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Large families mean extra stress, but it’s worth it, parents say

If the ideal family has two children, how do families with four children or more make it work? While the ideal family size is shrinking, several families in the Upstate have opted to have a large family instead.

Stephen and Melody York of Clover have six children under their roof and they view each one as a blessing. As parents to children who range in age from under a year to 13, they say juggling such a large family presents certain challenges but also brings the greatest joys.

“We love having such a large family because we're all so close. It's hard to be lonely with so many under the same roof,” said Melody said of her family.

Also with six children are Clemson residents Phil and Julie Turner. Their children range in age from 3 to 19. Julie said having a large family with such a vast age range is both awesome and exasperating. It’s wonderful that older kids help with younger, but then it’s harder to switch gears from parenting toddlers to parenting young adults.

“We’re balancing college applications with teaching children how to read,” she said.

Another Upstate home with several children is the Henry household in Clemson. Parents Doug and Bethany have four children at home in their blended family. Three of the four are in the eighth grade — his one son and her twin daughters. They are joined by a younger brother who is 9.

Bethany said it requires a lot of planning to take each child where they need to be and when, not to mention when Mom or Dad have somewhere they need to be.

“Doug goes one way, I go the other. And we carpool when we can,” she said of managing schedules.

Julie Turner agrees, adding that having children old enough to drive was wonderful. She said she would bribe her oldest son with the ability to use her car in exchange for running errands or taking his siblings places. The outcome of a large family, however, is being close-knit. Turner said every whole family outing is an adventure and that her children genuinely love one another.

Melody York voiced a similar sentiment. She said her children have learned to play well with others, and the older children have learned how to help with younger children. They are built-in best friends.

On the flip side of that is the dilemma of trying to spend one-on-one time with each child. Bethany Henry said it can be hard some days to even give each child attention during homework time. She said each child needs one-on-one time and that can be hard to provide, but they try their hardest to give each child attention.

Julie Turner likened it to juggling, saying that with so many children, work and household duties, a ball was always being dropped. She admits her house is never quite clean enough and that the never-ending laundry pile is her nemesis.

“Every day there’s more to do than can ever get done. And you have to be okay with that,” she confessed.

More kids, more challenges

Holly L. Partin, LPC, is a family counselor based in Seneca. She said the biggest issue she sees from large families who come into her practice are the children who experience “individual isolation.” This presents in the child in the family who is the quietest and tends to get lost in the shuffle.

“It’s unintentional, of course, but the squeaky wheel gets oiled, not the quiet one. And that’s the one to watch out for,” she cautioned.

She said it is often a middle child who experiences this, and the best way to combat it is making the time for individual attention for each child as best as parents can.

Partin pointed out the things that can cause strife for a family of four also causes stress for families twice as large. Things like finances are a common complaint among all families, but she said the stress of it is often doubled or more for large families. A larger family means a larger bill when it comes to finances. Many families have to limit how often they eat out or if attend ticketed festivals. Vacations also cost more.

Having three children in the same grade has presented the Henrys with a unique problem — paying for things in triplicate. It requires a lot of preplanning and budgeting to make sure the children all go on their class field trips. That also means all three will begin driving and entering college at the same time.

“Insurance costs will be a nightmare when they start driving, then three in college not long after that. We need to be saving up,” Henry said, shaking her head.

Even the family vehicle is a consideration when a family doesn’t fit into a traditional vehicle.

The Yorks have a regular minivan, but also a 12-passenger van for when the whole family goes out together.

The most dreaded thing for all parents is likely those daily household chores, such as washing dishes and doing laundry. Both the York and Turner families estimate they do 14 or more loads of laundry each week. According to a Proctor and Gamble survey, the average American household does six loads of laundry in a week.

The Henrys have an “every man for himself” rule for laundry. Everybody in the house has an assigned day to do their laundry and if they miss their day, they’re out of luck. They also keep a strict schedule for household chores as well. A family calendar helps them stay on track. Certain tasks rotate through the family during the week, while other chores are assigned long-term.

Tasks like these help children in large families develop their sense of responsibility faster, as well as their social skills and conflict resolution skills, according to Partin. She said the competition between siblings has good and bad components, but the benefit is obvious.

“Children in large families have to work together. They have to work harder to let their personalities shine, and they learn great teamwork,” she said.

Why more kids?

One thing most larger families face is the question of why they have so many children. Partin said those decisions are often based on the parents’ own childhood experiences. Either they want to replicate it, or go the complete opposite.

For the York family, the decision on how many children they would have was based in faith. After several years battling infertility, they pursued adoption and eventually conceived biological children as well.

“We decided when we were first married that we were going to trust God in regards to family planning,” York said.

The Henrys, however, are a blended family, and their large family happened when their families came together. Bethany and Doug have been married for two and a half years. Bethany said while there have been hiccups, everyone gets along and the family works well together.

Julie Turner turned the tables on the question “Why so many?” with her own — “Why not?” She said her family was a valuable and worthy investment. And while they didn’t set out for six children, they didn’t feel complete until number six arrived. She said nothing is more important than raising her children.

Partin summed it up best when she said, “The family bond can never be replicated.”