Tuesday, August 5

Better Together

by Ajike Akande

It may come as a surprise to you, but when Wife and I decided to have a whack of kids, we didn’t think at all about what being one of many would mean for the children.  I know, this is hard to believe, but Wife and I are not of the thinking variety.  If it makes you feel any better, which it shouldn’t, we also didn’t give much thought to how much making (some of our beauties were created with a lot of expensive help as the absence of sperm wasn’t our only fertility issue) and raising a large family would cost.  It is not at all lost on me, that the fact that we could even make our babes without the stress of finances, says a great deal about our economic privilege.

Wife and I were kind of selfish in regards to creating our family.  We wanted ‘lots of children.  We love children and wanted the honour of helping them grow into the wonderful adults they were meant to be.  We wanted a house full of the energy that only small wonders have.  We have always felt that kids are the greatest blessing, a remarkable gift.  We wanted the honour, they would be our blessing and our gift.  Do you see what I’m getting at here?  Of course we thought we would be great parents and that children would do well be raised by us.  We thought we were right for the job.  I for one, was a SPWC (superior parent without child) prior to becoming an actual parent so naturally I assumed that I would be awesome at this whole thing and never make the mistakes that I witnessed others making while I was a SPWC.  (Little did I know I would create my own unique brand of parenting mistakes!)  The point is, we thought only about ourselves when it came to making our family.

Z, being the first little one that we brought home, enjoyed all the perks of being an only child.  Before our first set of twins were born, Z certainly didn’t ask for a sibling, but he certainly dealt well once Miss O and G-dog arrived. When he found out that he was going to get a little brother out of my last pregnancy, Z was thrilled but the girls were pretty neutral about two more little people joining our family of five.  The big sisters did not easily deal with the arrival of The Littles but I believe that they just weren’t ready.  Miss O was still receiving occupational and speech-language therapy and needed a lot of one on one time and G-dog, who developed more typically, probably didn’t get all that she needed in her early years.  In spite of Miss O’s significant needs and the more typical needs of our then four year old and other two year old, we tried for a fourth and got a fourth and fifth! 
We, along with close family and friends, have said at different times, that each of our kids probably would have done well as only children.  We are careful to say “done well” rather than “done better” because why criticize what truly cannot be changed.  What’s a mom to do with that?  It’s too late!  Whenever I talk to people raised in big families they always say how wonderful it was to grow up always having someone to play with and talk to.  Growing up in a big family means you’re never alone which, of course, means you are never alone. 

When Miss O was diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) the occupational therapist explained that she needs a predictable and highly structured environment until she is better able to self-regulate when she is overwhelmed by sensory input.  Well, sorry about your family Miss O, best of luck achieving calm among the chaos!  Over the past few years, G-dog has grown so anxious about how people feel about her and I can’t help but wonder if being one of many is the cause of this anxiety.  She worries, more than normal, how much we love her, if we made an angry face, if her siblings love each other more than they love her, and even if grandparents and caregivers love her as much as the others.  It’s easy to get lost in the shuffle around here and some of our children seem to feel more lost than others. 

Z, being older and extremely self-aware, is able to talk about his feelings around being one of many.  Several months ago I took him to dinner and a movie and he said, “I love being alone with you.  If I was an only child I could be alone with you all the time.  Sometimes I like to pretend I don’t have any brothers and sisters.”  Then fearful that I would launch into a speech about how fortunate he is to have so many siblings, he added “But I really like all my little sisters and brother - especially Mr.  Lee!”  Given that Z is the only Silverman-Akande kid without a twin, I am so happy to witness the greatest love affair of all time, between the brothers. 

Like with everything, there are benefits and drawbacks to being one of many.  Because there’s no going back, we try to acknowledge what our kiddos have lost by having so many siblings, while preaching, loudly and often, how lucky they are to have each other.  We are desperate to build a team spirit among our basketball team sized brood that says “better together”.  Sadly, right now, their “better together” spirit is mostly seen when we are trying to get them to listen to us.  There is nothing more frustrating that five little buggers laughing in your face – together! 

We are on our second, weeklong FIT (family immersion time), aka family vacation, up at “Nanny’s farm”.  The children have been given two main rules for the week: 1.  Go outside and run in the fields.  Don’t go toward the road and don’t come back until you are hungry or someone is hurt.  Oh and stay together!  2.  Ask three, then me.  (This rule will be familiar to teachers.)  Need help to reach something?; Need help with your shoes?; Want a push on the swing?  Ask three, then me.  These rules are all about learning to take care of each other and to leave us alone!  I’m just kidding about them leaving us alone, but in truth we need want them to depend on each other and look out for each other.  I think a week with no schedule (How’s that workin’ for ya Miss O?) and wide-open space is a great start to project “Better Together”. 

We decided we were big family parents, without considering if we would have big family children.  We created this big family before considering what it would mean for our children.  A few years into each of our kids being one of five we are thinking and talking about how wonderful and how hard it is for them, not just us.  I get a lot of attention for being a mom of many but people rarely talk about what it is like for our children.  Given that we created this mess, I mean beautiful family, we should probably be the ones to start the conversation. 

What do you think?  Are you a parent of many?  What are your thoughts on this?  How are your little ones doing being part of a pack? Were you raised in a big family?  What were the best and worst things about your childhood?  I would love to hear about other people’s experiences.  Share your thoughts in the comments. 

XO Ajike


Anonymous said...

I've read elsewhere that people sometimes feel their children chose their parents before birth. If you are of this persuasion, then they chose you as much as you chose to have them.

Anonymous said...

I grew up in a big family (my parents had 6 children) and I wanted a big family but complications during pregnancy and a later hysterectomy resulted in having an only child. Sometimes things don't work out the way we planned but my little family is happier than I ever imagined.

Anonymous said...

I'm one of six and mom to 2. As an adult, I love being part of a large family. My siblings and I love each other. We're not all very close but each of us is close to one or two of the others. I often feel sad that my children won't get that experience. BUT, parenting 2, I can see that family size what a difference family size makes especially in this day and age and cultural context.
In my home country, people still routinely have 4-6 kids and it's a non-issue as the "village" raises the children. In Canada, there's a more intimate relationship between parents and children. No matter how lovely and supportive one's family and friends, raising children falls squarely on the parents' shoulders. Throw in space and weather constraints and things can be more challenging e.g. I can imagine my parents wouldn't have gotten a lot of winter family play date invitations if they lived in Canada. Assuming the hosts have 2-3 kids of their own, a playdate with a family of 6 children and 2 parents would push many City homes to the limit.
As a child, I really liked being lost in the crowd of kids. There was a feeling that you could fly under the radar when you needed to. As an adult, I see things a little differently. I realise, for instance, that my parents have little independent memories of us as kids. They tell many stories about the eldest and we all tell stories about the 6th. There are also a lot of stories about my brother who got into the most trouble of the lot but the other 3 of us have a few stories here and there but there is no recollection of milestones. My mom sometimes attributes the same story to a different child each time she tells a story. I sometimes wonder if there are skills I'd have developed if someone had been paying closer attention, for instance.
But, by and large, I am SO grateful to my parents for our large family. My siblings are the greatest gifts my parents could have given me and I wouldn't change it for a day. It sounds to me like you guys are the right parents for a large family. You are present, attentive and trying to be deliberate about how you parent these gifts you have been given. One-on-one time with the kids is such a great idea. Even with our 2, I discover new things about our 2nd when we are one on one. We had time to get to know our 1st one-on-one before her but we're having to deliberate in creating time to learn about her independent of him.
It's hard to work in one on one time with 2 so I can only imagine how much harder it is with 5 but even once or 2ce a year would be precious. one of my dearest memories is of sitting with my dad eating out of his plate. I don't know how it was that we ended up one-on-one that day but we did and it's imprinted on my mind even though I have very few memories from my early childhood. The effort is worth it, even once a year. Plus, you guys are doing a remarkable job. And, remember that they are only so dependent for about 10 years and probably gone by 20 and, life permitting, you'll have 40-50 years of enjoying being their parent without all the work of it. This chaotic phase will be over before you know it. I won't say 'so enjoy it' cause some parts are not enjoyable but I will say "hang in there" and kudos to you two.
so sorry about my book chapter. I'm clearly fascinated by the topic.

Anonymous said...

This is a great piece. Not sure how I stumbled across your blog - especially as a woman who has had 7 pregnancies and 7 miscarriages - but I love the thoughtfulness.

Also, Ajike, I used to share a bill with you sometimes back in the day. My band would play and you and ???? Would often play in the same bill. Interesting to see where our lives have led us!
Sandy Wynia Katz