Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Monday Mythbusters: individual attention

Children in large families do not get the individual attention they need.

This is one of the major objections people seem to have against larger families or families with children with smaller age gaps. I was once chided on an online forum for falling pregnant before Billy's first birthday, because the other person felt that a child's first year of life should be all about them and to fall pregnant deliberately was to short change them. To tell the truth, this is also an area where most mothers I know (even mothers of single children!) doubt themselves. The question we always seem to ask ourselves is "Do I have enough of me to go around?"

If we are going to talk about individual attention, I feel it is important to point out that an only child is not guaranteed enough individual attention either. When I worked as a child carer, I cared for a little boy who had been in full time child care since 6 weeks of age. By full time child care I mean from 7am to 6pm, five days a week. He also spent weekends with his grandparents, to give his Mum a break. The reason for his Mum's heavy work load? She was doing a doctorate in Child Psychology! I am not sure exactly how much "enough" individual attention is, but I do know that he did not get it. While it is true that there are children in large families who do not receive enough individual attention, I object to the idea that this is a inevitable part of being in a large family.

My own children rarely spend a whole day one on one with an adult - but our days are full of touch points. These are points in the day where, for a few moments, they have the undivided attention of either Beloved or myself. There are "Scheduled" touch points such as their story times, bed times, various school or chore times etc. and "unscheduled" touch points. Like when I am sitting resting and one of them folds them self into my lap for a chat or when all of the others are magically absorbed in their own tasks or games or asleep and I fall into conversation or cuddles completely unexpectedly. These moments are rarely more than 20 minutes long - often less than ten minutes - sometimes less than a minute, but scattered throughout the day they add up. I truly believe that this adds up to enough.

Of course, if I did have less children they would each get more attention. If I hadn't had Christopher so soon after I had Billy, it is altogether possible that Billy would not have learned to set the breakfast table unaided as young as he has - simply because I would have had time to do it for him! As it was, he took the initiative to start teaching himself and he sets it almost every morning simply because he wants to. The first words out of his mouth as he walks out into the kitchen in the morning are "Can I get breakfast Mummy?". Perhaps Erin wouldn't have learned to clean up after herself as much as she has because it would have been easier for me to do it for her. But is it a bad thing that they have learned to work independently? I don't think so! They see themselves as contributing in a very real sense to the family, they have refined their skills and constantly use them and build on them, they have a sense of real accomplishment because they actually do achieve something real! I probably would have taken over those tasks because they are "too little" if I hadn't been otherwise occupied.

How much is enough? Enough for what? I want my children to have enough individual attention to know they are loved and that they are listened to. I see the home and myself as their Launch Pad. From here they can fly out to the stars, call back if there is a problem ("Huston, we have a problem!") and come back home to rest and get repairs. Their flight, however, is their own. I do not believe that enmeshing myself in their lives and being an inextricable part of every part of their day does my child any favours. I do believe that I need to put their needs as priority in my day and be available when they need me, not hover over their every move.

Another point that needs to be made is while my children do not have me on tap, they are rarely alone. On Saturday as Beloved and I sat reading in our arm chairs and Billy was asleep, Erin and Christopher played together on the lounge room mat. Erin wasn't a parental substitute, she was being a big sister! It is rare that any of the children are alone unless they want to be and their relationships with their siblings provide something that cannot be provided any other way. While they may miss out on some of the attention that they would have otherwise have gotten from me, this is balanced out by the many positives of their sibling relationships.

While a large family isn't necessarily a wonderful, functioning, supportive family, large families have produced some of the most successful people in the world - they have also produced some of the happiest and most content people I know. I fully believe they got all they needed in terms of attention, in order to achieve what they needed to. To presume that children from a large family are suffering emotional and/or physical neglect purely because of the numbers is simply ignorant.

As I have spent time thinking about this series of myth busters, I have come to the conclusion that no matter what you do there will be someone who disagrees. So:

Instead of worrying about what people say of you,
why not spend time trying to accomplish something they will admire.
Dale Carnegie

Instead of stressing about people judging me as a bad mother, unable to give time and attention to "all those children", I think I will just focus on loving my kids!

(oh, and yes, I know this Monday Mythbuster got posted on Tuesday. A little issue with the scheduling function on my Blogger! I entered the wrong date - oops!)

1 comment:

Happy Mom said...

Well said! Thank you for the post, and the reminder to make the most of the little moments with my children!

Blessings, Heather