A couple of generations ago, a family of six would have been the norm, and certainly not referred to as a "large" family. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, in 1961, Australia's total fertility rate was 3.5 babies per woman (I have often wondered about that poor 0.5 child who only got half his body). In 2011, this figure was 1.88 babies per woman (and don't start me on that 0.88 child!).
hose statistics confirm that these days our family is practically a walking freak show – and we don't have any fractional children, just the four full ones. When out and about with our kids we attract commentary around the number of children we chose to have.
It's time to break down the misconceptions about large families.
We're poor, uneducated, and live off government benefits
People assume because we have SO MANY kids we have no money. I've been known to joke that we survive on two-minute noodles, but the fact is, we made informed decisions about our family size and how that would impact our budget and lifestyle. All our children were planned; no "oopsies" and no medical anomalies.
My husband and I both hold university degrees, we work and pay taxes.
Opposing those accusations of scumming off the poor tax-payers is the gang who deduce we "must be rich" to have ALL THOSE kids! Yes, in global terms, we're affluent. But by relative Western-society definitions, we're not. We budget, just like every other family, and we make sacrifices. We eat well, our kids have access to opportunities and we live a full life.
It's not gold-filled, more gold-plated, but we work hard and do all right.
We are devoid of environmental conscience
Unless you choose to only replace yourselves (ie, have two children), then you can be accused of having no environmental conscience. Large families are often targeted in debates about limited resources and the environmental impact of overpopulation.
I counter this argument with an economy of scale reasoning. One lightbulb lights a room irrelevant of the number of people. On a personal level, our family shares resources; we use hand-me-down clothes, toys and books. Our children take shorter showers (when we pound on the door) and learn to co-exist in smaller spaces. We have solar panels, free range chickens and a vegie patch.
It seems that many believe the only people crazy enough to embark on a life with more than two children do so because it was God's intention. We're not Catholic so they'll have to invent a new cliché.
Apparently, Mother Earth types are the only ones willing and able to have large families because they are a special breed of super-patient angels. If this is the case, I'm not the poster woman for large families. I have calm and patient moments (usually when I'm out with my girlfriends, child-free). I also have many anxious moments that climax to exhausted rants.
The one superpower I do hold is the ability to say no.
The catch-cry of our generation is that we're all "time-poor". More kids equals less time. Or does it? People with large families don't experience proportionate growth in time-consuming activities just because they have more children. The activities our children participate in are predominantly in the same location (swimming lessons, weekend sports). There's no doubt that I'm a permanent fixture at some of these places, but so are plenty of my friends with two children.
Being time-poor has everything to do with your lifestyle, the job you hold, the duties you have and the commitments you make. Your number of children certainly puts pressure on time but there are plenty of smaller families who rush around like headless chooks.
Kids from large families miss out
In addition to poverty of time, money, and patience, holidays, love and attention all make the shortlist of things my kids apparently miss out on because they belong to a large family.
Holidays: We don't take expensive overseas holidays. Instead we camp, rent holiday houses for a week or visit interstate relatives. They all qualify as "holidays" – a break from the norm and a fresh perspective offering the same relief whether it's inside Disneyland or lying on a towel on the closest beach.
Love: I'm not sure about you, but my heart is not filled with finite love. More children does not mean the love runs out quicker than my wine collection.
Attention: I will concede that with four children, there are times when the attention given to each child is stretched. When they all simultaneously shout "Mum!", my two ears and two hands are not always capable of attending immediately. And that is the virtue of patience; a value learnt very quickly in a large family.
What I've realised as our family has grown, is that to criticise people's family choices is ill-informed and elitist. Stamping out the stereotypes placed upon large families – any families for that matter – is vital.
So when you next fall in line behind a parent in the supermarket with more kids than you have, don't ask, "Are these all yours?" Instead, smile and say, "What a lovely family you have there." You'll make their week. Possibly their year.