So often, we hear from couples who are considering adding to their families. In fact, “How did you do it?” is one of the questions we frequently hear from our listeners. To which we usually reply “You fake it til you make it!” in jest.
In all seriousness though, one of the biggest challenges we experienced (and that we hear from other parents of larger families) is ensuring that you foster strong relationships with each member of your household.
You might have heard before that one of the reasons couples may choose not to have more children is because they want to make sure they can “enjoy the ones they have” or that they “don’t have time for more children.” Those feelings are valid, but from our experience, you can have a large family and have great relationships with each person!
So how do build strong relationships in a big family? It simply takes some intentionality!
You may have heard us say it before, but if you want to be a good parent, you have to be an amazing spouse! Taking time for your marriage is crucial if you want to have great relationships with your kids.
In fact, we’d say that it’s THE MOST IMPORTANT factor in building a strong family culture in a large household. Your marriage is the foundation on which to build relationships with your children. It’s where they learn what love is, how to interact with each other and is the glue that holds everything together in your home!
So, put your spouse ahead of your kids. Our children’s needs will always be more urgent than our marriage, but in the end your marriage is more important because without it, your family would not exist.
Now of course, we need to be prudent. Having a glass of wine with your husband while the kiddos are screaming and need to eat their dinner probably isn’t the best time. But scheduling that time into your week, giving your spouse the first fruits of your time is essential.
When we focus on our spouse and allow our marriage to grow, not only will we benefit, but our children will too.
After putting your marriage first, our second big piece of advice for parents of large families is to treat each child as an individual.
It can be so incredibly easy for us as parents to lump all the children together. It sneaks into our language (the children did such-and-such) and our mindset, causing us to treat them as a unit, rather than as individuals.
We need to resist this as much as possible! We want to ensure each child is seen and heard. Each child in our families deserve individual time and attention from their parents. They need to be nurtured, coached in virtue and generally have their needs met.
In large families, this is admittedly more difficult, but it’s also that much more crucial.
When we fail to treat each child as an individual, we miss out on the relationships we could have with them! Each of our children are loved and wanted for who they are. Treating them as the unique individual they are, rather than as just one of the pack, allows us to support them best!
So make it a goal to spend time with each child every day. It doesn’t have to be a lot of time, but just enough that you get to really connect with them!
For little ones, this can look like “special time” where you play with just that one child for 10-15 minutes, doing whatever they want to do. For older children, it may be a little less frequent and include things like playing sports, sharing a cup of tea at the dinner table, going shopping or going out to eat. Get creative and get to know the unique souls God has entrusted you with!
As parents, we create the framework of our families. We build our family’s culture on the things that are most important to us, the things that make us the Hernons or the Smiths or the Gardners. Every family has those things, the things that make us unique from other families.
It’s our job to draw the lines of what makes us who we are as a family. It’s our children’s relationships with each other and the sibling culture they build that will color in those lines. Our children have SO MUCH to offer each other and they have a lifetime in which to do it in, as long as we set them up for good relationships.
And we do that by giving them time: both adult-free time as well as supervised time. That time is even richer when they have the tools to build relationships.
Teach them conflict resolution and model it to them. Help them to ask questions to understand each other’s intentions and point of view. Model respect so that they know what it looks like to treat their siblings that way. Give them the tools to build good relationships and then give them the space to practice!
The sense of belonging and community that we build when we are intentional with our family life creates the stability that kids in our fallen world badly need.
When you’re in the thick of it, trying to meet needs, to have a regular date night and spend time with each child, it can feel like it’s not working. It can feel hopeless and pointless. But we can tell you from experience that you are making a difference.
Relationships are built with the material of time. Giving each of your children time takes effort. And giving your spouse the first fruits of your time takes even more! It’s hard! Family life is messy! But it is so worth it.
If you’d like to hear more on this topic, check out our latest podcast episode, Just a Kid in a Big Family!