Many celebrities of today seem to have fashionably, large families. Chances are also high that you know at least two families that have more than the average 1.9 kids that has been dubbed average since 2003 by the Center for National Statistics. On the outside it may appear as though women today are recreating the 1950s baby boom of having large families to take care of, rivaling those of our grandmothers but the truth is we aren’t. In fact, a larger than average family is considered a family of 3 children (2.9 to be exact) and only around 28% of all families today fit into this category. Why are family sizes so low? According to a report by the Center for National Statistics, there has been a global decrease in the amount of children seen as being an acceptable number.
Decades ago, families just grew and no one would dare question whether they had the time, money, skill, large enough house, car, or necessary means to take care of more. They just did!
Family size saw its biggest decline in the early 1900’s. Prior to that, the average family size was 7.3 children, with some families having as many as 14 kids. Sure, there was no birth control to speak of aside from abstinence; and marital sex was seen as a requirement for women rather than something that could be withheld. This of course led to an immense amount of large families. During the 1900’s however, the average family size was around 5 kids per family. Considering how much it costs to raise a family, this seems like a huge undertaking to say the least. Sure, costs are relative throughout history and since wages were lower, so were necessities like food and housing. However the biggest change in the cost of raising kids has to do with parental attitude. Today, families with just the norm 1.9 children struggle continuously to financially care for their little investment. So how in the world did grandma (or great grandma) raise all those kids on a print person’s wages? She sure as hell didn’t work! Or did she?
Revisit the past for a moment and remember those quiet conversations with your grandmother about when she was a little girl. What you will clearly notice is that people didn’t have it easier back then. Women learned how to ‘work’ in the careful art of raising a family and tending to the home from the time they could walk. Family’s ironed clothes, washed them by hand, hung them to dry. They walked to grocery stores, grew their own vegetables and fruits, made their own bread, butter and cheeses. They fed the cow that they would have slaughtered to eat for the year, milked a goat for a fresh supply of milk, and relied upon the chicken for eggs. What they couldn’t do themselves, they traded with other families in a win-win situation that gave them what they needed in order to raise their children. Food and shelter came first and far before multiple layers of clothes, toys or other items that were seemed as unnecessary.
One of the biggest differences between now and then, is that kids were expected to do a whole lot more then than they are now. Children worked along side their parents, learning the careful art of living well under simple means. And this gave them quality time together as well as feeling of family bonding, ownership and belonging that is often missing in today’s fast paced and technological world. Today, parents feel obligated to let their kids be kids, and would never expect little boys and girls to help carry the familiar weight of responsibility.
Mothers stayed home until the 1970’s. It wasn’t until then that the biggest decline in family size was seen in the United States and across Europe. Despite Dr. Margaret Sangor’s attempts to legalize and distribute birth control freely, it was not until 1965 that women were given the right to obtain birth control legally. These two events occurring with a few years of one another, were clearly the gateways to changing traditions when it came to family and family size.
Quite clearly, large families are not something new. The question is why was it possible for women decades ago to flawlessly and effortlessly raise broods of children, when today – according to nearly every Mommy Blog you will read, raising one or two takes a selfless act of congress. Could it be that we are trying too hard to do too much too often? Could it be that it really isn’t about money, time, love, health care, relationships, geography, or the other things we use as an excuse and is really a matter of convenience?
When you dissect the differences between then and now, it is easy to see why EVERYTHING costs more money today than it did then. We are simply buying convenience. The bread maker, grocery store, gas station, fast food joint, pharmacy, nail salon, hair dresser, washing machine, dryer, dishwasher and nearly every other convenience in our lives costs us money. And lots of it. Women of yesterday raised their family to work alongside them and rarely banked on modern conveniences to help them with the chores. So less went further.
And there’s more. Just as we have grown through technology to think we cannot live without a washing machine or refrigerator we have also become liberated about our ideas on raising children. Whether right or wrong, parents have become softer and tend to expect a heck of a lot less from children today than our grandmother’s did. Are we raising more level headed, well rounded, and intelligent generations? Time will tell.
Perhaps the biggest difference between you and your great-grandmother, grandmother and probably even mother, is the thinking. Women have been freed from being nothing more than the matronly center of the home and universe. Now that the possibilities are endless, so are the wants and desires. If you asked your great grandmother how she did it, she would likely not have an answer. She just did. She went without. She did what needed to be done in the best way she knew how. She didn’t complain because there was no use in it and furthermore, it wasn’t going to put bread on the table. She wasn’t unhappy. She was busy. And she was simply adept at doing what it took, no matter how hard it was. That was just life as she knew it. Life as YOU know it now, is sadly a bittersweet combination of too much and not enough – with little to balance the two.