Big Family, Big Travels

1947 1947_ () 1947 1947 Weekly column
Our summer vacation this year took us to the big cities of Washington, D.C. and then Boston, Mass., where I was invited to speak at a conference. Paul and I decided to make that trip part of our family vacation and for better or worse we decided on a road trip.

Because we have yet to buy the big new family van, we opted to pile everyone into the Suburban (the eight-seater, with its one seat per person). It was going to be a tight fit, but I was inclined to wait and get a nice, new vehicle after the 2,000-mile drive instead of just before it. Why trash the new car when we can just drive the old one totally into the ground?

So we drove to Boston, and then back, and we lived to tell the tale. There were tense moments, of course, plenty of them, but at the end of the adventure I was shocked and surprised by the very positive experience. We have a lot of kids, and they all did pretty well.

As we did our sightseeing around these big cities, I was very aware of any other large families we saw. We saw hardly any. Most groups seemed to have two or three children (at most) and those with more ended up being day camps (which explains the matching t-shirts). At our tour of Fenway Park, there was a family with four children and I was so excited I went over to the mother. “Do y’all have four children,” I asked, seeking out a kindred spirit.

“Actually,” the woman answered, “we have two – the other two are my nephews.” (But she was quick to point out she has a lot of friends with four and five kids.)

So even in our finer moments we drew a little attention, due simply to our numbers.

I did not set out to make any kind of statement with our family size – I see our six children really just as gifts God has sent our way. I preach the joys of big families only because that is what we have – not because I think that is what everyone else should have. I think big families are wonderful, of course, but I don’t feel sad for groups of two or three. There are pros and cons to every situation.

Having said that, I am always aware of the message we might send when out with our crew. We used public transit for our time in the big city and it was then, especially, that I felt we were on display. People would stare, they just couldn’t help it.

One late afternoon, after a day of walking miles on end, we piled into a subway car and found seats. We had a long ride ahead and as I fed the baby, I leaned my head back on the window and closed my eyes. I was tired.

After a minute, I jerked my head up. Don’t fall asleep, I told myself, or you will look like a caricature – the lady who had so many children she had to sleep on the train! Look alive! Look happy!

There is a fine line, of course, between being a cheerleader and being vain. That’s what I tell myself anyway. I put my best foot forward and think positive thoughts not because I want everyone to think I have it all together, but because I want to be a good witness to the joys of big families.

This isn’t always easy. Family life can be challenging, whether you have two kids or ten. The fact that there were not extra seats in our Suburban was very good news in regards to my quest for setting a good example – there was no room for anyone else to witness the chaos. There were a few moments in our travels when life inside those very close quarters was about as far from bliss as you can get.

Similarly, there were some hectic times in our small hotel room. Very early on our last day in Boston, we were loading up the luggage cart to leave the hotel and hit the road. The boys were being especially rowdy and as I was corralling them in the hallway outside our room, I heard a nearby door open. Out popped the head of a clearly agitated neighboring guest, annoyed with all the hoopla.

“Don’t worry,” I wanted to say, “we will soon be out of your hair.”

But I didn’t say anything. I smiled quickly, before grabbing a boy by the arm and then sweeping up my crew in a tidal wave towards the elevators.

Sometimes the best example you can set is by just moving forward and getting out of the way. 1947″> . ,



  1. My mom is one of nine children, and I think big families are wonderful.

    One thing I wanted to say, though, even though you probably know it, is that you never know what someone is thinking when they look at you. It might seem like a critical look – but they could be jealous. I had c-sections with both of my boys and know that I might not be able to have a very big family, so I could see myself appearing critical when really I'm just a bit jealous. Or people might be curious. Since big families are more rare, it's interesting when you see one. Of course, I'm sure you know all this, but I wanted to mention it.

    The most common comment I get when I'm out with my two boys, 1 and 2 1/1 years, is "you have your hands full!" I almost want to say "better than having my hands empty!" but stick to "yes, in a good way!" I know that some might look at me and think I'm crazy, because they don't want more than one child, or want to space children further apart. But I know that others must feel pain when they see me, so blessed to have my children. I'm not sure what to do about that, other than to try to be sensitive and thankful.

  2. Oh Rachel, I can just picture you and your crew out and about. I have to tell you I only have 4 children and when I'm amongst certain groups I feel like I have a lot. But, we also live in an area with a lot of conservative Mennonite & Amish families and large families are the norm for them. I'm always amazed when I see them at the grocery store with 7 or 8 children all completely well behaved, dutifully following along with the cart. Even the babies are subdued. I'm tellin' ya! I want to know their secret.

  3. I know of a young couple with six kids, all of them younger than high school age, and people will go up and aks them "are these ALL your kids? From the same set of parents?". They just laugh, look at each other, and say "yes, these are ALL OURS". They are such a witness of the reality of God's grace in action. And you all are too.

  4. Amanda M. says:

    i bet everyone was staring because they were thinking "what an absolutely BEAUTIFUL family!" 🙂

  5. Rachel, we also spent our family vacation this year in the DC area. With 4 boys in our Yukon XL, even though we had 2 empty seats, the car felt way too small. We drove from Colorado to DC, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia and logged over 4,600 miles! Yep, all throughout DC and NY we got the stares, especially on the subways and trains. We are a circus! Someone once told me to imagine the future when the kids are adults…how many kids do you want to come thru your door for Christmas Day? That's a good gauge to figure out how big of a family to have. I know I want LOTS of people coming over! Hugs to you and your crew.

  6. Pat Fauquet says:

    I am the mother of 5, now all grown and out on their own. Over the years we got lots of comments–but also also lots of compliments.

    Today, four are married and two have children. Family dinners for 18, with more children and in-laws on the way, are lots of fun!

    We just had a wedding in the family. Several relatives with small families or no children told us how much they envy the fun of our large, extended family.

  7. Thank you, Rachel, for your positive articles on large families! We have three ages 4, 3 and 2. Life has been so hectic. But it has been beautiful. My husband and I already feel like someone is missing! We may have to take care of that soon! 🙂

  8. Anonymous says:

    My wife and I are blessed to have 5 children. 4 boys and a girl (the youngest). Not a lot, but certainly more than most. My oldest, now 16 has a pet peeve that dates back five years (when our daughter was born): getting counted in restaurants. He hates it! We just tell him the counters are jealous…

  9. Hotel hallways with my 4 boys frighten me. I'm constantly saying "shhhh" in a stage whisper.

  10. I love this post, and completely identify with it. We have 5 boys and our baby girl is due any day. 🙂 I do feel like I should be trying to show the positives of my large family…sometimes I feel like I drop the ball.

  11. Mary Kate says:

    This is something I struggle with on a daily basis. I feel so strongly that our large-ish (2 adults, 6 kids) family is a constant example to others of how generous God is to His children, but it comes with a lot of pressure. I know that I transfer this pressure onto my husband and kids when we are in public, and it stresses all of us out. I feel like, in our culture, it is completely unacceptable for any of my kids to misbehave, be cranky, take up too much space, be loud, etc. My husband constantly reminds me that we have good and obedient kids (we do!), and just because the are part of a large group, does not mean they have to be "perfect" all the time. I guess I succumb to the pressure of knowing that we are held to a different standard than smaller families and that I want people to appreciate and enjoy my family like I do! I know, I know… I'm being ridiculous! Just praying that my family's presence evangelizes effectively, and judging by the many compliments we receive, I think we may be on the right road. It helps to hear from other moms, Rachel, that we all struggle with the "cheerleader vs. vanity queen" problem at times. Thanks for that analogy!

  12. Anonymous says:

    When people comment on our family I always ask if they hope to receive social security in the future. They always reply yes and then I reply, "Well, you better hope there are more kids to pay for it." I love seeing the reaction.

  13. I'm one of eight and I remember my parents disowning us in public when we misbehaved – it was like, "those kids – don't know them, never seen them"! I loved having a large family growing up and I love having my middle sized family now (4 kids). It's all good.

  14. mammamilk says:

    Your column resonated with me. As a mother of five, I also try to always be a good witness to large families. This past year, we vacationed in New York City and New Orleans. We were a spectacle in both places – especially the subway in NYC. I can't tell you how many people commented on our family size.
    Though long trips and small hotel rooms are challenging (along with daily life!!) with a large family, the benefits vasty outweigh the difficulties!
    Thanks for so succinctly summing it up.

  15. Anonymous says:

    Loved this post. We just got home from a week-long beach vacation to NC with our 6 kids. The week was fun but stressful at times. I hope that one day my kids will look back at the crazyness with a happy heart. xo