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Big Families, Big Plates: Raising Lots of Kids

Big Families, Big Plates: Raising Lots of Kids


There was a saying we heard a lot when we first arrived in Atlanta in the late 1990s: I am really sorry I cannot do “x” “y” or “z” because “my plate is full.”

We moved to Atlanta as Chabad shluchim—emissaries of the Lubavitcher Rebbe—and as such, were expected to create programs thatIt had now become our litmus test for how we were doing would provide meaningful Jewish experiences for the Intown Atlanta Jewish community.

My husband and I had one child at the time and were expecting another while trying to get our fledgling Chabad House off the ground. It was a lot of work without any family nearby. When I look back, I wonder about our common sense and ambition, yet I am grateful for the innocence of our youthfulness and our thinking that we could do it all.

When we would hear the above cliche in response to a request for help, we would look at each other and ask: “Is our plate full?”

We had never heard the expression before, and it had now become our litmus test for how we were doing. Mostly though, it had no relevance to our actual productivity because no matter if our plates were overflowing, there was nobody else to pick up the spillover.

Early on, we decided that we needed bigger plates. And we continue to make our plates grow to hold our the additional items in our lives. If we had saucers before, we grew to dinner-sized plates; today, we have grand serving platters.

Comparing the fullness of life to a heaping plate is appropriate. We need metaphoric dishes to accomplish our life goals.

How so? According to Kabbalistic teachings, all the blessings you hope to receive need to have keilim, or vessels to hold them. So if you desire many blessings, you need big vessels. What do these vessels look like, and how do we acquire them? It starts with a mindset—just simply deciding that you want a bigger plate or vessel. With this attitude, you go about making decisions and acting as though you have already achieved your goals. In other words, we are only limited by the size of our plates.

We see this “can do” ethic in successful people. Astute businessmen and women take risks by buying low, living lean and then selling high. In the world of science and technology, there are mavericks who invest hours of their time and resources into ideas or research with no guarantee of producing the anticipated results. When people have big dreams, they take risks. They think big. They work hard. And they have an abundance of faith in their ideal.

Chabadniks do the same thing with our large families. For me, this is the only way I can explain how or why we do it. Mainstream American Jewish families have one to four children; four being considered a lot. The average Chabad family has six to 10 children. We have big dreams. Children, our blessings, are the basis for those big dreams. We want to create spiritual wealth. We want to make the world a better place with our children doing mitzvot and spreading more light.

My children do all the things other American children do (and then some): They give me and my husband sleepless nights, they deplete our resources, they causeOur children make us better people us to change our plans at the last minute, they talk back and they fight—times eight.

But they also make us better people, giving us tight hugs, deep joy, profound insights, lots of nachas and laughter, and beautiful memories—times eight.

To an outsider, another person’s success often looks easy, as if it were the mere luck of the draw. But a closer look reveals a clear goal, together with tremendous amounts of faith, strength, courage and hard work—a life of complicated decisions that result in an abundance of blessings.

So remember, we are only limited by the size of our plates.

As the millennial likes to say: GBGH. “Go big or go home.”

Dena Schusterman is a founder of Chabad Intown, the Intown Jewish Preschool, and the Intown Hebrew School. Dena writes about parenting and applied Torah and Chassidic thought and teaches women's classes. Dena and her husband Rabbi Eliyahu Schusterman are native Californians living in Atlanta together with their children.
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Anonymous New York May 1, 2017

I realized the value of what you say too late I am afraid. I am blessed with 3 beautiful children- but how I wish I had had more, but I was more consumed with being able to afford a bigger home, private schools and overseas vacations,like many in the community I grew up and lived in. I also had a son with behavioral and academic challenges - how would I cope? And when I did have my 3rd it all became clear. How I worried about trivial matters that are fleeting, how my son adored his little sister. How my children didn't have to be perfect, my house always clean. It may be too late for me now - but I will tell my children what I learnt so that hopefully one day they will not be blind to what is really important in life and what gives us true meaning. Reply

Rivkah Germany May 2, 2017

Thank you for a wonderful article ! Reply

Anonymous May 2, 2017

Thanks on this amazing view, I've got 4 children (two pair of twins) and feel my plate is almost overflowing. House, husband, work and having quality time for each member can be overwhelming. I take my hat off to you, 8 and still do so many things for your Community, wow!!! Gives me some perspective. God bless! Reply

jim dallas May 1, 2017

somethings are better unthought and unsaid where my atlanta experiences are concerned....the biggest problem was myself-i didn't know i was jewish!
it is very encouraging to read a self-view by a chabad rep...i have wondered how life really is to them and their family....chabad service is topknotch and amazing, jews being powerfully themselves, good that life inside is also remarkable....thanks immensely for the fine view! Reply

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