Casaubon's Book

There are ten children in my house, but six of them are phantoms. No, we haven’t gotten a foster placement or heard anything new since the two weeks in August when we were asked to take two separate groups of five kids each. Both of those placements fell through, and there has been nothing since, which is sort of the problem.

I have little patience with being expectant, whether pregnant or waiting for a foster placement, and the six (this is a totally arbitrary number that I’m using only because it represents the number of van seats, and thus the maximum placement we could take) “ghost presences” in our lives are particularly maddening.

In order for us to receive our foster certification, we have to live our lives as though at any moment we will have a large group of children thrust upon us – the rooms have to be ready with beds made and toys waiting for the children. The stairs have to be gated, top and bottom, as though a toddler lived with us, even though my youngest son is nearly six. Our driveway is filled by a 12 passenger van, even though we can all still fit in our old smaller car. This is psychologically more intense than I anticipated, not to mention kind of a hassle.

When we experienced the “we’re bringing five children between 6 1/2 and 5 weeks to your house in the next hour” (only to learn later that they were not), we raced to put together the crib for the baby we had never expected. Rather than take it apart and have to rush again in a panic (kids could arrive on quite short notice), it sits in my bedroom, ready and waiting, for the phantom baby I can’t hold.

Now this is part and parcel of the process – placements that don’t come through, situations that turn on a dime, and waiting – that’s part of it all. But living our lives (and spending the money on vehicles, furniture, enough diapers and formula and easily accessible foods for kids who haven’t eaten as we do upfront, long before a placement) gets old fast. All of us find ourselves a little worn down by it – although we try to use the time well. (Actually, Isaiah, my 7 year old, is fine with hit – he keeps just telling me that if we don’t get any kids, he’d like to claim the stuffed bunny he picked out for foster children. In fact, he’d probably prefer the bunny to new brothers and sisters. My suspicion is that this is the healthiest relationship any of us have to this issue ;-))

Our life is constantly filled with non-presence as well – it is hard to say yes or no to a wedding or a party when your household size might leap at any moment to 9, 10, 11, 12. Every plan we make ends with the caveat “assuming we don’t get a placement.” As my book deadline gets closer I have to ask – should we close our home to placements at some point, because the book might consume too much of my energies to be fair to the kids? When?

The advice we get is to go on living our lives exactly as we have been, but of course, “exactly has we have been” doesn’t include being on call day or night, and many things in life do depend on your being able to tell people in advance how free you will be or how many people will be present. Frankly, the whole thing is driving me nuts – I don’t begrudge the large expenditure on the van, or the stair gate – but having them sitting empty and unused for months is harder.

Still, it is part of the process, and while I whine about it (and trust me, I am way into the whining ;-)), in the meantime, I try to make good use of my time and energies. Among the projects I’ve undertaken have been to shift the structure of my home and family management towards managing a much larger household – and doing that in anticipation of their arrival so space and routines are in place. The “10 Kid Household project” (we’d much rather not get a placement of six – 3-4 would be our preference, but the “two groups of five” thing have helped us get our brains around larger possibilities) has involved my thinking through how much larger than average household might operate (average US household size is 2.6).

Becoming a foster family isn’t the only way our family could change. As many of you know, we’ve wanted to share our farm and household with others for a long time – first Eric’s grandparents and then our housemate Phil have been resident here over the years. Last weekend we are hosted a family that my sister, who works with recently arrived refugees in Massachusetts suggested might make good housemates for us.

The single father is a veterinarian who can’t practice in the US, and who spent many years in Kenyan refugee camps. He wants to use his agrarian skills, and has little opportunity in suburban Boston. He also wants his two daughters,12 and 6, to live in safety somewhere. It is possible that our desire to share the apartment we inherited from Inge and Cyril and for more assistance around the farm could combine well. If so, it would be next year but something we are working on. If he and his daughters joined our household (and we’re still in the “getting to know you” stage) that too could rocket our family size up from the “on the big side” to “seriously weird.”

Now why are my strange personal circumstances relevant to anything here? Well, part of the reason is that the general trend towards consolidating households does seem to be growing, and that economic factors are driving more “complicated families and households” to live together. In a world that has gradually moved towards naturally accomodating small households and towards a vast expansion of personal space (at high environmental and economic cost we’ve moved from 250 square feet per person in the 1950s to 850 now) and a vast reduction in shared households has created a society structured around 2-4 person households – and ill designed for anything else. That design has consequences, and it has potential consequences for all of us who may wish to shift our family structure for any number of reasons.

The “Brother in Law on the Couch” is only one reason we may come to shared housing in the coming years. As our population ages and our economy struggles to support a larger elderly and disabled population, in only makes sense that some of us will bring parents or other family home.

As services are cut for the disabled, combining households with family or friends becomes a way for those who need aid to have assistance in house. As the economy gets tougher and foreclosures rise, moving in with family or friends who have stable housing only makes sense. For low income households of all kinds, sharing is a way of making it work. Two single mothers with a couple of kids each are simply a stronger entity when they share an apartment, can provide childcare and mutual support and give their kids more stability. As every college student and young adult knows, the best tool for getting along is some good housemates.

Climate change and its associated natural disasters make it more likely that any of us will have to take in extended family or friends, or leave our homes and have to share with others. All of us should be prepared in some measure for the fact that our collective crisis may push us together – and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Difficult times mean more families in crisis, more children in need of homes, more needs generally. Most impoverished nations have more children in need of homes and safe spaces than they can house – and the US has several hundred thousand at any given time. Internationally, while you can’t solve world problems through adoption, there are certainly millions of children who also could use a loving family due. The other argument for being able to manage a large household is that if we felt better equipped to do so, it might be more possible for some of us to provide homes for the world’s children that have none – or the ones next door.

Now the skill set for all of these different kinds of large households is somewhat different – most of the explicitly large family literature assumes a family with two (a few acknowledge the possibility of one, but most assume two) parents and a lot of kids. But have a lot of kids and some of them will inevitably become adults, or perhaps marry and add own children. So even the more conventional biological families implicitly often include multiple adults, as well as children, with the challenges of getting along. Still, there’s a real gap in the literature between large family management and things that are either about caregiving for elders and the disabled or about co-housing. Most of us probably won’t live in co-housing arrangements in a formal sense – but may functionally live together in large groups. We need more books on this subject – on managing collective and larger households – ones that don’t assume all managers are women, and don’t assume traditional family structures and gender roles, but until they arrive, we can find useful guidance in books that don’t necessarily share our worldview.

How you get the laundry done, how you travel, how you budget and how you cook is similar in a lot of different kinds of large households if you want to optimize efficiency – that is, you need big pots for meals for 7 unrelated adults sharing a household, a family of two parents and five children, or a family of parents, grandparents and three children. There are significant variables in having more adults than children, but there are some relevant similarities of trying to manage a large number of people in a world mostly designed for smaller groups.

I should note that I’m not going to spend any time on whether these people should or should not have had X kids in this post – it isn’t that it isn’t relevant – there’s a case to be made that this represents legitimization, there are arguments to be had, and no matter what I say, some of you will make them in comments, I’m sure. But whether you think big families are normal or horrible, there are two things that are true about them – first, that they are a statistical minority – the vast majority of environmental impact is driven not by big families but small ones that consume a lot. That doesn’t make it cool, but it does mean that’s not my main focus. The second is that by and large, if you are going to have a big household, the most environmentally friendly thing to do is to all live together – however that household is constituted. Some of the authors here are parents by biology, some by adoption, some by both. Some are advocates for large families, some came to it more or less by chance. Regardless, what I think is valuable is the knowledge that 6 people, or 16 people living together in a single household have already done much better than 6 people divided over most two households. Economies of scale aren’t always real – but household economies of scale mostly are, and whether you are troubled by the irony that the only guides out there to consolidated, resource-reduced households come from people who have a lot of kids, that’s pretty much the case factually.

So what do I mean by “large family literature” – I mean books explicitly about how to manage a large household – its domestic labor, its economic resources and its social relations. And there truly is a need for this kind of book, for tools for adapting people to less space and more household members. Again, all of the books I know focus on managing a large household of parents and children, sometimes with a few relatives thrown in – but that doesn’t mean that there’s nothing useful here to people with no children – strategies for how to manage seven people and one bathroom are truly universal ;-).

What’s a large household? Well, most of the books tend to assume that 5-6 is the beginning of “a lot” and it move up from there. That seems pretty reasonable to me – the smallest starter of the books, Katherine Schlaerth’s _Raising a Large Family_ spends a lot of time on what it means to have a third kid in a two-kid world. Written more than 15 years later _Table for Eight_ by Meagan Francis begins with that four kids is the beginning of “large family.”.

How big does the big family literature get? Well, that would be the Duggars – there are bigger families out there (mostly by adoption – it is tough to have 19 children biologically, although the Duggar family has obviously managed), but they are the largest family I know of to write on the subject. Now if you have tv, which I don’t, you probably know all about them and you either love them or totally despise them. I’ve never met anyone who was ambivalent. They are either the evidence of all that is wrong in our world or a good and noble family ;-).

I was only vaguely aware of the Duggars until very recently – my awareness came from my sister. When we were told to expect 5 kids 6-5 weeks to arrive momentarily, we obviously called on family for aid. My sister’s comment was that I should tell Eric that if he has 9 kids, she’s going to call him “Eric-Bob.” I didn’t get it, but this was a reference to Jim-Bob Duggar. Eric’s dry comment was “how about just ‘Jew-Bob.’” This made me look the Duggars up (to know who my husband was to be named after) and I realized that this is just another proof that I’m not paying enough attention to the world – apparently these people who have 19 kids also have a tv show.

I have never seen the show, but I did read one of their books _The Duggars: 20 and Counting_ (they have another one, and they’ve had a couple more kids since this one , but given the sheer awfulness of their writing style, I didn’t find it necessary to read them both as part of my obligation to survey the literature.) So let’s start with them .

Unlike most people, I don’t feel that strongly about them. I think they are a small statistical anomaly who have no real impact on world population (for those who think they are destroying the earth), that they are a kind of conservative Christian that doesn’t do much for me, (I don’t share their politics nor do I believe in a personal G-d of the sort that decides every minute detail of one’s life – just not a Jewish thing) but I do think that they are clearly sincere and ethical people within their own parameters. I think because they get so much attention from their personal circumstances, however, their book, despite purporting to be ‘how they do it” isn’t really very interesting.

About half of it is taken up with their courtship and family history which is one of the most boring things I’ve ever read – and I’ve worked my way through Hegel. When you finally get to strategies and logistics you learn several things. 1. Environmentalism isn’t even remotely their issue. 2. It helps to have a tv show.

I find their methods of management to be really weird. They had all their children biologically, and only two sets of twins, which means half are in their teens or early adulthood – and yet the eat all their meals off paper plates. I mean, really – no one can wash dishes? I admit, I’ve never managed a 20 person household, but 20 person dormitories and co-housing arrangements are quite common, and every one I ever saw managed to wash the dishes daily. What are those teenagers doing rather than washing dishes?

They have four washers and four dryers – industrial size. Again, I wonder – a 20 unit apartment building I lived in in graduate school (with about 55 residents) had only three for everyone. Seriously? I’m sure it is convenient, but it strikes me as wild overkill. Now I’m on a mission to avoid owning a dryer ever, but even if you don’t take that goal, it strikes me that their needs are met in wild excess in many respects.

The family built their own dream house of 7000 feet, and the story of their working on it together is kind of cool. They then got a tv show and it got finished that way – including a slide from one room to another and a playroom. I’m sure it is lovely and pleasant, but again, I have to ask how relevant is this to the non-tv-show family? Most families with a large number of members will be working with extant housing stock – designed for much smaller families. They did have quite a few children in a 900 square foot house for quite a while, but the details of how they managed that part of their lives are pretty sketchy.

On a more damning note (by my personal standards) I can live with the Duggars’ gender roles, their constant repeating of the word “blessing,” and their perception that every minute detail of their lives is decided by G-d – not my kind of religion, but ok.. What gets me is the food. The recipes they include are truly revolting. There isn’t a vegetable in them except ones that come out of a can and all consist entirely of processed crap dumped together. it is amazing that they don’t all have scurvy. If your tastes run to cream-of-stuff soup, velveeta, crushed fritos and Tater Tot casserole, in 20 serving quantities, this is the book for you. For the rest of us, it isn’t going to help with meal planning.

I mock, but there is some good information here for larger families – mostly for people raising or managing a lot of children. The Duggars by necessity need their kids to be reasonably well behaved and disciplined and some of their ideas, like “blanket training” for young kids (basically teaching small kids to sit quietly in a contained space for a few minutes and gradually increasing the time until they can self-entertain for a while) does make sense. Their buddy system is something that we will probably do a variation on ourselves to keep everyone safe and help them work together.

While I find the Duggars kind of weird – and I can’t personally imagine wanting to be famous for reproduction, the book isn’t totally worthless if you are trying to learn to organize a larger family. I wouldn’t pay for it though – but hey, they are famous and my library had four copies.

I also give them some credit for the fact that Jim-Bob Duggar co-authored the book with his wife, and is obviously an involved father who doesn’t think that all household management issues should devolve upon his wife. This is the only book that I found or reviewed that had any participation by the family’s father. Most of the literature explicitly or implicitly speaks only to mothers, and whatever else your take on the Duggars, it seems pretty obvious that they both manage their large scale domestic life together, and take that management seriously.

This is a huge gap in the literature, and none of the other books will even begin to address it. To Jim-Bob Duggar’s enormous credit, he takes the question of how to manage a household very seriously even in the segments of the book he obviously authored. Now they do have some traditional gender divisions, but he makes very clear their goal was always to work from home together – that she worked with him in their business and that he works with her in the home. He emphasizes that all of his children are taught building, child care and automotive skills, and while the girls do sew and the boys do construction, all the daughters seem to have worked on the house and know how to do automotive repairs and the boys do domestic work. We need more books that take male household managers seriously and treat domestic work as valuable, and as much as I sometimes find the Duggars offputting and strange, I give them credit for what Jim-Bob Duggar models in taking the household seriously as a whole economic, social and productive unit. No other book in the literature does the same.

Moving down the “family size of authors” list, Mary Ostyn has 10 children, and I think her _A Sane Woman’s Guide to Raising a Large Family_ is probably the best and most accessible of the books on this subject (thanks to Bryna for sending it to me as a gift!!). Ostyn is also a mother by adoption, including older-child adoption and sibling group adoption, so has experience integrating children who are not biological siblings into a household.

From a pure cooking perspective, Ostyn’s food is the best of the best (she also has a cookbook, which I have not yet read, but plan to). Her recipes are healthy, mostly use whole foods, use meat as an accent, often spicy and highly flavorful, and very good. Check out her West African Sweet Potato Soup) Her adoptive children come from Korea and Ethiopia, and she incorporates those cuisines into their family, and tells you how to make the food in quantity.

Her book is friendly, full of good suggestions (love the idea of minimizing bathroom chaos by setting up old-fashioned washstands in bedrooms, so that kids can wash hands, do hair and brush teeth without occupying the bathroom for long periods – much easier than expensive replumbing jobs). She’s a commonsense mother who has dealt with a lot of difficult issues in what seems like a pretty reasonable way. She emphasizes a change in perspective (accepting some chaos, picking battles, etc… while also organization and planning – ie, exactly the kind of thing that makes sense but is sometimes hard to remember in the heat of daily life).

The book, however, is very child focused – much as I like the book, the emphasis is mostly on how to manage your kids and to think about parenting, rather than organization and household structure. That’s a perfectly reasonable choice, and in many ways, this was a useful book for my family, which does (and will) include a lot more kids than adults. On the other hand, those managing mostly adult households may not find it to be of so much value.

Kim Brennan, author of _Large Family Logistics_ has nine kids. The book is explicitly directed to Christian mothers of large families, with the goal of putting Jesus at the center of your life. That said, to the extent that those who don’t have any interest in Jesus-centeredness can ignore this, this is a very, very good book about material logistics, with good information for anyone with a large household that needs a primary manager, whether it is child or adult centered.

Let’s start with the disadvantages – first, from my Jewish perspective is the personal Christ on every page. Others may find that more valuable – and I’m not hostile to it, but it is an intensive experience. Second is that this book is explicitly about Moms, for women, with the assumption of stay-at-home motherhood. Now to be fair, when you are talking about families with many children, this becomes more necessary. Large families not only have more kids and the work-to-childcare income equation looks different, but are also, both numerically and because they often expand by adoption, more likely to have kids with special needs. Still, this book is a little heavy handed with the “no working” assumptions and the focus on women, and its clear traditional gender roles.

The author sees the Christian spiritual dimension of this work as part and parcel of the project and specifically the work of women, and I imagine that my own attempt to separate out the practical details probably looks ridiculous to her. I can understand that, actually – I would feel much the same for someone who argued that my gender analysis of the arguments for strengthening the informal economy was wrong but the outcomes were the same. To my very different worldview, her sense that the laundry and Christ inevitably go hand and hand is also strange – this is simply a book where you have to be prepared for a wild difference in worldviews, unless you share the author’s kind of Christianity. That said, there is valuable information here if you can get through the other stuff – or if you appreciate the other stuff.

Her suggestion that you organize daily life into a formal structure – a modern variation of “wash on Monday, iron on Tuesday…” that makes sense for your household is probably pretty wise. Most of us with a huge quantity of people to wash for need to wash every day – but running errands only one day a week makes a lot of sense in terms of time, resources and environmental impact.

Her suggestions about room design and meal planning make sense (her meals are at least balanced, and usefully emphasize the crockpot, which means they are also adaptable to those of us who do solar oven or wood stove cooking). The cooking is good and solid, and she usefully provides grocery lists and strategies for stocking up and building a pantry. She mostly uses whole foods, and for those of us who keep kosher, her limited use of dairy due to food allergies in her family is very helpful. She grows a large garden, encourages thrift and generally has a lot of good ideas for those wanting to both conserve resources and money and have a large household.

She divides the book into philosophy and practice, so you can at least partly skip some of the religious context by moving on to the second portion. She also has a section of suggestions for families in crisis – under particular stresses because of new babies, disabilities, health problems, economic trouble or lack of management skills. I found this very clear and well done, and like the fact that she acknowledges special needs issues that are common in large families.

Honestly, from a purely practical “how do you manage a household involving a lot of people” standpoint, this book is by far the best. It is also the most offputting for someone who is not a conservative Christian – it is simply very hard to get through a narrative that doesn’t merely invoke Christ, as the Duggars and Mary Ostyn sometimes do, but constantly proscribes a kind of relationship between tasks and Christian faith. I truly understand that it must seem strange to her for me to separate them out but I honestly do think that if you are going to run a big household, this book is very, very good – even if parts of it are difficult for some readers to appreciate.

Katherine Schlaerth, MD, author of _Raising a Large Family_ has seven kids, and is the only parent employed full-time outside the home to write such a book. Unfortunately, the book doesn’t give much of a window into her experience doing so, or a lot of guidance for large household managers that also work full time beyond the obvious. This book could have filled a gap, but really doesn’t – her chapter on working parenthood simply doesn’t offer much, particularly for the household that isn’t led by two working physicians and doesn’t have a large childcare budget.

It is also the single worst-written book in the literature – the Duggars aren’t great writers, but _Raising a Large Family_ reads like it was written by a robot. Much older than the others (1991), the book is also shall we say, not from the modern era in terms of gender assumptions. While I may not agree at all times with some of the other authors who consciously assert that certain gender roles are appropriate, their active assertion implies (and often explicitly notes) the recognition that other roles are in fact possible. Schlaerth’s book seems to come in many ways from the “Father Knows Best” era, so while she says that it is wrong to have a large-family father who never changes a diaper (ummm…you think?!?!), her chapter on fathers is stereotypical, and gives men a pass for not being involved with primary domestic work, because after all, they are doing important man work. Since many large households include both gender breadwinners, and in many cases the economic work done by a household manager can be critical, her work reads as dismissive.

She is writing as a pediatrician in many respects, which is actually kind of annoying – this reads like a low-rent Dr. Spock, with vague appeals to authority. Some of the lists and tips (she loves lists) are actually useful, but the constant suggestion that you should talk to your pediatrician about everything from diet (yeah) to diapering (really?) and the appeals to irrelevant authorities on issues that a pediatrician is no more expert on than any other parent bugged me. She includes almost nothing about food, so nothing to comment on there.

I wanted to like this book better than I did – it was in many ways ahead of its time, writing about large family management before the current move towards thinking about these issues. Unfortunately, it is has dated rapidly, and just isn’t that valuable.

In many ways _Table for Eight_ by Megan Francis is the book most conscious of the fact that this isn’t just about being more organized or different tricks, but about a fundamental design challenge – her subtitle “Raising a large family in a small-family world” shows her emphasis on exploring the cultural barriers to large family management. She’s secular, a feminist,and a professional writer, and she includes chapters on “Suddenly super-size” (when you family grows dramically by forming a step-family or other household consolidation, the birth of multiples or sibling group adoption” and talks about disabilities, extended families and urban life for large families. Her book is by far the most modern in perspective and the most accessible to the wide variety of larger households out there. She has an explicit environmental perspective, and a real concern about the environmental impact of various choices as well that is absent from most of the other books (excluding Large Family Logistics, which is environmentally conscious except for its heavy emphasis on the Christian obligation to bear many children).

It should be my favorite, but I have some caveats about it. The biggest one is that while she’s certainly correct that the world is designed for smaller families, I think she overstates the difficulty of raising a very-slightly-larger than average family – and that’s her emphasis. Francis has four kids, and most of the parents she interviewed have approximately similar sized families – managing a household of six people just isn’t that big a challenge (I’ve been managing a household that ranged from 6-7, sometimes including elders or housemates for a really long time now, so I think I get to speak here). That might be fine if much of her emphasis was on the cultural issues – on how to deal with the larger cultural assumptions and design problems of that structure, but she spends a lot of time on just the basic “how tos” and I’m not sure I buy it – does she really need a whole chapter on how to find a vehicle big enough for a four kid family, or could the entire chapter pretty much have been summed up in the one word “minivan?” There are real transportation issues that arise for larger families – but most of these apply either to urban carless families or to families of 8 or more, outside the minivan capacity. A household of six just doesn’t have to think more than 30 seconds before finding a vehicle suitable for them. She’s also outright dismissive of the idea that you could fit three abreast in carseats/boosters in a smaller car’s backseat – although many of us do it.

She’ll tell you when something isn’t environmentally friendly, but rarely offers suggestions for options that *are* – and I think that may be the biggest weakness of the book – she emphasizes the negative more or less consistently. There’s a reason for that – there is a (mostly implied) cultural critique in this book – but she spends so much time focusing on the logistics, mostly in a not-very-interesting way that the more interesting cultural crtique gets lost in many places. I appreciate she includes foster children, for example, as a way of shaping a family, and I like that she offers suggestions for integration and making housing flexible. I just wish the overall tone wasn’t “well, it will be really hard but I guess you can do it” – and it isn’t just for foster kids, almost everything comes with that Eeyoreish undertone. Now I suspect most of that is her trying to do two kinds of book at once – the how to big family book and the “why to” big family book – but what comes out is a mish-mash that’s a little offputting.

On the other hand, there’s a lot to be said for this book – it doesn’t assume the primary household manager will always be female or not working outside the home, and it does discuss that the reason for difficulty isn’t just you – it is that we have made infrastructure changes that have made the landscape inhospitable to larger families – infrastructure changes that may have to go (more on that in a later post).

All of the books have strengths and weaknesses, and I learned things from all of them. After reading them, I’ve decided to make a bunch of change in anticipation of my “10 Kid Household Restructuring.” Among them, we’re moving our food storage out of a spare bedroom (so that we’ll have more space for people in the bedroom) and up into a segment of my husband and my own room that will be walled off to make a permanent pantry (our food storage keeps moving around, but it needs a permanent home).

We had already moved our clothing storage into the laundry room so that clothing management didn’t involve so much hauling of things up and down stairs – we’re revamping that to make more space, and I’m working on a new system for organizing clothes. I’ve long needed a lot of clothing storage – we buy used often several years ahead (because you can’t always count on finding the best deals when you need something, so it pays to buy when good things come up), which means that for years, I’ve had every boys clothing size between preemie (Isaiah was born early) and 20 (Eli, who at 11 is 5’5 and hasn’t started his growth spurt yet has me moving into men’s sizes). With odds good that a larger sibling group will include at least one girl, I’m about to have a matching set of clothing for girls – which is a giant management hassle. So i’m revamping our clothing storage entirely with new distribution systems.

When our front loading washer dies, I will probably replace it with an industrial model, given that we’re hard as heck on washers, but that may not be for years, so I’m not counting on it. We have no dryer and no intention of buying one, but I am working on expanding my clothes drying options so that we don’t have to burn dirty coal to do something the sun does anyway.

Readers on ye olde blogge gave me some good suggestions for how to color coordinate (ie, every kid gets their own color to make things easily recognizable) with used goods – the suggestion of sewn in tags or fabric markers was great, so we’ll probably try that. The kids are exciting to implement a buddy system (especially 5 year old Asher who loves being a big helper to littler kids) and we have some other ideas we haven’t yet had a chance to implement.

All in all, the large family literature needs some beefing up to deal with reality – it needs writers that aren’t middle class, aren’t white, aren’t all women, that come from a variety of perspectives and recognize that both families and households come in a large variety of sizes as well. At the same time, there’s valuable information in them there hills to be gleaned from the books that exist.

Sharon

Comments

  1. #1 Nicole
    September 28, 2011

    Many Gen-X’ers spent at least some of their 20′s with unrelated roommates, so whether we realize it or not we do know how to cope with multiple adults in the house. When I lived in a house of 12 (+/- boyfriends and girlfriends or people crashing on the couch) we didn’t really have a cohesive household, nor did we want one, but we still only had one kitchen, two bathrooms (luxury in an old Victorian!), 2 normal size fridges and one washer/dryer set. Sharing and compromise wasn’t optional, nor that hard when you have to.

    Adapting to multiple adults would be a piece of cake. Multiple kids or varying ages? Much, much harder.

    In your case, Sharon, it’s less a “possibility” than a
    “liklihood,” but I think all of us should have in the back of our heads that stuff happens and you don’t always have notice. As a single person who lives alone, I nonetheless think about the logistics of a larger group in terms of disaster prep and advocate prepping for more people and indeed a range of ages. A 13 or 14 year old neighbor might be okay to stay at home for a couple of hours after school, even watching a younger sibling, but totally inadequate to the task of dealing with a disaster — especially if it involves evacuating. A whole family (or two) could lose their home and need a place to stay. Your own extended family could have a crisis. You just don’t know.

    I may not stock up shoes and clothes for all ages, but thanks to some nights with insomnia I have a good idea how many I can sleep and feed for how long and how I could do it. :) It bears thinking about for all of us.

  2. #2 Nicole
    September 28, 2011

    P.S. The soup looks very tasty. I will definitely give that one a try, perhaps served over barley or another grain.

    For us southerners, it might be better using raw peanuts when in season. (And no doubt more authentic as well.)

  3. I was hoping you’d give me a little review of the book I sent you, but this was way better than what I expected! Thanks so much. I know which books to read and which to skip. Since we have household management issues with even 2 kids, I am going to read some of these to see if any of their ideas can help us. I still think that some of the most relevant large family management info (which is also to the nature of the internet) is on blogs. There are some really helpful ones out there in terms of discussing logistics, and they are mostly Christian but not exclusively. If you are bored while waiting around for the kiddos and want some links I’ll e-mail you some after yom tov. L’shanah tovah u’metuka!

  4. #4 Glenn
    September 28, 2011

    “We need books from writers that aren’t middle class, aren’t white, aren’t all women”

    That let’s you off the hook, Sharon!

    My wife’s folks are taking care of two older relatives. When my wife’s parents need taking care of, one of us will have to move in with them, there’s not enough room in our tiny place. Our 12 year old daughter just spent a week with them helping out, after my wife’s mother’s last round of chemo. Maybe she’ll be there longer 10 years from now.

    Good post, thanks, but I doubt if any of the books will be useful for us.

  5. #5 Brad K.
    September 28, 2011

    I knew a kid named Jim-Bob. The name came from the King of Texas Swing, Bob (James Robert) Wills (and his Texas Playboys), of San Antonio Rose fame.

    Luck to you on getting a placement. I imagine they are holding you in reserve for those hard-to-place multiple sibling groups.

    Blessed be.

  6. #6 Kate from Iowa
    September 29, 2011

    I’m very happy to see this post, it give me an idea of what to send my sister, who’s currently faced with moving state to state with her three boys, her husband, and her two step daughters. While they do okay where they are, and the girls’ mothers are able to step in part-time, moving is going to pretty much wreck what systems they’ve managed to (however haphazardly) get into place. We do, fortunately, have a good few relatives where they’re moving, so there will (most likely) be some help there, but that side of the family gets funny and clannish sometimes, so maybe there won’t be that much help. So while she’s looking for work, and getting school sorted out for the four that are in school and daycare for the baby, having a system ready to implement could be the best thing for her.

    Assuming, of course, she reads the books.

  7. #7 Anna
    September 29, 2011

    I’m wondering . . . although there’s only two of us in our household now (children are to be a forever-unfilfilled desire, sadly, for various reasons) it sounds like there’s enough really good information in some of those books to make them useful to anyone simply managing as well as possible for an uncertain future. Thanks Sharon!

  8. #8 Claire
    September 29, 2011

    It’s kind of weird to see a very common family size from my 1960s childhood (2 adults, 4 kids) now being considered a large family. I am from just such a family and many of my same-age friends come from that size of family. Two children was considered a small family back then. And back then, when we considered how to transport a family of that size, the answer was the station wagon.

    I don’t have anything to add myself on managing a family of this size, but it’s good to have your review of books in any event, if/when it happens to us. The earliest scenario could well be my DH’s mom moving in with us sometime in the next 5 years. I’ve done some thinking around that and will be considering it on an ongoing basis.

  9. #9 KF
    September 29, 2011

    One of the better cookbooks I’ve found for cooking for large families and groups is The Moosewood Restaurant Cooks for a Crowd. It has lots of great recipes for soups and casseroles and meals for groups from 6 – 50 people, lots of vegetables, vegetarian options, and suggestions on how to scale up or down other recipes easily.

  10. #10 Matriarchy
    September 29, 2011

    “Eeyoreish undertone.” Love that. This is a very interesting topic. I started at 2adult/2kid and added a disabled elder. Lost one kid to college, acquired a temporarily-homeless friend for a while. Realized I LIKE having more people around and am a good household manager. I plan to find more people to add to my household. I may look for an anchorless teen to take in – less formally than fostering. I used to cook in restaurants, so the cooking does not intimidate me. It’s the management of expectations, the dealing with people’s various failures of intention, with the stress of conflicting needs. Especially if it is not a parent-child household. I think there is a lot to be learned from “intentional community” literature.

  11. #11 Jo
    September 29, 2011

    Sharon,
    I grew up in a family that fostered children. We never quite knew how many people would be in our home. We fostered several sibling groups and many teens over the years. Our family had 4 natural children and anywhere from 2 to 4 additional children at a time. Even more during the summer when cousins came to stay. My parents, however, were not quite as organized about the household as you are working to become.
    From experience, I can say you are doing the right thing thing by thinking through all of the impacts the your fosters will have on your household. You will easily be able to meet their nutritional and physical needs by all of the processes you already have in place. When a child is on your doorstep at 2 am in the middle of winter in nothing but a nightie you will be able to bring her in and give her a warm safe place. When the children arrive, and they will, enjoy them and know you are giving them much more than a place to stay.
    Many blessings-
    Jo

  12. #12 olympia
    September 29, 2011

    I grew up as the oldest of four (two more siblings were added after I left the nest), and currently live in a compound with my boyfriend, sister and her family (partner and five kids), mom and brother. Frankly, I can say that while attempts have always been made to create systems with charts/chores/etc. in both my childhood circumstances and currently, said attempts have never worked out- things have always reverted to basic chaos. I don’t think this is necessarily a terrible thing; kids from large families -even if there are a large number of caregivers around -are going to be the beneficiaries of benign neglect,is often a positive thing. They’re going to learn how to do more for themselves, because it’s pretty impossible to helicopter over a large number of children. I will say that when there are multiple caregivers around, it is surprisingly easy to assume someone else is watching the kids, and it’s important to avoid this, particularly when, say, small kids are swimming. This is definitely something to be avoided. But, by all means, be relaxed about things that don’t really matter, like high-strung cleanliness and micro-managing children’s play. Be vigilant about what’s really important, and relax about the rest. Also, teach the kids to do laundry, as soon as they’re able!

  13. #13 Michelle
    September 29, 2011

    I have to wonder if the folks who are busy doing what you seek to find books describing are too busy with the DOING to do any writing? I can already see your next book’s outline taking shape, Sharon :)

  14. #14 Susan in NJ
    September 30, 2011

    What — you don’t plan to use “Cheaper by the Dozen” as your model?

  15. #15 wondering
    September 30, 2011

    Apparently I should write a book. As the oldest child – daughter – of a family of 12 children, I know darn well how to manage a household where both adults worked. Mind you we lived on a farm, so our methods really aren’t universally applicable.

    Suffice it to say that the kids learn to shoulder a lot more responsibility than is typical (even of other farm families) and help look after each other and the house.

  16. #16 Amy W
    October 3, 2011

    I have only two kids of my own, but I have three brothers and four sisters. Since I was a little kid in the 60s, that meant that our (one) washer and (one) drier generated mountains of clean diapers for us to fold.

    I’m sure my Mother saw the situation differently (hoards of kids generating mountains of diapers to wash), but we all washed dishes and had other chores, some of which rotated. When we were old enough to really learn from our own mistakes, we were allowed to trade chores.

    I’m not sure, though, that there was as much to “manage” then as there is now. Most of us had lessons of one sort or another through the years (reading, sewing, singing, dance, crafts, scouts, Civil Air Patrol), but most of our out-of-home socializing and lessons took place at church (shul, for your kids), so there wasn’t the non-stop driving that so many moms do now.

    There were some really interesting moments that resulted from non-supervision (“science experiments” that ruined bedroom carpets, for example), but my kids managed to ruin their carpets, too, pretty much the same way, and there are just the two of them.

  17. #17 loren
    October 4, 2011

    Sharon this sounds like a great opportunity for a zone zero permaculture design challenge. The food storage scenario seems like it leaves you sleeping in the pantry. Having grown up in a large family and spending years in intentional community settings I must urge you to honor yourself and your needs for a peaceful and private place. Best wishes, I am with you in spirit.

  18. #18 Sharon Astyk
    October 4, 2011

    Loren, I’ve got a *huge* bedroom, so it more involves me sharing unused space with the pantry. I’m not worried about it – we’ve had some of it up there for years anyway. My bedroom is really not private space anyway with young kids (much of the time, sometimes it is ;-)) – unless by private space you mean “private to all those presently jumping on the bed ;-)” That said, I’ve long thought that the “permaculture of domesticity” which gets almost no attention in the movement (never been able to figure out why everyone starts out in the yard, not in their house) has long been a favorite subject of mine.

    Gee, Glenn, you noticed I’m trying to get out of writing this one ;-).

    Sharon

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