This is a scheduled post.
I am pleased to be able to include a guest post from Brooke Benoit in my series of guest posts. Brooke is currently a mama to half a dozen exciting unschooled kids and blogs at ‘A Cliched Life‘. She lives just outside of Casablanca, Morocco where she is also an editor for SISTERS Magazine (the magazine for fabulous Muslim women) and an occasional jewelry maker.
It surprises me how many Muslims respond negatively at my having a large family. Worse is when they nearly reprimand me, demanding to know if I am “done” at six kids. I thought we all knew this one:
Wealth and children are an adornment of the worldly life. But the enduring good deeds are better to your Lord for reward and better for [one’s] hope. (Surah Al Kahf: 46)
I’m not into name brands. Having kids is my thing. Well, I have a few dunya-ey things that I really like to do, but raising my pack of kids is my main thing and not only do I give it a lot of my time and consideration, I do it pretty well and get a fair amount of satisfaction from it. Alhumdulillah. Over the years I have found that there are a lot of benefits (not just for me) to having a big family. Here are just a few:
- Learning to labor
Parenting begins with birth, and if you are birthing your own kids you may not realize what a crisis modern birthing practices are going through in the US (and just about everywhere) until you are actually in labor. Even the most well-informed soon-to-be parents step into the Labor & Delivery ward (or maybe their home birthing tub) and are shocked to find themselves bullied, disrespected and maybe even abused during the labor process. The most lovingly crafted birthing plan is not legally binding, but no one ever tells you that in a prenatal visit as they smile at the plan before tucking it into your file.
The actual birth of my first child came with a lot of frustration brought on by multiple hospital staff members I hadn’t met before being in labor. Still, I suspected that it could have been an amazing process without so much interference. Having six kids has given me a chance, not so much to perfect the birthing process, but certainly to enjoy it a little more as I have gotten to know it better and better. “Enjoying it more”, includes being more relaxed which extends into the bonding babymoon period which I have found to be extremely important to mama, baby and really the whole family’s well-being. My birthing experiences have run the scope from a hospital setting, to homebirths, to a hotel birth, to a necessary cesarean, to a difficult-to-acquire homebirth after cesarean and finally a fabulous ‘unassisted’ birth which only my husband attended (no doctors or midwives were present at all for that last birth).
Of course I know that some of my extreme birth experiences aren’t for everyone, but I still wish that more women could access better experiences and I think that could partially come from more women experiencing more births per body orbeing in contact with some of us multiparous mamas. Often when women go in to have their second child they feel a little better prepared, but then usually that is their last birth and they are relieved to be done with the entire thing. Maybe their second labor was a better experience, but still based on the way most people react when I say “It was a great birth!” I suspect that few women have what they would consider a stellar labor. Having so many birth experiences has led me to be an advocate for other women to have similar. You know, ‘want for your sister…’ Ultimately having many children is really something best to be done for an individual family, but there are great possible secondary benefits for society.
- Finding Parenting Styles
I was absolutely a helicopter parent with my first child. He ate almost entirely all organic, very little sugar and little processed foods. He had all of the finest educational toys and videos, and was well on his prodigy way. The second child was surrounded by even better learning materials as I had continued to learn about child development, and by the time the third child came along I was embracing the less is more methodology giving him an even better advantage than those first two spoiled children. There are memes abundant about the first child being kept pristine and dirt free, followed eventually by the fourth, fifth, or what-number-is-that-one child actually being allowed to eat dirt. But eating dirt is good! Check out the ‘hygiene hypothesis’ for the health benefits of kids occasionally consuming a little earth.
I have found that while I cannot effectively helicopter-parent all these kids, having six prevents me from being the permissive parent I sometimes long to be. I can only let them run things so much without living in absolute kiddie grunge, but they also have plenty of space to be comfortable in their own home. Having a lot of kids forces me to find a balance that works better for everyone, including recognizing that my children are individuals with individual needs instead of frankly objectifying them as so many contemporary parents do. Also, my friends with two or three kids are often surprised to find that sibling rivalry is nearly nonexistent in my family. Multiple kids have the opportunity to recognize each others’ different stages and strengths, unlike kids who spend the majority of their time with only similar aged kids at a school or just one sibling at home to spar with.
- Doing You
In the nature versus nurture argument, data is leaning towards modeling behavior again and again. A parenting style based on: “Do as I say, not as I do!” has repeatedly proven to fail. Whether kids are given an abundance of extracurricular activities intended to create well-roundedness or left to be more freerange, the things kids usually acquire the most from their parents are their habits, good or bad – that’s just about the most and best we parents have to offer our offspring.
With my first two I spent a lot of time trying to control them, controling their environments and little time controling or just improving me. I viscerally heard many messages about self-care and the importance of me time, but really I was so busy parenting that I didn’t have time for that other stuff. While many people don’t want to sacrifice their personal time and pleasure to having a whole bunch of kids to look after, for me, re-examining my worth and joy only came from being overwhelmed by trying to be a perfect parent to multiple kids. Now I do me by being creative, involved with various cultural and charitable projects, and just about anything else that helps me grow as a person. Ultimately my children benefit far more from having a mom who is gratified than when I was playing the mommy martyr role. The concept of modeling good behavior is a very deen-centered one, and so striving to be a better Muslim naturally comes with striving to be a better parent.
- It’s Good for the Environment
No, seriously. While overpopulation may make some living environments uncomfortable, the majority of people having multiple children are lower income folks who are not doing all the thoughtless spending that causes gross exploitation of resources and overflow in landfills. Families with many children are almost always forced to be more frugal, which means less waste, less resources used and so on. Don’t believe me? Come take a peek at my trash can and then compare it to all my 2.1 children-having neighbors. My kids know that if they don’t care for their things it may be a long wait before they can be replaced and if they want things too far above and beyond necessities they need to work for them.
Currently families in the US and other developed nations are staying well enough below the replacement line that a few of us having larger families isn’t going to hurt the earth or our neighborhoods. And again with this modeling stuff, I hope that I am raising a bunch of little environmental khalifas of our next generation, which reminds me…
- The Baraka!
For each good deed my children do that they learned from me, I get a reward for it. That’s a whole lot of incentive.
If you, like me, are an experiential person who learns by doing (and is maybe not too well organized or has difficulties prioritizing) having a whole bunch of kids could force you to get out of your own way and on with more balanced parenting and living. It’s good for the kids, too.