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Raising Half a Dozen

Raising Half a Dozen

The Mendelsohn Kids
The Mendelsohn Kids

I was sitting outside the ice-cream store with my three youngest children, when a woman I’ve seen a couple of times before said to me, “How can you live like this, with so many children?” She obviously had noticed their chocolate banana faces and hands, and the chocolate handprint on my T-shirt as well, and was feeling sorry for me. “It’s a lot of work, but it’s great,” I replied, and left it at that. I don’t always know where people are coming from when they make such statements, so I usually just smile. Inside, I know that I have been given a great treasure—a large family of wonderful souls that G‑d has entrusted to my husband and me. I am the mother of six children, ages two through fifteen.

I have heard in both direct and subtle ways many arguments against having a large familyOver the years, I have heard in both direct and subtle ways many arguments against having a large family. I chose just three of my favorites to discuss here. They are: 1) overconsumption of the world’s resources, 2) the inability to care for each child individually, and 3) the charge that the mother of such a large family has no life. Let me address each of these arguments in turn.

Overconsumption of world resources

The argument here is that too many children consume too much of the planet’s precious resources. Can anyone actually make this argument about children, let alone Jewish children? Especially when they know how many Jewish children were murdered in the last century, and how few we are on this planet compared to everyone else. If we educate our children to be productive, contributing members of society, and to give charity and do acts of kindness, they will more than compensate for their consumption patterns.

Besides, some incredibly talented Nobel Prize–winning Israeli scientist is going to eventually solve any global food crisis, invent a solar powered car and find the cure for even the worst cancer. Maybe it will even be my kid! And by the way, I can tell you that the children in Israel hardly use any water—because there just isn’t any here. So, unlike the children in water-rich countries, they don’t run through the sprinkler as a birthday party activity, or wash the family cars for two hours, or take 20-minute showers. People here know that it might rain only six days in a year, and they are very resource-conscious! Having been a full-fledged tree-hugging environmentalist in college, I just had to let people know how careful Israelis really are on this front.

Inability to adequately care for each child

Now, it definitely can be entertaining in our household sometimes. Our mornings can be a tad hectic in our little corner of Israel. Six breakfasts, six snacks, six lunches, six backpacks, six pairs of socks (matching, maybe) and shoes, five pairs of tzitzit, five kipahs (we have one daughter, thank G‑d), and whatever permission slips and special equipment everyone needs for the day.

Sometimes I try to have the kids lay out their clothes and pack their lunches the night before, especially when my husband is away and I’m doing this insane routine alone! There’s really never a dull moment, and sometimes it is hard to fit everything in—but when I see my baby’s eyes light up the minute his siblings start rolling through the door, I know there is no way anyone will ever be able to say he was neglected. So much to learn, see, participate in, and so many people to love him. Oh yes, he can make a mess! There isn’t anything he can’t spill, break or get into. I take a lot of deep breaths and do a lot of laundry. It’s just a phase . . . all of it. I try never to let a broken glass or a spilled drink ruin the wonderful family dinner we were having.

They are growing up, slowly but surelyThey are growing up, slowly but surely. Sometimes, half of them spend the whole Shabbat out of the house, leaving it (relatively) quiet, and I get a foreshadowing of the future when they will leave the nest.

It is certainly possible to argue that if you have fewer children you can give each of them “more.” But more of what? Children need love, food, exercise, fun, good schools and teachers, healthcare, and exposure to this beautiful world. There are so many ways to be creative about how to divvy these things up and prioritize. In Israel, we see that most families live in quite small houses and apartments, where most kids share rooms, and people don’t acquire so much because there aren’t usually basements (not to mention closets) in which to store things. Education is highly subsidized or free, and most community events are much simpler affairs too. These are some of the great pluses of raising a large family in Israel. And of course, there’s the abundance of large families all around the country. When I see a mother and twelve kids getting on an airplane or picnicking in a park, I think to myself: now, that’s something . . .

Finally, I have a role model. My great-grandmother Ida Liebman (of blessed memory) raised six children during the early 20th century. She came to America as a young penniless orphan from Russia, worked in a store for her aunt, got married very young, and then, at twenty-four—while pregnant with her fourth daughter—lost her husband to the Spanish flu. She remarried, had two more children, many grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and—even though I’m sure she cooked with schmaltz every single day—lived to the ripe old age of 96. All of her children were educated, married and successful. She was the matriarch of a family of amazing people. And she would have laughed at me if I had ever said I didn’t have enough resources to bring another child into the world.

No life for the mother

Well, I will agree that there are periods, when the babies are very little, when the life of the mother and the baby are just completely intertwined. The baby is a helpless being, and all it wants is the comfort and security of its mother’s arms and voice. You have to lower your expectations during this period. If you can find that part of yourself that is all give and no take, it is very rewarding in the end.

Raising the next generation of Jewish children is an incredibly important jobOnce children get older, the relationship becomes more equal. Although financially (as my husband occasionally points out) they are still all take, take, take, they exude goodness and humor, and teach me so much every day. Over the years I have learned how to take moments for myself and for my husband, carefully planning the day so that when the kids get home, I’m all theirs (all six of them at once). It’s true it would be challenging to have young children for such a long stretch of time and be at the top in certain professions. I’ve gone through years of working part-time and sometimes not at all, even though I studied extensively and had some excellent jobs before I got married. I was on a “power” career track when I started having children, and I had to decide which enriched my life more. I can certainly understand how others might decide to limit the number of children to pursue an important career, but raising the next generation of Jewish children is an incredibly important job, and no one should feel guilty about choosing that path.

After my friend recently lost her father, she told me that all that really matters in the end is family. Her father had an amazing academic career, with years of prestigious research to his name. Within a week, someone had taken over his research portfolio. Life goes on; someone else can and must take over . . . even for Steve Jobs. But no one can take the place of a mother or father.

The time that we give to our children when they are young is irreplaceable. It establishes their faith, gives them self-confidence and the ability to love, sets them on a path in the world, and becomes the basis for the way in which they raise their own children. What an amazing challenge.

A CEO can make a big effort for a few years, and then move on to another company . . . Not so with a mother. So she works hard, and continually tries other options, and never gives up on her appointed task, and in the end she might sacrifice a lot for her children . . . but is that “no life”?

“How can I live like this?” I remember the question. Here’s my answer on one foot. In comparison to the smiles on their faces while they are devouring those yummy treats, and the laughter we shared, and the memories I’m sure they will take with them, what’s a little chocolate ice cream on a new white T-shirt? This is an amazing life.

Julie Mendelsohn is a mother of six, an attorney and cancer epidemiologist, living in Zichron Yaakov, Israel.
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Delight Arizona, America July 21, 2016

From America I loved your article. Very refreshing and I appreciated the honesty. I myself, have 6 kids. 3 boys: 11-9-7, and 3 girls: 5-2-1 week. In America, so many people take precious things for granted. Like family and the ability to bear children. We are very spoiled and it's quite sad. I live in a small town, do not make much money, but knew that I wanted 6 kiddos. This is not very supported by friends, family, or community. Most people here only have one or two kids. Anything more than 3, people are shocked! But we love our kids and they are happy and healthy. I also look forward to future grandbabies and a big posterity! Anywho, thank you for your article and making me feel normal :) Reply

Joshua Indiana April 21, 2015

My wife and I are also parents of six crazy children. We have also gotten the stares, and shaking of heads. All we r trying to do is raise six independent, smart, caring humans to help offset all the dependent, uninformed, selfish humans. We love our children from the oldest to the youngest. Each have their own unique way at seeing the world around them. We can't wait to see how they will affect the world around them when they r grown. Reply

Anonymous vallejo , ca February 14, 2012

g whiz This is all quite interesting ..I've always wondered about Jewish beliefs and I must admit those are some strong dedicated women..I just watched a documentary about hasidic Jewish women and I've never seen or heard of anything like it! I guess as long as you're worshiping G-d it doesn't matter how you do it! Reply

Leah G Goodman Modiin, n/a February 13, 2012

What you didn't say Is that it's not for everyone. After I had my second, he needed multiple surgeries and had terrible colic. If I'd had another one right away, I would have been a harried, miserable mother. Now that he's grown some and he sleeps at night, I'm considering a third. I definitely think that my children are well worth the effort, BUT I don't think I would have been capable of raising more - and parents MUST not have more than they are capable of raising well. Reply

Dina Modiin February 13, 2012

So beautiful and inspiring Thank you for sharing this beautiful and empowering insight. I have four young children. And although I share your values about having children and raising them in Israel, it is very nice to be reminded of this incredibly important job. Thanks for the inspiration. Reply

Dr. Simcha Baker Modi''in, Israel January 4, 2012

Children - G-d's BLESSINGS!! Julie - you have expressed the life of a many mothered mother exceptionally well. Kind of reminds me of my own daughter - 5 boys, 1 daughter, AND another on the way, may it be the will of G-d and in a good time. Being a guy, motherhood is obviously something I will never be able to personally experience - doesn't mean I can't appreciate the 'sacrifice' of nurturing and the enjoyment of all those missed potential memories. Kol Ha'kavod to all mothers!! Reply

Anonymous Thornhill, Ontario January 3, 2012

Beautiful article and great perspective You're to be commended.

My (non-religious) grandmother tried to jump off a table when she found she was pregnant with twins at age 42, she was dirt poor and unhappily married. Her son died in his early 20s and if not for my mother (now in her 80s) and her late twin sister my gran would have been alone and extremely poor. My mom and late aunt never gave her a moment's trouble.

We could only have one child and he's just got married - I can't imagine what it's like to still have others at home. We miss him so much. Reply

Frances Marcu - from your ulpan class 2 yrs ago Israel January 3, 2012

Julie, I loved your article. I don't usually read articles and then see that I know the author. I hope you and your family are doing well. You should continue to have much nachas and may you merit to have more children! Reply

chana lew BROOKLYN, New York January 3, 2012

beautiful! thanks for sharing your experience in such an honest and non judgmental way. Great work keeping our nation alive and not apologizing for it. Reply

Anonymous New york, Ny January 3, 2012

Over consumption In the school where my 2 kids go therer are many parents with 6+ kids. As it stands now full tuition is 17k per child for us. Many of the families in school that have that many kids pay much less (sometimes a symbolic amount only) Big part of that expense is carried by full tuition paying students whose parents work many jobs (like me) to stay afloat. Reply

Yehudit Israel January 3, 2012

Thank you! Thank you for this beautiful article - especially the following sentence - "I can certainly understand how others might decide to limit the number of children to pursue an important career, but raising the next generation of Jewish children is an incredibly important job, and no one should feel guilty about choosing that path." Sometimes we all need validation that even tho the world may look down it's nose at us, we are doing the most important (and sometimes the most difficult) job in the world.
Hope they all give you lots of nachat and grow up to be the enterprising, amazing people you describe. Reply

Elisa Page White Hall, MD January 3, 2012

Julie...For me you said it all. My husband and I have only one regret and that is we did not have more children. We have two that have made it to be incredible adults. We had three who did not survive pregnancy. Can there be any sound more beautiful than the laughter of a child? I loved your story. You and your children are our hope and light. Reply

Anonymous January 2, 2012

May G-d bless you! Nobody can tell you that you have no life because you gave 6 children life. G-d Willing you will have many joyous occasions in your life from all 6 of your children. There will be 6 weddings and hundreds of more celebrations from your grandchildren and great grandchildren. Reply

Abot Bensussen San Diego, California January 2, 2012

too many children When I was 42 and pregnant with my fourth Jewish child, a person asked me: "How can you have a child when there is so much unemployment?" I told her: "He's been promised a job." Actually, at 29, he is an entertainer and so successful that he is now paying my mortgage. Thank G-d... Reply

Anonymous Sharon, Ma, USA January 2, 2012

Been there, doing that! Way to go! As the mother of 8 I have often fielded the same questions, especially from my family who is not religious. These are great responses and should be shared with everyone who is blessed with large families! Reply

Elya Tzvi Goodfriend Miami Beach FL, USA January 2, 2012

Wow awesome! Well said! Yay to you. I come from a family of 11. You've eased my worries about having such #'s myself. Now its going to be up to my wife and G-d of course:)! Reply

Anonymous brooklyn, New York January 2, 2012

i love this i love this honest, positive account and just wonderful Reply

Deena brooklyn, NY January 2, 2012

thank you Thank you for this wonderful article. Its always good to get some perspective. Reply

Anonymous m/cr, uk January 2, 2012

Kudos Kudos for this article.

When my kids were coming along and growing up it was challenging, as their was limited resources within the family.

However, as both my husband and I refused to give in to despair we managed with G d's help to persevere. The kids may not have had a lot of material things, but they had plenty of more important emotional and loving support.

Now they are all grown BH and raising their own families and we reaping the rewards of our sowing with tears, we are harvesting with such joy and closeness, it was worth all the struggle. Reply

DG k, usa January 2, 2012

Love it!!! So true, thank you so much for sharing! Reply

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