How Do Parents of Large Families Manage? Meet Tal and Talia

On Orthonomics a guest post about Orthodox homeschooling generated the following comment by “l”:

One problem that parents encounter is that in families where there are both older and very young children, the toddlers and infants often require many hours a day of the parents’ care and leave little time left over to work with the older ones.

I think the comment reflects misconceptions both about homeschooling and large families.

When people learn that I have six children they often say, “Wow, I could never do that.” I respond that I didn’t have them all at once.

Below is a somewhat idealized picture of life as parents of a large number of children:

Let’s imagine a couple whose first baby is called Noa. A first baby takes up your whole world. Noa’s parents, Tal and Talia, examine every bowel movement with a microscope, count minutes between feedings, and agonize over which toys are most educational. This is not (only) because they are silly, doting new parents, but because they genuinely have a lot to learn about babies. There’s no shortcut for this learning and decision-making process, which continues, more or less, as Noa goes through every new stage of development.

Then little Noah comes along. Noah’s sleep patterns, temperament and bowel movements are completely different from Noa’s, but Tal and Talia already have knowledge and experience. Noa, however, is an active toddler and needs even more attention than Noah. While Noah’s needs can be met by holding and feeding, Noa needs someone to talk to her, read to her, take her outside, prepare her meals and clean up after her, and watch that she doesn’t climb up the bookcase. And Noa hugs Noah too hard when she thinks no one is looking. So while Tal and Talia thought taking care of one newborn was a fulltime job, taking care of both children together feels like it require superhuman powers.

[So parents with two small children might assume that adding a few older children to the mix would make a productive activity like homeschooling pretty much impossible.]

But this is only the beginning of the story. Tal and Talia adjust to having two children. Talia recovers from the birth, Noah begins to follow some sort of schedule, and Noa grows in her understanding and self-control. Sure, there are crises of all kinds such as illness, a family wedding, and a house move, but Tal and Talia get to know their kids, they learn shortcuts for household chores, and they gain confidence.

By the time little Roni comes along (a girl), things get harder before they get easier. But experience helps, and stages that a four, five or six-year-old undergoes tend to be less draining that baby/toddler issues. Every birth has its challenges, and very fussy babies can throw a wrench into family life. Still, this stage passes. Over the years Tal and Talia begin to work out their parenting style and things fall into a groove.

When the fourth child Ido is born, Tal and Talia are experienced enough to be able to make quick decisions concerning the baby. They instinctively pick him up when he cries and change diapers with one hand. When Noa was born, she interacted only with Tal and Talia. But Ido enjoys watching the older children, who can even keep an eye on him for a short time (unless the spacing is very close–I’m assuming a spacing of two to four years after the second child).

Around that time, Talia, who manages the day-to-day running of the household, decides to become much more efficient. She reads up on housekeeping subjects, consults with friends, and makes the required changes. Tal and Talia reevaluate their priorities in terms of time and money–regarding extracurricular activities, housekeeping, schooling, and food and clothing expenses. They make difficult choices, just like every other family.

At some point the balance in the family shifts when Noa can run errands on foot, help with household chores, and share in the care of the younger children. The younger children are growing too–they dress and feed themselves, and manage their belongings. Even if the children are closely spaced, the older children still get to the point where they don’t require so much physical care.

When Noa becomes a teen Tal and Talia have another baby named Amit. The couple can go out for the evening, taking the baby with them and leaving the four older children at home. They have teen issues, but because they are a close family and have been sensitive to their children’s needs all along, they handle them relatively well.

Having a large family is physically and psychologically demanding. Tal and Talia are not as available for social activities. Their lifestyle is different from that of their friends with one or two children. But they do make time for each other and for the activities that are important to them, taking into account their children’s needs. They prepare for the day when their children will be grown.

In a large family, children do not get constant undivided attention. This doesn’t mean that they are neglected. There are two levels of parental care: availability, the level depending on the age and needs of the child, and one-on-one interaction, which occurs less frequently. In a large family some of the children’s needs for interaction are met by the other siblings. And a large chunk of time involves most of the family spending time together, playing or working.

I’ll let my homeschooling readers correct me if I’m wrong, but homeschooling also does not require continuous one-on-one teaching. Most Israeli homeschoolers practice “unschooling.” They don’t follow a set curriculum, but let the child set the pace. They rely on a child’s natural curiosity, providing learning materials when a child expresses interest in a particular subject. But even parents who choose a curriculum-based approach don’t sit with the child for hours on end. They might explain a concept to the child and have him work it out on his own. When a child misses school, how long does it take to make up the material? Two hours at most, and the parent does not need to sit with the child for all that time. Homeschooling is about much more, though, than curriculum, and I can think of many benefits of homeschooling for large families.

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Comments

  1. I think you presented that very well. I recently read a great article about homeschooling. It talked about those who homeschool in America and in Israel. I found it to be very eye openning and I even looked up some of the links online. I was unsuccessful in viewing the books that it talked about. It seemed like anyone who homeschools in Israel is doing so in English. They use the curriculum set forth by American companies and talk mostly in English if not all in English.
    I was interested in homeschooling because my son is in a very chardal school that teaches only math and English. I wanted to supplement his education especially since he gets home at 1:30 every day for the next year or two. My son is very interested in how the world work and I’d like to tell him about it. He asks questions that I don’t even know the answer to. I wanted to know if any homeschoolers in Israel have any material in English or Hebrew that can be bought in Israel.
    Great topic as MiI!

  2. mother in israel says:

    BB, homeschooling is becoming more popular in Israel, and it is done in Hebrew. Whoever wrote the article may not have gotten in touch with the Hebrew-speaking crowd, for whatever reason.

  3. mother in israel says:

    BB–start off with a good atlas and encyclopedia. Also look for homeschool resources on the net.
    Trilcat–feeling disconnected often happens when one parent stays at home with the kids,whether or not they homeschool. But your point is well-taken.

  4. BB brings up one issue that I think is very important. Homeschooling parents need to realize their limitations, particularly with language. If you’re not a Native Hebrew speaker, and you’re homeschooling, you probably need to find one (if you’re in Israel)
    I think it’s very problematic to raise children to be non-native speakers of the native language of their country.
    The other major concern I’ve seen with homeschoolers is that sometimes a homeschooling parents somehow leaves the other parent feeling disconnected from the family. I know it’s not something that happens in every case, or even in most cases, but it’s VERY important that both parents remain in an essential place within the family unit.

  5. I asked my charedi cousins about this once — at the time they had 8 kids, now they have 10 (bli ayin hara) — and her answer was “the hardest was having 5 kids. After 5 it got easier.”
    That seemed random to me, so I asked her what she meant. Her answer: “When I went from the 4th to the 5th, that’s when I started to feel really overwhelmed. So I took a parenting class and it was so helpful – we completely changed how we do things like organizing and discipline, and it made a world of difference. After that, having more kids didn’t add any more stress to the mix.”

  6. This is such a well-written piece. It really soothed my soul. I am a homeschool parent and mom of four. You really described us well! 🙂

  7. I always say that the most challenging transition for parents is going from one child to two children. With the oldest child, the parents can still be considered to be a “young couple” – albeit a young couple with a baby. But the second baby suddenly turns that young couple into a family, and everything becomes more complicated. Meanwhile, from the third baby and on, the older kids can play with each other and – as you note – are increasingly self-sufficient.

  8. I would encourage everyone to read the original post at Orthonomics!

  9. Tricat, you’re wrong. Homeschooling leads to closer family relationships. My husband is gone all day at work, but when he comes home, he’s a whole new audience for my daughter. My husband doesn’t feel left out at all. He’s delighted to share the weekend outings and activities. And yes, he’s been known to take time off work to join us for some of the things we do. I only have one child, by the way. I cannot addres how to homeschool multiples. But as unschoolers, we do things that are educational at multiple levels. The beautiful part about homeschooling is that you can tailor the curriculum perfectly for each child, in Hebrew or English or any other language. It worked superbly for us. The downside of homeschooling is that once you become empty-nesters life “feels” so empty. My daughter has been out of the house for 3 1/2 yrs. now. And not a day goes by when I don’t miss her and the things we did together. Homeschooing builds close family relationships. My days are full with other things now, but I would rather be doing the things I used to do as “homeschool Mom.” My daughter, though, is helping me get through this. Be well.

  10. In a homeschooling environment, the child is not limited to learning when s/he has the undivided attention of his/her parents. (In fact, in a school setting a child never gets the undivided attention of the teacher.) In addition to independent work, especially once a child can read, older siblings can assist younger ones. Lest, one consider this a new fangled notion, I can tell you that at my son’s yeshiva high school, he is paired with a bais medrash bochur for a part of the day.
    On large families, I have an aunt who says she got just the right number — 11. She explained that she used to dream of having 22 children. With each birth, her ideal number went down one, so that by the time she hit 11, that was just what she wanted. That was her account. She doesn’t have the record on number in my family. Her younger sister has 16.

  11. Helene,
    It’s great that it worked well for your family. I happen to know of at least two homeschoolers whose marriages have broken up recently. In one case, the father felt excluded from the “schooling” and that was part of the death knell for the marriage. The other case, I’m less privy to details.
    I would caution that it’s extremely important for homeschoolers to be very very focused on the parents’ marriage, because educating the children has a tendency to consume the life of the schooling parent.

  12. Thank you for this wonderful post! I’m planning B”H to homeschool my girls through 1st grade then re-evaluating. We are also hoping to make aliyah soon so it is nice to know that it is becoming a bit less “odd” to homeschool in Israel.
    As for the idea that children need your undivided attention…if that were true then my children (as well as other multiples) would be in serious trouble. Children and adults learn to manage their availability and adapt to needs very quickly. They are ever-changing and evolving.
    TriLcat, raising and educating children should be the focus for all parents. And I dare say that there are more couples who send their children to school who are divorced than there are homeschoolers who are divorced. It isn’t necessarily a causal relationship.

  13. “TriLcat, raising and educating children should be the focus for all parents.”
    I disagree. It should a main focus for parents. If it is the focus, to the exclusion of all else, this is where trouble can set in for both parents and children.

  14. Parents who aren’t focused on their marriage do not provide a secure environment for their children.
    It is a very scary pitfall for parents who homeschool, because they commit themselves so much to their children that they sometimes forget to commit themselves enough to the marriage.
    I’m not saying it’s a problem for all homeschoolers. I’m saying it’s an issue that all homeschoolers should be aware of so that they avoid this pitfall.

  15. The parents who home school on our yishuv are Americans and from what I see their kids have very little contact with any other Israeli kids. These are kids who for whatever reason didn’t make it in the local school so their parents decided to home school them. I don’t know all the detials but I’m willing to bet that they’re doing this all in English. I’m wondering how the kids will become productive Israelis. Will they feel comfortable communicating with Israelis or will they only befriend other Anglos?
    I’m not trying to say that all homeschoolers are social weird but the people who I know who homeschool decided upon it because they didn’t fit into the Israeli school system. For one mother it was a natural choice because her daughter was extremely introverted and she had been homeschooled in the past.
    It’s always important to me to see how people’s choices will effect their integration into the larger Israeli society. For olim it’s hard enough as it is even in a regular school. To make it harder by isolating the kids in an all English environment doesn’t seem like it would help them integrate.

  16. mother in israel says:

    The English-speakers I know do make an effort to integrate their kids through hugim and meetings with Hebrwe speaking homeschoolers. But the worst that will happen is that they will be like olim–and I think that scenario is highly unlikely as homeschoolers tend to involve their kids in the community, neighborhood etc. Even if their Hebrew is poor they will still have grown up here with all it entails. BB, are there enough Anglos in your yishuv that the homeschooled kids really don’t need to learn Hebrew?

  17. Yael Aldrich says:

    BB,
    You give an example of Anglo olim kids on your yishuv being homeschooled (probably in English and possibly not having lots of contact with native Israeli children) after seeming to have problems making it in the public/private school system. You wonder how the children will become “productive Israelis”.
    Perhaps becoming “productive Israelis” is not what the parents’ goals are for their children.
    I know my ultimate goal for my children, no matter where I take them (and they have been all over the world) and no matter else goes on my our lives, is that they become AND stay yirei shamayim, honest,good middos possessing Shomrei Mitzvos.
    If I have to homeschool to have that happen, I will do it. If they would never feel comfortable being “Israeli”, I would be ok with that. If those children made yerida, and became people of impeccable ethics and fear of G-d and Shomer Mitzvos but lived in America/Europe/wherever, that would be ok in my eyes!
    I know children of olim who went off the derech and all the heartache it produced for the family. If that could be prevented that by simply homeschooling those children BEFORE the problems began in earnest — wouldn’t you?

  18. mother in israel says:

    Yael, thanks for your comments. I think that most of us hope to raise our children not only to be yirei shamayim and ethical, but also productive members of our society. Most Israeli parents, once they have made aliyah, are not preparing our children for life in chu”l although they might want them to have that as an option.

  19. Yael, I think most frum parents want their children to acquire middot and yirat shamayim in addition to acquiring the skills to become productive members of whatever society they choose to join, whether it’s Israel or chu’l.
    For children of olim in particular, relying on chu’l as a backstop is not the answer to a child’s difficulties. Homeschooling may or may not be the solution, it really depends on the family’s individual situation and inclinations. Who’s to say that chu’l would be the answer anyway, particularly if the child is having adjustment problems? I can’t imagine sending a child with difficulties back to American to fend for themselves, even if they were an older teenager/young adult.
    I want my children to have good middot and yirat shamayim and successfully integrate into our community and society here in Israel, in which case, exclusive English homeschooling would not be an appropriate choice for us.

  20. mother in israel says:

    Yael, I want to add that while I see your point, I don’t agree with the assumption that homeschooling is some kind of “magic bullet” that will prevent children from going off the derech. And the choice to homeschool is most definitely not simple for the majority of families.

  21. Hope it is OK to add a comment late.
    anyway 1, re homeschooling in Hebrew.
    This seems to be becoming popular, anyone interested would have to look for articles in the Israeli press.
    I saw one in Makor rishon and presume that the Horim Veyealdim magazine also dealt with this.
    re the story in your post about the family of 6, well, the oldest girl left home for sherut leumi, the next 2 which we will now presume were boys, went to Yeshiva high school with dorms, and the parents were left at home with 3 young children again (and did not know even who to ask to babysit if they wanted to go out)

  22. mother in israel says:

    Ah, so I did not lose out by having my daughter be #3, as she is available to babysit for a few more years. My number 4 is already 12. I did have to get a babysitter a few weeks ago, when my husband went to a school function with him and the older kids were busy. My 4yo was totally traumatized. Surely finding a babysitter couldn’t be that hard!

  23. Yael Aldrich says:

    Abbi and MIL,
    I’m sorry to chime in belatedly.
    I agree homeschooling isn’t anyone’s “magic bullet” and it is not for everyone (like we said in the Orthonomics blog) but it can be a possibility and that is all we (may I take on the mantle as Happy Homeschooler?) wish to have people keep in mind…

  24. mother in israel says:

    Thank you, Yael, for clarifying. I think you and your husband have done a good job of that.

  25. Beth lee says:

    I loved this post. Thankyou for writing it. I’m a catholic homeschooler in america and i just brought home my 5th child. I get the same kind of comments from people. I don’t “unschool” … Yet … But I see how that would make life easier. I’m at that stage you described where I’m researching how to better manage my home and take shortcuts in order to keep it all together, which is how I came across your post.

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  1. […] Meet Tal and Talia: How Do Parents of Large Families Manage? […]

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