I've been thinking about writing on this topic for a long while because it is a road we've walked and are still walking. Somehow I think I cannot be the only mother, regardless of family size, to unexpectedly encounter motherhood this way. When my husband heard that I wanted to write about raising a large family in a small family culture, he warned me to tread carefully and gently and so I am going to try hard to do just that.
Generally, there is very little addressing in the Christian community of the attitude towards large families or the lack of older women taking up the call to mentor younger women. I've heard it said that family and marriage are the two least addressed topics from church pulpits because leaders don't want to preach about what they fail at and/or make their congregants feel badly for the state of their marriages/families. I'd like to think this isn't always the case and it might just generally be an oversight. I am so thankful for those addressing and encouraging Christians to have gospel centered homes and have a deep appreciation for our friend Sam who has a gift for encouraging families. As both a starting-to-be-an-older woman and as a mother of a large group of children, I see and feel deeply the importance of both these things. As the older woman, I try to reach out through this blog and through having younger mothers in our home. As the mama of many, I do feel at times that my hands are limited to how much I can do, even though I have the desire and see the need to do more.
We are raising our children, with essentially no more than sporadic support, either in the practical or the spiritual/emotional sense. We've had to lone-dog it pretty much all the way, and thank God for other large family blogs, sermons available online, and a few key books for support in parenting our large crew. My husband is largely without support and we feel the effects of this.
I think the most common assumptions when you have a large family in a small family cultural mindset is that you are either trying to one-up on others, or else you're assumed to be so legalistic and must be trying to reach favor with God through family size. I recently left a room of women talking about birth control and their small families when one of them snorted and asked if I was ever going to stop having babies, only to enter another room and have an older Christian gentleman ask why I was having another child. At this point, I made myself smile and said, "Once you have four, you're already considered to have gone off the deep end, so why not have a few more and enjoy them?" Probably not the nicest and Christ-like answer I could have come up with but out it popped. At this point I just wanted to go home. I wish moments like these were not the norm, but unfortunately, they are.
When the rude comments seem overwhelming and there is no support in mothering or parenting, what to do?
First, realize that you aren't alone.
No matter how alone you feel; no matter how alone in the daily mothering or parenting you actually are - you really aren't alone. (I tell myself this all the time.) In one fit of frustration between myself and God (or myself towards God) I informed Him how I understood that He never leaves me alone but that He doesn't have arms to help me feed my children when I'm sick and cannot get out of bed, or a voice to tell me how to deal with repeated toddler tantrums and so on... It was one of those all-out hysterics that I've since apologized for and I know God doesn't hold against me but there it was. God showed me that He is just as grieved or more grieved than I am at the lack of people being his hands and feet and that still, when I'm in the deepness of sitting and folding laundry for hours, He is still there. His spirit does speak to and encourage my heart, His words of life that lay open before me in the morning are the sustenance of the day. We may not have ideal support for raising a family, but we are never without Him.
As a side: to the elderly woman who brokenly poured out her heart to me in a thrift store on the subject of wishing she had had a large family, to the elderly Russian woman who with tears in her eyes, gestured to all of the kids with me in Walmart and blessed me over and over in the produce aisle, to the random people who stop us when we're out and share how they were the eldest of seven or youngest of nine and wouldn't trade it for anything, to the older women who pray for me- thank you! Thank you, thank you. You bless me.
Second, guard your heart.
It is easy to become hard-hearted without even intending to be so. In an attempt to protect ourselves from the hurtfulness regarding comments about our families we might avoid people all together. Weekly, I ask God to give me a love for His church - not specifically the local church we attend though that is a good place to start - but a Christian culture that accepts what God calls a curse and complains about what God calls a blessing. Walking around with a chip on our shoulder, for any reason, blocks us from showing the love of Christ fully and compassionately.
Third, DO find the support available online.
This is essential. I'm not talking about facebook because mostly I feel more encouraged without that than with it. It is a lousy filler for loneliness. At the bottom of this post, I'll list some sources where I've found strength and encouragement as a Christian mother and wife.
Fourth, do reach out: blessings may come in the most unexpected of places.
Doing something as simple as saying "hello" to a woman I saw walking a stroller has blessed us with seeing a couple come to faith in Christ as well as friendship between our families. I've gotten texts from this friend when she's at the grocery store, asking what she can pick up for me... and really, isn't it just the small things like this that can encourage and brighten our days when we're deep in the midst of things? I'm so thankful for the other busy moms who text me or e-mail me during the week just to say "hello"!
Fifth, be in God's Word and in His presence.
I don't know about anyone else, but parenting a large crew has made me starving for spiritual food. I am never off duty as a mother, even errands are usually run with a few children with the pressure to get home and back into the swing of things there. There are no vacations, time away with my husband, blog/marriage/homeschool conferences or the other things that seem possible with support or smaller family size. I know I'm not the only mother to wonder how I can give more when I feel like I've given everything possible to give. Morning Bible reading with my coffee and later on a podcast while I'm housecleaning are literally the food that sustains me. God doesn't call us to take vacations or attend conferences, though those things are lovely, but He does challenge us to spend time in His Word. I would have gone crazy long ago if not for the Word of God feeding my heart. :)
How do we stay mindful of the presence of God? By involving all of our day in Him. For me, this is continually asking, begging, thanking and thinking... "Lord, how do I handle this?" "Lord, thank you for this heavy asleep head on my shoulder." "Father, I don't know how to teach these sons to get along, I desperately need You in this situation." "Lord, I praise You for being my support and strength!" and so on...
When we're mindful of God's eagerness to be involved in every aspect of our day, we're forced to see the loneliness of our days filled with Him.
Voddie Baucham. You can also hear his sermons on sermonaudio.com
John Piper and Desiring God.org. Search by topic, like "parenting" or "marriage" for resources.
Family Life Today - great resources for raising children and staying married
The Mission of Motherhood - one of my favorite authors on motherhood
More Hours in My Day - practical wisdom for mothers
A Deeper Kind of Calm - such a good book
Open Heart, Open Home - practical, compelling wisdom on hospitality
Homeschooling with a Meek and Quiet Spirit - a must read for any mother, regardless of whether you homeschool
She Shall be Called Woman - I was blessed by this audio series, full of practical wisdom
Love and Respect - one of my favorite books on marriage
True Woman Conference audio - more great podcasts here for during naptime or cleaning time
Revive Our Hearts - love these podcasts!
Andy Stanley on parenting
Eyes of Wonder blog - I've been blessed to know Jewels and can say she's just as lovely and gracious as she comes across in her blog
Celebrating Motherhood Every Day - another mother of many's writings
A Holy Experience - continually pointing us back to our need for Him; love Ann for this
Momma Bug's Blog - another mother of many's writings
Large Family Logistics - great book on the practical issues of mothering many
A Sane Woman's Guide to Raising a Large Family - another great book with practical wisdom
Let My People Think - because mom's need the meat of the word, podcasts like this are a life-saver
Round Table on Parenting - great parenting perspective
As always, I may not agree with everything written/spoken in the links above, but as a rule, they have encouraged me tremendously. Also, just a reminder that what I write here is not necessarily a representation of our local church that my husband serves in. I'm sure there are others which I am missing, so tell me, any other wisdom or resources you'd like to add to my lists?