On Raising a Big Family: What This Mom of 5 Wants You to Know

We have five kids. They are currently ages 11, 9, 7, 5, and 1. It’s loud. It’s merry. It’s equal parts chaos, crowd control, and clutter. When you have five kids, you feel like a mash up of  the head clown that piles out of the clown car and the line cook for a whole mini-militia and the person who presses play on the music for a flash mob. In your kitchen. Because you are basically your own riot-about-to-happen-at-any-second.

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This is life with five. And we are so OK with that.

We didn’t necessarily set out with a certain number of kids in mind. We didn’t really game-plan the whole thing. In fact, we had three and thought we were done.

Then we had a fourth and decided we were really done.

Then years later, with the baby season off the radar and the house purged of all things infant, we found out we were having number 5.

(Let me pause to answer the questions, the questions, always the questions: Yes, we do know how this happens. Yes, we know that you can do something about that. Yes, they are all ours. Yes, I do have my hands full. No, we aren’t planning to have more. Phew. Glad we got all that out of the way.)

If I could tell you one thing about adding this baby, this baby who is not such a baby anymore but is now a whirlwind of a toddler, if I could tell you just one thing about having a small herd of children  with a baby in the mix,  I would tell you this: the magic is still there. His first smiles still brought tears to my eyes. His soft fuzzy head was the best feeling ever. His sleepy snuggles make a day feel worth it. His giggles are incredible. He is starting to say words and, oh my gosh, I am no less proud of him than I was with my first.

I think there’s a misconception that the first steps of the fifth born will be less amazing. That the way he dances to music will be less enjoyed. That somewhere along the way we will run out of love and this kid will be left to fend for himself. But the funny thing about love is that it grows, and now this baby is not loved less- he is simply loved by more of us.

I feel like I appreciate his babyhood in a fresh way because I am also in the thick of “big kidness”, which is the stage where your children can tie their own shoes, fight like the dickens, and always smell like salty puppies. Their dirty diapers have been replaced by difficult conversations that require far more wisdom and patience than the tending of a baby. This new baby reminds me that my others were babies, that they are indeed still precious, and that I have grown with them.

I have grown, and maybe that’s the other thing that sweet baby 5 has the edge on. I’ve been in this game for a decade. I know what I’m about. I see past the baby stage, off into toddler years, and even on into the vortex of elementary school. I’m not in a rush for this guy to achieve anything, not in a state of worry that milestones haven’t happened by expert-determined times, not needing him to prove I can do this. He’s fine. I’m fine. I’ve made peace with the realities of my limits as a mom and the beauty of an imperfect life lived with joy.

This afternoon we drove home from my mom’s house amidst rush hour traffic. The older boys were discussing the pros and cons of a certain strategy they had attempted as they learned a new board game. The girls were in the middle of a backseat concert, VBS songs on full blast as they did the motions. And the baby rode in the middle, giggling at the noise his little fingers make when he slaps ’em hard together.

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Oh my goodness, that giggle. I listened to him laugh over and over, then I glanced back at him and that made him laugh even more. He proudly showed off his clapping, looking left to catch his big brother’s eye and get someone to clap along. Here he is, this fifth child, doing his baby thing in the middle of it all. And though we have had babies before- we have not had him.  Babyhood is not new, but he is new. Toddler-wrangling is not a mystery, but he is a mystery. Parenting has been an 11 year trek, but not parenting him. Parenting him has just started, is a new adventure, and it is no less sacred because we walked it a few times before with his siblings.

And one final word that begs to be said while we’re on this subject- just as I don’t think parenting number five is any less sacred, I don’t think families with less kids are any less sacred. You are raising a soul, nurturing a life, sheltering and tending a unique individual with infinite value. That is worthy. That is noble. That is to be celebrated wildly for however many kids you have.

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So here we are. Doing our thing in this perpetual party of seven. I’m so grateful for the lessons of each day, for love that grows and fills and gives what we need. I’m so grateful for sibling love, for the quiet chaos of a house that is just about bursting, for the night time slumber that hushes the house and renews us to go again in the morning.

Is five too many? I don’t think so. Not for us. Not because we’re rockstars, but because this is the life we have and we’re going for it wholeheartedly. This crazy little mob is the best of us and the most sacred thing we have to offer the world. Some days it feels more like a suburban remake of Lord of the Flies than an intentional pursuit of diligent parenting, but then the hush falls and we try again tomorrow.

We aren’t perfect, but we’re enough. And we hope to raise this little herd to love deeply and act bravely and live with a kindness that will help others understand Christ a bit more. That’s our hope and our prayer.

So off we go.


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Becky Swanberg
Becky Swanberg has recently discovered podcasts and is now trying to squeeze them into her already full (and noisy) days. She loves reading, writing, being with her people, Dr. Pepper, and carbs. On occasion, she blogs about community, homeschooling, following Jesus, and trying to chill out and not screw up her kids. You can find her over at This & That.