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SALT LAKE CITY — Large families are an anomaly, even in the state of Utah. In fact, our state reigns supreme in terms of large families, with an average of 2.32 children under the age of 18 living in a single household. So, seeing a family of more than, say, five or six children can be a cause to unconsciously stare, ask questions, or even make statements based on preconceived notions.
I get it.
As a mom of nine kids ranging in age from 8 months to 15 years old, I know what it’s like to have people wonder about my a large family — and even ask why we would do such a thing. There are many misconceptions surrounding large families, and with the help of several other mothers, I hope to address some of the following most common ones.
No. 1: Our homes must be so noisy and messy
More people must equal more noise and mess, right? Well, that's not always the case.
Lisa McClean, a mother of nine, said many people are surprised when they come to her home and find it isn't all that noisy.
"Everyone who comes to my house tells me, 'Your house is so quiet,'" she said. "It makes me laugh because they assume I should have children running around screaming and swinging from the chandeliers. I don’t tolerate screaming inside. I have a specific playroom for my littles, and we show respect for our home. Just because I have a large family doesn’t mean I cannot set rules in my home and have them followed."
Shelby Carrel, a mother of six, said the same regarding a messy house.
"Just because I have a big family doesn't mean my house is dirty," she said. "I invite families over here for dinner, since we rarely get invited anywhere due to family size. I have had people comment every time how clean my home is. Everything has a place and if it doesn't, it goes in the trash or gets donated.”
No. 2: We don't know about birth control or are careless
"Do you know what causes that?" some will say. Whether it's said in a joking manner or with the assumption that we really don't know how things work, it's an uncomfortable question for both parties.
Kathryn Brown has nine children, ages 15-35, and 17 grandchildren. She said this has often been a misconception.
"I think the common misconception is that parents of large families are simply uneducated, or too poor to afford birth control options," she said. “Or maybe we don't care about the future well-being of our children. Nothing could be further from the truth. Truthfully, we were quite poor while raising most of our children, but we made it work. My adult children are some of the hardest working, kindest, most compassionate people I have the privilege of knowing. Many of the people who judged us harshly years ago now admire what we have. Through a lot of patience and kindness, I have gained the respect of many."
No. 3: We must have it all together … or have more patience than others
Many assume that if we have so many children, we must either have our act together or we have been blessed with more patience than others. These are wonderful things to hear — and please don’t stop showering us with compliments — however, know that when we “thank you for your compliment” we are doing so reluctantly, knowing full well that we struggle as much as the next person.
Sarah Pachev, a mother of 11, and Michelle Stone, a mother of 12, both acknowledged that it’s nice to hear good things, even if it’s not always true.
"People tell me how amazing I am and ask how I do it," Pachev said. "We often don’t feel amazing and cringe to think what they would say if they knew how we really do it."
Stone feels like being put on a pedestal once in a while isn’t such a bad thing.
"Go ahead and put me on a pedestal all day long," she said. "Of course, I don't deserve it every day, but man! I have carried, delivered and cared for 12 children, and that is something worth noting. Heaven knows I get enough negative feedback. I don't mind that there is some positive feedback in the mix as well."
No. 4: We all homeschool our children
Homeschooling is a wonderful option for many parents and children regardless of family size. I'll admit that I have dabbled in it here and there as I have tried to find the best fit for each child. I currently do a hybrid option with my older kids to help balance time and allow me the chance to get some one-on-one time with a child who needs it. Even so, many, including mother of eight Stacy Burtenshaw, wonder why others assume they homeschool their children.
"I always wonder why having a large family equals homeschooling," she said. "It’s almost always the second question out of people’s mouth once they find out how many kids we have.
I always wonder why having a large family equals homeschooling. It’s almost always the second question out of people’s mouth once they find out how many kids we have.
–Stacy Burtenshaw, mother of eight
No. 5: We (mothers) should look 'the part'
One of the nicest compliments I get is that I don't look like I've had nine children. When I hear it, it makes me feel good and justifies the time I've spent keeping myself healthy and fit.
Even so, what is a mom of a large number of children supposed to look like? Bags under our eyes? Excess weight?
Who knows what I'm supposed to look like, but keep the compliments coming, keeping in mind that we don't know what your particular standard is. Maybe say, "You look great!" or something along those lines, independent of the fact that we have many children.
No. 6: The misconceptions we put on ourselves
With all of the stereotypes floating around about large families, we often find ourselves fighting against what others may think. I’ve done this throughout the years, many times inserting the fact that I have a degree in elementary education and worked outside the home as a teacher (there I go again). I find myself making sure my kids are all clean and dressed nicely whenever we leave the home because I don’t want us to stand out more than we already do.
Brandi Hall, a mother of six, had all of her children in the space of 7½ years. When her kids were young, she said she felt the need to prove people wrong.
"I kind of feel like I lived a life of proving people wrong because of the misconceptions," she said. "I always felt like I had to make sure they were perfectly clean, dressed perfect, hair perfect, the smartest student. I thought I would homeschool because that is what you were supposed to do with a big family, but it was too much for me. I thought I needed to have the perfect home for friends and visitors, packed a perfect lunch for my kids, and we walked to and from school because we were 'healthy.' We live in a world of too many expectations and judgments for big families, when we're all trying to do our best."
And that’s just it. If there’s anything to take away from this, it’s that there are more similarities than there are differences between large and small families. We all struggle keeping a house and kids clean. We all want to make choices without having to justify those choices to others. We all want to be respected and have a family that is worthy of that respect. We are all just families doing the best we can.