Full House (Honey, Let’s Have a Third. And a Fourth. And…) The big family makes a comeback.
The article focuses on a trend in a tony Boston suburb where the size of the average family has been steadily increasing, and offers speculation on whether a big family has become a sort of status symbol for the wealthy, or if the motivations are healthier. Some excerpts…
…look at classroom No. 8 at the Wellesley Nursery School in the Hills. DeMatteo's daughter is the only one who comes from a family of six kids. But Laurel is one of five. So is Mark. Then there are Ryan, Jack, Andrew, and Adam, who each come from a family with four kids. Shane will join their ranks when his new sister arrives in a few months. Right now, he's in the three-kid camp with Lucy, Nicole, and Natalie. In fact, of the class's 20 preschoolers, 12 come from families with three or more kids. And let's not forget Owen. He is one of eight, and his father says a ninth is likely. Definitely don't want to forget Owen…
(Newton-Wellesley Pediatrician Dr. Jim) Goldston has his own theories about why so many families are getting bigger. A decade or two ago, couples watching college costs escalate figured they had no choice but to limit family size. However, as costs continued to rise to absurd levels, he says many decided, "It's so expensive having two kids, how much worse can it be with three?"
On the flip side are the wealthy parents in his practice "who can afford to do whatever they want." Some of these couples find that of all the luxuries their bank balances allow them, they get no greater satisfaction than from their kids, so they decide to have more. There's something rather reassuring about that. Other motivations are less reassuring. "For some people in Wellesley," says Goldston, "having four kids has become the new status symbol, like having a luxury SUV. It says you can afford it; you can have a nanny to help you out."
Traditionally, the third child has been a major barrier to both parents working full time, considering that the combined day-care costs can eat up an entire salary. So three kids are more common in families in which one parent -- usually the mother -- is at home full time or has flexible part-time work. For all the talk in recent years of women "opting out" of careers to stay at home, half of all mothers still return to the workforce before their child's first birthday, says Kathleen Gerson, a sociology professor at New York University and board member of the Council on Contemporary Families. Not that there aren't lots of stay-at-home moms. It's just that they're mostly clustered at the top and bottom of the income scale. The poorer moms' job opportunities are so bleak that many don't feel they are giving up much to stay home. Many of the more affluent moms started out with the expectation that they could have it all, managing a successful career with one or two kids. But after experiencing the all-too-common work-family bind, they can walk away from the job without bringing financial pain to their families. In fact, Gerson says, "wealthy mothers are left without one of the major cultural rationales for choosing to work: that they need to."
Once these high-achieving women make the decision to stay home, the next one -- to have more kids -- is easier. After all, managing a bigger family can be a lot like managing an enterprise, with schedules and budgets and direct reports (of the offspring and household-help varieties).
Judy Heffernan left a good job in sales for the Four Seasons Hotel when she started having kids. She grew up in a family of six children, and she now has four of her own, ranging in age from 2 to 9. She wouldn't have it any other way. In fact, at 44, she says she would have had more kids had she not started so late. "It's like having a team."
Because affluent families can afford to hire nannies or au pairs (and don't have to fret about the prospect of another college tuition), the decision to go for the next child doesn't have to be as intimidating. "Every person I know who has four kids has full-time help," says Susan Morris, a 40-year-old former investment banker and current Wellesley mother of three. "People in this town like to have a lot of kids, but they don't necessarily like to raise them by themselves." Morris's husband would like to have a fourth, and seeing so many bigger families around her, she's felt some pressure to try to keep up. "If all your friends are having four, does that make you more likely to do it? Absolutely." But after having three kids in three years, she feels she is just starting to get her life back under control.
Here is where I have to stop the presses a bit. We live in the same town this article was written about. We have six. Our neighbors and good friends down the street have five. Our other friends down the street have four. Another family around the corner have four...
None of us have nannies. None of us live in huge houses. We all have modified Cape houses. My wife knows some of the people mentioned in the article. Curious that the Globe doesn’t want to talk to any of us, but it’s just as well. All of our back yards put together barely have 100 blades of grass between them. The dirt in our back yards is as hard and packed as the streets of Kabul. Kids can always get dirty when they play outside, but when they play at our place they get really dirty. Our place may have made a poor backdrop for a photo shoot. :-)