Thursday, January 18, 2018

What I Learned Growing Up in a Big Family

1. You own nothing. You might think you do, but you don't, really. Your siblings are always taking your stuff. Even your money--if you had change sitting on your dresser, they would replace quarters with nickels, dimes with pennies. Luckily, mom marked our clothes. I had red "x's". I could force the twins to take off their shoes and show me their socks. Even when you think something is indisputably yours---like your First Communion prayer book that your grandmother wrote your name in her beautiful script so there could be no doubt---your sister will write her name in the front with a red crayon! Even when you get a brand new bike for Christmas, but can't ride it because of a broken arm---you siblings get it first!

2. What little you do have, you take care of. You can't afford replacements--no matter who breaks it or messes it up. Your siblings don't have any money either---unless they were the one who swapped out your coins. No way to know for sure.

3. You learn to share. You can't afford to be selfish. You might have something really cool (game, record, clothing) but if you don't share, you don't have access to your siblings stuff. As I've said, you don't really own anything anyway, so you might as well share what you do have. Less fights that way. And less chance that your stuff will be vandalized "accidentally on purpose!"

4. There is always someone who will go along with your schemes---sneaking cookies out of the freezer or eating cherries or pickles until they are gone. You have to have someone so you can't be snitched upon! On the other hand, there is always someone willing to play whatever you want. You might have to go down the line and be stuck with a littler kid, but still there was someone to play with.

5. It's never quiet. You learn to read while blocking out crazy background noise. Watching tv was just about impossible unless it was Leave it to Beaver or The Flintstones. The noise and fighting would get to our mom. She was always yelling, "You kids are driving me to the nut house!"

6. If you forget to call "place back" you're relegated to the floor. We never had seating for nine in our living room. Many fights over that---"you didn't call placeback!" "Yes I did too call placeback!" And on and on.

7. There's really nothing wrong with fighting and we did a lot of that. You learn what hurts and what doesn't. The twins had tender heads where as it didn't hurt to pull my hair. I pretended like it did while I yanked theirs out!!! They thought they were killing me---my fake screams were among the best. I say "they" because since "they" were twins, they fought in pairs.  Inside, I just laughed, because pulling my hair didn't really hurt. Now, gouging me with their fingernails--in the face---was another story! You survive.

8. You have a lot more sins to tell in confession. "Bless me Father for I have sinned, it's been one week since my last confession. I hit my brothers and sisters 12 times. I lied 3 times. I stole cookies twice." It was important to tell what you stole because stealing cookies from home or candy from a sibling was a "venial sin" while stealing from a store or another person outside your family was a "mortal sin" which meant you'd go directly to hell when you died. There's a difference.

9. Washing dishes alone is terrible and takes 3 hours. We were supposed to work together: set the table, clear the table, put the leftovers away, wash, dry, put away, take out the garbage, wipe everything. We fought so much that my parents made us each take one week and do everything by ourselves. It was bad when it was your turn, but then you had two weeks off. Somehow, those two weeks flew by. It always felt like I was doing dishes. Dishwashers were a God-send. It wasn't until after I married and moved out that the family got one. Of course by then Butch and I lived in a cheap apartment, then on to a rental house, another apartment in West Virginia. I didn't get to stop washing dishes by hand until 1978. Assuming I had to start washing dishes at 5, I hand washed dishes for 21 years.

10. We didn't have much at Christmas, but we never knew it. We got a lot of practical things: socks, underwear, tshirts, pajamas, new crayons (which were broken within two days---see #1 above), and always a big life saver book (In those days, you got 12 packs of lifesavers inside. Now-a-days you only get 8---bummer). We got a few toys and books (always my favorite). But here's the thing, mom wrapped EVERYTHING! With so many in the family, it was amazing to see dozens of presents under the tree. That's why I wrap everything too. You can spread out the gifts to fill the room and make it look like a wonderland! It definitely was at our house!

11. You missed out on the pickles if you weren't around when someone opened the jar. See #4 above. Mom had shelves in the basement where she stored extra food. Beware if you were the one sent down there to get pickles or cherries or crackers. You'd come up with nothing but a jar full of juice or an empty box. Even though we were all in on it, whoever had to reveal the crime got it the worst!

12. If you make a pact with your siblings to confess to our parents all the "wrongs" we'd done (crossing the street, sneaking cookies, saying bad words, playing doctor (the worst) or breaking something)---you better be sure to go first. Too many times as soon as the first one unloaded and we saw the trouble they got in, the rest of us chickened out! Bad for us because the "goodie two shoes" confessor now had all kinds of stuff on us. That's how Ronnie got my Mickey Mouse pencil box I got for my 8th birthday. Blackmail always works in a big family.

13. Your sibling will NOT stick up for you!! If you found yourself in trouble, you were on your own. If you were being blamed for something you didn't do, no one will step up on your behalf. They just stand on the sidelines---happy it's not them in the crosshairs and praying they won't be! On the other hand, if someone outside the family messes with you, the others will jump in.

14. You were on your own when it came to schoolwork. No one would help you. In fact they'd more likely laugh and make fun if you had homework and they didn't! They'd make a point of doing fun stuff without you.

15. You mostly hate your siblings. Sometimes you sorta liked them, but mostly you hated them. Some more than others. Nobody hates the baby. But when you grow up, you love them all! And that's the truth!

Growing up in a big family---I wouldn't have traded it for the world!


  1. My daughter in law is from a large family, she's one of six children - 5 girls and a boy. In her whole life she's only ever had a bedroom to herself for the three years she was at university! I love this post, I can't imagine having that many siblings - and it's great how relationships change as you get older. All those fights and squabbles, just amusing memories now - but I bet they were serious at the time!

  2. This is so funny, yet many I can relate to...I had 5 siblings and never had my own room until I moved out at the age of 16.
    One thing different is we never fought and always stuck up for each other.
    I even helped my younger brother put on every pair of underware and pants that fit him as we thought he was going to get a likin' for something he did, lol.


Thanks for commenting. If you would like a response from me, then please leave your email address.