In those early days when we first began considering parenthood, the question of ‘how many children do you want to have?’ was always a part of the discussion. I would always answer that ‘six is a good number,’ and my wife’s eyes would get very big, ‘Really?’ The only thing we had firmly decided was that we wanted an even number of children and, if possible, we would like to have a boy and a girl. That meant if we had two girls, we would have two more children in an effort to have at least one of them be a boy. If there were no boys when we reached six, then that was enough.
Just how serious we were about having six children I don’t really know. Probably not very serious. I was working for the Department of Defense, I didn’t have a college degree, and I knew my earning power, while pretty good, was not going to support a huge family. We had a practical approach that preceded the emotional or religious factors that often enter into family planning discussions.
Then Sarah was born and we discovered something new. It was something that we should have assumed but had not really considered. This parenting thing was really cool! We seemed to be natural parents and we were enjoying every minute of it. My wife and I had almost identical ideas about nearly all parenting issues. Even we knew how unusual that was for couples. There were no arguments about what we would do in different situations. If we were thinking of something new we would discuss it in private and then present a united front.
This style of parenting required some extra work on our part, but it made the overall job; the job that we took most seriously, that much easier and smoother. By presenting a united front, our children were never tempted to go to one parent or the other because they were an ‘easy mark.’ Whenever Sarah would come to us with a request our automatic response was “did you ask your mother/father?” If the answer was yes, then there was ‘hell to pay’ because we didn’t want to get into a situation where the children were ‘playing us’ against each other.
Knowing this forced Sarah to decide ahead of time which parent she would ask for things. Certainly, my wife would give a different answer than I would and we would abide by those answers. But Sarah would learn which parent was most likely to grant certain types of requests and which would not.
There was one other fundamental decision that we made early in our parenting experience. We would always give our children the opportunity to succeed. That’s sounds simple, but it takes some thought about the everyday activities of the child. As an example, each child will have its own unique likes and dislikes at the dinner table. ‘Ra no like trees’ [Sarah doesn’t like broccoli] was an early indication of this. Also, each child will have its own appetites. We felt that to pile on adult amounts of food onto a child’s plate was probably not going to work. There would always be a way for Sarah to successfully finish her dinner. If there was going to be any wasted food, it should not be on the dinner plate. If we cooked more food than the family could eat, we felt that wasn’t the child’s fault and the child shouldn’t bear any consternation about it.
At the same time, this wasn’t a restaurant we were running. Children don’t get to choose from a menu for dinner. We felt that we made every effort to accommodate the likes and dislikes of the entire family for every meal, and we tried to introduce new foods on a regular basis, but in the final analysis, this is dinner.
These types of decisions were carried forward as carefully as we could though the lives of the children. We knew there would be limited money available for things and there would be limited space in the house to hold everything we all wanted. So, we wanted the children to know that if they wanted that new outfit for school, and we got it for them, then it was going to be worn. When the closet was full, the closet was full. If you got a new outfit, you had to get rid of an old outfit so that everything would fit. With very few exceptions, we weren’t going to be a family of collectors and hoarders. Generally, these lessons were well learned and have stayed with them as they got older.