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Learning Values

Growing up, I always wanted to have enough children to fill a baseball team. Nine would be great, but ten would allow for a substitute. My husband was a true blessing in this area. Since he was an only child, the idea of a large family suited him fine. That’s where the agreement seemed to stop, though. Aunts, uncles, parents, and friends were all shocked by the mere notion of that many kids. What could possibly be wrong with me?

After our first two children were born, they began to pressure us to stop having any more children. Matters only intensified when I gave up my job to become a full time mom. With my husband working as a public school teacher, the in and out laws bombarded us with questions on how we would survive. Surprisingly, one of the most frequent questions we heard was “how will you pay for college.” Our usual answer, that we didn’t intend to pay for their college, never went over very well, so we just quit answering at all. They were also curious about how we would clothe and feed any more kids. It’s amazing how intrusive people can become in someone else’s business.

Part of the annoyance seems to be the size of our house. When we decided to make our first purchase, we chose land. We moved a small house (that was going to be destroyed and we got for a bargain) to the back of the property and have preferred the small space to the massive homes so many of our friends and relatives find necessary. You can’t sneeze in this house without someone hearing.

One question we would get (when our children were too young to attend kindergarten) was how would we pay for college? The fact that we didn’t intend to pay for college was obviously not an acceptable answer. If I tried to explain that we expected the kids to work hard, earn their own money and earn scholarships, the discussion would be terminated.

Things got rough when we chose for me to leave work and become a full-time mom. Forget that we also chose to homeschool the kids – that almost caused a revolution. When baby number 3 came along, I think people just gave up. Obviously we were just too dense to understand our own dilemma.

After much contemplation over the concerns and questions most often asked, I began to understand what people really seemed to be asking us. How, with our limited resources and space, would we ever be able to give each child everything that he might need or want? The answer was even simpler than I would have thought. We just redefined what the child needs and wants – mostly by example.

There is not a single piece of new furniture in our home. Not that we can’t afford new furniture, but we choose to spend our money in other ways (sometimes we even save up for big things – like vacations). Last year we did use our tax refund to splurge on furniture for the family room – we bought a couch, two chairs and two ottomans (with storage) for around $350 (they were on sale or on clearance). It was a family decision and everyone was excited about the choice.

Birthdays are another example of redefining expectations. First, the child picks a theme that we can decorate around (and that we can come with crafts or activities to accompany). There is a limit on the number of guests that can be invited – the child’s age + one. Favors are handcrafted by each child that attends the party. This serves to keep them busy and doesn’t fill their own homes with nick knacks that will never be used. The cake is always from scratch (or at least a box). After the party, the birthday child cannot play with the new toys until he has written a thank you note for the toy. Not only do they learn to appreciate what they have, but they learn to appreciate the thought put into the gift as well.

Vacations can be a bumpy place for us, especially if the air conditioner chooses to quit or the car needs a major repair. Mini vacations have become the ever increasing norm for us. One or two days, in an area within driving distance, to take in the sites makes a lasting impression on the children and on the parents without making a lasting dent in the wallet. We also save up to buy family passes (especially great if the facility has reciprocal practices with other places) and try to use those regularly.

The children don’t get everything they want, and for that matter neither do the parents. We are all learning to gauge our priorities and to be patient. Sometimes, it comes. On those occasions when it doesn’t work out, the disappointment fades quicker than most people would imagine.

In a world of “I want,” “give me more,” and “NOW,” our family is living lives of satisfaction and contentment. The word no is actually used in our home, and the children actually understand the meaning. We openly discuss our finances with them, and they are already learning to help around the house, to work, and to manage money.

Why would we want more? In the cozy little space that we now have, we are forced to interact as a family. There is no space to run and hide. We watch the same TV on the same couch. We eat at the same table. Everything is shared. This is how we plan to give each of our children everything they will ever need.

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