Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

7 Av 5766 - August 1, 2006 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Home and Family

Big Families: The Joy of the Blessing
by Esther Weil

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

Who are they?

That's how Hadassa (not her real name) describes children of families blessed with many children. Our generation has merited a real blessing, a blessing of children; families with fourteen or eighteen children are not rare.

We wanted to hear how children in such families feel. How they give and how they receive; what experiences they have and what memories they cherish and how the parents fit into the picture.

A picture of blessing.

The following letter reached the Hebew Bayit Neeman paper in response to a letter emphasizing the need for a child to have his mother to himself and the difficulty within large families to provide the child with quality "Mommy time". The writer discerned a hint that children of these types of families are, to put it mildly, less happy and so she expressed her objection. Is there truth to her words?

We decided to seek out mothers and daughters of really large families, of a dozen children or more, to check out if the letter reflects reality. We'll open with the first part of the letter that attacks the subject frontally — is there joy in these large families?

The answers of those interviewed speak for themselves.


To "Bayit Ne'eman"

I want to contradict Mrs. K.'s opinion about all the new- fangled psychological approaches promoting the ideas that every child needs his mother to himself for quality time etc. All of these stem from the fact that families have fewer and fewer children. In the world at large, each family has one or two children and they are the ones who have developed the above-mentioned theories.

In our families — may they multiply — it doesn't seem to me that there is a need for these words: many decades ago, I heard of an interview conducted by a (secular) journalist among secular families with many children. The common thread among the families was the children's reaction of "I am going to have a small family" and the like. And the inevitable conclusion was, of course, that large families is not good for children!

Recently, I happened to be comforting mourners at a family blessed with many children where one of the parents had died. The children, themselves already grandparents, were talking among themselves and one said: "I was always pampered more than anyone else." Said the second: "What are you talking about? I think our parents loved me most!"

Surprisingly, all the children sitting there reacted similarly! (more than 10!) Each one was convinced without any doubt, that their parents preferred him over the others. One of the visitors sitting beside me said: "Look how they succeeded in giving each one of you the feeling that he is loved and special, despite the fact that you were so close in age."

And at this point, one of the granddaughters came in — she, too, already a mother of children — and turned to her mother (who was sitting shivah): "We were standing outside, my brother and I, and we heard you and suddenly it occurred to us that we, too, each one of us, is convinced that Ima loves him most! And we're also a large family (14)!

I remembered my childhood; I, too, am the daughter of a large family. My mother never had the time to sit with us for five or ten minutes and recite Kriyas Shema. We said it in chorus. The lights went out, the door was closed and that's the moment we were waiting for. Very quietly we had our own private party in our room. One time, one of the sisters would tell an installment of a serialized story, another time we would play guessing games. Once, we held a contest who could contrive the most impossible story. The topics changed obviously over the years, but everything was conducted very quietly so that Ima shouldn't hear! Stolen water is sweet; it adds to the pleasure. Today, I'm convinced that our mother knew and pretended not to see (or hear), exactly as I do today for my kids (I have 16, bli ayin harah).

A large family is a blessing and when everyone eats together and sleeps together and does everything together, it's a pleasure! The special aura isn't blurred because of it. On the contrary! Each child feels the need to prove himself and develops a unique niche for himself. And if sometimes they felt like a big pot of "porridge," that's also great!

You wrote: "What parents sometimes think is a difficult, unpleasant or disappointing experience is perceived differently by children as positive, light and surprisingly good. Sometimes we can learn from the positive perspective of children." Ask adults from large families. They'll tell you how happy they are to remember those "porridge days".

From a mother and grandmother, H. V.

What Parents Project - Children Reflect

Happiness permeates a home where the parents enjoy the company of their children, says Hadassa, the daughter and mother of a large family. Our parents "didn't see" the lower marks and the children felt that home was a good place to be. My father used to say: "What you don't see, doesn't exist. If you don't notice the defects, they don't get reinforced." And really, when we brought home report cards and they were almost very good but not perfect and we showed them to him, his reaction was: "Everything is very good, very good." He "didn't see" the minuses and the "almosts" that were here and there. Maybe he noticed them, but he didn't mention them. That's how they diminished in importance and became insignificant in contrast to the good things that we did that were enlarged and seemed big and important.

I'll give you an example of a happy moment. We lived in a small and blessedly crowded apartment. We slept six children in a room and putting everyone to sleep was not an easy task. We covered ourselves with a gigantic blanket that spread out over all the beds and we, the children hid underneath it, happy and joyful, not thinking for a moment about sleep. We called it "camp."

I remember well wonderful experiences of trips and birthdays but mainly of the talks into the night in the living room with my sisters and Ima. Until 2:00 a.m. it wasn't worth going to sleep. That's when the most serious discussions and the biggest laughs took place. It was a shame to miss it. We chatted of this and that and giggled. My husband likes to say that when we get to my parents' house, before saying, "Hello," I already start smiling. I loved the family atmosphere of Shabbos night and those never-ending talks, the stories we told and so on.


The Rebbetzin, let's call her, quietly and wonderfully runs a special home, a large family with a large blessing and according to her, all is "Happiness."

Q. So How is This Accomplished?

You have to be tranquil, content with what there is and not look at what the other person has. We live in an apartment of two and a half rooms but we've always been satisfied. Never has one of my children said to me that the place was too small for him. Everyone has his corner. Everyone has his shelf and cupboard. Of course each one has a small place but he feels that it's his territory and he's satisfied.

The secret of the happy atmosphere in my home is that everyone is together and with this togetherness we work towards the same goal. Before Purim, I don't make the costumes alone. Everyone suggests an idea and together we carry out what we're able to do and what's appropriate. Whoever can't actively help out, enjoys sitting next to me while I'm sewing and feels like they belong.

The atmosphere that parents project is what the children reflect. I met a woman who also has a large family in a small apartment and she asked me — How is it that by you not every child has a desk? The look on her face reflected a lack of happiness, there was no joy there. If you transmit to a child that he's poor because he doesn't have a writing desk, he'll feel poor.

We have lots of tables: One in the kitchen, one on the kitchen balcony. In the living room we have a table which can sit three. There's a folding table in the children's room that can be opened and I have one son who likes to do his homework on the floor. There's a place for everyone! If you don't make them feel pitiable, they don't feel like they're missing anything.

It's the same with money. People don't understand how we manage without using checks, but Baruch Hashem, we never lack for anything. We use the money we have and when we don't, we don't buy. Yes, we compromise. We keep accounts and buy what's most important. My girls wore second-hand clothes that were respectable and nice; no one could tell the difference. They looked respectable even on weekdays. I spruced up the clothes, I matched ribbons and tights to them and when they left the house combed and well-dressed, they looked wonderful. We bought only a used baby carriage and it looked better than new ones today. I made sure it was always clean and I took care of it. I just didn't advertise when it was made.

[to be continued]


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