Wednesday, March 5, 2014

The Case for Siblings

(Cross-posted at Catholic Exchange)

As I sit here with a few stolen minutes to give to my keyboard, my newborn daughter napping in my lap and my two young sons playing soccer in the backyard with the teenager I pay to entertain them twice a week, I can't help but worry that sometimes my children are being shortchanged by, well, each other.

When my husband and I got married in the Catholic Church, we vowed "to accept children lovingly from God" and thus far we've said yes 3 times in 4.5 years. That's a whole lot of yeses, and to be honest, some days I feel the weight of how many "no's" I must say to them each on a daily basis because of it.

No, I can't read with you right now, I'm doing the laundry…want to help me?

No, I can't play cars with you, I'm nursing your sister. 

No, you cannot watch me take a shower.

No, this isn't a good time to go ride bikes in the driveway. I'm giving your brother a bath.

And on and on.

I was thumbing through our city's rec center summer activity guide, and I sighed as I contemplated the cost and logistics of undertaking pre school swimming lessons for our 3 year old.

It's just too much right now. Maybe next summer. Heck, I was a lifeguard in high school, maybe we'll buy a family pass and I'll teach him myself…while trying to keep his brother and sister alive at the same time.

By our culture's standards for raising happy and well-adjusted kids, mine are being seriously shortchanged. They wear thrifted clothes and play with garage sale toys. They don't have iPads. They share a bedroom at night and they share mom three ways by day. Working from home allows me to be more physically present to them, but mentally and emotionally I'm often far away. Even when all the chores are done and the deadlines are met, there is sometimes little left of me by 5 pm other than a docile willingness to be led to the couch for a few mindless repetitions of the Grumpy Ladybug.

We don't do tons of activities because, quite frankly, taking all three of them somewhere more exciting than Costco is just hard. Right now it feels like it has always been hard, and I wonder whether things will change when they are a little older.

Then there are moments like this morning, when my oldest son looks lovingly at his 2-month old sister kicking her legs in the air on the family room carpet and asks me when she will be big enough to play with him, because "he can't wait!"

Those moments give me the strength to keep soldiering through these demanding, physically draining days of herding toddlers and nursing babies. We're in a rebuilding phase, and these are the investment years. I know it, because I've seen it with my own eyes.

This past weekend my younger sister got married to a wonderful man. She is the 3rd of seven kids, and all of us stood at the altar with them and witnessed their vows. We partied late into the evening afterwards, burning it up on the dance floor until we were quite literally the last people to exit the building. When I look at the seven of us together, spanning from middle school to early parenthood, it's mind blowing to see the beauty and the camaraderie that has emerged from the early years of chaos and sacrifice and never-enough-to-go-around.

There was more than enough, as it turned out. And when I think back on our childhood, all I see are the good things my parents were able to give us because of their "yeses" … all seven of them. I have friendships spanning decades that will last all my life long; in short, my parents made the ultimate estate planning decision, and our inheritance will be rich indeed.

So tonight at bedtime, frazzled and exhausted, I resolve to try to savor the sweet madness of two little boys jumping in and out of each other's cribs while a fussing baby demands her after-dinner snack. Yes, it's hard right now…but they're worth it. We're investing in generations, after all.


  1. Yes, yes, yes! I love this post! Never was anything more true. The best thing you can give your children is each other.

  2. Jenny, this post is beautiful, as your others have been! I wanted to tell you that I'm sorry about your Postpartum Depression. It hits me, too, and it's just the worst. We'll be praying for you! I grew up in a family of three and I'm pregnant now with my fourth hoping to give our children a few more siblings. I always love hearing about big families. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Yes, their inheritance will be rich!

    Beautiful post, Jenny!

  4. the story of my life. This is perfect. Thank God my boys love each other, because we never leave the house :)

  5. Meaghan HildebrandtMarch 5, 2014 at 12:16 PM

    So beautiful Jenny! I love it. You have such an inspiring family :)

  6. Amen to that! My daughter pointed me to this post because she found lots of encouragement in it, especially the part about the rebuilding phase and investment years. She and her hubbie are on their first, a sweet 7 month old.

    I am one of seven as well. The joy and laughter shakes the beams of my parent's kitchen when we all gather together with our spouses and the grandkids, and I can't imagine or want it any other way. Thanks for this delightful perspective!

  7. I'm happy to read this too. I had two sisters and I often wonder what kids from larger families think when they look back.

  8. Beautiful and encouraging post! Your more recent posts have been so bold, beautiful, and spot on. Thank you for you!

  9. Amen, just like JPII said: they're the best gifts. I'm mostly homebound with six and boy do they fight but when they get along it's like heaven on earth.

  10. Very true. Your kids will be very grateful for each other, I just hope one day they think to tell you that ;)

  11. YES! Thank you. I have five under five in a two-bedroom townhouse, so I feel like an utter failure every...three minutes. I don't clean enough. I don't snuggle the kids enough. I don't have enough patience. Then I look back on my childhood, and what I remember is not how much my mom played with us or how clean our house was, et cetera. I remember the INSANE fun I had on a daily basis playing with my four siblings. And they're still my best friends in the world, and it's an instant party whenever we get together. So that gets me through the really tough times, which have sort of dominated around here for the last ten months. This post gave me a much needed buck-up to get me through the rest of the day, so thanks so much for sharing.

  12. God never promised us that saying Yes to Him would be easy. Mary's "yes" wasn't easy. Jesus's "yes" DEFINITELY wasn't easy. Being open to life is certainly not easy. I'm sitting here waiting for #8 to be born. My 12th pregnancy in 15 years of marriage. Our oldest is not quite 11. It's not easy. But I know I'm doing God's work, as are you. I will tell you this - it DOES get easier!! Maybe not truly easy. But as they grow, and can be a tiny bit more independent, and help the youngers, and play together, it gets easier.

    1. God bless you and your family! I am expecting my 7th child in eleven years in June; 14 years of marriage. :-) Being open to life isn't always easy but you are right--it does get easier! Take care--Jenny

  13. this is so beautiful. thank you for writing!

  14. Yes, yes, yes!!

  15. I've been enjoying your blog for a while bu have never commented. I just LOVE this and am so encouraged my your words. Thank you!

  16. Wow. So true. Thanks for this reminder, Jenny!


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