Large Families: Quantity Over (Air) Quality

As a tree hugging only child, I was shocked when the Today show featured the Duggar family announcing their 19th child. No, that is not a typo! This announcement comes a month before the Duggars are expecting their first grandchild. The wife of their oldest son, 21, will give birth before the child 19 arrives next year. 

 In my shock, I researched family sizes and came up with some Pros and Cons regarding having a large family.

PROS: 1. Children will always have someone to blame when they get in trouble.

2. They will likely always have a playmate and never get bored and hopefully they will learn to share, be cooperative and develop social skills pertaining to dealing with peers.

3. Parents are almost guaranteed to have someone to take care of them in old age.

–For me, having someone to blame or someone to play with were missing from my life as a child. However, you could argue that not having someone to blame gave me a sense of personal responsibility and playing by myself gave me a wonderful imagination.

CONS:  1. Parents get less sleep, privacy, and personal time. (Although, they have to have some time otherwise how are they getting pregnant so often?)

2. Children get less individual attention from the parents and the older ones are called upon to act as mini-parents to the younger ones.

3. The money it takes to feed, cloth, and school several children is a large chunk of change.

4. Big families require big cars if they want to travel together.

5. More children contribute to overpopulation of an already overpopulated planet.

 I came across many blogs where the mothers seem to have a bitter attitude regarding questions of overpopulation, birth control, and having enough energy. Although, I understand how a person can get sick and tired of answering the same thing over and over again I find these questions important. These mothers need to keep in mind that they choose to have this many children and should understand the consequences such as people asking questions about overpopulation over and over again.

Scientists see overpopulation as one the largest threats to the environment. A recent SUNY survey of the College of Environmental Science and Forestry resulted in overpopulation being the biggest ecological concern due to its connection with loss of land, increase in carbon dioxide outputs and overconsumption. Many scientists felt it was a bigger threat to overall environmental stability than climate change.

Many proponents of big families don’t believe the world is overpopulated and point to lower birthrates in Europe to support their opinion. Although birth rates in some European countries are down, many still rank in the top 40 most populated countries in the world such as UK, Italy, and France. In addition, the world population is estimated to top 8 billion in just 15 years, which is a gigantic number!

An answer to concerns regarding large families used by supporters that I came across over and over again was “What! You don’t think children are a blessing?” This response is immature and doesn’t get at the real issues. I find every child to be amazing and full of potential. I adore my nieces* and miss them everyday, but I’m not sad I don’t have more children around me. I love these girls and realize their lives will be meaningful whether or not they choose to have children.

This research has led me to the discovery of many other topics such as the Quiverfull movement, which is a call to have lots babies in order to build religious warriors. In addition, Crisis Pregnancy Centers have gone a step further than just scare tactics and false information to get pregnant women not to have abortions. Some of these centers are even in the business of babies in order to place them with better Christian families. These are topics that deserve a lot more consideration and will be featured in posts to come.

 *I am an only child, but have nieces through my best friend.


  1. Andrea, I’m glad that you brought up the Duggar family, because when I heard about them, I was intrigued. I am curious about their religious background. I don’t like making assumptions about people, but I am guessing that they are some brand of Evangelical Christian. I am also guessing that Mrs. Duggar stays home. Who can afford child care for 19 children? If that’s the case, what does Mr. Duggar do for a job? And are they receiving any sort of public assistance? I can’t think of any job that would pay enough that one salary could support 21 people. If Mr. Duggar does have enough cheddar to keep all his kids in clothes, with a roof over their head, I clearly need to discover his secret. Because I find it hard enough to pay for 2 people – let alone 21.

    As to the issue of choices – I really want to say that we should support and honor everyone’s choices, but I think you bring up valid points in terms of the environment. Of course many Evangelicals believe in the rapture, so they’re not too concerned about the planet pooping out because of resources depletion, since Jesus is coming, anyway.

  2. I rather object to your framing of the pros and cons; you’ve left out pros, implied that even the pros are cons, and chosen cons that a lot of people wouldn’t consider to be so. I cannot fault an only child for not being intimately familiar with the reality of a large family, but please, you could have at least talked to someone who actually does. I don’t know where you got your research, but it kind of sounds like you’re basing your opinion solely on the Duggars–and they’re an anomaly, which is why they have their own tv show and my family doesn’t.

    I am one of 7 children, and in my opinion, the only con on your list that actually matters is #5 (overpopulation). My parents couldn’t have cared less about #1; if they’d wanted private time, they wouldn’t have had 7 kids. #2 is bunk, honestly; I’ve never felt neglected by either of my parents, and while I did babysit my younger siblings, we see it more as closer bonding overall than “oh god i was raised by my older sisters!!!” I didn’t “raise” anyone. I got to share in the childhood of my younger siblings, and that is precious to me. You kind of have to expect #3 and #4 when you have kids; see my answer to Con #1.

    You’re right about learning cooperation, but I think you’re off-base when you imply that cooperation and independence are mutually exclusive. I had a fantastic imagination when I was a child, which I entertained both alone and with my siblings. I learned personal responsibility because my parents never let us get away with blaming each other.

    I did always have a playmate when I was a child, but I also had the option of no playmates at all–when I wanted to be alone, I found a way. Hence, I grew up with options, I had choices, I learned to take control of my life. It could also be said that I’m more resourceful than an only child; I had to figure out how to be alone, but it’s easy for an only child.

    And all of this doesn’t even deal with the biggest pro of all: my siblings. I acknowledge that overpopulation is indeed a problem, but what am I supposed to do now? What are my parents supposed to do? Kill some of us off? And it’s all very well and good for people like you to say “Well, you just shouldn’t have had that many kids in the first place,” but what you are essentially saying is “Pretty much all of you shouldn’t exist. Sorry.” Who am I going to wish wasn’t here? My older sister, who has a family of her own now (apparently they all shouldn’t exist either)? My little brother, who just got his Eagle Scout and joined the Navy at 17? My little sister, who is 13 and reading at a college level?

    Each and every one of my siblings is precious to me. Think of that best friend or close family member who would jump in front of a bus for you. I’ve got 6 people who fit that description, and I count myself lucky for it.

    So my point is, you don’t know what it’s like to live in a big family, you don’t know any of the actual pros and cons, so please, rant about overpopulation all you want, but don’t pretend you know enough to discuss any other facets of the issue.

  3. I agree with a lot of what Lucy said, especially the part about contributing to overpopulation being the only real con. (As one of four sisters, I love the relationship we have, not just with one another individually but as a team.) Of course lots of kids isn’t for everyone, so there might be a lot of cons to someone who doesn’t want a large family of their own (like me!) – but if you voluntarily have one, then lacking time and privacy is obviously not going to make you regret it.

    Ehem, anyway- the main thing I wanted to respond to is this: “These mothers need to keep in mind that they choose to have this many children and should understand the consequences such as people asking questions about overpopulation over and over again.”

    Really? It sounds like if you boil that down, you get ‘You made a reproductive choice, so now you have to suck it up and deal with the consequences’. And whether it’s “you chose to have sex, now you have to accept an unwanted pregnancy” or “you chose an abortion, so don’t complain about others judging you” or “you had a bunch of kids so you should have known people would ask you annoying questions”…I don’t know, I agree that population problems ARE a valid concern, but this kind of phrasing makes me feel icky no matter what the reproductive decision in question!

    Then again, I’m possibly the only person I know who wanted everyone to lay off that poor women who had octuplets and then some and now is a mess. It’s not like sexual decisions are uniquely sacrosanct, but they get so much prying scrutiny already, why should I contribute to that?

  4. You call yourself “pro-choice” but what you really mean is “pro-abortion.” What about a woman’s choice to have a baby? Or lots of babies, for that matter? What about a woman’s choice to stay at home with her children? Are these not valid choices deserving of respect? You have based your entire argument on a list of pros and cons that, pardon my french, you pulled out of your ass. If you were to actually interview some big families about the pros and cons of having lots of children, you might be surprised by the answers you receive. I can guarantee having “someone else to blame” won’t make either list. You have done nothing with this post but demonstrate your own ignorance on the issue.

  5. Ok, while I could probably write a lengthy essay on this post, I’m going to touch on just a few points.

    First, you are merely grasping at straws regarding the overpopulation issue. As far as organizations such as Quiverfull, those are extremist groups and it’s doubtful that most large families (3 or more children) are reproducing to create religious warriors.

    You say, “I adore my nieces* and miss them everyday, but I’m not sad I don’t have more children around me”. There are plenty of people, me included, who would be sad without my children! We’re entitled to our own opinions and reproductive rights just as you are.

    Finally, “Some of these centers are even in the business of babies in order to place them with better Christian families”…yes, it’s called adoption. Have you heard of it?

    It sounds like you’re in favor of the one-child law. Perhaps you should move to China?

  6. gmwilliams says:

    As another pro-choice singleton, I concur with you a milnillionth percent. To me, there are no pros of the large family, only cons. Large families, on the whole, receive more outside assistance than small families which include monetary support and donations. An overwhelming 99% of large families can be described as impoverished. You are sooo correct. People from large families do not have a sense of individualization that we onlies have. People from large families have poor cultural and intellectual skills. Naturally, they do not travel, go to museums and participate in other cultural and intellectual activities.

    In my elememtary school, it is the people from large families who were the C and D students. They were also the ones who shook down more affluent children from small families for lunch money. I remember one girl from a large family cutting up another classmate’s designer dress because she could not afford one. This was the same girl who daily shook down other students for lunch money because her parents could not afford to feed her.

    All these developmentally challenged people who “praised” theirl large families are actually in denial. For example, the woman who was the oldest of seven raising her younger siblings. This is what they do in large families, the parents do not raise their children. They FORCE their oldest children to raise them. Oldest children in large families HAVE NO childhood like we onlies do. We can spend time alone to create and thnk. Children from large families live in packs and have no alone time. What that woman said was a fabrication regarding having alone time. Who is she fooling.

    You are correct to say what you say about large families. Large families are totally unnecessary in this day and age. Women who have large families need psychiatric care as they have baby hunger. Baby hunger is defined by an incessant need to procreate in order to fill a creative void. This can be done by having an intelligent hobby, a job(yes, a job), volunteer activities, and by participating in educational, intellectual, and cultural activities. However, we are talking to a different species of people. People who have large families are less educated and less affluent than people who have small families. It is good that you are talking about the large family. They have been knocking us onlies for years and payback is sooo good. Keep up the good work, my singleton sister.

  7. I’m one of 11, and in my 30s (also from a Quiverfull family). I must disagree with the above commenters who, like me, are from large families. Overpopulation is not the biggest or only con. The lack of parental attention is a HUGE con, because this lack of attention can have devastating consequences for the children. It IS fun to be a part of a big family, if you ave the right temeprament. In my 30s now, I have had seen that lack of personal attention from parents (siblings do NOT count) and the chaos due to so many different relationship dynamics always in play, are indeed huge drawbacks to having a large family. I have also seen many large families break up due to a lack of time between mother and father. I have seen how this con results in divorce very frequently. I have beautiful memories of being in a large family, but also, many memories of complete neglect, be it of myself, or my siblings. And this neglect came from the fact there were simply so so many of us. I have also seen it in most large families I have known. Many parents of many live based on image. They want the image of a large, loving family. Ultimately it’s an immature need for a feeling of camraderie at the expense of each little individual making up their “quiver”. With so many little ones, it’s hard not to enjoy their love and cuteness. But they grow up, and I do believe there is a denial from many from large familes about problems faced as the children grow up.In my heart, I love big families, but life has shown me that generally, they are not a good idea, there is too little thoughtfulness going on in many ways- most of all, it undervalues each individual child and each relationship with that child if you are driven to reproduce so prolifically – how is that valuing the children you already have? Pros: fun, and alway something to do and stay busy with, someone will probably be there to care for you when older, playmates for siblings. Cons: Too little attention for each child, too little time for the parents to themselevs and each other, financial,emotional, mental strain, chaos. I think a (very) large family probably not a good idea. But i wish them all the best. And their kids too. Re the Duggars…I can’t watch that show. It triggers me bad. I feel horrible for the older girls who do most of everything. I don’t believe a parent is truly valuing each and every kid if they have 18 and yet are “open” to one more. By all means love that 19th child. They all need love. But the parents are overextended and then some. The children will be affected. Yes, some parents really can give enough attention to their large broods, but I have observed the number is small who can and do really do this. A significant number of large-family parents are simply addicted to babies/babyhaving and/or addicted to having something to do and people around them. This is what I have seen.

  8. “Then again, I’m possibly the only person I know who wanted everyone to lay off that poor women who had octuplets and then some and now is a mess.” — R, you and me both.
    Also ….I don’t think people should have to “answer” for their reproductive choices. Isn’t it rude when childless or childfree women are asked why they did not have kids? I think so. People are funny in that they presume both childfree AND child-abundant people are “selfish”! It’s an self righteous age we live in. One thing I hated about being from a big family – people talking about how much waste a large family produces and energy we consumed. Well, on the one hand , true. But most of the people who criticized us seemed to be somewhat wealthy people who always had new cars, and more than one car per family, new clothes, big houses (that displaced animals and trees if they were built in rural areas), and many other things that seemed to me that, because of their lavishness, one criticizer was generating as much waste as four members of my family put together. We rarely to never bought new clothes, (many who criticize buy new clothes every few months!) we NEVER had a new car, did not take long trips, did not waste much of anything. We were also very spare with things such as heat, water, and many other things. I think, often, people in huge homes should NOT criticize those in large families, as they are taking up TOO MUCH SPACE and using up too much energy themselves. Many people love to act environmentally friendly but they are in fact very selfish in their use of land and resources in various ways themselves. Though I am in fact not a proponent of having a large family (for my own reasons) I am also not a proponent of taking up too much space…or at least, look at how you live yourself and what you use and all your waste you generate, before you act like you are being kinder to earth than the family of eight you look down on ….the gas you use, the water you use to wash your big cars and huge lawn, may be more than that one big family uses.

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