Friday, August 10, 2007

Contrary to Perception

If you read my wife's blog you know something is up for our family. She and I have agreed that it will be her blog that gives details, so I won't be any more specific at this time, but our upcoming announcement casues me to reflect upon a misperception that we have faced many times over the past eleven years of our adoptive parenting experience.

It was a perception I was reminded of last night while Claudia and I were meeting with an individual who has a role in our family's upcoming change (I am trying to be ambiguous, can you tell?) She said, "When I visited your family last week I was surprised that with seven kids still living in your home just how calm things were." The perception many people hold is that families with more than 2 children must by definition be places of chaos, where parents are constantly harried and children neglected because there isn't enough time for each one.

It is, in fact, a perception I held myself for the first thirty-some years of my life. I grew up in a family where I was the only child for seven years, when a sister became part of my life. Our family home was quite small, and I remember the feelings of intrusion I had in those early years that someone else was coming in to rival my position with parents, grandparents and family friends. Things have worked out just fine, and now I enjoy the time I have with my sister when she is able to be back in Minnesota from her abode in Rochester, NY (her husband is a professor of botany at the University of Rochester, where she also works in conjunction with him. They both have earned Ph.D.'s, so I am proud of both of them).

Growing up in the 1970s I knew very few large families. The largest family I ever interacted with was my mother's cousin's family, which included four children. Looking back, I remember thinking how odd it would be to have more than one sibling. There were, in my broader family history, multiple children settings, as my father's family consisted of thirteen children (my grandmother gave birth to her first child in 1922 and her last child in 1946!). In the communities in which I lived and went to school, there were two other large fammilies that I knew. One of them was a faithful Catholic family (which in those days meant many children) comprising ten children (I believe). The other was a family formed through adoption of older kids, something virtually unheard of it in that era in the small commmunity (population 2200) where I went to high school.

It was a multiracial family, and at least a couple of the kids had recognizable emotional challenges. Even then, during my high school years, I was intrigued with the possibility of what adoption could do for kids otherwise forgotten by society. I'm not sure, but I have a feeling that is where I acquired my first sense that adoption could be a marvelous gift. I think I might have even pondered in my heart how one day I would like to provide that opportunity to kids caught in the grips of foster care. While I never knew the kids in that family very well, I did have classes with at least two of the brothers, so I knew them to be good-natured (although troubled) kids who did their best to fit in (like all kids in high school do) in a community where traditional family and social mores were the norm. Even as I type these words I can picture the two brothers in question sitting in study hall. Funny how some things lodge in the memory bank.

I couldn't imagine in those years of my life, nor in the two decades that followed, what it must be like to have "that many" kids in one house. How in the world could two parents handle the stress, the pressure, the financial expectations? How would a child ever grow up feeling like she or he had sufficient attention or care provided with so much competiton? What of the social stigma that comes with that number of people residing together? Where would everyone sleep, eat, play, watch TV? My perception was that large families were to be pitied, questioned, even ridiculed. With thoughts of population control (one of the big pushes of the 1970s especially) dancing in my head, I believed large families to be irresponsible, careless and foolish.

Contrary to perception (even my own), living with more than two children in one household is not as chaotic or stressful or damaging as I thought it might be. I do not have time in this blog entry to enumerate the multiple ways that our lives are enhanced and enriched by the gift of multiple children. Most of our children are growing up to be responsible, caring, loving citizens of the world. They have learned what it means to share time, money and attention with others. They do not feel neglected (any more than any child at times feels), they do not feel deprived, they are not negative about having multiple siblings. I bear no guilt for having irresponsibly populated the earth since these children were born in my heart not from my loins.

A case in point involves the announcement to come on Claudia's blog soon. We announced details to our children who were home last night, and each person (even our rather moody fourteen-year-old daughter) expressed joy and anticipation. Our oldest son who has sometimes been less than enthusiastic about changes like this (early on he felt he would receive less or have less time when our family life has expanded) thinks it's a great idea, too.

If you have wondered about large family life, whether it's good for a child or not, I invite you to consider our family. We are not perfect, there are moments of stress (as in all families), there are times when the dollar has to stretch further than we would like, but you will find a relatively happy bunch of kids who are growing up in an environment which is never lonely, deadly silent or boring (even if they claim to be bored on occasion). You, whomever you might be, have an open invitation to visit us to see for yourself that contrary to perception a large family is a viable, even a very healthy option, for children, especially children who have experienced early years of abuse or neglect.

My perception has been changed over the years. If you have a negative perception of large families, I hope we might be able to change yours, too.

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