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.