Thanks to Angelina Jolie, having lots of kids is hip
My four children aren't status symbols. But they do represent an opportunity to share love.
Over the past year or two, several news stories have suggested that in certain affluent circles, "four is the new two" and that it may be a new sort of keeping up with the Joneses: instead of a big-screen TV and expensive car, the new one-uppers just keep adding more kids to the fold.
While my husband and I have four stair-step boys ages 10, 9, 4, and 2, and I'm expecting another, we aren't part of that particular breed of breeders.
Our lives are nowhere near glamorous. We drive a 2001 Dodge Caravan. My husband works as a computer technician, while I earn the other half of our living as a freelance writer. And we frolic at the public beach, not a country-club pool.
The Jolie-Pitts – or even the Palins – we aren't.
We don't fit other large-family stereotypes, either. We aren't Roman Catholic, Mormon, or Orthodox Jewish, and have no religious opposition to birth control. While we aren't wealthy by any means, we aren't poor as church mice, either.
Four kids weren't always considered a "big" family. In 1976 – the year before I was born – an American woman had a 36 percent chance of giving birth to four or more children in her lifetime, and about 60 percent of women had families of three children or more.
But according to the latest census, the number of women who can expect to have three or more has been cut to 29 percent, while those with four or more children has dwindled to 10 percent. And as the number of mothers having more than a couple of kids has dwindled, so has understanding of families that don't fit the two-kid mold.
I'm frequently treated to comments like "Are you crazy?" and "Better you than me!" While I don't (usually) take them personally, it's easy to see that we've become a culture in which kids are seen as more burden than blessing.
But there are many of us who simply like children, enjoy having a lot of them around, and even do a good job at raising them in bulk – though if you buy into today's high-pressure, high-cost parenting style (which, incidentally, isn't scoring many points among child-development experts these days), it may seem impossible.
It's true that I may never be able to provide all five of my kids with all the material comforts that I might have given one or two. They'll have to figure out a way to help finance their higher education (a fate that many kids from smaller families also face). And, yes, the fact that I have to divide my time between them pretty much eliminates the danger of my turning into a "helicopter parent."
But I happen to think there's immense value in some of the lessons kids learn in larger families, like having to share, having to wait your turn, and realizing that other people's needs are just as important as your own.
My kids will reach adulthood with a built-in support network that will be around long after my husband and I are gone. There's plenty of love to go around in my family – and not all of it has to come from Mom and Dad, though of course, plenty of it does.
I've heard the argument that children use up precious resources. But as far as I'm concerned, my children are a resource.
When, later in life, we parents will be the ones who need constant care, it's our children who will be providing it; let's hope there are enough of them to go around.
Despite world population growth trend lines, birthrates are falling in Europe. Even here in the US, the number of births per woman hovers right around replacement rates. A relatively small number of couples choosing to have four or five or even 12 kids isn't likely to skew those numbers much.
My kids aren't status symbols, but to me they are a symbol of sorts: Children represent opportunity for the love, compassion, and support that's learned within families to be shared with the rest of us.
It's time our entire culture shifted its priority away from things and back toward people.
There are a lot of ways to accomplish that. Ours happens to be choosing a larger family over a more luxurious lifestyle.
And who knows? Someone's fourth or fifth baby may just change the world. Or at least, her little corner of it.
• Meagan Francis is the author of "Table for Eight: Raising a Large Family in a Small-Family World." She is the founder of www.largerfamilies.com.