I'll let you in on a secret.
Moms of large families can have a lot of guilt. I get the feeling that the general public isn't aware of this on any major scale...this feeling being based on how many times I have been asked by friends and total strangers if I "know what causes that" or "plan on getting fixed" or, my all time favorite, "you done yet?".
If people knew that the average large family mom is already walking around with her own little folder of guilt that she regularly refers to all on her own, they might back off a bit. At least I think they would, but I'm optimistic like that.
The guilt comes from a concern that whatever you do, it will be determined by the well meaning folks around you that you do it because you have lots of kids. If your kids ever go out of the house with torn or dirty clothes, if you take simple vacations, if you stay at home mother, if sometimes dinner is cereal...you worry that everyone who sees what you are doing figures it's because you can't do anything else, because you have enough kids to qualify for an at home day care license.
Which brings me to Christmas.
I used to buy my children lots of Christmas presents. It took me several years to determine why I felt the need to overindulge my kids. Part of it is my own nature, to be sure. I am a gift giver. It's one way I like to show love. But as the years went on, I noticed that I found my children's gratitude diminishing, and my joy in getting them lots of "stuff" turning into irritation at the waste and expense of it all. And not just the financial expense...the expense of just owning and dealing with more things.
So, after a year or two when Christmas just gave me a stomach ache, I started to consider that maybe, just maybe, we should pull back, pare down, get less, and appreciate more.
It was then that the large family mommy guilt reared its ugly head.
"But--what if the kids and everyone else thinks that the reason you only give a few special things at Christmas is because you have lots of kids and can't afford to do anything else??"
And, as much as it pains me to say it, what it looked like mattered to me.
So--I had the large family mommy guilt, and had the part of me that just wanted to make Christmas meaningful. I started to ask myself questions...what did I want my children to know, to feel, to believe about Christmas? What did I hope they would remember about the Christmases of their childhood? What precedent did I want to set for their expectations of future Christmases, and for their future family's celebrations? And most importantly: what is the best thing to do, regardless of how many children we have?
That's when, with the hubby's help, I determined that we would do 3 presents for each child. One from Santa, one from Dad, and one from Mom. We also had the children draw names and buy gifts for one another. Grand total: 4 presents.
I'm telling you--one of the best things I ever let go of my guilt long enough to decide.
Christmas is now the fun and reflective time I hoped it would be. I have yet to hear any of our children even notice that we changed what we do. (it's been 5 years now) But I see the difference in the tone and the mood of the house--both on Christmas morning and every day leading up to it. There's just a lot less stuff...and a lot more peace.
So I've let go. And in letting go, I finally care a little bit more about the way things are and a little bit less about how things look.
Which is,as it turns out, what I really needed to begin with.