Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

15 Av 5766 - August 9, 2006 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Shema Yisrael Torah Network











Home and Family

The Joy of the Berachah
Managing Large Families

by Esther Weil

Part II

"They contribute, they participate, they do, they bring up, they help . . . "

Who are they?

That's how Hadassa (an alias) describes children of families blessed with many children. Our generation has merited a real blessing, a blessing of children, where families with fourteen or eighteen children are not rare. How do children in such families feel? How do they give and receive? What experiences do they have, what memories do they cherish and how do the parents fit into the picture?

A picture of blessing.

Tell us about happy shared events.

Hadassah: "We make every event something joyous for everyone. When my husband finished mishnayos, we made a special feast at home for all the children. Every holiday by us is a shared simchah. We do everything together, whether it's Succos or Purim or Pesach. Pesach is an especially happy holiday for us. Everyone helps and cleans. We take down the Pesach dishes together. We wait for this moment. Everything depends on your approach and how you look at it. A mother who is always complaining how difficult it is for her, transmits this to the children. But if I prepare for the festival joyfully, the joy is contagious."

Rochy, a daughter in a large family who is now the mother of many children, tells us about happy and funny moments: "During summer vacation we would go to a holiday apartment on a high floor in a building with an elevator. When we went into the elevator, we would check if everyone was accounted for. Again and again we would ask, `Is everyone here? Are you sure everyone's here? It doesn't seem to be so many; someone's certainly missing. How can it be that everyone's here if it looks like so few?'

"Everything's relative! In family pictures it looks like a nice group of people but not a mass of humanity. It doesn't look like it sounds.

"Our Shabbos table was big and happy. There were always divrei Torah. There was always the Soloist on Duty who wanted to sing and got up on a chair and sang to his heart's content and everyone's pleasure. Everyone talked to everybody else. Abba always made sure that the little ones sat near him so that he could hear them and they could be heard. Among the older ones, whoever wanted to say something knew to raise his voice or to get closer to Abba and even to sit on him so that he knew he'd being properly listened to.

"I haven't come across the following personally but my little sisters say that people ask them: Why do you speak so loudly? You must come from a very large family.' I guess there's something in that. A child from a large family has to shout in order to be heard. But it probably depends on the parents. When we needed it, there was always someone to listen to us."

A Fundamental Rule for Happiness — Know How to Compromise

Rebbezin Chana, a mother of a large family — more than a minyan and a half — says with a smile: "If the parents are happy and love their roles, it creates a happy atmosphere at home. We didn't have a tape recorder or have music, but happiness was palpable. My mother glowed with happiness, she didn't need any outside stimulus. Her happiness was projected to me and I transmit this happiness to my children. I would say enthusiastically to my children, `When can we start getting ready for Pesach?' My eagerness is contagious. They catch it."

Tell about a nice moment in your family.

"I remember one insignificant event which was engraved in my memory and mainly in my heart. It happened during Shabbos Sheva Berachos when I married off my tenth daughter. We were all sitting in the yard: the married daughters, the single ones, the daughters-in-law and the children. Grandchildren ran around among us. I was leaning on the fence surrounding the yard so that I could supervise the children. Suddenly I looked at everyone and my heart filled with gratitude and great happiness. I raised my eyes and my heart heavenward and said, `Ribbono Shel Olam, Thank you! Thank you for all the beauty and greatness of what I have, what you have given me!'"

Zissi, the eldest daughter of a large family, today a mother already, describes the atmosphere in her home: "On the one hand, there was a lot of joie de vivre, the lightness and gaiety that children bring into the home. Children lighten the mood with strength. Their happiness and vitality make life easier and create a light-hearted atmosphere at home.

"On the other hand, we have stress in our family. We're always `erev' something: Erev Shabbos, Erev Chag, Erev a birth or , Erev simchah. It's the parent's duty to balance between the help needed from the children and not weigh them down with responsibilities. My mother always tried to get outside help during stressful periods but still, the children themselves developed a sense of responsibility. I remember a five-year-old sister being sent to the grocery store on an errand. Suddenly we got a call from the store; she remembered we were out of mayonnaise, was she allowed to buy some?

"We laugh every day; we continuously have a reason to laugh. My parent's home is very happy and we also have a lot of inside jokes that only we understand. This is `today's news,' a clever remark by one child or another's saying and then we all laugh. These are expressions that come out in the most stressful times, from the chaos, when everyone is tired and worn out and suddenly someone throws out a word and it's adopted and everyone repeats it and the atmosphere is lightened.

"With us, when someone wants to celebrate something, he has to prepare the celebration himself because it's stressful enough without it. When I was a child, on my birthday, I bought myself balloons and prepared a treasure hunt and then I invited everyone to celebrate with me and we all had a good time. The secret is the feeling of togetherness and cooperation. If I enjoy myself, everyone will, so why not give them a reason to enjoy themselves?"

Happiness — A Healthy Soul

"A basic, primary principle of mine is to spread happiness through the house, and with the help of Hashem, I have merited this. It exists in the home atmosphere and the children will register this even if you don't speak to them day and night. Everything is dependent on happiness, especially the emotional health of children." That's how Leah, the mother of 14, sums up her approach, her calm and happy voice attesting to this. "This goal directs me to act in a certain way to realize it."

A large family naturally has stress, difficulties and tension. How do you create a happy atmosphere?

"I compromise on many things to achieve this end: neatness, for example. I ignore a mess, just so the children will be calm and happy. I don't believe in work rotations and dividing up chores. In my opinion, work rosters turn the house into an army camp and don't bring happiness, as a rule. A home is a place where you consider the needs of each child; therefore, I try to create an atmosphere where everybody loves the home and of their own volition will want it to run the way it should. Every daughter who has some free time will come to me and ask: `Ima, how can I help?' And in the end the work will get done.

"Not every woman has the nerves and patience for this approach. Mothers want the house to run smoothly, to see that everything gets done: one person does the dishes; another one folds the laundry . . . I believe that if the mother takes the needs of the children into consideration, they'll be considerate of her and will take care of the house themselves."

What helps you run the large household bli ayin harah with its joys and its difficulties?

First of all, I don't expect myself to be the perfect housewife. I tell myself: Leah, think about what's really important to you and focus on that. Of course it's pleasant if the house is "ship-shape" and the food is on a high level, but I built my home where my first concern is for my children to be happy and for each one to feel like an only child. That's where I place my top priority.

"For example: There was a PTA meeting at my 10-year-old daughter's school. Now I always feel that I don't get around to her enough because she's not yet one of the bigger children, while she's already not one of the little ones. In the program, each daughter prepared a flower and a personal letter which was given to her mother. In her letter, my daughter wrote me, "I feel like I'm your only child." I was very moved. That's the most important thing to me. To get such a letter was worth any effort and the principle proved itself. It's true that my house isn't always neat and doesn't make an impression. But the feedback that I get from the children proves that they're growing up emotionally healthy, calm and content and I think that's the main thing.

"Don't think that it's always easy. Many times, I say to myself: 'Don't wash the floor right now; instead sit with this child or that one. Now the children need you. You can do the necessary housework after they are asleep.' I establish my own hierarchy of priorities and I always stick to it."

Can you tell us of an event or something the children said that made you happy and showed you the beauty of a large family?

"There are phrases that children say without meaning to. Yesterday the cleaning lady was supposed to come and she didn't. We were before a trip and I didn't have time to straighten up the house and certainly not to clean it. By evening, both sinks were full of dishes, the mountains of laundry almost reached the ceiling and the floor needed cleaning. That's how we left the house and went to a family wedding. When we arrived home late, the children said to one another: `How good it is to be home! What a pleasant house we have!' I looked around and said to myself: `If they're happy to come home to such a mess when they know that the work is waiting for them alone, it's a sign that they love their home in any condition.' And this gave me a lot of reinforcement."

[to be continued]


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