Costco. Sprinter van. Hand-me-downs. These are some of the words that I hear often when I share that I’m a mom of a big family— seven kids ranging in ages from one to fifteen. My story gets even juicier when people learn that of those seven kids are three sets of twins. Anything out of the ordinary naturally piques people’s interest and a family with more than the average of two kids falls into that category. So while I am used to fielding people’s questions and politely offering responses that offer a glimpse into our big family, there are definitely days when the curious or borderline obtrusive inquiries can hit a nerve.
The following are some questions and comments that you might want to avoid asking a mom of a big family when she is clearly juggling multiple tasks and many children at once. And if you’re a mom of a big family reading this article, get ready to nod your head in agreement to some of these zingers. I see you with your big families, mama!
Try to avoid saying these 6 things to moms of a big family:
1. How much is your grocery bill?
Clearly our grocery bills are bigger than yours, especially as the kids get older and consume more food. So why can’t we just leave it at that? When parents of big families get asked this question, it can feel like salt being rubbed into our wounds. Yes, of course I live at Costco. I mean you do realize that’s where you’re asking me this question right now, right?
2. You must have a big house and a sprinter van
This is a typical assumption about money in relation to big families. It makes sense that people are curious about how others can navigate the space challenges of multiple children when it’s hard enough to juggle an average-sized household in America these days. However, just like the question about grocery bills, asking about someone's home and automobile can be a sensitive topic because it’s highly likely that their house and cars feel very full.
3. How do you stay sane?
Real talk? Some days I don’t feel like I have it all together. There is a level of complexity when it comes to managing a big household. On a good day, this question doesn’t bother me as much as the money-related questions because I wonder if the person asking is trying to glean some helpful advice to apply to their own families. My typical answer comes down to systems. Much like running an organization, systems are essential for efficiency and order. When the systems aren’t established or start to break down, it leads to chaos. This is one of the important lessons that I learned when our first set of twins joined our family.
While it also helps that I am a mindfulness and meditation coach and author, you can still use mindfulness strategies to help you feel calm and focused as a parent. I have many examples in my book Mindfulness Journal for Parents.
4. You must not work
This assumption is irksome because first of all, raising a family IS work. Raising a bigger family is even more work. The words “must” and “should” are so loaded as they immediately infuse the conversation with a person’s expectations and biases. Having a big family does not preclude you from also having a job outside of raising your children. It just makes life more complex. I think many would agree that raising kids, whether you have one or seven, is a pretty hard job on its own.
5. How do you keep track of all of them?
Another variation to this question is, “I see you only have five of them with you. Where are the others?” At which point I go into panic mode. Truthfully, when I go out, it is tough to keep track of all of them, especially the younger ones. My eyes are constantly darting around keeping track of them as if I were a walking radar monitoring aircrafts in the sky. Simply put, it’s challenging. So please stop talking to me so I can keep track of all of them right now.
6. Are they all yours?
Personally, this question is the most upsetting because it is so intrusive. Once again, the question is infused with a person’s biases. In my particular case, I have an adopted child and several of my children (while biologically are my children) were born via surrogacy. The advice for this question is simply not to ask it because the kids are already in this person’s family and thus, clearly they are all their children.
Raising kids is a tough job in general, but raising a big family adds more complexity to life. If you’re a mom of a big family, always remember you’re doing an amazing job caring for so many kids. If you’re someone who knows or meets a mom of a big family, please be mindful of what you say to her. And remind her that she’s phenomenal, because compliments are always welcome.