What If the Littles Grow Up Different From the Big Kids?

One of the things I was at least mildly concerned about at first, in regard to having a big family, was the common observation that in a large family, the younger children often grow up in a quite different way from how the older children were raised.

large family, large family questions, big kids and little kids,

Accusations sometimes go along these lines:

  • You were so strict with us! Now he gets away with everything!
  • We never got our (phone/car/insurance) paid for!  You guys have softened up!
  • We weren’t allowed to watch that movie! You are so lax now!!

And here are my observations:

Sometimes it’s true. Sometimes, on moral issues, I’ve seen large families relax against rules that used to be ultra-firm. There could be many reasons for that:

  1. Mom & Dad may realize their rules were too strict, and so they’ve found, or are finding, a place of balance.
  2. It may be a practical issue. It’s easier to keep your 4-year-old from ever seeing anything besides VeggieTales, Bob the Builder, and Little House on the Prairie, when he’s your oldest, than it is when he’s you’re youngest and you’re also in a home with preteens, teens, and young adults who want to watch, well, more than these limited options.
  3. It could be sin/laziness. Perhaps the parents really have let out the reins too loosely, and aren’t being as purposeful with this child as they were with their older children.

Sometimes, though, things are different because they’re just different. 

  • Parents change over time. Sometimes we forget it (especially about our own parents), but parents are people too. They grow, they change, their priorities adjust.
  • Families change over time. As a family goes through different seasons, the dynamics change. The relationships change.
  • Environment changes over time. Maybe the church you’re a part of grows, or grows smaller. Family members move closer, or move away. Or you move into a new community.

Sometimes it’s the opposite from this:

I’ve seen SOME large families who were not believers when their older children were younger, become believers, and the situation is completely the opposite of this– they’re trying to shore up and combat weaknesses in how they raised their older children, while raising their younger children with greater intentionality and protection.

But, honestly? CHANGE IS INEVITABLE.

The main thing I want to communicate about this tendency to want things to be the same for both older and younger children is this:

In a large family, where children are being raised over the course of 3 or even 4 decades, I think it is pretty much IMPOSSIBLE to make it so that everything is the same for younger children as it was for older children. We simply can’t do it.

  • Financially, things change over time.
  • Spiritually, parents should be growing more mature and discerning over time.
  • Physically, we grow more tired over time.
  • Emotionally, we should grow wiser over time.

It is impossible for a large family to look the same for younger children as it did for older children because it is not the same family. It doesn’t have the same children. And it doesn’t have the same parents. The family has grown in number and in age; the parents have grown in their own ways.

A PERSONAL OBSERVATION, 12+ YEARS IN:

12 years ago, I spent every day, all day, with my sweet, 8-month-old, chubby, curious, crawling, nearly-walking, homemade-baby-food eating, sign-language using, Ethan. He had blanket time twice a day, and learned to self-entertain while I did things (like painting rooms for fun, and making his baby food) around the house.

We happily spent our days, just the two of us, together.

I recently had our 7th baby, Luke. And guess what his first year won’t look like? (^^^^^THAT description up there!) Oh, I’ll still make his baby food (it’s cheaper & I like it), and he’ll eventually learn some useful words in sign-language.

But his life will not look like all day, every day, alone with me. 

WONDERFUL IN A DIFFERENT WAY

You know what, though?

While he has an older, more tired, more busy mama, little Luke also has:

  • Eight adoring people in his life (seven of whom are with him all day, day in, day out) who notice all his changes and specialness.
  • Siblings at the ready, eager to hold him, eager to bring diapers, eager for him to start crawling so they can set out toys for him to crawl toward.
  • More people in his daily life, to watch and learn from, in a way that Ethan, 12 years ago, did not have.

Ethan’s time with me, and my time with him, was something special and unique. And Luke’s time with me, and my time with him, is special and unique in a different way.

Both are good. Neither is “better”… and thankfully, because I know and trust our sovereign Lord, and His goodness, I am confident that GOD will incredibly use my strengths and weaknesses, and the strengths and weaknesses of the season of our family that they were each raised in, for their good and for God’s glory!

MY ANSWER?

So, in short, my answer is this: there is ZERO chance that a younger child growing up in a large family will have the exact same experience as an older child.

It’s just impossible.

And God can use those differences in wonderful ways in the lives of our children.

WHAT IS MY FOCUS, AS MOM?

Sometimes I notice that I’ve become lazy in a particular thing with my younger children.

One recent example is that I used to be so PURPOSEFUL in playing scripture songs and Bible stories aloud during the day while my little ones played in the late morning/afternoon. As I pondered that, I realized that I’m now schooling older children and noise can be a true distraction for them. Our routines are different now than they were when I only had little ones and was home educating no one.

Nonetheless, I’ve started (as I’m able) playing the audioBible & BIble stories more intentionally. It’s not as often as it was with my older children, but it’s still better than a complete lack of it like was the case a few months ago.

Again, there’s no way for me to make it the SAME as it was for them, but I can still be purposeful.

The main thing I want to do as a mom of a large family is make sure that the things that change about our family are purposeful, and not due to sin, laziness, or neglect. 

  • Do you see this tendency in your life/family?
  • How do you combat the slide into laziness, sin, or neglect?

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Jess Connell

Jesus-follower, Happy wife, Mom of 8 neat people. Former world-traveler, now settled in Washington. Host of Mom On Purpose podcast (momonpurpose.com). I write and wrangle kids.

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10 Responses

  1. Debbie says:

    Ooh, my oldest two were just recently saying something about how the younger two get to do ‘so many things!’ that they didn’t get to do at their ages. This article was a good reminder to check to make sure the reasons for that are solid and not based on laziness or sin. Thanks!

  2. Janel says:

    Agreed.

    I would add one thing that I feel is very significant: When you notice or the older children bring up the fact that life is different for the littles, agree, explain and then apologize – especially if it is because of laziness, immaturity or because you were too strict with them. An unwillingness to acknowledging your shortcomings as a parent is brutal to the parent-child relationship. Children can smell hypocrisy a mile away. If it’s not dealt with, it leads to terrible consequences.

  3. Lou Ann says:

    I think this is a great and balanced post. There is no way any child after the first one will have that same undivided attention. I’m a first child, and I always secretly thought I was the guinea pig for my siblings. But, I had advantages they didn’t, and they had advantages I didn’t. I think it all balances out in the end, and it’s all okay. Also, we DO get to be wiser parents as we go. We understand better how to pick battles, and we relax a bit more as we go. Age helps, too. God gives each child to his family when He wants. God is sovereign, and it’s a blessing to see our families reflect that. God bless you! I know you’re enjoying your new little son.

  4. Rachel says:

    So true! I recently read “Three Decades of Fertilty” and most of those women concluded the same things. The majority said that the older kids got more opportunities (travel, fun outings) and the younger ones got more grace. The parenting relaxed more over the years and became more balanced, but with more kids also comes less funds and energy to do fun stuff with.

  5. Anne says:

    I struggle a lot with this. With our older ones I was more consequent in education and with the little ones due to sin and laziness (or because i am to tiered: get your children as easrly as possible!!!) i am not strict enough. For example eating sweets….But it is more difficult too, when sweets are found in every cupboard of the older brother and sister. Another difficultie I discovered is the coeducation of the older sibblings. My 5th is making a mess with the food at the table and all the brothers and sisters are laughing. The encouragement from this audience speaks louder than my firm rebuke.

  6. Brittany says:

    Sometimes I beat myself up because I’m not doing all of the things I did with my oldest with my 5th. (Your description made me laugh because it is totally how I did life with my first! :) ) But I also need to make sure I am just as diligent to teach my younger ones God’s word as I was with my others. I’m going to try to carve out a time to read a Bible story to the younger 2 before naptime. Thanks for those important reminders!

    We’ve also had to remind our kids lately that fair isn’t always equal. They are unique individuals with different needs. Of course we love them equally as much and have the same moral expectations for them. But our 2 yo doesn’t need the exact same amount of food as the 8 yo, and it’s ok for youngers to go to bed earlier than the older ones. Sometimes they have a sense of entitlement that “if he gets to, I should too.”

  7. jennifer says:

    I love this! Thanks for writing it!

  1. April 29, 2016

    […] #3- WHAT IF THE LITTLES GROW UP DIFFERENT FROM THE BIG KIDS? […]

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