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Savoring Our Small Families

C.B. Gavant

When my children were young, my day revolved around bottles and diapers and nap times just like my friends’ did. But as time passes, our lives have diverged. How mothers of small families cope with the challenges and focus on the blessings.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

At a social function one Chol Hamoed afternoon, I mentioned the outing I’d taken with my children that morning.

“How old are your children?” came the inevitable question.

“Nine and ten,” I said.

Pause.

“Those are your oldest?”

“No, they’re my only.”

I smiled and tried not to notice the silence that fell, to ignore the sense that, once again, I’ve marked myself as different.

In our society of large families, I stick out. As my friends are blessed with numbers six, seven, and eight, I cherish my two. Our family dynamics are different, our Chol Hamoed outings are different, our Shabbos seudos are different. And as any frum mother of a small family can testify, we sometimes feel like we’re defined more by our differentness than by our sameness.

 

The Great Divide

When my children were little I was doing the same thing my friends were — dealing with sleepless nights, teething tots, and tantruming toddlers. Now, though, while many of my contemporaries have elementary-school-age children like I do, they also have a houseful of younger children to feed, dress, and clean up after. My two fairly self-sufficient children are out until five o’clock, instead of trooping in at one or two. My Shabbos preparations are quicker, and my vacation days aren’t spent entertaining a variety of ages.

Many mothers of small families share that, at a certain point, they’re no longer on the same merry-go-round as most of their peers. “Some of my good friends have five or six kids already,” acknowledges fellow Mishpacha writer Yael Ehrenpreis Meyer, the mother of a long-awaited five-year-old daughter. “I often feel like I can only participate in one-fifth of their conversation. When they’re talking about their five-year-old, I have tons to say. When they’re talking about their ten-year-old, I can’t contribute at all. Many of my neighbors are already up to the bar or bas mitzvah stage, and it’s hard to be out of sync.”

This “out of sync” experience is echoed by Dvarya Katz, a grief counselor in Beit Shemesh who runs support groups for mothers of small families. “Frum women expect to grow up, get married, and have a large family,” she says. “When those expectations aren’t met, they feel like they haven’t accomplished what they’re meant to. There’s a sense of inequality, of being a little bit of an outcast, out of the norm.” 

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