Living large | October 19, 2012 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

Cover Story - October 19, 2012

Living large

Parents of big broods buck Palo Alto trends

by Sue Dremann

A little more than a century ago, women in the U.S. on average gave birth to seven children each. That number has steadily dropped to 2.1 children today, and in Palo Alto, the average family is downright petite — 3.06 persons, according to the 2010 U.S. Census.

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Posted by RW, a resident of another community
on Oct 19, 2012 at 3:26 pm

I'd love to see the next human interest article be about families with no children, but who are just as happy.

Posted by ZPG is good!, a resident of Community Center
on Oct 19, 2012 at 3:50 pm

RW: I agree with you.

At least it looks as if the families featured here have the resources (physical, emotional, spiritual and financial) to take care of their large broods and are doing a good job. I hope people who are not so equipped don't think that this is an advertisement for producing large numbers of kids. I have a friend that was raised in a family consisting of 18 single birth children. She was one of the older ones and really felt that she had done all the child care she would ever want to do (thank you very much!) by the time she became old enough to think about having children. She led a very happy life childless but had lots of nieces and nephews to visit and then was able to go back to the serenity of her chosen childless life. Just my opinion but there are so many children waiting to be adopted and/or fostered that I could not conceive of wanting to produce a large number of children myself without considering giving a chance to someone without much of a chance.

Posted by Felicity, a resident of Los Altos
on Oct 19, 2012 at 5:04 pm

Take note of the most important two things that make these families work: a strong marriage and a stay at home parent. I would also add strong faith but that is consistent with the strong marriage. And two parents who shared the large family vision from the beginning. Finding those things in the same family is such a rarity. I would have loved that life but it wasn't meant to be and I am the depressingly classic single parent who can't cope with two kids.

Posted by Mother of 4, a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 19, 2012 at 5:57 pm

Interesting comments above. I agree about the strong marriage, strong faith, and stay at home mom part.

I also agree with the article about the hardest part is trying to be a part of each child's activities, volunteering in the classroom, etc. Taking a younger sibling on school field trips, or trying to do a preschool pickup squeezed between an elementary school carpool is hard. The other thing is that since there is an assumption that stay at home moms have nothing else to do, we can be the emergency parent or the playdate on no school days or the place to drop of a child when parents have early meetings, for all the working moms. Never minded doing it, but it has been hectic at times.

Wouldn't have wanted it any other way.

Posted by Love my small family, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 19, 2012 at 6:01 pm

I love my kids, too, but I stopped at two because overpopulation of humans is a huge problem. I hope this isn't a trend.

I don't think we should dictate family size, but I hope people will consider impacts on the planet when they decide how many children to have.

Posted by Hmmm, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Oct 19, 2012 at 6:02 pm

So what about the environmental impact of large families? A commitment to reducing that is as important as a strong marriage. What's the deal w/faith? Faith in what? You mean religion, right? I know several *atheists* w/large families & great marriages, who have *faith* in each other & how they live their lives. The faith comments sound a little like Rommunism to me.

I'm w/RW & RPG.

Posted by Stretch, a resident of another community
on Oct 19, 2012 at 7:26 pm

When a family has resources to raise a large family, that doesn't make it the right thing to do. The problem is that the WORLD doesn't have the resources to support a glut of births. We try to educate third world countries about birth control, and then over-populate the earth ourselves? [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.] I remember reading a quote by an actress, when asked whether she would have more children (after three): "Well, we shouldn't, but our children are so beautiful!". Add that to any kind of belief that advocates huge families and you have a recipe for over-crowding and all that goes with it. Think!

Posted by cats not kids, a resident of another community
on Oct 19, 2012 at 9:44 pm

A friend once said to me, "What do you mean you don't want kids because you think there are too many people? I want a big family so I'll have the extra 2 that you don't want to have!!!"

Unclear on the concept. Great to know that someone so illogical is cranking out lots of illogical little people. . . .

Posted by Jan H., a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 19, 2012 at 11:03 pm

Once upon a time, my dream was to have four children, hopefully two of each, and live in the country. But, reality set in! The first child I gave birth to, due to lack of oxygen during a long, complicated labor and delivery at Kaiser, turned out to be learning disabled and nearly deaf.

It was more important that I devote all our resources to getting this one child well-educated, so that he could be a functional contributor to society and be self-sufficient. Unfortunately, as my husband and I had no family support of our own, it took all of our resources, financial and otherwise.

I actually envy the families in the article who were lucky enough to have healthy children and remain healthy themselves. I loved raising children. Fortunately for me, I was able to also raise a foster child and contribute to the education and development of my many riding students over the years.

I keep reading about how we, as American citizens, will soon be outnumbered by immigrants who have far more children than we do. So maybe we should be grateful to
Americans who have managed to raise more than one or two children.

Posted by Lucinda Abbott , a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 20, 2012 at 10:27 am

Though I suspect this will fall on deaf ears, I can't let your comment re "Americans" vs. immigrants go unchallenged. First let me say that I am very sympathetic to your tough situation as the parent of a child with disabilities, and I believe he or she is very fortunate to have had a strong parent advocate. However, that you have been unable to develop a stronger sense of compassion for other families, including immigrant ones, as a result of your experience is distressing and sad. Families immigrate to the US for the same reasons we are grateful for having been born here: to give their children a safe place to grow up, with opportunities for a good education and a successful future. In fact, that's always been the reason for immigrants to come here, including your ancestors and mine. What's the difference?

Posted by Parent, a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 20, 2012 at 10:55 am

I agree with Lucinda above--the U.S. is a land of immigrants. I am not more American because my family has been here for over 150 years than someone who arrived yesterday. It's what people bring to the country that enriches it. Palo Alto's diversity is its strength.

Posted by Ann, a resident of Menlo Park
on Oct 20, 2012 at 11:38 am

I feel it is short sighted to criticize parents for having large families, and it actually sounds anti-children. If you want to impact the future for good, the greatest and longest impact will be through our posterity. We need more families (whatever the number of children) that raise kids who will give back and contribute. They are our future. Families are the foundation of society. De-prioritize children and the family, and the future truly will be in severe trouble.

Posted by parent, a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 20, 2012 at 12:08 pm

It's true that children are the future. At the same time, let's remember that one American child uses on average 16 times the resources of a child in a developing country. Multiply that by five and you have 80 times the resources. The families in this article seem very loving and devoted to their kids, however.

Posted by Margaret, a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 20, 2012 at 12:32 pm

If you can successfully support a large family on your own today, I see no problem with the issue.

Posted by Jan H., a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 20, 2012 at 1:43 pm

Lucinda: I should have worded it better. American citizens are being outpaced in births by non-citizens who apparently seem to have no plans to become citizens, or even permanent residents. There have been many who came here because they have reproductive rights the the US, which they do not have in some other countries.

That said, there are actually a few countries that pay a stipend for women, per child, to birth more children and be able to stay home to raise them if that is what they wish.

BTW, my own father was an immigrant. But, he was naturalized when he came of legal age to do so.

Posted by Hmmm, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Oct 20, 2012 at 2:55 pm

Oh, please. Those of us who are conservation-oriented aren't anti-children. But it's not 1960 anymore. Large families in the US, unless they're very dedicated to conservation, will always leave a huge carbon footprint, thus making it harder for THEIR offspring to have a safe quality of life.

Posted by William, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 20, 2012 at 3:42 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Elle, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 20, 2012 at 10:50 pm

The world population is doubling every few years. This is not a good trend.

Posted by Mother of 4 , a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 20, 2012 at 11:09 pm

Large families are not always something that should concern those concerned about population increases. My four children are four of six grandchildren on one side of the family and four of five on the other side. For as many people who have more than the 2.1 average, there are many who have less.

Going back to Victorian times, my own 4 grandparents were all born into very lare families, all having at least 6 more siblings who survived into adulthood but not all producing offspring.

World populations exploding tend to occur through third world countries. US population is increasing also, but it is increasing through immigration (legal was well as illegal) as well as through the birth rate.

As for the carbon footprint for large families versus small families, it really all depends on just how each family manages its carbon footprint rather than the size of the family. Many families are more conscious than others, it has nothing to do with the size of the family, more to do with each family's priorities. In some ways, large families tend to be more frugal, using hand me downs for clothes, bikes, etc. much more than a small family. Large families probably eat at home more, travel less on vacations, share more and learn the arts of cooperation and personal responsibility. These are traits which tend to reduce carbon footprints as well as enable people to live together with less conflicts.

In fact, there are many good social reasons for large families. Please don't run us down.

Posted by Ada, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 21, 2012 at 12:10 pm

It makes me sick to read some of the comments about carbon footprint of large families. Paloaltoonline has been overridden by trolls or very bitter people. This is a great article about wonderful people and family values and these trolls need to spoil it with their snarky remarks.

Posted by Hmmm, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Oct 21, 2012 at 1:54 pm

Interesting how Ada ignores the very real ramifications of global overpopulation that large families cause, no matter where they live. "Family values" = code for NeoCon right wing pablum. I'd like to know how large families offset their equally large carbon footprint in the Bay Area. y idea of family values includes making changes so that succeeding generations can live safely.

Posted by Parent, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 21, 2012 at 3:34 pm

First, I must say I know several of these lovely families. It's fabulous that these wonderful parents are creating more wonderful people. The siblings are lucky to have each other.

Second, some of these families, who are very busy, give more to their community than families with one child. The values of citizenship and community service they are teaching their kids is fantastic - and something other families could use more of.

Third, it's a sad state of affairs when a stay at home parent (Mom or Dad) feels they have to fib about what they do (Sondra's quote: "I was embarrassed to be a stay-at-home mom. I even fibbed about it," she recalled). What Sondra and other stay-at-home parents are doing is the most important job in the world, putting their children first. I've been a working parent, and a stay-at-home parent. As anyone who has done both will tell you, being a stay-at-home parent (which should really be called a "work without pay parent") is harder. It's fabulous that contrary to the majority of parents in Palo Alto who unload, farm-out, drop off or otherwise outsource their children to nannies, grandparents and day-care, these families are raising their kids themselves. My hat goes off to you all.

Posted by Hmmm, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Oct 21, 2012 at 6:21 pm

Being a SAHM is admirable when done well, just as other jobs are. Like many jobs, it's both demanding & can be boring/unchallenging, which doesn't take away from its importance. It's also a crucial partnership w/their spouse & shouldn't be demeaned in any way. It's also understandable that some women look forward to refocusing on their careers when they are able, just as they looked forward to creating a family.

Posted by N. Jacobs, a resident of another community
on Oct 21, 2012 at 8:02 pm

I lived in Palo Alto for 11 years before moving out of state. I know three of these families very well. I feel so priviliged to have spent time around both the parents and kids. The world is absolutely better off with more of these people in it. They are honest, giving, kind, hard working, and they do a lot of good, not just in the communities they live in, but in the world beyond.

Posted by only child, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 21, 2012 at 9:38 pm

I think I recall reading a quote in the article from one of the mothers who said she didn't want her (first) kid to be an only child. As an only myself, I have to agree with that. It is an oddball experience and one even may experience occasional nasty comments, as I did several times when young, by people who met me and immediately stated, "oh, so you are an ONLY child?!!!" in a semi-sinister, blaming tone. There are some very unfortunate stereotypes of only children (I don't know to what extent these still persist) and I disliked being one. I also have known several only children (both genders) who had fairly similar experiences to my own - interesting - but that doesn't make us self-centered, spoiled monsters.
That said, I couldn't relate to a large family in a million years. What feels "right" to me - and for our world IMO, is the replacement model of two children. Just my 2 cents.

Posted by Baffled, a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 22, 2012 at 12:36 am

The fact that carbon footprint is the primary indicator by which some of you would measure the impact of a child on the world, is a sad testament to the state of the world today. I believe children raised in homes like these will contribute more than they take in their lives. What a sad and cynical worldview to have. Who hurt you?

Posted by Hmmm, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Oct 22, 2012 at 9:02 am

It's amazing and weird that you think someone needs to be "hurt" to be concerned about the carbon footprint of large families. It's another form of denial to think that it *doesn't* matter. Any number of children matters, and the larger the family the larger the impact - especially when their value is that large families are the way to go.

Posted by Pat Markevitch, a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 22, 2012 at 9:35 am

Okay, I will take on one small piece of the impact that large families have on the planet. One child means clothing, bikes and toys for 1 child. Once they are used up, they are either thrown away, possibly donated. Larger families tend to hand down these objects to the next child and so on. Four, one child families driving that child around to practices, school events, etc.. and not necessarily in a small fuel efficient car, while on the other hand a large family will carpool the children because it is the most efficient use of time and fuel. Some of the SUVS are even hybrids now. One last thing, larger families may tend to buy in bulk saving vast amounts of packaging that would otherwise go into landfills.

Posted by Baffled, a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 22, 2012 at 10:05 am

Hey Hmmmm! Just checking to see if you're still here. From the comment history it looks like you are so incensed by the fact that anyone would dare have a large family in 2012 that you just can't seem to stop commenting. Did anyone in the article say the environment "doesn't matter", as you quoted above? And where did any of the families above say that large families are the way to go? Those are just your own issues coming out. I know most of these families and they are totally respectful of families with one child or two children. I spoke with one of them this morning and they didn't participate in the article because they were trying to say that more is better. I can't find anything in the article that communicates that. This is simply a human interest piece that talks about how these families live and what it is like for them. Again simply measuring environmental impact as the only way to evaluate the impact of a child on the world is just a sad way of thinking. And as Pat points out above there are certainly some efficiencies that take place in a large family. I would imagine the carbon footprint per child in a large family is less than in a single child family. Even if it's not, I don't think it's a problem since large families are definitely not on the rise in our country.

Posted by Stereotyped story, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 22, 2012 at 10:06 am

When I saw the headline I knew the story was going to be about how loving and generous these families are. The stereotype filled story could have been written by a computer.
But talk to adults who have grown up in large families and you get a very different picture. One woman I knew said, "My Mother just gave up."
When I see women with lots of children my heart goes out to them, it makes me of defeat. The awful number of years the spent being pregnant.
And also of greed. Greed has many manifestations.This is one of them.

Posted by Sarah, a resident of another community
on Oct 22, 2012 at 11:39 am

I'm so appalled by the all the comments that show negativity towards a large family. There was one person's comment in particular that said "I would like them to do another article about married couples with no children that are just as happy.". No one ever said that people with no children can't be happy but I did find it strange that people can't be happy for people with large families. Such a judgment is out there when you go to the grocery store and you have your children and somebody with no children is looking at you like you're the crazy one! Well guess what? People actually procreate and it's their choice to have whatever size family that they would like. My sister-in-law used to be for population control and she had one daughter and then got pregnant again with twins. She now says that her view of population control has changed. Clearly. She feels judged all the time. She sees the happiness a family brings now. And really more the marier! When a house full of children an grand-children come to visit 20 years from now, I can imagine a lot of smiles and laughter around the dinner table. My friend that is 57 years old now that has been medically depressed her entire adult life is now having that fog lift after taking on 2 children of a friends (kids are age 6 and 7) I've never seen her so happy. I think the reason is because, she is now focused on the service of others in stead focusing on what she doesn't have of her own. Having a large family takes away selfishness, and adds a whole lot of service. You really miss out if you don't have a family. It's truly important to our society as a whole. So stop worrying about the environment and that impact. Think of the human impact if we didn't have family.

Posted by to each their own, a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 22, 2012 at 12:15 pm

Sarah, you seem to be able to see only one side of the story. Look at your comments:
"You really miss out if you don't have a family."
"My friend that is 57 years old now that has been medically depressed [because she didn't have a family]"
There are loads of couples out there quite happy without children and don't miss having a family. Maybe you're just envious of their freedom.
Coming from a large family myself and seeing all the downsides associated with it, I chose to have only one child. Comparing my child's upbringing to my own, I know which one I would have preferred.

Posted by RW, a resident of another community
on Oct 22, 2012 at 1:21 pm

Sarah-You write "You really miss out if you don't have a family". My family is me and my husband. I'm not missing out.

Posted by Mother, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 22, 2012 at 2:20 pm

RW: I can absolutely see how married couples without kids would be very happy. I certainly respect this decision (or in some cases it's not a choice). Uninterrupted conversations, quiet dinners, traveling the world, spending money with no guilt, complete freedom, no barriers to career growth. I sometimes dream of these extravagances. With that said, anyone who has kids will tell you children are a gift (or at least in this country where women have the choice). They change your life for the better. If someone doesn't have children, they don't know what they are missing. How can anyone know what they don't know.

Posted by Reality Check, a resident of another community
on Oct 22, 2012 at 2:37 pm

Not producing a child, who itself, will, statistically speaking, also produce children someday, is the most environmentally-friendly action an individual human can possibly take. The cumulative environmental impact of each additional human at what is our standard of living is staggering.

Posted by RW, a resident of another community
on Oct 22, 2012 at 3:53 pm

Mother-I do think I know what I'm missing out on by not having children. Both the good and the bad things I'm missing. The love, the fun, the bonding, the diapers, the doctors appointments, the nasty colds they get in preschool, the sadness when they leave home-trust me, I've thought of it all. But, my choice not to have children doesn't necessarily give me the freedom to "travel the world, spend money with no guilt". One of the reasons I'm not having children is financial. That's a tough one for a lot of people around me to understand.

Posted by It's a finite world, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 22, 2012 at 6:28 pm

I grew up in a large family and would have loved to have six children myself. But we live in a finite world. If every woman of child-bearing age in this country had 5 children, within 100 years there would be 5 billion people in the country. You can make whatever arguments you like about how many people the world can actually support, but there is a limit. If we ignore that limit, it will be enforced on us by nature (or government, as in the case of China). In either situation, it's a cruel way to deal with over population. I feel in my family we did the right thing to limit our children to "replacement" (two), and so I'm really not happy to read stories about families who feel they are somehow more privileged and can therefore have more children. They are either ignorant or selfish. Either way, it's irresponsible.

Posted by Mother of 4, a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 22, 2012 at 6:51 pm

I have four children, and it suits me fine. I have no problem whatsoever with people who want to have one or two, or with those who want six or more.

There are some other ways of looking at this. If this is a choice then I am fine with it. If a couple is having infertility problems, I am fine with them looking for a medical solution or by choosing to adopt. That is all part of the choice. The Roman Catholic church in its wisdom chooses to reject the principle of contraception and I think that those who are following the rite of their church and are prepared to have a large family it is their choice, but at the same time there should be freedom for choice for those who consider themselves catholic but want to go against the principle. The same could be said for other religions, Mormons, for example, to have the same choices.

What does seem irresponsible is those who continue through neglect to continue having children they are not able to afford to raise, not because they have chosen to have a large family, but because they are irresponsibly not taking the necessary steps to prevent unwanted pregnancies. Sometimes it is due to finances or lack of education or opportunity, but sometimes it is due to other reasons. I don't think government should do anything to prevent any type of family size, but the situation does concern me.

As the parent of four children, I do not consider us a large family, just a medium sized family. Would I like to have 6, 8, 10 children, definitely no. But, if a family chose to have that number and were able to afford to meet their needs adequately, then that is their choice. I would imagine that there are likely to be the same sorts of numbers of people who want to have that large a family as there are those that choose to have none or just one.

As improved healthcare and lifestyles prolong life, the population will increase. Unless we can prevent unwanted births and unwanted children, the population will increase. Taking away people's choice over wanted family size is wrong. Preventing worldwide unwanted pregnancies is a much better option.

Posted by Hmmm, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Oct 22, 2012 at 10:45 pm

Hmmm is a registered user.

What's sad, Baffled, is how your descendants are going to have to live, due to the selfishness of previous generations - especially these from large families. Yeah- my issues are coming out - my concern that our way of life isn't sustainable & overpopulation is a big part of that.

What's also sad - & snide - is your rudeness, so stop it.

RW- you're right - having kids is only one definition of family.

Posted by Jan H., a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 23, 2012 at 11:30 pm

Jan H. is a registered user.

I have to say that, for me, some of my friends have been my family. There are a few kids who call me Mom, even though we are not blood relatives, and a couple more who call me Auntie, and they are not related by blood, either. But it really does not matter when I think about it. Kinda makes up for the family I didn't get to have.

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