Can we have too many children?

A few weeks back I sent the following question to Lisa at A Bushel and A Peck and she suggested that she use it as her Tuesday Topic. I look forward to seeing what she and her readers have to say.

Upon reading the difficulty you had in finding only 15 minutes in a day to spend with one of your children (GIMH Rockin' Mama Challenge) I had to ask myself why a person would have so many children. I've always been of the mindset that people can have too many children and that when they do, it's unfair to the children as they cannot possibly receive as much attention as they need, and deserve.

For context, I'm an adopted person who is not anti adoption. I am not religious and do not subscribe to adoption being any group's God's will and I do believe in hugging/cuddling children of any age that want it.

I decided to send my question in an email as opposed to a comment because Lisa took quite a bit of (in my opinion unwarranted) heat over the original post and I didn't want to contribute to that, and still don't. Please keep that in mind if you decide to share your thoughts either here or there.


  1. I have to say that in most instances I agree with you. Families like the Duggars sort of weird me out. Personally, I think she has a mental issue but has hidden it well enough that society on the whole lauds her. I call it the "need to collect something" disorder. LOL My friend relates adoptive parents who do this with her one time obsession with rescuing birds, i.e. injured hawks etc. Adopted children especially come with unique needs in bonding and feeling secure and loved that should be completely met and I do wonder if parents who are constantly adopting are taking the time to meet those needs.

    Now with all that being said, I think there are certain exceptions that can be made. I have read a few blogs from parents that have adopted dozens or more. At first glance I think they are crazy. However, with 2 of the families they have foster children (mostly sibling groups) and distrupted adoptions. Children that are hard to place, that would in all likelihood be bounced from home to home before being tossed out of the system to fend for themselves.

  2. I have two adopted children and I certainly can't imagine having any more. I guess some people are just a lot more patient than I am.

  3. Interesting....I have 4 as you know and I can only speak for myself when I say I think yes, we can have too many children!!
    I could not, let me repeat, COULD NOT, handle one more child and have often wondered what I would do if I found myself pregnant.
    Here is how I feel about it in the context of my family: My children are all very different and have very different needs. One is adopted, one has mild special needs, one is at that "risky" age (closing in on 13) and definitely testing the limits and one is extremely involved in sports and has lots of games and practices. They all require a lot of time, energy and patience. I try not to make them responsible for each other too much - I am the parent, they are siblings. I pay my oldest if I ask him to babysit. I have no idea how families with many, many children meet the individual needs of each child. There is always lots of discussion about God when discussing large families for some reason. But here's bow I see it: God is not driving my 7 year old son to speech therapy or my 10 year old to basketball practice. God is not monitoring my 7th grader and his friends to make sure they are not watching inappropriate movies at sleepovers or that he is doing his science project on time. God is not picking my kindergartner up at the bus stop or spending precious time with her during her last year of 1/2 day school. That is all on ME.
    Please don't misunderstand: to each his own. I have nothing against families who have 12 kids. I am often in awe of these types of families. I just feel that for us, four is the absolute limit I can handle and still give my kids what they need from me.

  4. okay, i sort of left my thought dangling there.

    I meant to finish up by saying that with these families the parents know that the children are coming with intense needs and that most often a simple family home situation isn't going to always be the right one for them. And as so few parents are truly equipped or desire the RAD labeled child a larger home is sometimes either necessary or all that there is and if a couple or single person can handle it more power to them.

  5. I actually think adopting that many children is neglectful at best, abusive at worst. Adopted kids have much higher needs for attention and connection to adult care givers to make them feel stable. How can you give an adopted child the nurture and support they need if you only spend 15 minutes a day with them?

  6. I think that's 15 minutes ALONE time, but maybe Lisa can speak to that.

    When I think about people having too many kids it's usually people I know of. And hear they're having a 4th or 5th kid and I'm just shaking my head thinking, why? That's too many kids. You just can't give them enough. I don't say that to be mean, just to be honest. These are not adopted kids.

    But then, in reading some of the comments over there, I have to concede that there is a difference when you have no family as opposed to too large of a family. I guess which is worse? I say no family.

    So, at this point, I am thinking still yes, you can have too many kids to parent well. You can also adopt too many kids but depending on the kid's circumstance, sharing your time with lots of brothers and sisters can be better than getting zero time with a parent.

    Maybe it's more irresponsible to physically have a bunch of children than to adopt a bunch?

    And finally, nobody's God has anything to do with any of it. It's humankind that can take the rap for all the crap kids go through.

  7. I think, yes, you CAN have too many children,biological or adopted, and the children suffer in most of those huge families. What happens is the older children end up raising the younger ones, and lose their own childhoods. I have heard this again and again from people raised in a culture where huge families were expected for religious reasons, usually biological children, but failing that, adopted kids as well. The numbers bring status to the parents within their community, but also bring neglect and sometimes abuse as well, as parents are overwhelmed but still determined to do "God's will".

    Going back to the original blog where this topic came up, the people who responded that there is no problem with huge families seem to be fanatically religious, believing that God tells you how many children to have and will provide, no matter what. There are two problems with this, one that a person can still be religious yet use the mind and reason that God gave them to decide how many are too many, the other being that a disturbed or mentally ill person can mistake the voice in their head for the voice of God, and do truly awful things as "God's will", including taking in more kids than they can really care for, especially emotionally.

    These homes of 10 kids and up, especially special needs adopted kids, are not really families but unsupervised group homes. And with the "unsupervised" part we have a recipe for tragedy, especially throwing religious fundamentalism and fanaticism into the mix. Some of them are decent, but when they are not, they are so off the radar, with homeschooling and insular lifestyles, that nobody knows what is really going on in there until a child is seriously injured or killed.

    I think it is fair to liken these people to animal hoarders. It starts with a love of animals or children, but gets out of control, especially when agencies use these homes as a dumping ground for kids nobody else wants, because that home will "always take one more" even if they already have too many.

    I am very suspicious of these group home families, and think they should be under more scrutiny after adopting as well as before.

  8. Everyone has different emotional capacities and so what might be too much for one person, may not be too much for another.

    Having said that, I do think people can have too many children-- but I think the numbers can differ-- two might be too many for one person/s while 5 might work fine for another.

    I have two teenage stepkids who are primarily at our home and we have two daughters under age 5 adopted from China. I cannot imagine having another child. In terms of one-on-one time --it is more me putting a puzzle together with one for maybe 10 minutes before the other one decides she wants to join in-- that type of thing.

    They are only a year apart in age and the three of us do a lot together. Occasionally one of them will seek out DH or thier big sis (my stepdaughter) and spend time with him/her while the other one spends time with me.

    They both definitely vie for my attention-- not DH's or anyone else. I cannot imagine adding another child to the mix.

  9. I do not feel it is appropriate to have so many children. When you have to count on your children to help raise your new children you cheat your older kids out of some of their own childhood.

    Then you are not raising individuals but rather future parents. Parenting should be a choice not an obligation. When your kids feel they are born to solely reproduce then that is all you will have. No teachers, doctors, or police officers but baby making factories. I feel sorry for their narrow mindedness.

  10. maryanne, i can't speak for all large family homes but the few blogs that I have read there is constant contact with authorities. With foster children and distrupted adoptions there is generally a constant need for social services and therapies to see the kids successfully through school and life. Additionally, if you have kids come in who "know" the system they know it only takes one phone call to wreak havoc on the entire household just because you are in a "mood". I think it is the few and far between where the worst happens. In fact, most of the horror stories I have heard come from families with only a few children.

    I do agree that it can be borderline mental illness to feel the "call" from God to have 25 kids. And I certainly know that I am at my limit with 4. But as others have said, everyone is different.

  11. Having been an unpaid babysitter when babysitting in my childhood home, I kind of question the fairness of it.

    Very cool that you pay your son Kris!

  12. We do that too-- Pay my SD. We don't pay her all the time for spending time with the girls-- they are sisters and she likes playing with them. We don't pay for that.

    If there is a big situation that really needs to be addressed and she keeps them occupied so it can get done-- she gets some extra $$ in her allowance.

  13. I absolutely believe there's such a thing as too many kids. Too many kids is when they aren't getting individual time and attention, and the family doesn't have enough resources (not just financial, but emotional resources) to provide for their needs. Too many is when the children become just a herd, rather than attention being given to their individual personhood and needs. Too many is when the older children are in a parenting role toward the younger ones rather than just helping out occasionally, or are doing the majority of the housework rather than a few chores. Too many children is when they can't be properly supervised, and may be doing harm to each other without the parents' knowledge.

    All of that absolutely happens in families, so yes, there's such a thing as too many kids.

    That said, I don't think there's a specific number where ALL families will have too many.

    I know families with 10, 12, 15 children where all the children are being parented in an exemplary manner. (I'm sure there are even larger families that way too, just talking about ones I know.) These are committed parents who put their children first. Their children get more individual attention than in many smaller families where the parents are busy with other distractions like work or hobbies or the blaring television.

    On the other hand, I know families with 1 or 2 children that have multiple characteristics from my "too many" list. Some parents seem overwhelmed by even small families, and treat even their only child or two kids like a huge burden.

    So... that's where I'm left, I guess. Families can absolutely be too large. Parents can absolutely have (birth or adopt) too many children. But I don't think there's one magic number where all families falter, or a boundary line before which everything is guaranteed to be fine. I think it's a lot more complicated than that, and depends on the people involved.

    I think in general, the families that fare better are the ones where the parents genuinely wanted kids and enjoy parenting for parenting's sake, and the families that fare less well are those who have some kind of ulterior motive (claim of a divine mandate to procreate, desire to "save" orphans, and so on.)

    How present the parents are emotionally isn't necessarily directly dependent on the number of children in the home. It's a lot more about commitment, patience, and active rather than passive parenting. I think that "too many" exists but is not a purely numerical concept.


  14. -Z ... great assessment, pretty much of the same mind here.

  15. Z again.

    In my previous comment I didn't address the article at all - I was just speaking in generalities - so I'm going to take a stab at that now.

    I had some of the same concerns you did, Campbell. If a parent can't spare 15 minutes for their child, something is seriously amiss.

    I reread it, though, and felt a little differently. I still saw a problem, mind you, but it was a different problem.

    It seemed, upon a second reading, like the issue wasn't so much that it was tough for her to spend 15 minutes with only one child, but that it was difficult for her to spend 15 minutes feeling like she wasn't DOING anything.

    I mean, the majority of the other activities that she mentioned feeling pulled to instead - reading, e-mail, etc. - had nothing to do with her other children. I don't see why, with the same personality she has now, she would feel less need to engage in these distracting activities if she had only one or two kids.

    It seemed like the main issue was that she felt like she wasn't sufficiently occupied during rocking time, rather than that she felt she literally didn't have that much time available in her day.

    Honestly... I still think this is a significant problem. I don't know this family, and I'm not trying to judge them as people, but from that post it seems like there's something amiss in the parent/child dynamic if this is the case.

    The problem I'm seeing, though, has less to do with the number of kids in particular, and more to do with what APPEARS to be the mother struggling to engage unless there's some kind of mediating distraction.

    I think that rather than concentrating on family size (which is a done deal at this point anyway,) advice for this mother needs to focus on how she can parent more intentionally, and encouraging her to value just being with her child. She needs to learn that just being there and interacting IS important. Maybe even MOST important.

    I think the fact she wrote this article suggests she has started down that path, but it seems like she still has a long way to go.


  16. i think that its none of anyones business, as long as the families are well & happy & its rude of society to choose for the individual families how many are enough


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