: “Oh sleep is no problem! Since they were born we made sure to have a really consistent bedtime routine and when we tuck them in their beds they know it’s sleep time and they just go to sleep!”
Well, I try hard not to swear but F-my-luck. I haven’t slept a good night since 2009 and having twins nearly killed me. From the day they were born until Lucas was 16 months I did not sleep longer than 45 minutes in a row. When he was 10 months-old I realized that I had seen every single hour on my alarm clock, every single night, for the last 10 months so I got rid of the alarm clock. It was easier than getting rid of the baby. That young mom’s innocent comment made me feel like maybe I had missed something. Maybe I could have been sleeping all this time and my restless nights were due to a lack of skills or determination. And those negative feelings reopened a door I had long thought closed: the door of envy.
St. Thomas Aquinas defined envy as sorrow at the good fortune of others. Its flip side is rejoicing at the downfall of others. Envy is that silent “YES!!” moment when we learn of the downfall of someone we had been envying. As if something in us died when our neighbor succeeded.
I struggled for many years with envy after my older children were born. I was convinced that my decision to put my career on hold while my children were young (ha! Famous last words as I still have young children almost 20 years later) was the right decision for our family. Yet, I looked with envy at the material things my friends who worked outside the home could afford. Vacations, cute clothes, and my holy grail, matching furniture. I mentally wished that their children would grow-up troubled as if I needed to see the proof that having a parent at home was better for children. As if nothing I was doing would have been worth it unless my children were happy and their children were screwed-up.
Now that I am a bit older and a bit wiser — and that I have a house full of matching IKEA furniture — envy doesn’t rear its ugly head the same way it did when I was younger. I no longer envy material things as much as accomplishments. I envy confidence, safety, and a sense of control. Which is ironic isn’t it, since I decided to have a large family? But this is how fear works in the darkest confines of our souls, keeping us from becoming a better, bigger, version of ourselves.
I caught myself wishing that this young mom’s twins would suddenly stop sleeping so well. To show her that she wasn’t really in control. I wished that she would discover that her parenting skills at imposing a bedtime routine that sent her kids straight into Morpheus’ arms had everything to do with her children’s natural disposition to sleep on cue. I assumed that they must have been bottle-fed in hospital and molded to an institutional schedule. What are we breastfeeding mothers to do when our healthy children protest our best attempts to conform them to our schedule? We are not going home at the end of our shift!
A few months later, I learned that a friend with children had sold her house and purchased a similar-sized house in a less desirable suburban neighbourhood. The difference in prices allowed her and her husband to pay-off their mortgage and live comfortably debt-free. I could just taste the freedom. Completely debt-free, home owning, new vehicle driving, holidaying, while in their prime earning years, with school-aged children…. Life: does it get better than that?
Well, of course the husband, you know…. And the wife well… That’s not mentioning the way their kids…. And the issues at school… Here comes envy again with its messy greasy hands leaving fingerprints all over my best wishes. Envy is the opposite of rose-coloured glasses. It stains what should be beautiful and inspiring and filters it through a dirty lens. Turned on itself, it makes us look like a diminished version of ourselves. Envy is self-limitation. It’s locking ourselves in a cage, with the key, wishing every one would join us in when we could simply fly away.
I realized that my envy was not only holding me down, it was preventing me from growing from my experiences and choices, whether good or bad. It also made small-fry of the fruits of those experiences and forks in the road. My life as a mother of 9 is fodder for this blog and countless helpful interventions with friends and strangers alike. I made poor financial and academic decisions that set me back in my career ambitions and my financial independence but these decisions have lead me down a path where I met dear friends, learned valuable lessons and grew more than I ever did playing it safe. Envy renders us myopic, deliberately blurring out distance and perspective, only allowing us to see what is directly in front of us.
How many “mommy wars” and “mama drama” are rooted in envy? How many poor choices are motivated by envy? How farther along would we be if we simply chose to learn from those who have done things better, or even just differently, than we have?
C.S. Lewis described hell as a door locked on the inside. When we let envy pollute our relationships with others, we are not only locking ourselves in but expecting everyone to join us.
By popular demand, I translated my previous post on large families and the environment.
About a month ago, our family was the subject of a full-page feature in our local newspaper. This is not the first time that my little gang and I appear on the pages of a newspaper: last year, I took part in a Globe & Mail piece on the decision to stay home or return to work.
When you are the mother of a large family and you make a media appearance, you have to expect the global warming trolls to come to the party, regardless of the topic. We seem to be a looming menace: if everybody did what we did, the environmental impact would be disastrous. In theory maybe, but what about reality?
You don’t have to be a scholar in demographics to see that large families are not the cause of overpopulation. Assuming that you accept the arguments in favour of overpopulation. A quick glance at the literature shows that concerns over demographic decline are at least as pressing as those relating to overpopulation. Birth rates (the number of live births per thousand of population per year) and fertility rates (the average number of children born to women of childbearing years) are declining throughout the world. While many under-developed countries still show birth rates over the population renewal rate (2.1 children per women), their birth rates are in decline. Statistics suggest that the increasing world population is not caused by too many births but by an increase in life expectancy. In other words, we didn’t start breeding like rabbits; we just stopped dropping like flies. The elderly population is on the increase worldwide but the children population is decreasing steadily.
Blaming large families like ours for overpopulation discounts the fact that for countries like Canada, the fertility rate is significantly below the population renewal rate despite a handful of large families. Think about it: the fertility rate of 1.1 children per woman includes women like me. We don’t seem to be making a noticeable difference. If anything, we make demographic decline slightly less scary. I often meet funny people who enjoy telling me:
“I’m happy that there are people like you to make up for people like me.”
Except that we are outweighed: there are too many people like you for people like me to compensate.
Some will tell me that demographic decline is desirable to make-up for our poor ecological balance sheet. While it is true that resource abuse is threatening the environment, I would counter that what is killing the planet are abusive mentalities, not large families. If large families are too few to make a statistical difference in birth rates, what makes you think that there are enough of us to compromise the environment? Resource abuse and overuse happened in parallel with demographic decline. The problem is not simply how many people are killing the planet, but how they are doing it!
Our family lives in the suburbs of Ottawa in a typical wealthy suburban neighbourhood found throughout North America. Large single family homes, 4 bedrooms, double car garage. Two cars, or rather, one car and a larger vehicle such as a minivan or a SUV. The house we currently live in was designed for a family of 4 or 5 people. On my street, in houses of similar size and function, you will find mostly couples with no children or 1 or 2 children. Some are young families hoping to expand but most are older. They all live in 3 000+ sq. ft. homes built on former prime agricultural land, with 2 vehicles, air conditioning and heating brought to you by some coal-fired power plant somewhere in Ontario. It doesn’t cost more to heat-up 3 000 square feet for a family of 10 than it does for a family of 2 by the way. Except that with the size of my bills, when the weather is nice I open the windows. Most of my neighbours turn-on the A/C in May and turn it off in October. And while my pile of garbage is bigger than theirs, the truck moves for them as much as it does for me… and their garbage pile is not one fifth of mine, although their household is. Their vehicles are never full and move at least as much as mine do, filled to the brim. This March Break, we stayed home bar a 60 minute drive to the nearest ski hill. Half of my children’s school friends flew-off to a sunnier destination. And you are shaking your accusatory finger at me?
Let me tell you what is killing the planet. It’s egotism. It’s a culture of entitlement that drives us to grab what should be ours, whether we need it or not. It’s the pursuit of “more”, not to say “too much”. Take a drive through Ottawa’s old neighbourhoods and take a look at the little brick bungalows. 2 or 3 bedrooms, no bigger than a triple car garage. Reflect on the fact that these homes were once considered “family-sized”, at a time where families were bigger. Today, my single family home features two bedrooms with full ensuites. Ideal for the only teen who would rather not share a toilet with his parents: your children can now sleep, socialize and shower in their very own personal wing. They don’t even need to interact while going to take a pee! Progress would be a built-in meal door. But the problem is my husband, my children and I?
From my home office window, I watch the school buses go by. Every day, a well-meaning mother drives her daughter – who looks to be about 12 years-old — to the corner and picks her up at the end of the day. In Ottawa, a student cannot walk more than 500 m to get to a bus stop. If the distance between his home and the bus stop is greater than 500 m, a new bus stop is created. Throughout this very cold winter, the coldest on recent record, our attentive mother drove her daughter to and from the bus stop. The daughter never wore as much as a hat. No scarf, no mittens, not even a pair of boots. You need to understand that within a 500 m radius of my home office window, there is no low-income housing. We are not talking about a child in need; we are talking about a child who cannot walk 500 m (probably less) in the winter because it is “too cold”. And it’s too cold by choice. That’s the kind of choice, made every day, multiplied by millions of us, over our lifetime that brought planet earth to her knees. Not a handful of large families.
Yes, we use too much electricity, we drive too often and we wear too many clothes. We gather so much stuff that we must now build air-conditioned spaces to store our things. Do you really think that families like mine made Dymon Storage facilities pop like mushrooms? Not only have we covered our prime agricultural land with asphalt, we now build apartments for our stuff! We got there while our population was decreasing. Could you be looking for a culprit at the wrong place?
As for me and my husband, we will keep having children and raising them to become responsible citizens. I don’t know if we will succeed: the social forces pushing us toward overconsumption and self-centeredness are strong. But I believe that we have a better chance of succeeding because a large family is an incubator for the values that we hope to pass-on to our children. You should be happy: they will be paying for your adult diapers and performing your hip replacement surgeries for the next 60 years.