Shortly before the birth of my last baby, I had an interesting discussion with my obstetrician. She was the mother of one five year old boy. I was the mother of five boys ranging in age from 2 years old to 17 years old plus the new one on the way. She was living on her income as a successful doctor and her husband’s — a local judge. I was living on the sole income of my husband’s — a preacher. The contrast in our circumstances couldn’t have been more different yet we bonded as mothers who wanted nothing more than to raise our boys to be responsible, successful men.
She told me that having the comfortable income they enjoyed caused stress she had not expected. She grew up in a middle or even lower middle income family. She grew up not being able to have all the she wanted or even all that she needed, but here she was, a mother who could give her son anything he wanted and everything he needed. Having this ability meant that every time he asked for something, whether it was a candy bar at the grocery store counter or a toy of significant cost, she had to make a conscience decision whether she should purchase it or not. She didn’t want to spoil him by always giving in to his demands so the answer was frequently “no”, but the decision still had to made…every time.
That conversation was an eye-opener for me. Having a much smaller income than she had and having a much larger family than she had meant that more often than not we didn’t have the money to buy what the kids wanted or even what they needed. We never went hungry but by our culture’s standards, we were described as lower income. When my kids asked for things at the store…well…to be honest, they rarely asked for things because they knew the answer. Mom just didn’t buy extras very often. There was no stress involved. I didn’t have to wonder if purchasing an item would spoil the kids because, there was no money to buy it anyway. There was no decision to make. Who would have thought that my family life could, in some ways, be less stressful than a successful doctor’s family life. Isn’t the goal to make more money so we can have more things so our life can be more satisfying?
Sometimes, less is best. I’ve noticed other areas where not having a lot of money has actually proved beneficial to raising our family.
We all know that the American Dream is to own a big, beautiful home. I’ve got friends who have some pretty nice homes. Large enough for everyone in the family to have their own bedroom and even their own bathroom. Large enough for multiple living areas and plenty of space to be able to have some “alone time”. Who wouldn’t want such a nice place to live? But living in such a nice home has its down side. The time parents have to spend working just to pay for the home takes away valuable time that could be spent with the children. The individual bedrooms for each child means they never have to learn to work together. They never have to learn to respect another person’s things in such tight quarters. These are valuable skills that are necessary when learning to live with others, whether it’s a roommate in college or eventually a spouse.
We’ve always lived in typical 3 bedroom/2 bath homes. With 6 boys that meant there wasn’t a lot of room for personal space or for “alone time”. As I used to tell people when they asked about how we managed, we stacked them deep with 3 boys per room. It was crowded. It was noisy. What could possibly be good about this situation? There are some unseen benefits to living in a smaller house. We were close. We all had to learn to work together. We all had to learn to respect each other’s space even when their space was right next to or even on top of my space. When we had a disagreement, we couldn’t just go to our room and shut the door. We had to deal with it.
Another area where less is best is the laundry room. Now that there are just 4 of us living at home, I’m seeing a very much reduced amount of laundry to do. But I’ve talked to families of 4 who describe their laundry as a huge mound that never ends. Too many clothes is the culprit. While it may help reduce how often the laundry must be done, having too many clothes can really be more work in the long run. Just enough clothes to last a week with a few more items just for the fun of it is all any person needs.
And what about outside activities? Too many of these activities, while they may be good quality activities, not only take away family time and money, but they take away time from serving God as well as serving others. It is so easy to over commit my time and my kids’ time so that there is no time when something else comes up or when someone needs help or encouragement. When seeking outside activities for the family to participate in, consider what will have to be given up and remember that less is best.
So before complaining about not having enough money to buy the clothes or participate in an activity or live in a big house, remember my obstetrician who lamented over the fact that sometimes having all you want can cause more stress than not having enough.