Do Large Families Deter Individuality?

No, this is not Cooper Fitzpatrick. This is Micah, stickered with about 40 nametags from other homeschool friends at an event a couple weeks ago. Do ya think Micah suffers with "individuality" issues?

My sister Becky is a developmental psychologist and a college teacher in Arizona. Wendy and I Skyped with her class of young adults last week. We stacked our family on our couch with laptop on our cedar chest, and Becky with her laptop and classroom of Psych 101 students. The Jeubs were ready to answer questions, prepared to be “psychoanalyzed” by her class.

The purpose of the questioning was to ask us (parents of children in every age group at the same time) about developmental stages and challenges. They were honest questions from people very unfamiliar with families like ours. There was an interesting thread of curiosity in most of the questions that struck me as peculiar. These aren’t verbatim, but here is how many of the questions were posed:

  • How do you encourage individuality in such a large family?
  • How do you make sure everyone’s individuality is respected?
  • Do you allow the kids to be individuals (via dating, socializing, activities, etc.)?

I found it interesting how everyone was so concerned about “individuality,” as if individuality was threatened in a large family. We talked about how our social networks are strong, that we travel the country, how we don’t know many big families who would fit the stereotype they thought we might fit, one whose children are threatened by a lack of “individuality.”

Why the great concern over “individuality”?

Not that an individual isn’t important, we just don’t have to squeeze it out of our kids. My goodness, their is so much personality in every one of them that we can barely stand it sometimes. And their personalities build on one another, they are encouraged by one another, they are loved and respected and encouraged to express their “individuality.” It’s just one of those natural things in a large family.

Perhaps a better question: Does a large family deter “individuality”?

Isn’t this what they were asking? Presuming? They were concerned that growing up in a large family — other “individuals” all over the place — that a child would seldom have time to develop their personality. The child would, as they saw it, never have the opportunity to be alone, to discover himself or herself, never be separated from others in order to develop their “individuality.”

Boy, what a contrast between two worlds, two extremes. (1) Smaller is better, gives “individuals” more time to themselves, builds better “individuality” and self-esteem and love for self. (2) Bigger is better, forces “individuals” to relate to others, builds family and relationships and love for others.

Perhaps I’m analyzing this too much. It was very interesting. By the end of the class, we were psychoanalyzing them.

About Chris Jeub

Chris is the father of 16 children, busily running the family businesses and learning the depths of love along the way.

  • Janetkiessling

    All I can say to everything up there- Big AMEN!!! To me ‘individuality’ sounds a little lonely. To me me it sounds like someone wants to ‘divide’ people up – and that does not sound like a ‘whole’ family to me!  One defintion of individuality is: the state of being a seperate entity. Hmmmmm……..still sounds lonely. The idea of a big family is togetherness. Yes, they all can create their own personalities – because God made them to do that. And as they grow – their personalities will grow, too!!! Withh lots of LOVE!!
    Have a Great weekend!!! the Kiessling F*A*M*I*L*Y!!! <

  • KelliSue

    I think inviduality flourishes with the support and structure of a big family. We can divvy things up so that someone is there to cover one person’s responsibility and they can focus on something that is special to them. Our family unit works better than some little families because of our united strength. 

  • Anonymous

     As a mother of 4 kids, we allow each child to pick an activity that they want to participate in and we shuttle them to/from/etc.  Even with only 3 kids who are old enough to pick something I feel like I spend all my free time in the car shuttling them to and from their chosen activity.  I can’t imagine what its like when you have 10+ kids!  While I believe individuality is important for every child and can have grave consequences if not obtained I have yet to see a case of the an individual who has not found their individuality or has the inability to be alone come from a big family!  Any family, regardless of size, can foster individuality in their children and from my experience its children from small broken families that have the hardest time becoming true individuals.

  • Jennifer Mull

     I liked how you turned the question around…. does a large family deter individuality? The thing is, what exactly are they saying when they say “individuality”? Do they think that if you are in a large family, you don’t think of your own ideas? 

    I find it interesting that anyone would think –no matter how many kids one has– that individuality would NEED to be fostered at all? Individuality comes out of the individual’s interests and personality, doesn’t it? People apparently do not realize that no matter how many children you have, they all have different interests and personalities. What I think they really mean is “are they allowed to do their own thing?” And, when people start asking this, they are really fighting against the idea that we can live for others and still be happy! In a large family, we have the opportunity to learn how to take all these different personalities and learn how to care for one another, to be part of a team, and to encourage one another. I *only* have 8 kids, but the 1st, 21yo, is into computers, 2nd, 19yo, sports, 3rd, 16yo, making movies/music; 4th, 13yo, guns, archery, military; 5th, 10yo, baking, sewing, yarn crafts (first girl, can you tell?!?) 6th,7yo, super heros, legos, and music; 7th, 5yo, singing and dancing; 8th, 2yo, coloring on the walls with crayons and climbing on tables! The point is, I didn’t have to “foster” these individual interests. I did have to support their uniqueness, which by the way, is a quality given to them by God. But, parents who feel they have to limit the number of children they can have by the number of different activities they can handle attending need to realize that a lot of the running around is unnecessary! We do have our kids do certain sports when they are little for the opportunity to learn and try new things. (And these things are more inexpensive at the younger level!) They all learn golf, soccer, and swimming, they have all tried baseball/softball, and some have tried basketball. We’ve tried to introduce some (limited, due to cost) art and music. But, all have taken that exposure in different directions. You could say that I didn’t allow them to express individuality when I made all of them play soccer… but then again, the point of soccer was to learn about how to play on a team. My kids have all played different positions. My goodness, what would soccer be if everyone expressed their individuality for themselves, instead of working for a goal together as a team?!

    • Guest

      Can I just say, looking at your comment, the first thing that jumps out is ‘can you tell first girl’ ?  How you raise your children is of course your business,  I as a parent have had my girl and boys play soccer.  I have not seen that in large families though my exposure is to those on TV. Looking in, the older girls seem to be involved in cooking, cleaning and raising siblings. Which go way beyong chores in a smaller sized family. And children seem to have gender based interests and very few outside friends. Shooting of course is encouraged among girls which seems different from most ‘regular’ families. I am of course largely stereotyping here, but this is what it seems looking in. 

      • Jennifer Mull

         Well, I said, “Can you tell?” because I thought it was funny how different her interests are compared to her brothers’ main interests. But, her interests are her own. She amazes me, as I do not enjoy cooking as much as she does, and she always did from the time she was two. She also plays soccer, softball, and took lessons in horseback riding, archery, and shooting. But, she LOVES to cook and do crafts… that is just how she is! Pardon me, Guest, but I think YOU were the one to stereotype.

  • Nicole Teichroeb

     I have to say that my kids are MORE individual than most kids I know. I remember growing up & watching all the groups of kids thinking how silly they were. They may have been different from the other groups but everyone in them was alike. Same hair & clothing styles, same music taste, same everything it seemed like. 

    My children are VERY individual. I have a 17yos who is into forging &  blacksmithing, Renaissance reenacting, boy scouts (working toward Eagle!!), hunting, fishing, trapping, tanning, working outdoors. He is western to the core too. My 15yod has unique tastes in clothing & styles (that I suspect she would have either been a trendsetter or laughed at over if she were in public school). She loves to bake, read, play volleyball & do crafts & photography. She also loves to be helping out with little ones & is wanting to help teach at Bible School this summer & Childrens Church this Fall. My 12yos is VERY much into Legos & has an engineers mind. He can build pretty much anything he sees. He also has the most tender heart of all my children. My 10yos is severely autistic, developmentally delayed & nonverbal, but he loves music, books & Veggietales :-). My 8yos is the energizer bunny in boy form LOL. He loves anything active – riding bike, visiting a family members farm, hiking around exploring, fishing, climbing trees. My 5yos is a snuggler. He loves to be read to & tends to be our heavy thinker, sometimes asking a lot of very hard questions. Our 3yod LOVES her dolls, her books, her toy kitchen, frogs, cats, helping cook & running, dancing & spinning LOL.

    Each one unique, each one an individual. :-)

  • KJansen

    I think that you might be analyzing this a bit too much, likely the questions asked by the students were formed by the assumption that it is more difficult to foster personal interests in larger families, for time or financial reasons and this is a reasonable question.  Being an “individual”  is a broad brush stroke.  It’s not wrong to disagree, in a  family cohesiveness is important and different interests help complete the puzzle but it’s also not fair to imply that this isn’t a valid question.
     Any idea if your sister was grading the students on whether or not they asked questions?  They may have been been looking for something relating to the course material.