Well, I see the Duggars finally got to bring Baby #19 home from the hospital today; they’d have brought her home sooner but twelve of her siblings had the chicken pox. Without going into what I think about the quiverfull philosophy (the idea that God will give you as many babies as he wants you to have), it did get me thinking about what it’s like to be a kid from a big family.
My personal kids have had it both ways. They were all born into a 3-kid family, and so had their own spot: The Oldest, The Middle Kid and The Baby. When Lance and I got married and they each became 1 of 6, everyone had a bit of an identity crisis. Sure, one of The Oldest was still the oldest (and became the Senior Child Present, which is almost like a military rank in our house); but the other one was now Second Oldest. That’s quite a change. The Middle Kid became The Middle Kids, and it wasn’t TOO bad because they were both the same age – though they were in different grades due to a late birthday. It was roughest on The Babies, because the oldest Baby was now just a regular ol’ kid minus the perqs, and the youngest was now the youngest of six instead of just three – with no chance of EVER catching up.
If you are not an only child, then you suspect – wherever you are in the birth order – that the other child/ren in your family get/s more attention/treats/love/privileges than you do. When you’re one of six (or, I presume, 19), you are sure of it. The thing about that is, it’s often true: in a big family, odds are good that there will be at least ONE crisis going on, and the child who’s embroiled in the Drama du Jour will indeed get more attention for a while. Some kids become drama junkies and have to keep acting up in more and more flamboyant ways to keep their parents’ attention focused on them, them and only them. Some kids become withdrawn and think they don’t deserve any attention anyway, or begin to resent the Drama Ki/Qu-een. (You see that last one sometimes, too, in the sibling of a child with a serious illness.)
It’s our job as parents to teach our children the difference between treating everyone the same and treating everyone equally. Lance and I try to do that in several ways. We have regular one-on-one talks with each child about what’s really going on if we’re in Condition Red (which is seldom these days, thank goodness). If we’ve noticed something odd in one child’s behavior, we might privately ask a sibling if they’ve seen a change and have any idea what’s going on. We also will occasionally ask permission of the other five beforehand if an opportunity has arisen to really do something big for the sixth child, such as an over-the-top Christmas present or a school trip that we ordinarily wouldn’t be able to afford.
The point is that we couldn’t even try to keep things evened out if we weren’t staying in touch with each kid. It’s vital that you’re available for one-on-one time with your children, and that either of you can ask for it. You might not be able to drop everything right that instant but you should schedule a time to talk, and soon, too. Your children should know without a shadow of a doubt that you are there for them, and that you care about what they say. They must be absolutely sure that you will take the time to really listen to them, every single day.
Otherwise, why have one baby, let alone nineteen?