So often people count the kids my husband and I are walking with and declare, “I don’t know how you do it! I have trouble with just one!”
At first I used to smile and make a Sunday School pat remark about the grace of God, but by and by the Lord challenged me to consider how do we do it. Yes, the grace of God is absolutely necessary! However, He gave us many commands in His Word and the model for raising a Godly family. So it wasn’t just my big heart with God’s grace sprinkled on generously. He had helped us to build purposefully in a way that gives Him glory through our family.
After seeking Him, my answer changed thoughtfully to, “Well, it’s not like we had sextuplets and had to figure this out all at once. God”–in his grace–“gave us each child one at a time.” And each time we had a new child, we adjusted our life a little bit to include one extra person. Simultaneously, each older child naturally assumed more autonomy.
Our oldest and youngest child are nine years and six days apart exactly. Most of the children in between have an age spread of 18-21 months. So the 18-21 month old had to vacate their coveted place on Mama’s lap [always a heart wrenching first morning home from the hospital for me.] But this child then turned to Papa’s lap, and the one just older had to learn to either share Papa’s lap or learn to sit beside us.
Each child became a little more autonomous by virtue of the new addition. And this extended into feeding, dressing, toileting and playtime as well. By the time number six came along, three children were in school, which meant that they were also learning story time autonomy, amongst other things. They enjoyed being asked to help Papa and Mama out with small things. Our oldest wants to become a professional baker and got her start with Grandma around this time. So I could put ingredients on the counter and supervise her baking while I tended to baby. It was a win-win-win [because all the kids were excited to eat her creation, she was excited to have the opportunity to bake, and I didn’t have the hands to do it!]
This is not to say that an only child never learn autonomy, but it is easier to delay this development. In a larger family, children naturally have to become more self-sufficient earlier, because parents can’t possibly do everything for everyone.
This same development can be mirrored in helping children to become spiritually autonomous as well. Allowing older kids to lead devotions, encouraging those who can read to read the Word of God, and having everyone who can speak take turns during family prayer time or with their special night to pray for dinner for all. The more a child can and does do, the more autonomy they will develop while still under our spiritual guidance.