Unhappy Consequences of Large Families


#1

PLEASE, don’t attack me. I feel horribly about all that I’m about to say, but I can’t help it.

I’m wondering if I am the only person who has dealt with this. I am the oldest of 10 children. I’m only 19, the baby is 4 years old. 10 children(and one miscarriage) in 17 years. A lot of other people, after they get over the shock, and “get to know” my family, think it’s so cool, and wonderful.

It’s not.

I love my family. I love all of my brothers(4) and sisters(5). I love my parents. I know they all love me. But sometimes love is not enough. I have spent so much time as a surrogate mother, I am more comfortable with children and babies than I am with people my own age. My mother, being perpetually pregnant, and having so many children to care for, was never able to give any one child much attention, even though she has homeschooled us all. I’m a freshman in college, and it’s the first time I’ve ever been in a traditional educational setting. I am only now beginning to have any sort of feeling that I matter at all as an individual being, and most of the time, I don’t. I was always just one of my parents many kids, and not even they had much time for me. My mother was technically my teacher, but by the time i was in high school, everything was left up to me. She couldn’t help me at all. At age 12, I started developing depression(there’s a long history of mental health problems on both sides of my family), and began cutting myself . I also started developing bulimia around this time. When I was 15, I tried to tell my parents that I needed help, but they didn’t think it was that big of a deal, and plus, they had I think 8 other children at the time to take care of. I didn’t get any sort of help until i was almost 18, which I had to fight for, and which I sometimes was not able to go to because my parents did not have the money for it. Up until I went into a psychiatric hospital, my parents had never even noticed that I had stopped any sort of normal eating, and would not eat for days at a time, never caught on the the extreme self-injury I was relying on to survive, or noticed that I was continually ODing on tylenol and advil to make me too sick to think or eat. They never noticed any of this. I was just one of the 10, and not one of the favored, either. Just a diaper changer/ dishwasher/ sweeper/ cook/ laundry person/ free babysitter/ extra expense/ guinea pig. Kind of a failed experiment, too, since some of the younger ones are like me, but better. Smarter, not as hyper or violent, quieter, better with people.

I’m 19 now, and moved out, and doing better. But I still am struggling with wanting attention so badly, but never feeling that I deserve it, or anything else positive, or that I have any kind of worth whatsoever. I would like to say that I am the only member of my family who has had these problems, but it would be a lie. I try not to blame my parents for anything, but I can’t help feeling that I might have been a somewhat healthier person mentally if my parents had been able to give me more attention.

I hate to feel like this, since my parents made such a big deal about being open to God’s plans, and using NFP(the only reason they’ve stopped having kids is because my mom had to have a hysterectomy to save her life). And I do really love all of my brothers and sisters, and my parents. But it seems as though other people that I’ve met who were somewhat in my position never have the feelings that I have. Maybe I’m the one with the problem, I don’t know.


#2

First of all, although I can’t relate since I only have one brother and one sister, never think you are the only one with a problem. The reality is any family is tough and people generally tend to focus on the negatives including myself. My family was and still is very disfunctional and the only thing that keeps us going is the money my dad gives us. Mental illness is a sad part of many people’s lives and the only thing to consider is that God understands our sufferings so one can just offer it up to God in prayer. Also, everone is different. Some people are happier in large familes and others are not. With 10 children simple probability and statistics will tell you some of the children are going to be more happy with less physical conditions, mental conditions, etc. However, others will be more talented in other ways. Focus on the good and learn from your experience. For example, I have learned based on what I saw my dad do that working long hours and having lots of money doesn’t necessary give you a happy family that will stay together. Even though people might be jealous of what I have thanks to my dad, I would honestly trade it for some of the happy families I see that are together but have much less. You have learned that having a large family is probably not the best scenario for being happy for you. Therefore, use your skills you learned as taking care of children and babies and when you one day have your own small family if you choose to have one, you will probably be a great mother.

In regards to your other concerns, get involved more with your faith as much as possible and find groups such as Newman Centers or other catholic or even secular activites in groups you enjoy. I have a lot of problems myself, the worst of which is anxiety, and then to a lesser extent depression. However, I love being a part of the Newman Center and am so thankful for it and the people who have help strengthen my faith. I know that as long as I maintain that and am always involved in some way with my faith, then the problems I have are gernally under control and I am happier.


#3

I don’t know if this will be helpful at all to you, but I do hear your pain. I sort of had the opposite problem, though. I have 1 sister that is 8 years older than I am. My parents divorced when I was 3 (my sister blamed me for a long time and was often very mean to me). I always longed for reconciliation and for more siblings. I was always lonely, horribly shy and had physical ailments under the stress. My mother had a string of boyfriends and husbands–all disasters (1 physically abusive to her, in my presence). Thankfully, my father was more stable during all of this, I think that’s one of the reasons I didn’t turn out a complete mess, lol. I also was blessed with a few good, Christian friends in highschool, that ultimately led me to the Catholic church (a long winding road, lol). These friends really grounded me. I think this may be part of the answer for you. Find some good, solid, Catholic friends and get involved with Church ministry (along with some type of either Pastoral or Catholic counseling).

I managed to find a wonderful husband (we’ve been married almost 13 years) and have compensated for my small childhood family by having 5 (soon to be 6) children. Your warning is noted, though. My dh and I make a concerted effort to spend time with each child and make sure they are emotionally okay and physically okay.

So I think my point is, each family dynamic is different–large or small–and each has it’s only problems and issues. Life is often what you make of it. You’ll do the best if you find the solutions to your problems. Don’t forget to rely on Mary and the Saints in prayer and of course on Jesus, through the sacrament of Reconcilliation and Eucharist and through prayer.

May God bless you and heal you.

Jennifer


#4

One of the problems is that it has affected my faith. I’ve almost left the Church more than once, and at least one my siblings already has. During high school, my only socialization(other than message boards) was when I attended Church youth functions. Going to them, I would try so hard to be open to God, and let Him heal me and speak to me, and it always seemed like He couldn’t be farther away. And the other people there made it seem so easy, like they were better than me for some reason. I don’t know why. It’s gotten to where all I can do is go to Confession and Mass, and leave asap. The only time since childhood that I’ve felt that God actually cared or was paying attention was when I met my fiance. So that’s strengthened me in my faith, but I still struggle. I just don’t understand how my parents, through trying so hard to follow God and be open to His will, created this enviroment that is so painful for me. I hate going back to their house. I love them and miss them, but I cry so much when I’m there, it’s like I never left.


#5

I think you are grappling with an image or culture of big families that likes to emphasize the goodness of a big family.

Meanwhile, the reality is nobody is perfect and everyone has difficulties in life. Some people, probably a lot of people, have a difficult and painful childhood and/or a bad relationship with their parents. This happens whether you have 1 sibling or 20. Statistics tell us that more than 20 million Americans suffer from a mental illness.

The kicker is those with many children tend to form alliances or friendships with similar big families and everyone tends to pat each other on the back for support, ignoring the glaring problems.

I was part of a community like that. Now, I did experience a really wholesome childhood and I feel that my parents have been a blessing in my life. But I was still affected by that big family image because I saw many, many of my friends suffering with no one to help them.

I knew kids who were “surrogate mothers” who had no identity, no freedom, no ability to make their own choices or grow up. I saw friends suffering from mental illness, acting out, depressed, doing crazy things and their parents were too busy or too poor to do anything about it.

I watched other people be ignored by their parents or be denied an ability to grow into their own person. It happens and a lot of people pretend it doesn’t.

But you are past that now and the important question to ask is: are you going to move on? Are you going to take things into your own hands? Have you reached out to others for help? Have you looked into counseling? Are you receiving treatment for your illness?


#6

It’s sounds like you are in the midst of a “dark night of the soul” where you feel God has abandoned you. Many saints have experienced such things (St Therese, John of the Cross wrote a poem about it, there are others).

Something to also remember is that Faith isn’t necessarily a feeling. Just like real LOVE–it’s about action–actually LIVING your faith, whether you ‘feel’ it or not.

I’ll offer a rosary for you today. God bless,
Jennifer


#7

Sing,

I sympathize with you in so many ways. I have six brothers. I’m # 3 and the only girl. We range in age now from 27 to the baby being 16. I have struggled with depression off and on for many years. Sometimes severe. Counseling hasn’t been the helpful event I thought it would be either. I know how it is to feel extremely overwhelmed with having to help take care of everyone else even from a very young age. You want to break out so bad and find who you are as an individual. We’re all much older now and I still feel like “Little Mom” to all of my brothers. Cleaning up the mess in their lives and taking on the responsiblity of their problems as well as my own. I think that it also affects my ability to have a good relationship on my own in a lot of ways. I fee like my responsibility is to the family I already have. It seems like it never ends. I would like to be there for you if you need to talk to me privately. But, know that you will always been in my prayers. Don’t feel guilty about being overwhelmed. It can seem difficult to keep your faith too. I have “lost” my faith so many times I can’t count them all. Please don’t give up on God. He carries us through these trials. When I’m feeling like you, I think of the Footprints in the Sand poem. It doesn’t always make me all fired up about my faith, but it gives me a little motivation. Please dont’ quit praying either. That is so important. Like I said, If you need to talk just let me know.


#8

Me too! Please know that you will be in my prayers, Sing! When you feel hopeless, say “Jesus, I trust in You to give me Your Peace!” Just keep saying it over and over, and you’ll see that in a few minutes you will start to feel a little better.


#9

Its often easy to blame your family for problems that crop in your life. But just consider that alot of your problems might have occurred anyway even if you had had only one or two siblings. My family was relatively small, one of three brothers, and being the oldest, the responsibilities that came with it was always a source of my identity. That being said, my twin brother, who was naturally, the same age except for a few minutes, seemed to have trouble establishing his sense of self worth (though he now seems to have finally worked out the details and is now in the Seminary in Rome).

The one area that might have been a hinderence in your life was the concept of homeschooling. I understand it is popular these days, particularly amongst some conservative Christians and conservative Catholics. In this case though, it might have prevented you from developing your own sense of self. You always identified yourself as part of your family and I am sure everyone you associated with yourself associated equally with your siblings. In a more conventional setting you might have had a chance to develop friendships and interests independent of your family. Of course then again, your situation might have developed the same way.


Bill


#10

Sing:

I have observed, though thankfully not directly experienced, some of what you described in my extended family. My mother had 10 younger sibs and was, along with her next younger sister, the co-mom to half a dozen kids at any given time for as long as she was in her parents’ home. Some of her sibs in adulthood left the Church over this precise issue because they tied much of the hardship they experienced to their perceived message from the Church being “have as many kids as you body happens to produce” and not necessarily “have only as many you can reasonably and responsibly handle.” For the record, I don’t personally believe the Church encourages irresponsible over-procreation. I do see certain communities within the Church that have adopted a militant pro-life position that seems to encourages as many kids, as fast as possible and views any limits on procreation (other than life-threatening physical conditions) as immoral.

Since we can’t revisit the choices our parent made, it is essential for all of us as we enter our own adulthood and child-bearing years to carefully, prayerfully and critically consider our fertility. Not all bodies physically capable of producing 5 - 8 - 10 - 12 kids have the mental, emotional or practical abilites to manage the overwhelming demands of that many children. In such cases, it is not only moral, but imperative to recognize one’s limits along with one’s gifts in taking on only the parenting responsibilites that can be managed in a healthy way for all members of the family.


#11

Sing,

A lot of your situation with lack of socialization sounds like it stems from the homeschooling/chores keeping you from getting away from your family for a while. All large families are not like your experience and not all homeschooled kids are as isolated either. What’s done is done and you cannot change your past. However, you can change your future. I can understand how seeing them is not always fun right now. My large extended family is sometimes best loved from a distance.

Instead of dwelling on the past problems I think you have an opportunity to move forward and learn who you are on your own. Please don’t rush into marriage as a way to “get away” from your past life. If you are not a “whole” person who has dealt appropriately with your own issues, then you cannot be a good spouse to another healthy person. No other person can complete you! You sound like you couuld benefit from spending a number of years of learning to live on your own in the world to see who you can be without the pressure of caring for siblings, etc. Find your joy by finding what really appeals to you in the world like music or art or literature. Reinvent yourself into the person you want to be.

You can find some women roomies and live economically if need be until you find a good job after school. Take some time to grow spiritually such as attending a women’s retreat or even a coed retreat sponsored by your Newman Center, a local parish or some other Catholic group. Find a cause that you are passionate about like maybe helping at a women’s shelter or with pro-life issues and get involved and meet new friends in that manner. You might have to “fake it until you make it.” In other words, you might feel uncomfortable or really afraid being more social, but you can paste on a smile and get out there anyway until you are more comfortable actually doing it.

I did this reinvention thing when I moved to another country after 7th grade. I decided that I was tired of being painfully shy, socially backward and afraid of the world with only a few friends. When I moved I just sucked it up and decided that I could sit home afraid or get out in the world afraid and possibly make a few friends along the way. I won’t lie and say it was not really hard at first. However, I ended up having a wonderful rich life from then right on through college and out the other side. I still get nervous in certain situations and I can feel lonely at times, but it does not stop me from living anymore.

I know that if you can really give this situation over to God and trust that He will bring you better things than you can imagine, it will work out in the long haul. Remember, things don’t always happen for us on our timetable but rather on His timetable.


#12

Sing,

Your life’s story isn’t over with yet.

Keep close to God and eventually you may begin to see that you are actually better off because of your experiences in a large family.

I know I’ve been putting it on resumes. I’ve shared cubicles that are ordinarily sized for one person. I defused situations entirely without supervisor’s interventions. I always got along with roommates in college.

Was I outgoing, “type-A” personality? Heck no! But that isn’t the be-all end-all of social skills. I know plenty of type-A’s who are dull and boring outside a party setting.

And as for your psychological handicaps, I suggest reading some biographies of famous people. Merriwether Lewis was an alcoholic, and often depressed. But he lead an expedition of men across the continent. Abe Lincoln wasn’t exactly a socialite. A lot of great people did great things IN SPITE OF some very serious battles with depression.

In fact, I sometimes wonder if those people would have accomplished anything if they were put on ridiline and made to “fit in”. Perhaps they acheived great things “because of” their depressions.


#13

very nice and wise post.


#14

You are getting a lot of wise counsel, Sing.

Don’t forget to count your blessings: for one, you are well trained in managing a household and doing domestic tasks.

Two, you have been trained in being a selfless servant, just like Jesus.

Three, you may have not had a wide social circle, but you also didn’t have to deal with a lot of the garbage other kids you age have to deal with.

I was the youngest of four. And, I felt neglected because my folks were always working. So, it goes both ways.

Also, with the oldest kid, parents sometimes feel at a lost when their child is going through angst. Is it a “phase”? Is it normal hormones? Your parents probably were more at a lost to know what to do rather than not caring.

I want to encourage you to think about how your childhood was preparing you for whatever mission God has for you. Childhood is not suppose to be a time of play only, but also a time of preparation.

Don’t compare yourself to the world.


#15

This is wonderful advice. Please don’t rush into something you will regret. Take time to heal first. It will be the best investment of time you ever make.


#16

Hello Sing,

Your experience at “Church youth functions” sounds pretty typical for high school…this is just how high-schoolers act. When I started college, I found that people in Church groups were much more “realistic” and understanding. If you haven’t been doing so, I urge to get involved in your college’s Catholic student group…there will be all different kinds of people there.


#17

I agree with what some people have said here… I’m not trying to belittle your pain, but believe me, I only have 1 sister and my family is one of the worse you’ll ever meet…
If you look for dysfunctional in the dictionary, you’ll probably find my family portrait there…:rolleyes:

I had TONS of problems, and eating disorders was just a tiny one out of MANY more, self-mutilation among them. And taking into consideration that we were only two, my problems also were overlooked or didn’t seem like “big deals”, so I think in your case was more of bad parenting than anything else…

Maybe your parents did wrong in making you change diapers and do the cores not only of a teenager but as a temporarily substitute mom too…

I plan to have what would be considered a big family, if that’s what God wants of course, always in a responsible way.

I’ve also read a lot and educated myself before starting such a journey, I owe it to my family and I owe it to God too.

And one of the things I’ve read as advice from moms that have big families is not to use your older children as nannies or do ANY function that a mom should be doing, like you described, changing diapers or babysitting… (she even suggested that if you EVER do, to pay your child like you would with a nanny, it seemed fair to me)

Sure that ANYONE that belongs to a family should help with the house cores, but with what you described, maybe your mom assigned too many responsibilities in you. Maybe more than your other friends with fewer siblings had… Making you feel somewhat exploited…?

About the attention, I insist, it was maybe the way your parents managed the situation of having many kids… Because my mom grew up among 7 other siblings, and I’ve never heard her complain about not getting enough attention…
The ONLY thing I’ve ever heard my mom kinda complain about, is how she felt sorry for her mom because my grandma couldn’t go out or have a life outside the family, her life was only the kids and husband… But that’s all, and anyway, my grandma never complained either, she always felt blessed to have healthy kids and a loving husband.

So I don’t really fear having a big family, neither should you in my opinion…

But you’re always called to live a life in Christ…
The way I surpassed all my problems before was ONLY with the help of God… No therapy, no psychiatrist will EVER help you as much as our Lord will, I’m telling you because that’s my experience, he healed me from depression, eating disorders, self-mutilation, alcoholism, and many other behavioural problems, all resentment towards the people that once hurt me in my life is gone!

If you ever met me, you’d never guess that I could ever be that type of person… You can only see happiness in my face, in good times, and even more in the bad times.

Pray and embrace your faith with the strength that the Holy Spirit will give you.

God bless you!!! hugs:thumbsup:


#18

sing, I do know what you mean. I came from a large family and had similar issues. My parents did not homeschool and were financially well off so we were not isolated socially. But still I very much remember the feeling that there were too many children and not enough attention. And I notice that in most other large families too. In large families, activities and attention are for the “majority”. And if an individual child has needs different than the “majority”, those needs or concerns often get overlooked. I very much resented my mother dismissing my feelings because I was “the only one who felt that way”. The implication being that if I was the only one who felt that way then I was wrong or my feelings were unimportant.

My advice to you is to use your college years and young adult years to find out who you are. Do not rush into marriage until you know who you are. Learn to like yourself and enjoy who you are and what makes you uniquely you. Don’t forsake your Catholic faith but use it to build your sense of self. Become the person God wanted you to be. Focus on you, not in a selfish hedonistic way, but in a self-aware holy way.

I am 30 years older than you and I struggled through many of the issues that you are feeling now. I was angry at my parents, competitive with my siblings. I married later (in my late 20s). Maybe because I married later, I had the opposite problem as my mother–infertility. So my very wonderful husband and I have a very small family. I am very proud of the mother that I am. I think my parenting is not only because I have a small family but also because I learned who I was, I waited to marry, I married the right guy, and I thought and read a lot about parenting. And now in our 40s, my siblings and I have become supportive and close in ways that we weren’t in our 20s and 30s. I am also at peace with my parents who are going through the difficulties of aging. Hang in there, pray, and look forward to the life that you will build for yourself. God bless.


#19

I’ll second (third?) the advice about using this time on your own to your advantage. I am the youngest of six (not homeschooled), so the opposite of your situation. I know the older ones, especially the oldest girl, did help take care of the younger ones, and maybe did feel burdened. Other side of the coin: because of the big gap between me and the next, I often felt like I had seven parents all telling me what to do, not siblings. We fought a fair bit when we all lived together, but once we were older, started moving out, we felt much closer and more equal. When I was younger thought I would go far away to school, but in the end I was like, “no way, I’ll miss everyone!”

I’m saying this to offer hope that it will get better as you have some distance and independence, and your resentment will turn to understanding.


#20

Sing, I think a lot of how you view the present, the past, and the future is very much colored by depression.

I used to expereince depression regularly with my cycle - a highly predictable monthly bout for 2-5 days. Every month my worldview - past, present and future would become darkly bleak. It really seemed to be coming from without, not within. I’d ruminate, analyze - until it was just sadness and there seemed no logic to the level of my sadness.

Thats when I’d remember it was monthly! And that I could count on this mood swinging rapidly in the other direction in a day or two.

I did get better at managing my moods since it was so predictable, but making nutritional changes changed all that. Both the depression and the physcial symptoms of PMS ended, for good.

For me, besides fewer white carbs and at least a little raw fruit or veggies regularly, the key for me was potassium, B-12, and daily cod-liver oil. I believe these are common remedies for depressin, but everyone’s is different. Up north, the Cod-liver oil is very important because it has Vitamin D which we don’t get enough of up here. It has made a huge difference in my mood. No more winter depression.

If you google “depression, nutritional remedies” if would be a good learning start as to what typical deficits are related to depression and you could compare that to your habits.

It seems to me that its imperative to get a handle on the depression. Otherwise you can’t possibly sort out the other issues without getting all muddled up. You can’t know how much of it is the depression coloring how you analyze everything and how much of it is the real issues.

Also maybe you are suffering from being parented by a depressed or disfunctional parent. Or their parenting was affected by being raised by the same, and its effects have trickled down. I say this because you said it was in your family. And a disfunctional family can be large or small.

A counselor helps with the psychological side of depression. Also there is a physiological side, and doctors often prescribe drugs, particularly seratonin-reuptake-inhibitors, and they are effective because depression altars your brain chemistry and these get it back to a happier state. But research about the side-effects.

Also research natural alternatives to the same drugs because there are many effective ones. 5HTP is understood to affect the same area that the drugs do but is a simple herb with positive side-effects. A few people I know swear by it, and its sold even in Walmart and there’s lots online about it.

Here is an interesting list of what not to say to a depressed person. It covers most things most people would say. But its a delicate time! wingofmadness.com/information/worst_things.htm

I looked that up because I was remembering a wonderful list of what not to do for a depressed person in the book Healing the Wounded Spirit by John and Paula Sanford. I highly reccommend this book for the spiritual side of depression. Because that is the other dimension to depression.

Don’t forget that the Mass and the Sacraments are a powerful spiritual reality and its normal to *feel *nothing of their reality when you are depressed. But they are your spiritual protection.


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