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12 Reasons Large Family Moms Pretty Much Always Feel Like They’re Failing

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Sometimes I’ll be mindlessly going about my day when I start to feel it—the slow simmer of failure. It’s like it’s always on the back burner, humming along as I go about my usual activities. Sometimes it burns and boils over and other times it’s just sitting here, humming away. But as a mom in a large family, I pretty much always feel like I’m failing.

If you saw me out in public, you probably wouldn’t know. The woman with a baby balanced on her hip, holding the hand of a toddler with an adorable parade of children following behind may look like anything but a failure (except when those children are punching each other, which they often are). Making dinner WHILE helping with homework WHILE soothing a cranky/hungry toddler WHILE on the phone with a friend may make me seem like the ideal multitasker, competently handling my life.

But that is NOT how I feel. And I think lots of large family moms feel the same. Here’s why:

I can’t get to all my kids’ events. If a basketball game conflicts with the baby’s nap, then we have to divide and conquer. Nobody wants a grumpy, screaming baby in a middle school gym. When two kids have basketball games at the same time, it’s not possible to be at both of them. When THREE kids have basketball games at the same time, you’ve got to figure out a carpool and trust that one kid won’t be eternally scarred by having no parent in attendance. Sometimes I hear parents talk about all their parenting failures and end it with, “But I was there for all his games/musicals/chess tournaments/etc.” Yeah, I can’t comfort myself with that one. If my kid needs therapy for all the times he felt unsupported by my lack of attendance, I’ll help him get the therapy. But there’s no physical way I can be at everything.

I have no idea how much milk they drank today. When I go to the pediatrician’s office they have me fill out this form. Part of the form asks questions I honesty have zero answers for. How many servings of meat daily? How many fruits and vegetables? How much milk they drink, in ounces. OUNCES. I fill it out with educated guesses, but I have no clue how much of what I served them actually went into their stomaches and how much they fed to the dog, slipped onto their sister’s plate, or put in their pockets. I can’t stay on top of all that. I can get good food on their plate, but micromanaging the number of ounces of milk they drink went out the window about three kids ago. Same for just about any issue your average parent is stressing over. I don’t even know to be stressed about it, but there’s always this feeling of failure that I can’t micromanage their lives.

You can’t co-sleep with six kids. When you have a first child you get a lot of adorable parenting advice about being the perfect parent for your one child. And then you have four or five more kids and that parenting advice is useless. Maybe this kid does “need” to co-sleep with me, but in order to do that he’d have to crawl over the three other kids already co-sleeping with me. It would be great if I could do extensive bedtime stories alone with each child before they went to sleep, but that is not physically possible unless the last kid wants to go to sleep at midnight (which he does, but that doesn’t seem wise). How sweet would it be to rock each precious child as long as they needed? But it’s not happening.

One-on-one time is a joke. I love the idea of spending alone time with each child. I take opportunities to do that where I can. But it often looks less like adorable lunch dates and more like grocery shopping or a trip into the public restroom alone together while we’re all at the zoo. If I wanted to feel guilty for not spending daily one-on-one time with each of my kids, I would NEVER STOP FEELING GUILTY.

Self-care is virtually impossible. Sleep when the baby sleeps. Fold laundry when the baby folds laundry. It is really hard to find time to care for yourself when you are trying to balance the competing needs of lots of kids, work, and marriage (and church and your in-laws and and and). Finding time for yourself often means reframing things you have to do anyway. Showering? Me time. Coffee while I tidy up breakfast? Me time. I know I’m not doing a good job at self-care, but to do a better job would mean just piling up more guilt in another area.

Being an awesome parent for one kid means totally failing another one. This kid really needs me to snuggle with her and read her a story. So I do it. And I am Mom of the Year to that child and World’s Worst Mom to the five other ones who think I’m rejecting them. Holding hands with two children during church means four other ones are silently giving you the stink eye. And I will never have enough laps for every kid to sit on. Even when you win, you lose.

Date night. . . what is this “date night” you speak of? Reading marriage “wisdom” often feels like another list of “shoulds” that I just can’t. Date nights, special late night conversations, savoring the moment. . . these are hard things to do when babysitters cost the price of a black market kidney and you’re so tired by 10 p.m. that you just want to be back in your sweats anyway. All this marriage advice comes with dire predictions about what happens if you don’t, so I’m pretty much always operating out of some feelings of wife failure along with all the parenting failure.

We’re poor. At some point I quit caring about keeping up with the Joneses and now I’m just trying to keep up with our grocery bills. My kids know they can’t have the material things other kids have and even when they deal with that reality fine, I still feel like I’m failing them. A McDonald’s Happy Meal is not that expensive, but multiply that by six and you’ll see why even the small expenses end up seeming major. Let’s not even talk about Disneyland.

Toothbrushing. And that’s all I’ll say about that because my dentist might read this.

We’re late. All the time. To everything. And there’s a 70% chance someone isn’t wearing shoes. I am a person who values timeliness, but trying to get six kids somewhere on time feels like herding cats. Slippery ones. For every ten things I do to get people ready, someone is behind me undoing things– throwing shoes back off, losing their backpack, or messing up their hair. The first thing I say at just about any public gathering is, “I’m sorry we’re late.” You’d think at this point I’d be over feeling guilty about that, but I’m not.

Nothing is ever “fair.” Kids don’t all have the same needs, so you’d think they’d be okay with things not always being the same for everybody. But they aren’t. One time I had to go to Target to get one kid a water bottle, one kid needed socks and another had to have a set of crayons. When I got home and realized that meant one of my kids was going to feel left out because I didn’t get anything for him, I gave him the roll of tape I bought for the house and told him it was especially for him. This is my life.

Someone is always crying. If I thought the measure of a “good mom” was that her kids were always happy, then I’d feel like a failure pretty much all the time. Which I often do. Because someone is always crying. In one breakfast someone can cry that the food is too hot, this isn’t the breakfast they thought they were getting, someone looked at them wrong, he took the milk and won’t give it back, and one doesn’t want to go to school so he’s going to hide under the table and cry. It’s endless.

So is this just a gripe session or a list of reasons why people shouldn’t have large families? No. The thing is, I came from a large family and I loved it. I don’t know if my mom felt like she was failing all the time. In some ways, I think the pressure is on moms differently now than it was then. I love the Jim Gaffigan line, “Large families are like waterbed stores. They used to be everywhere and now they are just weird.” I think we are more obvious now as a large family and the additional attention on us makes me feel more pressure to overcompensate or try and mitigate the ways our family is different.

But when I try to remember things from my childhood perspective, I remember being loved. I remember always having someone to play with. I remember how special and fun looking through a bag of hand-me-downs felt. I remember feeling like my family was my team. I remember loving having older siblings who looked out for me and a younger sister I could look out for. The things that may have felt like failure to my parents never felt like disappointment to me.

Moms carry these failure feelings alone, sometimes. Our kids aren’t dissatisfied, our husbands don’t feel the weight of these expectations, but we worry that we aren’t enough or this life we created is too much. I think saying these things out loud (or writing them) can help normalize what it means to be in a large family. Yes, it means sacrifices. But it also means an overabundance of joy and family and beautiful chaos. I wouldn’t have it any other way. And (at this point) neither would my kids.

(If you want to know why moms in large families pretty much always feel like they’re winning, I’ve got you covered.)

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23 Comments

  1. Excellent! All are exactly what happens in a big family. A must share article.

  2. As a mom of 8 kids 13 and under I wholeheartedly agree!! Treading water is about the best I can expect!

  3. I think I love you! And you do look like you have it all together – so know you put on a great public show.
    I get all of it. My mom guilt is like my sweater, always with me. The dentist actually said to me “I’m sure you made sure the first kids brushed their teeth twice a day.. but this one (number 4) has SIX cavities.”
    And yeah, I brushed the first kids’ teeth till they were like 6. After kid number 3, I’m just trying not to lose anyone at the county fair or forget them in the car.

    • Oh my goodness this sounds like me!!people laugh at me because I won’t leave a parking lot until I’ve done a head count. And I feel lucky big everyone has brushed their teeth at least once!

  4. This is pure awesomeness! Thank you!!! SOOO true and hilarious!

  5. Wonderfully written! Thank you for making us large family moms feel normal.

  6. I have 9 kids and I can’t tell you how much this resonated with me. I love my big family and wouldn’t change that, but it’s just so nice to have someone who understands. Thanks ❤️

  7. The shoes! Always the shoes!

  8. Thank you so much for this! I only have four kids but I struggle with each and every point you wrote and I had no idea I was! I feel so validated😆

  9. As a mama of 12, just relax. It all evens up in the future. They still love you.
    I used to have some of these same feeling so f failure, and often still do, but it gets better. And better.
    (My baby just turned 3, my oldest just turned 30 and I’m still in my 40s! We homeschool and there are five graduated now. Four married. 7 grandchildren……so I kinda have been there, done that and I’m surviving! Hugs to you. You’re doing great.)

  10. Yes! We have six and I feel all of the above all of the time. Oddly comforting to know I’m now alone 😉

    • Maureen…please! You are a rock star mom! You do more right than you do wrong! Hold your head up and walk confidently. Enjoy motherhood. It’s possible!

  11. Well, I simply don’t do guilt! After 2 decades of being a large homeschooling family of 5+, I have never had any of these feelings. Why? Because I was of the mindset that I am doing the best I can and my best is good enough. Please, moms! You don’t have to go through this torment. Simply love yourself, love your kids and do the best you can. Don’t let society make you feel that you are doing less for your kids. You are a great mom! Know it! Confidence doesn’t take any more energy than feeling like a failure. Just refuse it! You are a rock star mom!

  12. Mom to 5 and I have lived this for many years. My oldest is now 18 and things are a little more manageable but still very different from homes with only a kid or two. Don’t think people will really understand these unless they’ve lived it.

  13. Just…STOP!! Are there seasons when life has resembled this article? Sure! But seasons, by their very nature, must pass.
    Those babies will get older. That young boy will eventually become a teen with a license that will do WONDERS for getting multiple people to multiple destinations. You’ll realize at some point that your day was a complete success because everyone was fed and warm and safe at home with you. Your teen daughter will come to you one day and tell you that, while you were feeling like a failure, she counts you among her best friends simply because you were there. Every day.
    Whatever sacrifices you have to make during those early years (we went several years where no one played sports at ALL)…it all evens out. Give yourself some grace. A lot of the things you’ve listed are unnecessary pressures our society has placed on young mothers.

  14. Thank you, thank you, thank you for writing this! I needed a good laugh today when the demands of four under 6yrs. and one due soon felt overwhelming especially today. I was just thinking today how did my mom manage 8 or my husbands mom care for 7 and some how survived?! Family is such a gift and Gods gifts are SO beautiful, but yes so much sacrafice and love goes into caring for each.
    God bless you and your family! Everything you wrote was spot on!

  15. This perfectly describes how I have felt, actually still feel. My youngest is 12. My older kids are 17, 19, 21 & 23, but I still worry about giving them enough attention or how they are managing life. It’s very different from when they were toddlers and tweens but it’s also very much the same. All the “shoulds” are very powerful. I especially feel the wife failure + parenting failure. I had to really cut back on the # of activities my kids were involved in and that produced another kind of feeling of failure. Failure that I wasn’t/am not giving them all the experience that our culture says they should have.

  16. Being the ninth of eleven children, my experience was horrifying. When will you stop bringing children that you can’t care for into the world?

    • I’m really sorry to hear you had a horrifying experience. I know some of what I’m saying is a bit tongue-in-cheek as far as how we define failure. I may be “failing” according to some kind of perfection standard, but my kids are loved and fed and happy. I am not bringing children into the world that I can’t care for. I agree that that’s a problem and not all moms are equally equipped to care for lots of kids. It hurts my heart when I see families that are struggling and I take the stories of kids who came from those kinds of homes very seriously.

  17. I wouldn’t have it any other way. And (at this point) neither would my kids. have you asked your kids that?

    • I have! Our family is primarily formed through foster care and adoption, so we don’t make any decisions about adding to our family without asking our kids about it. I know their feelings about being in a large family may change over the years, but I also know my own experience of growing up in a large family and it was a positive for me.

  18. My apologies. I didn’t read your piece carefully enough. All the best.

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